Norman architecture

The term Norman architecture is used to categorise styles of Romanesque architecture developed by the Normans in the various lands under their dominion or influence in the 11th and 12th centuries. In particular the term is traditionally used for English Romanesque architecture. The Normans introduced large numbers of castles and fortifications including Norman keeps, and at the same time monasteries, abbeys, churches and cathedrals, in a style characterised by the usual Romanesque rounded arches (particularly over windows and doorways) and especially massive proportions compared to other regional variations of the style.

Durham Cathedral. Interior
The nave of Durham Cathedral.
Interior of the Monreale Cathedral.
St Swithun's, Nately Scures from the south west


These Romanesque styles originated in Normandy and became widespread in north western Europe, particularly in England, which contributed considerable development and has the largest number of surviving examples. At about the same time a Norman dynasty ruled in Sicily, producing a distinctive variation incorporating Byzantine and Saracen influences which is also known as Norman architecture, or alternatively as Sicilian Romanesque. Ancient Rome's invention of the arch is the basis of all Norman architecture.

The term may have originated with eighteenth-century antiquarians, but its usage in a sequence of styles has been attributed to Thomas Rickman in his 1817 work An Attempt to Discriminate the Styles of English Architecture from the Conquest to the Reformation which used the labels "Norman, Early English, Decorated, and Perpendicular". The more inclusive term romanesque was used of the Romance languages in English by 1715,[1] and was applied to architecture of the eleventh and twelfth centuries from 1819.[2] Although Edward the Confessor built Westminster Abbey in Romanesque style (now all replaced by later rebuildings) just before the Conquest, which is still believed to be the earliest major Romanesque building in England, no significant remaining Romanesque architecture in Britain can clearly be shown to predate the Conquest, although historians believe that many surviving "Norman" elements in buildings, nearly all churches, may well in fact be Anglo-Saxon.

Norman arch

Laon Cathedral Interior 04
The nave of Laon Cathedral resembles a Norman arch

The Norman arch is a defining point of Norman architecture. Grand archways are designed to evoke feelings of awe and are very commonly seen as the entrance to large religious buildings such as cathedrals.


Viking invaders arrived at the mouth of the river Seine in 911, at a time when Franks were fighting on horseback and Frankish lords were building castles. Over the next century the population of the territory ceded to the Vikings, now called Normans, adopted these customs as well as Christianity and the langue d'oïl. Norman barons built timber castles on earthen mounds, beginning the development of motte-and-bailey castles, and great stone churches in the Romanesque style of the Franks. By 950, they were building stone keeps. The Normans were among the most travelled peoples of Europe, exposing them to a wide variety of cultural influences which became incorporated in their art and architecture. They elaborated on the early Christian basilica plan. Originally longitudinal with side aisles and an apse they began to add in towers, as at the Church of Saint-Étienne]] at Caen, in 1067. This would eventually form a model for the larger English cathedrals some 20 years later.


Andover - Norman Arch - - 556600
A Norman arch c. 1150 in Andover, Hampshire
Norman arch
A Norman arch with zig-zag mouldings above the church doorway at Guiting Power, Gloucestershire

In England, Norman nobles and bishops had influence before the Norman Conquest of 1066, and Norman influences affected late Anglo-Saxon architecture. Edward the Confessor was brought up in Normandy and in 1042 brought masons to work on the first Romanesque building in England, Westminster Abbey. In 1051 he brought in Norman knights who built "motte" castles as a defence against the Welsh. Following the invasion, Normans rapidly constructed motte-and-bailey castles along with churches, abbeys, and more elaborate fortifications such as Norman stone keeps.

The buildings show massive proportions in simple geometries using small bands of sculpture. Paying attention to the concentrated spaces of capitals and round doorways as well as the tympanum under an arch. The "Norman arch" is the rounded, often with mouldings carved or incised onto it for decoration. chevron patterns, frequently termed "zig-zag mouldings", were a frequent signature of the Normans[3]. The cruciform churches often had deep chancels and a square crossing tower which has remained a feature of English ecclesiastical architecture. Hundreds of parish churches were built and the great English cathedrals were founded from 1083.

After a fire damaged Canterbury Cathedral in 1174 Norman masons introduced the new Gothic architecture. Around 1191 Wells Cathedral and Lincoln Cathedral brought in the English Gothic style, and Norman became increasingly a modest style of provincial building.

