From the year 1000AD a sense of belonging to a common culture began to spread throughout Europe. This idea was embodied by the emergence of Romanesque art, which developed during the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Thousands of surviving contemporary accounts tell of very hard times as forming an essential part of a European consciousness.


The fall of Rome in the fifth century marked the beginning of a long period of instability and decline. The invasions by Germanic peoples broke up the unity of the Empire and gave rise to a mosaic of weak and unstable states.

New attacks by Vikings, Muslims, Huns and Slavs in the eighth century established powerful states on the outer edges of Europe. The prosperous Carolingian empire was unable to maintain either its territorial unity nor its economic and cultural development.

Around the change of the millennium the powerful Caliphate of Cordova collapsed, while the Vikings and Huns established their own states and converted to Christianity. This was the beginning of Europe, with different monarchic states which would grow and strengthen to become solid state entities.

This European household, known as Christendom, would know times of plenty with the development of agriculture, population growth, simple technological advances and an incipient economy based on commerce, thus bringing about a renewal of building activity with ever greater, more sumptuous and solid constructions - all to the glory of God and the pride of mankind. Such was the beginning of the Romanesque era.

Capital of the Massacre of the Innocents, José Luis Alonso, From the collection of: Fundación Santa María la Real
Show lessRead more

Hermitage of St. Cecilia. Capital of the Massacre of the Innocents. Aguilar de Campo. Palencia (Spain). Picture by José Luis Alonso.


Towards the end of the eighth century a great part of Europe experienced a cultural renewal, especially promulgated by the Emperor Charlemagne. Personalities such as Alcuin of York, Raban Mauro, or John Scotus played a vital part in this cultural revival, with the growing importance of cathedral and monastic schools, the adoption of Latin as the universal language, and a new form of writing. At the collapse of the Carolingian empire and dynasty in the tenth century, the Ottonian emperors became the new driver of the great artistic and intellectual development of the Romanesque era.

Abbeys such as Fulda, Reichenau, Lorsch, San Gall or Bobbio emerged as veritable factories of culture. In their scriptoria monks made new copies of the classical works of the Greek and Roman world. These provided the schooling of a new breed of intellectuals such as Gerbert of Aurillac, better known as Pope Sylvester II.

This timid renewal of learning set the basis for the great cultural development which accompanied the flourishing of Romanesque art. Learning became institutionalized through the Universities, such as that of Bologna, founded in 1088.

Scriptorium (Spanish version), Marcelino Alonso, From the collection of: Fundación Santa María la Real
Show lessRead more

Video about the origin of Romanesque art (spanish version)

Scriptorium (English version), Marcelino Alonso, From the collection of: Fundación Santa María la Real
Show lessRead more

Video about the origin of Romanesque art (english version)


The monastery is the key to understanding the birth and development of Romanesque art. Monasteries emerged as well-organized centres under a precise rule and the authority of the abbot.

Little by little the monastic building took on an established model of functional use, with the cloister at the central point. Around the cloister were the church, chapter house, the refectory or dining hall, the kitchen and cellars. The common dormitory area was above the chapter house.

Partial view of the cloister of the Collegiate Church of Santa Juliana, Jaime Nuño González, From the collection of: Fundación Santa María la Real
Show lessRead more

Collegiate Church of Santa Juliana. Partial view of the cloister. Santillana del Mar. Cantabria (Spain). Picture by Jaime Nuño


In the first half of the 9th century an unknown author drew up an impressive plan in red ink, on five joined sheets of parchment. The plan showed the various buildings that would constitute the monastic centre of St.Gall, today in Switzerland.

The 77x112 cm. plan, addressed to the monastery’s abbot, Gozbert, is both a creative exercise and underlines the functional needs and constant concern for self-sufficiency of the monastic community. Although the plan never became reality, it reflects the early interest of the monastic authorities to create monumental, solid, and perfectly efficient establishments.

Plan of the Monastery of St. Gallen, José Miguel Tirado, From the collection of: Fundación Santa María la Real
Show lessRead more

Plan of the Monastery of St. Gall. Sankt Gallen (Switzerland). Drawing by José Miguel Tirado.


