Lessay Abbey Architecture In Helsinki

Abbey-Church of the Holy Trinity, Lessay (Normandy).
A magnificent expression of Romanesque.
Source : https://www.flickr.com/photos/martin-m-miles

Dotted across Europe are so many churches which are, or have been, attached to religious houses. This post concerns one such church which is almost a thousand years old attached to a former Benedictine Abbey in Normandy, France. The following description of the Abbey-Church of Sainte-Trinité (Holy Trinity) in Lessay, Normandy (France) is adapted from a brief essay found at this link.


This Benedictine Abbey was founded around 1056. By 1098 the choir of the abbey church had already been built and the nave was built in the first years of the twelfth century. The church was consecrated in 1178, but it was not fully completed at that date. It continued as a monastery until the French Revolution but became a Parish Church at that time, the monastery buildings passing into private hands.

The Benedictine plan in the form of a Latin cross is used in most of the large abbey churches of Normandy: apse with chapels to scale, abutting the aisles and the arms of the transept, and a long nave with aisles. The interior elevation is that of the Norman Romanesque churches : large arcades, an intermediate level of tribunes and high windows. The Lessay Abbey-Church features ceilings of tracery vaults : one of the earliest examples of such vaults and well before the development of rib vaults in Gothic architecture.

The church was almost totally destroyed on two occasions by war. In 1356 during the Hundred Years' War, Charles II of Navarre directed his army to destroy the Abbey and Church. The church was reconstructed between 1385 and 1420. In July, 1944, the German army, retreating after the D-Day Landing, blew-up the church, reducing large parts of it to piles of rubble. It was reconstructed with the greatest care and fidelity in the period 1945-1958 and continues to serve as a Parish church.

A more detailed history of the Abbey can be found here .


The austere nobility of Romanesque ecclesiastical architecture :
Nave and south transept, with the Crossing tower.

The rugged Crossing Tower
pierced by arcading and crowned with a pyramidal roof.
Source : https://www.flickr.com/photos/biron-philippe


The splendid ribbed vault of the nave
reconstructed faithfully after World War Two.

Source : https://www.flickr.com/photos/sgparry
The nave and crossing of Sainte-Trinité :
a perfect expression of the monumental and noble art of the Romanesque period.
A new timber sanctuary, constructed in the eastern end of the Crossing,
is indifferently furnished, but at least is all
easily removable without injury to the building.


The ruins of Sainte-Trinité in 1944 :
another sad victim of war.

Lessay Abbey, Normandy, France. Built circa 1100 A.D.

          Romanesque style architecture first appeared in medieval Europe sometime around the 10th century A.D., and remained popular until evolving into the Gothic style in the 12th century. In 1818, French archaeologist Charles de Gerville (1769-1853) first used the name “Romanesque” (meaning “descended from Rome), in a letter written to colleague Auguste Le Prévost (1787-1859) in describing the structural design. Marked by thick walls, semi-circle arches, large towers and lavish decorations, these simple to recognize Romanesque structures-most of them churches-are still found today all across Europe, but predominantly in southern France, Italy and Spain. In addition to the churches and cathedrals, medieval engineers constructed castles, palaces, abbeys, homes, city walls, and even some bridges and other structures in a variety of ways using the Romanesque style.
Consequently, the Romanesque style architecture best reflect the ideals of the high medieval era as western European society at last emerged from the “Dark Ages” period.

Inspired by a classic learning revival and advanced knowledge of engineering returning via the Crusades in the Holy Land, the Romanesque style demonstrated the advent of new wealth and power among Europe’s elite, in addition to the erstwhile desire to celebrate God and his Saviour Jesus Christ in elegant style. A perfect surviving example of the Romanesque style is the Cluny Abbey, a former Benedictine monastery in Cluny, Saône-et-Loire, France. According to John Connant of the Medieval Academy of America, “Cluny was the most highly articulate Romanesque church, always the largest church in France and the largest monastic church; it introduced the pointed arch into monumental church architecture…”

From a practical perspective, Romanesque designed structures, specifically the castles, featured excellent defensive properties. Their sturdiness and sheer size alone made them somewhat impervious to the offensive weapons of the era, and thus, quite impenetrable. It was not until the arrival of gunpowder and cannons to Europe in the 13th century that Romanesque structures and their Gothic successors became more exposed. Nevertheless, the majesty of Romanesque architecture mesmerized the people of later centuries, a trend which persists to the present-day. Indeed, no other product identifies more with the Middle Ages than the Romanesque buildings.

Edmund Carter III

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