Ecclesiastical architecture

Norman arcade, Ely Cathedral


  • Sedding, Edmund H. (1909) Norman Architecture in Cornwall: a handbook to old ecclesiastical architecture. With over 160 plates. London: Ward & Co.

Military architecture

Domestic architecture


Scotland also came under early Norman influence with Norman nobles at the court of King Macbeth around 1050. His successor Máel Coluim III overthrew him with English and Norman assistance, and his queen, Margaret, encouraged the church. The Benedictine order founded a monastery at Dunfermline. Her sixth and youngest son, who became King David, built St. Margaret's Chapel at the start of the 12th century.

Ecclesiastical architecture

Kirkliston Parish Church. With rare examples of late 12th century "Norman Transitional" architecture[3


The Normans first landed in Ireland in 1169. Within five years earthwork castles were springing up, and in a further five, work was beginning on some of the earliest of the great stone castles. For example, Hugh de Lacy built a Motte-and-bailey castle on the site of the present day Trim Castle, County Meath, which was attacked and burned in 1173 by the Irish king Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair. De Lacy, however, then constructed a stone castle in its place, which enclosed over three acres within its walls, and this could not be burned down by the Irish. The years between 1177 and 1310 saw the construction of some of the greatest of the Norman castles in Ireland. The Normans settled mostly in an area in the east of Ireland, later known as the Pale, and among other buildings they constructed were Swords Castle in Fingal (North County Dublin), Dublin Castle and Carrickfergus Castle in County Antrim.[7]



The Normans began constructing castles, their trademark architectural piece, in Italy from an early date. William Iron Arm built one at an unidentified location (Stridula) in Calabria in 1045. After the death of Robert Guiscard in 1085, the Mezzogiorno (peninsular southern Italy) experienced a series of civil wars and fell under the control of increasingly weaker princes. Revolts characterised the region until well into the twelfth century and minor lords sought to resist ducal or royal power from within their own castles. In the Molise, the Normans embarked on their most extensive castle-building programme and introduced the opus gallicum technique to Italy. Their clever use of the local stone artisans, together with the vast riches amassed from their enslaved population, made such tremendous feats possible. Some as majestic as those of the ancient Roman structures they tried to emulate.

Besides the encastellation of the countryside, the Normans erected several religious buildings which still survive. They edified the shrine at Monte Sant'Angelo and built a mausoleum to the Hauteville family at Venosa. They also built many new Latin monasteries, including the famous foundation of Sant'Eufemia.[8] Other examples of great importance are the portal of the Shrine of Mary Queen of Anglona and the ambulatory and radiating chapels of the Aversa Cathedral. In Salerno, however, remember Fruscione Palace.

Here is a list of Norman architecture in the Mezzogiorno :

  • Castle of Circello.
  • Castle Monforte (Campobasso).


3420 - Catania - Absidi del duomo (1094) - Foto Giovanni Dall'Orto, 5-July-2008
The oldest Norman cathedral in Sicily (1094), the cathedral of Catania
Cefalu Cathedral interior BW 2012-10-11 12-07-53
Interior of the Cathedral of Cefalu

Sicily's Norman period lasted from circa 1070 until about 1200. The architecture was decorated in gilded mosaics such as that at the cathedral at Monreale. The Palatine Chapel in Palermo built in 1130 is perhaps the strongest example of this. The interior of the dome, (itself a Byzantine feature), is decorated in a mosaic depicting Christ Pantocrator accompanied by his angels.

During Sicily's later Norman era early Gothic influences can be detected such as those in the cathedral at Messina consecrated in 1197. However, here the high Gothic campanile is of a later date and should not be confused with the early Gothic built during the Norman period; which featured pointed arches and windows rather than the flying buttresses and pinnacles later to manifest themselves in the Gothic era.


After its Norman conquest in 1091, Malta saw the construction of several Norman pieces of architecture. Many have been demolished and rebuilt over the years (especially after the 1693 Sicily earthquake which destroyed many old Norman buildings), however some fortresses and houses still exist in Mdina and Vittoriosa.