Around the year 1000AD Raul Glaber, a monk of the Cluny monastery wrote:

“At around the third year of the year 1000 you could see in almost every part of the world a rebuilding of old churches. Although the majority of them were well-built and needed no repair, all the Christian communities were taken by a desire to construct an even more sumptuous building than that of their neighbours. In this manner one could say that the whole world shook off its old clothes to re-fit itself in a white mantle of churches.”

Many of these churches have survived till today, as a reflection of the common and diversified European identity.

Basilica of the Holy Trinity of Saccargia (Italy), Jaime Nuño González, From the collection of: Fundación Santa María la Real
Show lessRead more

Basilica of the Holy Trinity of Saccargia (Italy). Picture by Jaime Nuño


The Benedictine community founded in the 6th. century became the spiritual, economic, artistic and intellectual role model of the Romanesque era. Its founder, Benito di Nursia, better known as St. Benedict, established a monastic community in Montecasino under a rule which organized life in the monastery. This example was soon imitated. Thus the Benedictine order, known as “the black monks” for the colour of their habits, spread rapidly.

Charlemagne, who promulgated that all the abbeys of his realm should adopt the Benedictine Rule, provided the definitive impulse which established them as the foremost monastic order of Western Europe. The basic Benedictine precept, ora et labora – pray and work – was seen as the embodiment of sanctity and efficiency, and attracted royal donations and privileges. The Benedictines thus became the ostensible monastic monopoly of the Romanesque era.

Sculpture of the Monastery of San Andrés de Arroyo, Jaime Nuño González, From the collection of: Fundación Santa María la Real
Show lessRead more

Sculpture of the Monastery of San Andrés de Arroyo (Spain). Picture by Jaime Nuño 


Outstanding among all the Benedictine monasteries stood the abbey of Cluny, founded in 909-910 by Duke William of Aquitaine, and placed directly under control of the Pope. However, at this time the seat of St. Peter was not undergoing its best moments, so that the monks of the new abbey were left to fend for themselves. Cluny was fortunate in having a handful of brilliant and long-lived abbots who in scarcely two hundred years made it the largest and most influential Christian abbey in history. The first abbot, with only twelve monks in the community, was Berne de Baume (910-926), and the last was Peter the Venerable (1122-1156). After this began a long period of decline which ended the monastery’s independence. Subsequently it fell under royal jurisdiction.

Abbey of Cluny, Pedro Luis Huerta Huerta, From the collection of: Fundación Santa María la Real
Show lessRead more

Abbey of Cluny (France). Picture by Pedro Luis Huerta


During the 10th and 11th centuries, nearly all European monasteries were governed by the Benedictine order; and this, in large part thanks to the proven efficiency of the Rule of St. Benedict, the prestige of Cluny, and endowments by kings and nobles.

At the dawn of the millennium, monasteries were to be counted by thousands - some of them so small that they barely outlived the death of their founder. Thus the merging of monastic houses , pushed by the need for survival, was a constant trend. Those which prospered and grew larger enjoyed the support of nobles and kings, and especially due to the miraculous reputation of the saintly relics they housed.

A relative political stability, the vigilance of the pilgrimage routes to protect travellers from bandit attacks, the establishment of a network of hospitals and inns, meant that many of the devout embarked on long journeys to visit prestigious shrines. Rome, Jerusalem and Compostela were the three great destinations of pilgrimage. This meant that people, ideas, goods, and artistic products crossed Europe from one end to the other.

Gothic tomb of the saint San Juan de Ortega, Jaime Nuño González, From the collection of: Fundación Santa María la Real
Show lessRead more

Gothic tomb of the saint. San Juan de Ortega. Burgos (Spain). Picture by Jaime Nuño.


St. Jerome (ca. 340-420AD), one of the Fathers of the church, lamented the changes in the times he was living. He himself was a product of the cultural co-existence of the ideals of the classical age and the new values of Christianity. While he translated the Bible into Latin so that it could be understood by everybody, he was a scholar of pagan classical authors such as Homer, Plato, Tacitus, Horace, Virgil, Quintilian, and above all, Cicero.

Christian intellectuals held that classical works should be studied, while kings looked to other role models in historic generals such as Alexander the Great, Scipio, Julius Caesar, and the Emperor Constantine. Both ideals were upheld in the Carolingian and Ottonian empires, with ancient Rome as the point of reference, even to the extent of their claiming to be a restoration of the Roman Empire. This would be an ideological constant in Europe over many centuries.

