St.-Sernin, begun
1080, plan
Interior Exterior
The pilgrimage churches were built using a square module that is repeated throughout the plan. Inside the
church, the units are defined by the compound piers. These massive supports mark the separate bays, and
the attached columns, or pilasters, continue upward to cross the stone vault. The rounded arch is seen
throughout the church: in the large arches along the nave, in the smaller arches framing the windows, and
on the vault. Romanesque builders wanted to create tall churches, but because the stone barrel vault needs
a great deal of side supports, they thickened the exterior walls with attached buttresses. The galleries
above the aisles also help distribute the weight outward and downward, because the gallery vaults support
the main vault. The use of the gallery, however, also puts the windows farther away from the nave, creating
a darker interior. On the exterior, these churches usually have towers or spires at the west end and one
over the crossing.
The Romanesque style of architecture is not confined to France, and there are many local styles and
variations; they share the rounded arch, a relatively dark interior, and thick buttressing. Throughout the
Romanesque period, there was much experimentation, often with the aim of building taller and bigger
The main doorway, or portal, of a Romanesque church is often richly decorated with relief sculpture. There
are usually double doors in these churches, and the central post between them—the trumeau—may also
be carved with animals or figures, as is the case at Saint-Pierre in Moissac. The rounded area, or tympanum,
just above the doors, most often contains an image of Christ as he will appear at the end of time. The theme
of the Last Judgment is especially popular in portal sculpture. The subject shows Christ judging all men and
women who have been raised from the dead just before the end of the world. The good people go to
Heaven, shown on Christ’s right side (the viewer’s left side); the wicked go to Hell on the other side.
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