Transitional style

As master masons developed the style and experimented with ways of overcoming the geometric difficulties of groin vaulted ceilings, they introduced features such as the pointed arch that were later characterised as being Gothic in style. Architectural historians and scholars consider that a style must be assessed as an integral whole rather than an aggregate of features, and while some include these developments within the Norman or Romanesque styles, others describe them as transitional or "Norman–Gothic Transitional". A few websites use the term "Norman Gothic", but it is unclear whether they refer to the transitional style or to the Norman style as a whole.[9][10]


Neo-Norman architecture is a type of Romanesque Revival architecture based on Norman Romanesque architecture. There is sometimes confusion, especially in North America, between this style and revivalist versions of vernacular or later architecture of Normandy, such as the "Norman farmhouse style" popular for larger houses.

Romanesque Revival versions focus on the arch and capitals, and decorated doorways. There are two examples in Manchester: the former Stock Exchange building and a synagogue in Fallowfield.



Castle at Raviscanina: redoubt of the rebel Andrew of Rupecanina


The Palazzo dei Normanni in Palermo

Christ Pantokrator, Cathedral of Cefalù, Sicily

The Pantocrator in the apse of the Cathedral of Cefalù


The Cathedral of Palermo was erected in 1185 by Walter of the Mill, the Anglo-Norman archbishop of Palermo and King William II's minister

New Romney Church Tower - New Romney - Kent - June 2007

New Romney church tower, an example of English small-town Norman architecture


Winchester Cathedral, an example of Norman architecture in England


Example of a small village church in Pyrford, Surrey, England

St Bees Priory westdoor evening sun

St Bees Priory, Cumbria, west door, Circa 1160

Archway of Norman tower Bury St Edmunds Suffolk England

Archway, Norman Tower, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, c. 1120–1148

St Lawrence arches 2

Arches in the southern nave of the Church of St Lawrence, Alton, Hampshire, c. 1070–1100

St Michaels Mickleham

St Michaels Mickleham c. 950-1180


Palazzo Santa Sofia, Mdina, Malta c. 1233 (first floor)

St Leonard's church, Hythe - Norman archway

Archway in St Leonard's church, Hythe, Kent

See also


  1. ^ OED "Romanesque": in French a letter of 1818 by Charles-Alexis-Adrien Duhérissier de Gerville seems to be the first
  2. ^ OED same entry; in French by Gerville's friend Arcisse de Caumont in his Essaie sur l'architecture du moyen âge, particulièrement en Normandie, 1824.
  3. ^ Bell, Edward (December 1888). "ON THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN ROMANESQUE AND GOTHIC". The Archaeological Review. 2 (4): 237-251. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  4. ^ Crummy, Philip (1997) City of Victory; the story of Colchester – Britain's first Roman town. Published by Colchester Archaeological Trust (ISBN 1 897719 04 3)
  5. ^ Denney, Patrick (2004) Colchester. Published by Tempus Publishing (ISBN 978-0-7524-3214-4)
  6. ^ "Moyse's Hall museum". Retrieved 2011-06-11.
  7. ^ Castles in Ireland Feudal Power in a Gaelic World. by Tom McNeill. (London, 1997) ISBN 978-0-415-22853-4
  8. ^ "Abbazia Benedettina di Sant' Eufemia". Retrieved 10 April 2017.
  9. ^ "Gothic Architecture in England". Retrieved 2011-06-11.
  10. ^ "Norman Gothic". Retrieved 2011-06-11.

Sources and literature

  • Bilson, J. (1929), "Durham cathedral and the chronology of its vaults", Archaeological Journal, 79
  • Clapham, A. W. (1934), English Romanesque Architecture after the conquest, Oxford
  • Clifton-Taylor, A. (1967), The Cathedrals of England, London
  • Cook, G. H. (1957), The English Cathedrals through the Centuries, London
  • Escher, K. (1929), Englische Kathedralen, Zürich
  • Von Pevsner, Nikolaus; Fleming, John; Honour, Hugh (1971) [1966], Lexikon der Weltarchitektur, München
  • Rieger, R. (1953), "Studien zur mittelalterlichen Architektur Englands", Wiener Kunstwiss. Blätter, Jg. 2
  • Short, Ernest H. (2005), Norman Architecture in England
  • Webb, G. (1956), "Architecture in Britain : The Middle Ages", Pelican History of Art, London

External links

Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of Cefalù and Monreale

Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of Cefalù and Monreale is a series of nine religious and civic structures located on the northern coast of Sicily dating from the era of the Norman Kingdom of Sicily (1130-1194): two palaces, three churches, a cathedral, and a bridge in Palermo, as well as the cathedrals of Cefalù and Monreale. They have been designated together as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The new Norman rulers built various structures in what has become known as the Arab-Norman style. They incorporated the best practices of Arab and Byzantine architecture into their own art.

