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Early Roofing Systems in Northern Europe
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France, Jumièges, Abbey Church of Notre-Dame
Professor Lynn Courtenay

Anglo-Norman Roofs of the 11th and 12th Centuries: Notre-Dame of Jumièges
While this section is devoted mainly to the archaeological evidence for Romanesque roofing systems in Normandy, it is important to bear in mind some primary features of the buildings for which roofs and timber ceilings were designed. Anglo-Norman great churches like Jumièges, St. Etienne at Caen, Mont Saint Michael, St. Georges de Boscherville, and Ely and St. Albans Cathedrals in England were generally tall, carefully-articulated structures, with a three-part nave elevation that often included a capacious tribune gallery vaulted in stone. Also characteristic of Anglo-Norman Romanesque is a well-defined bay system expressed by the nave piers and vertical shafts. Frequently the bays and half bays are delineated by an alternating system of supports consisting of compound piers and columns. At Jumièges we see a typical mid-11th century example of great square bays (see plan) defined by compound piers for the primary supports and by columns for the secondary supports articulating the intermediate aisle bays (nave half bays). Originally, as can be seen from the open scars of the clerestory wall of Notre-Dame, it is likely that the shafts extending from the main piers supported diaphragm arches.

France, Jumièges, Abbey Church of Notre-Dame, View of site in 1702

France, Jumièges, Abbey Church of Notre-Dame, Plan

France, Jumièges, Abbey Church of Notre-Dame, west facade

France, Jumièges, Abbey Church of Notre-Dame, aerial view

France, Jumièges, Abbey Church of Notre-Dame, general view of nave

Italy, Lomello, Church, Interior view of nave
At Jumièges and similar buildings of this period, the emphatic bay divisions in the masonry elevation were not continued into the transverse arches of stone vaults as seen later at Durham Cathedral; rather, the nave of Jumièges, as originally at Boscherville, St. Etienne at Caen, Ely Cathedral, and other Anglo-Norman churches, was covered by a timber roof designed with a uniform system of closely-spaced trusses (discussed below); at Jumièges, the bays would have been defined by the presumed diaphragm arches, as in the much-restored church at Lomello in northern Italy (Lombardy).

It is important to note also that in many cases the decorative embellishment of both the masonry and carpentry was originally rendered in paint, for example, in the planked timber ceilings (restored) at Hildesheim, Germany, and at Ely and Peterborough Cathedrals in England, or in the Ottonian mural painting at St. Georg, Reichenau-Oberzell (Germany). And even in its ruined and much-weathered state, traces of pigment remain on some arch soffits of the nave arcade and side aisles at Jumièges. While decorative enrichment of mural surfaces has a long and complex history based on fragmentary evidence, it may be characterized as essentially two-dimensional in contrast to the vigorous sculptural treatment of shafts and moldings enriched by chevrons, zigzags, floral, and fret patterns seen later, for example, in the bay details at Jedburgh Abbey, Durham and Bayeux Cathedrals, and in Norman architecture of the 12th century. In general, as the Romanesque style matured in England and Normandy, a more robust, carved ornament visually overtook two-dimensional mural painting, just as the use of stone vaults expanded from their limited use in aisles, apses, and perhaps choirs and replaced earlier roofs and ceilings of wood.

Great Britain, Scotland, Jedburgh Abbey, Interior view of nave

Italy, Rome, Old St. Peters, Diagram
Painted decoration of the masonry, however, is only part of the architectural ensemble; for, we must remember that a number of early Romanesque churches would have had either open roofs likely with decorated tiebeams (Cf. St Paul's outside the Walls and Old Saint Peter's in Rome) or planked ceilings painted with either geometric or figural compositions, or both.

Such ceilings thus illuminated by chandeliers and high clerestory windows would have given the interior a visual splendor that linked ceiling and elevation with color and light. It is also conceivable that the painted decoration or partially exposed beams may have reinforced the bay articulation seen in the stone structure, however, this cannot be established from existing evidence, such as the well-preserved parish church ceiling of St. Martin in Zillis, Switzerland, or earlier churches associated with imperial Germany that do not have elevations divided into bay units, as for example, at St. Cyriacus at Gernrode or St. Georg in Reichenau-Oberzell whose great cycle of wall paintings date to the 10th century (see bibliography).

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