Rome and classical culture, even in its pagan traditions among the populace, lived on in a very patent way in these times. Temples became churches, amphitheatres were turned into housing areas, walls and monumental doorways maintained their defensive function, while mausoleums and the remains of old villas provided quarries for building materials and models of inspiration for new artistic productions. Even the very image of God sprang from ancient formulas; the theme of the Pantocrator was based on a renewed image of Jupiter, and Christ in Majesty followed the model of portraying the emperors of antiquity.

Perga, Jaime Nuño González, From the collection of: Fundación Santa María la Real
Show lessRead more

Perga (Turkey). Picture by Jaime Nuño


The fall of the Roman Empire in the West brought about an almost total loss of building techniques and the ability to construct large machines. Cultural centres disappeared, so that learning and skills were subsequently passed on from mouth to mouth, hand to hand, and from work team to work team. During the second half of the first millennium a good part of building in Europe consisted of simple constructions of wood, adobe, rubble masonry and thatch. Even the few palaces and churches built by kings and magnates were of modest proportions and poor materials.

The change of millennium brought about a renewal with the reappearance of stonework, larger cut stone blocks, and machines designed to construct taller buildings. The dynamic functions of buildings became better understood, ovens for smelting limestone were to be found everywhere, while tiles or sheets of copper dignified the roofs of many churches. At the same time a burgeoning long-distance trade made new products available. The Romanesque era thus signalled the recuperation of ancient techniques.

Print from the book "Una aldea en tiempos del románico", Chema Román, From the collection of: Fundación Santa María la Real
Show lessRead more

From the book A village in romanesque times. Drawing by Chema Román.


The monastery of Cluny exemplifies the development of architecture and of all the arts during the Romanesque era. The early abbey, known as Cluny I , began construction in 910 and was finished in 927. The rapid growth of the monastic community meant that the building soon became insufficient. Thus in the second half of the century Abbot Majolus undertook renovation works. The result was a grand church of three naves and a wide transept, consecrated in 981.

Later came the addition of a spacious cloister and patios from which branched off the various monastic dependencies. Cluny II was characteristically Romanesque and exerted a great influence on other monasteries of the period; although, like its predecessor, it too would soon prove insufficient for the needs of the monastic community.

Cluny II, José Miguel Tirado, From the collection of: Fundación Santa María la Real
Show lessRead more

Plan of Cluny II (France). Drawing by José Miguel Tirado.


We owe the beginning of the construction of Cluny III to Hugo de Semur (1049-1109). Cluny III would be the largest known monastic establishment and the hallmark par excellence of Romanesque architecture. Building began on the apse of the church in 1080; in 1095 Pope Urban II consecrated two altars in the church which was still undergoing construction. The nave was finished in 1130, although the building was not completed until 1220, now in the Gothic style.

This largest monastery and church (187m.) in existence until the building of St. Peter’s of the Vatican in 1506, was an immense monument of dependencies connected by stairways, apses, apsidioles, domes and towers. It was almost completely dismantled under the French Revolution.

Ancient drawings, plans, the reconstructions based on meticulous studies and long archeological excavations and put forward by Kenneth J.Conant, give an idea of the formidable architecture of this monastery at the height of its power, and of the enormous power and influence of the Order. So much wealth, so much power, however, could not compete with the growing trend towards purity and asceticism in the emerging new monastic Orders – first the Cistercians and Premostratensians (or Norbertines), followed by the Franciscans and Dominicans. From an artistic point of view these new Orders brought about the transition to, and development of, the Gothic era.

Cluny III, José Miguel Tirado, From the collection of: Fundación Santa María la Real
Show lessRead more

Plane of Cluny III (France). Drawing by José Miguel Tirado.


If a good part of the Middle Ages looked to classical Rome as its model, the arts could no less than follow in this zeal to recuperate the structures of antiquity. Although some old temples were converted into churches, the plan of the basilica was to provide the inspiration for pre-romanesque and Romanesque religious architecture. Its characteristic plan of three naves separated by columns was better suited to the needs of religious celebrations presided by one or more priests to a numerous congregation.

The basilica and forum not only provided the prototype design for Christian religious functions, but also served community needs. Parish churches were the communal meeting points, where municipal council meetings and assemblies took place and where justice was administered. Markets, fairs and festivities were held in front of the church door.