Canute's Palace

Canute's Palace in Southampton, England, is the name given to the ruins of a Norman merchant's house dating from the late twelfth century. Despite its name, the building has no connection with Canute the Great, nor was it a palace.

Cappella Palatina

The Palatine Chapel (Italian: Cappella Palatina), is the royal chapel of the Norman kings of Sicily situated on the first floor at the center of the Palazzo Reale in Palermo, Sicily.

Also referred to as a Palace church or Palace chapel, it was commissioned by Roger II of Sicily in 1132 to be built upon an older chapel (now the crypt) constructed around 1080. It took eight years to build, receiving a royal charter the same year, with the mosaics being only partially finished by 1143. The sanctuary, dedicated to Saint Peter, is reminiscent of a domed basilica. It has three apses, as is usual in Byzantine architecture, with six pointed arches (three on each side of the central nave) resting on recycled classical columns.

Carrickfergus Castle

Carrickfergus Castle (from the Irish Carraig Ḟergus or "cairn of Fergus", the name "Fergus" meaning "strong man") is a Norman castle in Northern Ireland, situated in the town of Carrickfergus in County Antrim, on the northern shore of Belfast Lough. Besieged in turn by the Scottish, Irish, English and French, the castle played an important military role until 1928 and remains one of the best preserved medieval structures in Northern Ireland. It was strategically useful, with 3/4 of the castle perimeter surrounded by water (although in modern times only 1/3 is surrounded by water due to land reclamation). Today it is maintained by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency as a state care historic monument, at grid ref: J4143 8725.

Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford

Christ Church Cathedral is the cathedral of the diocese of Oxford, which consists of the counties of Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire. It is also the chapel of Christ Church at the University of Oxford. This dual role as cathedral and college chapel is unique in the Church of England.

Church of St Mary and St Thomas, Knebworth

The Church of St Mary and St Thomas is one of two Anglican churches in Knebworth, Hertfordshire, England. The church dates from the twelfth century and is a grade I listed building.

The church is set in a churchyard which has listed tombstones by Edwin Lutyens. It is surrounded by parkland.

Dunlough Castle

Dunlough Castle, standing atop the cliffs at the northern tip of the Mizen Peninsula, looks at the Atlantic Ocean from the extreme southwest point of Ireland. Founded in 1207 by Donagh O’Mahony, Dunlough is one of the oldest Norman castles in southern Ireland and an interesting example of Norman architecture and dry stone masonry.

Heath Chapel

Heath Chapel is located in an isolated position in a field in the former civil parish of Heath, Shropshire, England. It is an Anglican chapel in the deanery of Ludlow, the archdeaconry of Ludlow, and the diocese of Hereford. The chapel is served by the Ludlow Team Ministry. It is recorded in the National Heritage List for England as a designated Grade I listed building. The authors of the Buildings of England series describe it as "the perfect example of a rich little Norman chapel". The citation in the National Heritage List for England states that it "is nationally very remarkable as it has remained substantially unaltered in use, status, size and style".

Holy Trinity Church, Holdgate

Holy Trinity Church is in the village of Holdgate, Shropshire, England. It is an active Anglican parish church in the deanery of Ludlow, the archdeaconry of Ludlow, and the diocese of Hereford. Its benefice is united with those of St Peter, Diddlebury, Broadstone Church, St Michael, Munslow, and St Catherine, Tugford. The church is recorded in the National Heritage List for England as a designated Grade I listed building. It stands in the former southwest bailey of Holdgate Castle.

King John's Castle (Limerick)

King John's Castle (Irish: Caisleán Luimnigh) is a 13th-century castle located on King's Island in Limerick, Ireland, next to the River Shannon. Although the site dates back to 922 when the Vikings lived on the Island, the castle itself was built on the orders of King John in 1200. One of the best preserved Norman castles in Europe, the walls, towers and fortifications remain today and are visitor attractions. The remains of a Viking settlement were uncovered during archaeological excavations at the site in 1900.


Monreale (Sicilian: Murriali) is a town and comune in the Metropolitan City of Palermo, in Sicily, southern Italy. It is located on the slope of Monte Caputo, overlooking the very fertile valley called "La Conca d'oro" (the Golden Shell), a production area of orange, olive and almond trees, the produce of which is exported in large quantities. The town, which has a population of approximately 39,000, is about 15 kilometres (9 miles) inland (south) of Palermo, the regional capital.

