Monday, 23 July 2012

St Vicenç, Cardona

This church is in the ‘First Romanesque’ style. The First Romanesque is a style of building of roughly 950-1050, the first century of Romanesque. This was a period when builders were experimenting with developing new forms and new solutions to the problems of vaulting and lighting a church. The style is common to churches in the Mediterranean area from Lombardy to Catalonia, from which it subsequently spread upwards to the regions of France. As well as being an example of this particular style, St Vicenç in Cardona exemplifies some of the key elements of Romanesque architecture: clearly organised space, with the units marked out by architectural elements; stone vaulting; a Latin Cross groundplan; the development of the East end with chapels projecting from transepts; blind arches decorating the exterior; and a general sense of restraint and fitness for purpose. As Eric Fernie puts it, “nothing is superfluous, nothing confused” (entry on Romanesque architecture in Grove). Studying this church is thus a good introduction to ‘reading’ Romanesque church architecture in general.

Cardona is in the county of Bages, roughly in the centre of this map.

A church is documented on the site from 980. Around 1019, it was redeveloped by the Viscount Bermon, who reformed a religious (Augustinian) community that was present there from the late tenth century. The present church was built beween c.1029 and 1040, when it was consecrated by Eriball, the Bishop of Urgell .The church and community were under the control of the lords of the castle of Cardona – a reminder of the close association of Romanesque architectuyre and the feudal system.  Typically of many Romanesque churches, especially in Catalonia, it is dramatically situated on a rocky hilltop.
Groundplan. Source:


·        The church is compose of a wide nave and two narrower aisles.

·        Naves and aisle are crossed by a transept, which is slightly wider, but not very long: it barely projects beyond the basic rectangular plan. Nave crossed by transept gives the Latin Cross groundplan.

·         The East end is emphasised, with chapels projecting from the North  and South arms of the transept, giving three semicircular apses.

Interior Elevation
Interior elevation. Source:
·       Barrel vaulting is used in the nave, with transverse arches clearly articulating three bays + crossing. Aisles have groin vaulting.
·       The Tribune at the West forms a special gallery, an elevated space for the noble family of the castle: this is a feature derived from Carolingian architecture.
·       Inside the Crossing Tower is a dome carried on pendentives – a feature from Eastern architecture. Above that is the octagonal drum (cimborio).
·       The vaults are notably high (more than 19 metres), a characteristic feature of Catalan Romanesque churches, and also of Eastern derivation.
Piers; shafts continue into transverse arches. Barrel vaults

Nave: shafts join the two storeys; raised Chancel

Transverse arches and groin vaults in aisles.
Dome inside Crossing Tower. On pendentives, with scallop shapes.
·         Inside the Crossing Tower is a dome carried on pendentives – a feature from Eastern architecture.
·         The Crossing is marked by an octagonal  tower.

·        Blind arches create a regular rhythm and unify the parts of the building. The decoration is very restrained, consisting of repeated shapes largely defined by straight lines.

·       The three chapels are clearly legible in the outward appearance of the East end.

·         A three-aisled crypt with columns carrying vaults from simple pyramidal capitals lies beneath the Chancel, which is raised above the level of the nave.

Features typical of Catalan Romanesque: Nave and two aisles; high vaults; Latin Cross plan.
Features typical of Romanesque: articulation – clear division of space (bays, aisles, transepts, apses all clearly defined by simple lines and arches); symmetry in plan; austere decoration.
Another example of the 'First Romanesque' is St Philibert, Tournus.

Text, photos, plan and video on
Excellent photos, with images of the original painted decorations (c.1200) now in MNAC, are on the Catalan Monastery site.
Fernie, Grove entry; Zarnecki, Romanesque; Focillon, Art of the West.