Basilica of Santa Giusta, Jaime Nuñó González, From the collection of: Fundación Santa María la Real
Show lessRead more

Basilica of Santa Giusta (Italy). Picture by Jaime Nuño

Architecturally speaking, Roman constructions underlie the Romanesque. The construction of domes and vaulting was not always technically feasible, or lay beyond the financial resources of many communities. The semicircular arch is the most emblematic feature of the Romanesque; we see it over doorways, windows, in cloister arcades and walls, or as a decorative motif on baptismal fonts and all kinds of structural elements.

Church of San Miguel de Eiré, Jaime Nuñó González, From the collection of: Fundación Santa María la Real
Show lessRead more

Church of San Miguel de Eiré (Spain). Picture by Jaime Nuño.


The spread of Romanesque art meant a generalized adoption of pre-established models in construction and decorative elements. A building, a painting or a sculpture of the period show shared characteristics which identify it as “Romanesque” in any part of Europe, over and above geographical location. However, we must also take into account the important role played by regional differences, whether springing from earlier local traditions, the proximity to or distance from outside artistic trends, the lack or abundance of certain building materials in different localities, as well as the influence exerted by prestigious cultural centres or of an artisan who created a school and a wake of imitators.

Abbey Vezzolano, Jaime Nuñó González, From the collection of: Fundación Santa María la Real
Show lessRead more

Abbey Vezzolano (Italy). Picture by Jaime Nuño.


Sculpture and painting were mainly used as elements of architectural ornamentation, adding a touch of distinction to the building. But they also served as a “text book” illustrating the tenets of the faith, and the most relevant stories of the Scriptures.

Sculpture was especially profuse on church portals, which became increasingly ornate, on the modillions supporting the eaves of the roof, and the capitals of cloister arcades which were frequently carved with motifs inspired by plants. There were also carvings illustrating episodes from the life of Christ or the Old Testament, images of the Apocalypse and hell, as well as figures of animals, warriors, peasants, minstrels, dancers, acrobats, zodiacal signs, calendars, and even erotic scenes. On the tympanum over the main church entrance a favourite theme was often “Christ in Majesty”, depicting Jesus surrounded by an almond-shaped halo or “mandorla”, and accompanied by the symbols of the four evangelists. This image is known as the Pantocrator.

This theme was more frequently depicted in the mural paintings covering the apses of many churches. Romanesque architecture was adorned with vibrant, bright colours. Many churches were painted, both inside and out, but the passing centuries have obliterated the greater part of this colour.

Cathedral of Moissac, Pedro Luis Huerta Huerta, From the collection of: Fundación Santa María la Real
Show lessRead more

Saint Pierre Abbey. Moissac (France). Picture by Pedro Luis Huerta.


The same exuberant ornamentation seen in sculpture and painting was also a feature of liturgical objects. These were made of gold, silver or ivory, adorned with precious stones, cameos of Roman origin, or rich enamels in which the artisans of Limoges were especially skilled.

Liturgical objects were the outer show of faith; the richer the object, the greater the devotion. A treasure trove of precious metals and gems housed the even greater treasure of saintly relics, which motivated the building of a church or monastery.

Other liturgical objects were the images of saints, and especially of the Virgin Mary who came to be seen as the intermediary between God and the faithful. These were made from fine metals or enamels, or more frequently of carved and polychromed wood. A large number of these images still survive in small parish churches as a testimony to devotion.

Our Lady of Battles, Jaime Nuñó González, From the collection of: Fundación Santa María la Real
Show lessRead more

Our Lady of Battles. Museum of Burgos (Spain). Picture by Jaime Nuño.


Under Frederick Barbarossa the imperial legacy of Charlemagne would become the Holy Empire (1157) with the later addition of “Roman” (Holy Roman Empire), and finally, Germanic. Its dominions , based in the central European countries, also extended to the eastern part of France. The adoption of Romanesque art in these territories was highly influenced by local traditions, producing monumental architectures where sculpture is not a prominent feature.

Among the principal constructions of the period we find the imposing German cathedrals of Speyer, Worms, and Maguncia; in Poland the collegiate of Tum, and the Cathedral of Gurk in Austria. We see the same influences in what today is Hungary, as well as more Western features springing from the pilgrimage route to Jerusalem passing through these territories. Churches such as Ják, Lébény or the monastery of Ócsa are among the finest examples of Hungarian Romanesque. The most Western point of Central Europe showed a different trend under the radiating influence of Cluny in Borgogne, spreading even to the Swiss Alps, as evidenced in the Abbey of Paderne.