Monreale forms its own archdiocese and is home to a historical Norman-Byzantine cathedral. This has been designated as one of several buildings named in a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a group of nine inscribed as Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of Cefalù and Monreale.

Newark Priory

Newark Priory is a ruined priory on an island surrounded by the River Wey and its former leat (the Abbey Stream) near the boundary of the village (parish lands) of Ripley and Pyrford in Surrey, England.

Palazzo dei Normanni

The Palazzo dei Normanni (Palace of the Normans) or Royal Palace of Palermo is a palace in Palermo, Italy. It was the seat of the Kings of Sicily during the Norman domination and served afterwards as the main seat of power for the subsequent rulers of Sicily. Currently, it is the seat of the Sicilian Regional Assembly. The building is the oldest royal residence in Europe; and was the private residence of the rulers of the Kingdom of Sicily and the imperial seat of Frederick II and Conrad IV.

St Columba's Church, Warcop

St Columba's Church is in the village of Warcop, Cumbria, England. It is an active Anglican parish church in the deanery of Appleby, the archdeaconry of Carlisle, and the diocese of Carlisle. Its benefice is united with those of St Michael, Brough, St Stephen, Stainmore, and St Theobald, Musgrave. The church is recorded in the National Heritage List for England as a designated Grade I listed building. On Saint Peter's Day, 29 June, each year the church hosts a rushbearing ceremony.

St Leonard's Church, Bengeo

The Church of Saint Leonard is a Norman church in Bengeo, Hertfordshire. Located on the hillside overlooking the shared Beane and Lea valley, the Grade I Listed church dates from about 1120, and is the oldest building in Hertford. The church served as the parish church of Bengeo until the larger Holy Trinity Church was opened in 1855. St. Leonard's was stripped of its fittings and stood empty and unused for some years, until the Gosselin family of nearby Bengeo Hall commissioned its restoration and refitting between 1884 and 1894.The church is built of flint with stone dressings and has a tiled roof. The nave is coated with plaster with an open collar-beam roof. The south doorway dates from the 12th century, with the addition of an 18th-century brick porch. The chancel roof and the wooden west bellcote both date from the 19th century restoration. The bellcote houses a single bell, dated 1636.Remains of medieval wall paintings were uncovered during restoration work in 1938 by William Weir.The church is used for Sunday services during summer months, and also hosts exhibitions and concerts.

St Leonard's Church, Sandridge

St Leonard's Church is in Sandridge, a village in Hertfordshire, England. It is an active Anglican parish church. The building is Grade II* listed: notable features include its chancel arch made from recycled Roman brick.

St Mary's Church, Kirkby Lonsdale

St Mary's Church is in the town of Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England. It is an active Anglican parish church in the deanery of Kendal, the archdeaconry of Westmorland and Furness, and the diocese of Carlisle. Its benefice is united with those of six local churches to form the Kirkby Lonsdale Team Ministry. The church contains Norman architecture and is recorded in the National Heritage List for England as a designated Grade I listed building.

St Peter's Church, Heysham

St Peter's Church is in the village of Heysham, Lancashire, England. It is recorded in the National Heritage List for England as a designated Grade I listed building. It is an active Anglican parish church in the deanery of Lancaster, the archdeaconry of Lancaster and the diocese of Blackburn.

Woodstock Palace

Woodstock Palace was a royal residence in the English town of Woodstock, Oxfordshire.Henry I of England built a hunting lodge here and in 1129 he built 7 miles (11 km) of walls to create the first enclosed park, where lions and leopards were kept. The lodge became a palace under Henry's grandson, Henry II, who spent time here with his mistress, Rosamund Clifford.Important events that took place at the palace include:

The marriage of William the Lion, king of Scots to Ermengarde de Beaumont in 1186

The signing of the Treaty of Woodstock between Henry III of England and Llewelyn the Last (1247)

The birth of Edmund, youngest son of King Edward I of England (1301)

The birth of Edward, the Black Prince (1330)

The marriage of Mary Plantagenet, daughter of Edward III of England, to John V, Duke of Brittany (1361)

Imprisonment of the future Queen Elizabeth I of England (1554–58)Woodstock Palace was mostly destroyed during the English Civil War, and the remaining stones were later used to build Blenheim Palace nearby.

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