Romanesque Heritage

Symbolism in Architecture

The notion of Romanesque style was first coined in 19th century France and is used to describe artistic phenomena that took place around the turn of the first millennium in France and Germany, Italy and Spain. The root and main source of Romanesque architecture is late-Roman and early-Christian construction. Painting, plastic arts, and artistic handicraft are central to the Christian doctrine of salvation, which used architecture as stage and backdrop. For people of that time, the church was an image of ‘Heavenly Jerusalem’. The construction of the church was meant to convey the Christian belief system. For instance, the crossshaped layout invokes the death of Jesus, or even Christ‘s body. The portal separates the profane exterior from the sacred interior, and is therefore marked with symbols and sculptures calling out to those outside the church. The interior of the church is divided into different zones of religious sanctity, which can easily be recognised by the architecture and decoration. The centres of sanctity within the church were always the altars which held holy relics. But in many Romanesque churches another centre of great holiness was the crypt, for that was where the tomb or reliquary of the most important saint could be worshipped. From the 11th century the clergy demonstrated its perceived superiority over the laymen through the construction of huge rood screens, often many metres high. When looking at Romanesque constructions, it is easy to get the impression that the fear of the devil must have been boundless, as the buildings are strewn with monstrous, fearsome and repulsive figures. The monster representations in churches and books can be understood as demons or personified vice, and appear to have had several functions: they were used specifically to imprint the fear of the devil on the layman, and to terrify the beholder into leading a more Christian life. This fear of evil forces was constantly reinforced and even the clergy itself believed in it.

Excerpt from TRANSROMANICA Congress documentation Culture and Cultural Tourism Development, read by Prof. J. Grabmayer, Alpen-Adria University


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