Toulouse: St. Sernin (detail)

Brick insert in a stone column in the nave of St. Sernin

Here’s another story trapped in stone. This is one of the nave columns in St. Sernin in Toulouse. I would love to know why the interior of the stone column has this bricked-in repair job (it looks like a repair, anyway). The jagged but continuous vertical edge of the stones on either side of the bricks suggests to me that the space was hacked out of the original stone after the column was built and then filled in with the flat bricks at some later date, perhaps after the space was no longer needed. Maybe some sort of wooden or stone crossbeam was inserted into the column? That might explain the narrow keyway at the bottom of the brick pile, but this is pure speculation on my part.

Toulouse: St. Sernin (nave)

The nave of St. Sernin, showing the solid Romanesque (pre-Gothic) style

Unlike its quirky uncle St. Etienne, St. Sernin is a model of geometric harmony. It is also yet another medieval church that was later “enhanced” with a Baroque altar. The original altar is a work of simple beauty.









St. Sernin's original Romanesque altar (this is a replica; the real original still exists but is off limits to visitors)









Detail of the replica—itself a stunning work of art

Toulouse: St. Sernin (east)

The chevet of St. Sernin, showing the rounded form characteristic of Romanesque

The chevet (from the Old French for “head”) at the eastern end of St. Sernin manages to be complex and visually harmonious at the same time. Gothic gets most of the attention, but this Romanesque beauty is a thief of hearts.

Toulouse: St. Sernin (north)

Toulouse St Sernin north side

The Basilica of St. Sernin in Toulouse, France (north side)

With its red brick construction among the many buildings that contribute to Toulouse’s nickname as “La Ville Rose,” the Basilica of St. Sernin is one of the finest examples of the city’s relatively unknown and underappreciated architecture (at least relative to the architecture of Paris).

I would love to know the story of the masonry change you can see in the nave walls directly below the tower, where the all-brick design gives way to the marriage of brick with white stone accents. I confess I don’t know much about the construction of this church. (Click the image for a larger version.) Does time move from left to right in the photo, suggesting that the brick-only buttresses and window frames in the nave are newer, or from right to left, suggesting that the brick-only sections are older?

If I had to invent a story to explain the change, I might say that an Italian master builder was brought on board after the nave was largely complete, and he began to interleave white stone with the red brick from that point on, continuing three bays eastward to the crossing and then outward to the arms of the transept and the side aisles. (This builder character would be Italian because the stripe effect of brick and stone echoes architecture I’ve seen in parts of Italy, Florence in particular.)