Shadyside Church’s architecture has its inspiration in the eleventh century style known as Romanesque.  What is Roman about Romanesque?  Only part of the story, as it turns out.  After five fallow centuries, new building surged in Western Europe at the beginning of the second millennium.  Builders of churches and monasteries did try to revive the Roman construction techniques they observed in ruins, particularly the round arch.

Their sources, however, were not only archeological.  Architectural skills survived and flourished in the Byzantine East, after Rome fell.  This tradition was still vigorous and influential on Romanesque architecture.  We see an example in our sanctuary: the four great arches from which our lantern rises.  This same pattern of arches supports the dome of the sixth century Hagia Sophia* church in Constantinople.  Even the name for these broad curved supports, when they spring from a low base like ours, is Eastern:  the Syrian arch.

The round Roman arch was first widely applied by Rome, but the Greeks invented it.  Misleading attributions abound in architecture.  The pointed Gothic arch first appeared in Romanesque structures.  Indeed, the Goths had nothing to do with Gothic architecture. Renaissance Romans gave the name retrospectively, as a term of derision (i.e. barbarian).  Would it be more appropriate to refer to our arched style by the Greek source – perhaps neo-Grec?  That term is already taken for a romantic style that looks neither neo nor Greek.  The Germans take a typically direct Teutonic approach, calling the Romanesque, “Rundbogenstil” (round arch style).

Whether the source is Rome, Greece, Byzantium or nature, the round arch projects a sense of stability and shared load.  Each wedge-shaped stone (voussoir) is supported by the stone beside and below it.  However, without the upper stone, the lower one would collapse into the middle.  The round arch sounds like a good model for a church.

*Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge worked in H H Richardson's architecture office.  I recently discovered a photograph taken in that office, late in Richardson's practice.  Displayed is a large depiction of Hagia Sophia.  This may have been a source for the Shadyside arch arrangement.  The successor firm did use a similar composition in the Memorial Church at Stanford University.  A close precedent for the Stanford building can be seen in an unbuilt Richardson design of 1871 for Trinity Church in Buffalo.  Photo from "H. H. Richardson Complete Architectural Works"  Jeffrey Karl Ochsner MIT Press.