The Gothic church

Period: gothic

The Gothic church of Saint-Jean-des-Vignes was a monument of the first order. More than 86 meters long and 80 meters high at the summit of the northern tower of its west façade, this building gave material form to the spiritual and political ambitions of its community. The canons’ new construction project, begun in the first quarter of the thirteenth century, took three centuries to complete. Information about the Gothic church depends on several types of evidence: those parts of the building that survive in elevation; others that have been revealed by archaeological excavation; and written and pictorial records from the medieval and early modern periods.

The west façade, with its two asymmetrical towers, and the south side-aisle wall of the nave up to the window sills remain in elevation today. Archaeological excavation has revealed the lower courses of the terminal wall of the chevet, and of the choir wall on the south side as well as the foundations of the south transept arm. Excavation has also revealed the easternmost bay and a half of the choir on the north side of the church.

When completed, the Gothic church of Saint-Jean-des-Vignes was a three-vesselled, basilican structure arranged around a rectangular crossing bay. West of the crossing, a nave of six relatively regular bays, flanked by side-aisles, extended into a seventh bay corresponding to the tower block and the façade. East of the crossing, a choir of three irregular bays terminated in a flat chevet. Transept arms two bays in length projected slightly beyond the limits of the side-aisles and had an aisle, or perhaps chapels, on their eastern side.

On the basis of standing remains and pictorial evidence we can assert that the central vessel of the church was composed of a nave arcade carried on round piers with a single attached respond, surmounted by an open triforium passage and clerestory containing two lancets set below a small oculus. Saint-Jean-des-Vignes was thus a typically Soissonnais monument, probably influenced in its elevation design by the nearby cathedral, begun in the early years of the 1190’s.

The abbey church was entered, at ground level, by at least five major, decorated portals. Three of these are located on the west façade. The other two are built into the southern side aisle wall, where they were entered from the northern cloister alley. At the eastern end of the alley, the portal that served the canons as their principal entrance opened into the easternmost bay of the side aisle. Only the western embrasure of this portal remains standing, but its lavishly sculpted tympanum survives, preserved in the logis abbatial. At the western end of this alley, adjacent to the opening of the passage running under the refectory proper and linking forecourt to cloister, the portal that very likely served the laybrothers opened into the first bay of the side aisle east of the façade block.

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