In early medieval Ireland the churches although large on faith were small on detail. The churches were made for monks that wanted their privacy and their quiet. The buildings did not have to be ornate nor dramatic because to the monks and the religious people that attended it did not influence their faith. However with the Anglo-Norman invasion this all changed. The hierarchy of the church changed dramatically allowing Bishops to come in and take over the church. Along with this came Romanesque and Gothic Architecture to medieval Ireland.
The Romanesque architecture was known for its eye for detail. Duly named for its similarity to the architecture in Rome that had pillars and intricate design. It was coined as Romanesque by Charles Alexis Adrien de Gerville. The plainest definition of Romanesque is Roman Architecture with differences. When the architecture was brought over it was done so by the Anglo Normans which were famous for their adaptation. Anglo Normans would slip into a society and become one, so when they brought the Romanesque style over it was with their changes incorporated.
The churches in this style usually had rounded peaks, and the walls had ornate carvings of saints, and other religious symbols. The doors or otherwise known as portals were layers of beautiful carved stone look almost like steps into the door, creating a portal feel. One of the true beauties of this new design was the inside spatial vaulting. The ceilings were barrel vaulted and so large that echoes would sound all over the church if a word is said. Completely different from the small churches and wood crosses that Ireland once had. The front of the church where the Bishop would give the service almost resembles a concert hall of today with the inset and raised platform. It created segregation between the religious leaders and the followers. Another piece that was brought over from Rome was the statues. Within and without the Romanesque style churches there will be carved heads and full body statues of saints. The style was a constant bold reminder of God and the faith. Lastly another constant in all Romanesque churches were the stained glass windows that were more art and decoration then for light. The windows would tell of bibles stories such as the Last Supper and the Seven Sins. Walking into one of these churches was like walking through a re-enactment of the bible with visuals and pictures as the guide.
Another architecture form that was brought by the Anglo Normans was the Gothic style. Although some of the style could be related to the Romanesque the Gothic design was more dramatic and stylized.
The Gothic churches were even taller than Romanesque. The walls are thinner which allows for more pointed arches and steep roof lines. Creating a much more dramatic façade than the Romanesque and definitely more than the original churches of Ireland. Gothic Architecture still had a basis in Roman Architecture. Abbot Suger of Paris was the first to bring over the Gothic design. He designed the Abbey and Church of St Denis. He wanted it to resemble the Roman Arch of Constantine. The design was even more minute and detailed then the Romanesque. Where the Romanesque had rounded corners and soft beauty the Gothic Architecture is bolder and dramatic, high tipped steeple roofs and thin columns. Many state it represents more a skeletal or bone structure making it look fragile. The Gothic style also allowed more light into the churches do to the heights and thin walls it allowed more windows and beautiful stained glass to be installed. Flying buttresses were what allowed the height of the building to be stable, which you will see, any all Gothic architecture. There were similarities as well with the Romanesque design such as the biblical carvings, statues, and stained glass that were proliferate in both styles. The carvings and stained glass usually emphasized typological allegories in the difference of the New Testament and Old Testament. Again giving a visual treat and lesson at the same moment.
The gothic style although still bold could also be simplified such as the Basilica of Mary Magdalene in Provence. The loftiness was still very obvious in the church however the inside was plain and simple in comparison to so many.
Behind both new architectures was the base of new technology of the time allowing these new building to go from dream to reality. One of the ideas for both of these designs was to represent the great glory of God in the large dimensions of the churches versus the smallness of mortals with sin. So when you walk into such a grandiose church you feel the smallness in yourself.
The original churches in Ireland were used for their ability to give the religious a sense of piety and humbleness in the simplicity and smallness in the church. Monks would find peace and quiet in this environment and the people of faith would be there for the word given from the religious leaders and not the sheer beauty of the church they attended. However the new architecture forms changed this thinking. Instead of creating humbleness with the surroundings, what they did was create megalith churches with detail and beauty to create a sense of feeling small when someone walks in the door. Both messages were the same, God is large and indefinable while as sinners we are simple and low, however they used to different paths to get there. One of beauty and strength and one of simplicity and plainness.
1. Medieval Architecture. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medieval_architecture
2. New Advent. Gothic Architecture http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06665b.htm
3. Harvey, John. The Master Builders: Architecture in the Middle Ages McGraw-Hill, New York, 1971
4. Archpedia. Romanesque Architecture http://www.archpedia.com/Styles-Romanesque.html