Our Lady of Magdeburg, Jaime Nuñó González, From the collection of: Fundación Santa María la Real
Show lessRead more

Our Lady of Magdeburg (Germany). Picture by Jaime Nuño.


During the High Middle Ages Irish monasticism was very active, but its obsession with asceticism did not lead to any notable artistic creation. Neither did the Viking invaders favour the arts, but once these northern warriors settled in the area of Rouen and converted to Christianity – and especially after Duke William “the Conqueror” invaded England and took the throne – the Atlantic coastline of Aquitaine, Poitou, Normandy, England and Flanders would become one of the most dynamic Romanesque areas. Here we see the building of such representative Romanesque monuments as Nôtre Dame la Grande in Poitiers, the cathedral of Angouleme (France), St. Gertrude of Nivelle and the cathedral of Tournai in Belgium, and the English cathedrals of Durham and Winchester. The great tapestry relating the conquest of England by William of Normandy can still be seen in Bayeux (France).

In this moment the Spanish kingdoms were still engaged in war against the Muslims, but as the combat line extended southwards the more stable rearguard regions would see the emergence of the Pilgrims’ Way of St James (Santiago), which brought the Romanesque and influences from other European countries to Spain. In Galicia and Portugal the most important church buildings bear more resemblance to fortresses than churches, as evidenced by the Portuguese cathedrals of Tuy, Oporto, Coimbra and Lisbon, and Santiago de Compostela in Galicia.

Romanesque church of Melle, Pedro Luis Huerta Huerta, From the collection of: Fundación Santa María la Real
Show lessRead more

Church of San Pedro de Melle (France). Picture by Pedro Luis Huerta.


For centuries the plains of Eastern Europe had known violent incursions, war and plunder by the peoples of the Steppes. The opening of the pilgrimage route to the Holy Land through the kingdom of Hungary marked a milestone in the relations of these countries with Western Europe due to the influx of thousands of travellers, pilgrims and armies of the Crusades. However the Eastern European countries generally adopted the Orthodox form of Christianity, so that the Romanesque influence on the architecture of this region is debatable.

Although the complicated political organization of these states did not allow for a dynamic artistic development, there are nevertheless some churches built in the Romanesque style. In Serbia we see the churches of Sopocani, Studencia or Gradac. Eastwards, in Bulgaria, we have the monastery of St. Ivan of Zemen and St. Nicholas of Sapareva Banya, although these buildings are more Byzantine than Romanesque in character. The regions of Valaquia, Moldavia and Transylvania, today in Rumania, then on the easternmost limits of the Hungarian kingdom, were continually embroiled in warfare. This insecurity at the outermost reaches of the European Romanesque is reflected in the fortified church of St. Michael of Cisnadioara.

Church of San Miguel of Cisnadioara, Irina Cristian, From the collection of: Fundación Santa María la Real
Show lessRead more

St. Michael of Cisnadioara (Romania). Picture by Irina Cristian.


By around the year 1000AD the Vikings had converted to Christianity and adopted the Romanesque style - at the same time maintaining the Scandinavian tradition of building in wood and carved ornamentation of interlaced patterns and fanciful animals. Their close relationship with the Atlantic coast and islands, however, also brought in a more West European approach to the Romanesque, as exemplified by the cathedral of Stavanger, the ruins of Hamar (both in Norway), and Trondheim, the largest Romanesque-style church of Scandinavia. However the most typical constructions of the time in Norway were the “stavkirken”, or wooden churches built on walls of planks and a complex roof structure of steeply inclined wood tiling with a covering resembling fish scales. Scarcely two dozens of these have survived to the present day, the most notable being Lom, Urnes, and Borgund, which is the most iconic of Christian -Viking structures.

The wood buildings in Sweden have not survived to our time, but there are a few stone churches of the period such as Husaby, Sitguna and the cathedrals of Skara and Lund.

In Denmark the Romanesque also brought about a transition from construction in wood to stone, thus allowing for larger buildings such as the cathedrals of Ribe or Viborg. The most impressive example, however, is the church of the Benedictine monastery of Ringsted; built in brick, it shows clear influences from Lombard architecture. Also of note is a series of churches with Ostlasker, Oisker and Nyker among the more outstanding examples.

