Gothic Architecture in England and France

By George Herbert West | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
THE FRENCH CATHEDRAL

WE have seen that the plan of the Christian church in Western Europe was originally adapted from that of the Roman house and latterly was a modification of that of the Basilica. It was adopted by Constantine for the churches which he built in Rome, Constantinople, and Palestine, and by the fifth century had become the usual one. There was, however, another less usual one, a round or square building crowned by a dome. Both plans are found fully developed in Central Asia Minor and along the caravan routes of Syria which connected the far East with the Mediterranean. They are the work of a number of small communities of Asiatic Greeks who combined in their buildings the artistic spirit of the ancient Greek, the constructive ingenuity of their neighbours the Persian dome-builders, and the skill in practical adaptation of means to results of their Roman governors. Deserted at the approach of the Arabs in the seventh century, their works remained comparatively unknown till the middle of the nineteenth, when the resemblance between them and the tenth and eleventh century buildings of Southern France was seen to be so striking that it was thought the latter must have been derived directly from the former at the time of the first Crusade. That was soon shown to have been impossible. But the resemblance is undeniable, and these buildings undoubtedly form the chief of the very few links between the works of the time of Constantine and those of Charlemagne, which, except the churches of Ravenna, have come down to us comparatively unaltered.

This resemblance between buildings so far removed in time and space as those of fifth-century Syria and tenth-century France, though it may be partly due to direct communication through early monks and traders, is to be attributed

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