Christianity did not arrive in Finland until the final years of the Romanesque period, so here the examples of the style are both few and modest in character. The church of Asland is the most notable of the Romanesque in Finland.

Borgund Stave Church (Norway), Aicyss, From the collection of: Fundación Santa María la Real
Show lessRead more

Borgund Stave Church (Norway). Picture by Aicyss.


The tradition of classical Rome maintained its vigour in the Italian peninsula, enhanced with influences from the Byzantine Empire. The heritage of both is evident in Italian Romanesque productions. The north of Italy, fuelled by the commercial energy of its cities, is considered as one of the most active and generating centres of this art form. In regions such as the Veneto, Emilia-Romagna or Lombardy we see signs of an incipient Romanesque architecture even before the millennium - such as in the church of the Benedictine monastery of Pomposa or San Vincenzo in Prato.

From the extreme north the peculiarly Lombardian Romanesque with its characteristic arcades of small blind archways and the constructive element of Lombardian bands, radiated throughout a good part of Europe, while along the Adriatic coastline and central regions of the peninsula the inherited classical legacy conferred an admirable lightness of form to its constructions.

Corsica favoured an array of colourful building materials, while the Norman presence in the south combined artistic influences from both the Atlantic regions and the Holy Land in its constructions.

Cathedrals such as Parma, Modena or Pisa were admired for their grandiosity, elegance and artistry; in Florence the Baptistery and San Miniato del Monte appear to belong to an unbroken thread stretching from the Roman Empire to the Renaissance, while the Tuscan monastery of San Antimo and the Umbrian cathedrals of Assisi and Spoleto, or Trani in Apulia, characterize the most typically austere aspects of the Romanesque.

In the Norman-occupied extreme south the pervasive currents of Muslim artistic influences in the Mediterranean are seen in the cathedrals of Palermo, Cefalu and Monreale.

Duomo and Campanile of Pisa, Jaime Nuño González, From the collection of: Fundación Santa María la Real
Show lessRead more

Piazza del Duomo Pisa (Italy). Picture by Jaime Nuño.

Piazza del Duomo. Pisa (Italy)


One of the most important social and cultural phenomena that accompanied the development of Romanesque art was the growth of pilgrimage. This set thousands of persons in movement on the road to three major destinations- Rome, Jerusalem, and Compostela – the last of these being the shrine which attracted the greater part of the devout.

The Cathedral of St. James (Santiago) of Compostela is one of the most emblematic buildings of the twelfth century, but through the various Spanish cities along the route, the four great pathways crossing France, and from the easternmost limits of Christendom, Romanesque art was the pilgrim’s permament travelling companion.

This great way took its essential form in France, where the devout pilgrim would find various glorious shrines and sanctuaries of relics. The westernmost route from Tours houses Nôtre Dame la Grande of Poitiers as well as St. Eutropius of Saintes; on the Limoges route we have La Madelaine in Vézelay, St. Martial of Limoges (largely destroyed during the French Revolution), or St. Leonard of Noblet. The Puy route pilgrim passed before St. Michel of Le-Puy-en-Velet, St. Faith of Conques or St. Pierre de Moissac. This way also served as the route to the Holy Land where we find such famed monuments as St.Trofim in Arles, St. Gilles du Gard, St. Guilheim-le-Désert, and St. Sernin in Toulouse.

On crossing into Spain the different routes converge to make up the French Way. Here, amongst hundreds of small churches we have such exemplary Romanesque constructions as the Cathedral of Jaca, San Juan de la Peña, San Martín de Frómista or St. Isidore of Leon. 

However, some of the most representative examples of the early Romanesque are to be found in the extreme east of the Peninsula : the monasteries of San Miguel de Cuxá, San Martin de Canigó, San Pedro de Rodas, Santa María de Ripoll.

Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Jaime Nuño González, From the collection of: Fundación Santa María la Real
Show lessRead more

Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela (Spain). Picture by Jaime Nuño.

Frontage of Obradoiro. Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela (Spain).

Porch of Platerias. Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela (Spain).


When in 1095 Pope Urban II preached the first Crusade, a large military contingent set out from the West to conquer the Christian Sacred Sites from the Muslims. Once achieved this objective, the Crusaders established a kingdom and various principalities to which they brought their own artistic influences. The Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, reconstructed by the crusaders around the mid-twelfth century, is the most emblematic Romanesque construction in the East. Its circular plan, inspired by ancient Roman models, would provide the blue-print for many western churches of the military orders founded by these “Soldiers of Christ”. Also in Jerusalem we have the church of St. Anne, and various Romanesque features are to be seen in the al-Aqsa mosque. In addition there is a series of churches spread out over the former crusader states, such as the Nativity Church in Bethlehem, St. Thomas of Tyre, and the old cathedrals of Byblos and Beirut.

Apart from these religious buildings the Crusaders constructed a large number of castles, the most celebrated being Krak des Chevaliers. This was the principal seat of the Order of the Knights Hospitaller of St. John of Jerusalem until the Order was expelled in 1271.

The architecture of the Crusaders would exert considerable influence in Western Europe. Structural and decorative elements inspired by the example of the Holy Sepulchre spread a trail through numerous buildings, while Acre Castle in England, or the cloister of San Juan de Duero (Soria, Spain) appear as if directly transplanted from the eastern confines of the Mediterranean.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Javier Martínez de Aguirre, From the collection of: Fundación Santa María la Real
Show lessRead more

Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Jerusalem (Israel). Picture by Javier Martinez de Aguirre.


Although the greater part of Romanesque artists remain anonymous, we also know of a good number who left testimony of their contribution to a building. In some cases we can only identify a master craftsman by the place-name of his greatest creation, such as the Master of Silos, or the Master of Cabestany; others, however, are known by name. Examples are Benedetti Antelami, sculptor and architect who worked in the region of Parma; Lanfranco of Modena, recorded on a stone inscription as “celebrated for his originality, knowledge and science”; Willgelmo, sculptor of the cathedral of San Geminiano, also in Modena; Gislebert of Autun who left his name inscribed on the tympanum of the cathedral of St. Lazare – and Mateo, creator of the famed Portico de la Gloria presiding over the main façade of the Compostela Cathedral.

Thus a new mode of Romanesque artistic creation came into being, grew and multiplied, in part due to the work of the great master craftsmen which inspired those of lesser creativity, but also due to the influence of the great artistic centres. From these radiated models for an enduring iconography which spread out over wide regions, and often lasting many years. Itinerant building teams took note of what they had seen in one locality to imitate it elsewhere; the copybooks of artists and artisans record the most salient features of a building as a prototype to be used again and again.

Church of St. Cornelius and St. Cyprian, Jaime Nuño González, From the collection of: Fundación Santa María la Real
Show lessRead more

Church of St. Cornelius and St. Cyprian in Revilla de Santullán. Palencia (Spain) Picture by Jaime Nuño.


Between the 11th. and 12th. centuries enormous changes took place in Europe. After a long period of social and economic crisis, the young states of what was known as Christendom learned how to organize themselves for stability. The monastic foundations, emerging as authentic factories of economic, cultural and spiritual development, brought a great contribution to this process. However, these were not easy times; violence and rivalries between states were a constant presence – although the crusading fervor to conquer the Sacred Sites of the Holy Land re-directed a good part of this warring energy to an outside common foe.

In these centuries a sense of identity of peoples and modern states began to emerge as regional languages became the common parlance of the people and the language of administration – although Latin maintained its status as the universally common language. It was the time when the great routes of travel and communication were established across Europe; a lasting legacy until our own day.

This still totally rural Europe underwent a great creative moment, despite scarce material and technical resources. Churches constructed to a common architectural archetype sprang up in cities, villages and throughout the countryside. Such was the Romanesque artistic movement which today, a thousand years later, we still see scattered over the European landscape.

Church of San Miguel in Beleña de Sorbe, Jaime Nuño González, From the collection of: Fundación Santa María la Real
Show lessRead more

Church of St. Michael in Beleña de Sorbe. Guadalajara (Spain). Picture by Jaime Nuño.

Monastery of Santa Maria la Real, Jaime Nuño González, From the collection of: Fundación Santa María la Real
Show lessRead more

Monastery of Santa Maria la Real de Aguilar de Campo (Spain). Picture by Jaime Nuño.

Credits: Story

Guión y textos—Jaime Nuño

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.