Étampes (Essonne)

Notre-Dame-du-Fort

Building Data

  •  
  • Type: Abbey Church
  • Affiliation: Augustinian
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  • Original Diocese:
  • Region: Ile-de-France
  • Department: Essonne
  • Coords: 48.435, 2.1642
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  • Surveyed: 1969, 1979, 1980-83, 2003, 2005, 2009, 2015, 2017

Map

Virtual Tour

Phase 1 - Earliers - crypt


The crypt predates the church and may be Carolingian. There would have been a small church above possibly no wider than the space between the piers of the present choir and no longer than the present apse to crossing; entry into the crypt may have been from the centre of the upper church or laterally from outside.
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Rationale for dating :

During the Conference held at Etampes in July 2017 there was a major difference of interpretation that could not be resolved; one scenario was that the levels of the clerestory capitals were built where they are today, while the other postulated that the nave clerestory capitals were placed 11 courses lower, that the choir continued that height, and that shortly afterwards it was determined to raise the height, widen the choir and add transepts, and that this decision goes some way to explain the many design anomalies such as the rubble walls adjacent to the crossing, the seven (maybe 9) different profiles for the bases, the five (maybe 7) imposts and a prolific 21 rib and arch profiles. The following observations were the most important in this discussion, a) the confused shape and placement in the 1120s choir capitals and imposts, and adjacent corbelling, b) the junctions between the western nave clerestory, organ loft and adjacent windows, c) the clear joints between the rubble walls of the west transepts clerestory and the adjacent transept walls, and d) the 1120s capitals midst the continuous coursing of the eastern bay of the apse clerestory. The most relevant items are discussed in their appropriate phases.

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Phase 3 - Earliers - ossuary


There is a deep basement under the sacristy that was at one time used as an ossuary; it has a central pillar and doubled corbels and one carved corbel; the depth raises serious questions about the original ground level and disposal of rainwater.
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Phase 4 - 1090s - tower I, II


Above the two-storey tower base stones of the next 25 treads are extended to form the newel, and the inner diameter of the staircase gradually diminishes; the external wall is visible on the outside and at the top forms a square base to support the second storey of the tower with a crenelated coping; except for two, the capitals are plain.
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Rationale for dating :

The detailing and proportions of the tower are not untypical for any time from the 1080s to the 1100s and, lacking any toichological evidence, these two levels could have been built after the nave.; the two remaining capitals are closer to others carved before the crusade, such as Bruyeres, Retheuil and Nogent.

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Phase 5 - 1110s [1115]- nave (a)


A nave of three bays (not the two we have today) and four piers was built between the tower and the earlier church with massive drum piers and capitals to the 14th course supporting the arcade arches and starters for arches across the future aisles [black on plan in phase 7]; logic suggests the three bays with the easternmost being later modified to accommodate the transepts, because part of the eastern crossing drums are still visible inside later adossed pilasters; the drums have massive three-course bases with a splay and groove in the plinths, and stood alone without the adjacent aisles; the capitals at this level have a small recess at the upper corners to reflect arches in three directions; those in the eastern crossing and in WN1(a) [the north nave crossing pier] are similar and may have been carved before the others; in this scenario the campaign rose no further than the nave arcade arches, though the capitals to the eastern piers may have been set higher than the rest.
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Rationale for dating :

Throughout (a) refers to the aisle level, (c) to the lower clerestory and (c+) to the upper. Restoration documents of the 19th century note the existence of "springs" of arches that may have been remnants of the arcade of the third bay. The construction of the nave may have been a seamless process with five or six campaigns.

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Phase 6 - 1110s [1116]- north (a)


The wall for the north nave aisle was erected on massive plinths much wider than the torus, with a simple splay and groove as in the arcade; in the west the wall was extended some metres to the top of a plinth against the west wall, and in the east I presume that the wall would have been extended towards the choir from the part of a drum visible in the eastern crossing pier; also, the remnants of this extension may still be visible in a narrow strip of ashlar between the Wn1e shafts and the wall of the transept; the eastern arcade arch (now demolished) would not have been affected by the pilaster added onto the north face of WN1 pier as it lay to one side; at the western end there are still traces of the doubleau from this phase.
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Rationale for dating :

Analysis in "The Ark" 3:275 [*MCS - a date in the later 1110s is suggested by the changes in the carving manner of the SS Master.

Phase 7 - 1110s [1118]- south (a)


South nave aisle walls with capitals over different plinths; the aisle is narrower than the north and it too could have been extended eastwards into the third bay; the layout was designed for groin vaults, though above the capitals corbels were added that could have supported ribs, and if so the idea was soon abandoned and they continued with groin vaults.
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Rationale for dating :

One south aisle capital Ws1(a) has similar forms to one in the nave clerestory capital WN2(c+) with similar vertical fronds turned over at the top, and corner heads, suggesting this sculptor was on site during both phases and were therefore probably carved at the same time

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Phase 8 - 1110s [1118]- nave (c)


In this scenario the nave clerestory capitals were placed at the level of the present string course that runs under the later clerestory windows, being about the 38th course; they remained there until they were raised 11 courses to their present height around phase 31; if not placed the capitals would have remained in storage for 70 years and would have been unlikely to survive. A temporary roof over the nave and both aisles would have been built at this level over three bays from the tower to the eastern crossing piers, in preparation for moving services from the choir to the nave so the 3 bays of the choir could be rebuilt, but the roof ended up being an encumbrance for the next 70 years delaying the completion of the transepts. The style of the two capitals from this period that peek out from the eastern drum at the clerestory level (c+) is similar to the capitals in nave aisle W1(a); being carved about the same time we have two choices, either they were initially placed much lower down or the 35+ courses between them would have been erected before the piers in the nave; many years before because the average rate of construction at that time was between 5 and 12 courses per year. In the west the walls and capitals of the organ loft from the 1190s in phase 37 are loosely bonded with the two corner drums above the level of the string course, showing that the upper parts of the drums were probably built at the same time, and with at least the lower courses of the jambs of the huge nave clerestory windows. In the east the evidence lies in the outer skin of rubble walling in the two adjacent transept walls in phases 32 and 36, both in the north and south; the junctions between the rubble and the transept buttresses is clean and unbonded and in this scenario the outer bays of the transept clerestory would have been completed, but the three bays in the centre including the western crossing would have been held back by the temporary roof over the nave; the rubble walls therefore filled in the section that had been delayed.
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Phase 9 - 1120s [1121]- north entry


Externally, the middle section of the north wall of the transept has small buttresses that do not lie on the axes from the future transept; between them there used to be two openings, perhaps for access to a funerary chapel over the basement "ossuary" (the cemetery used to be to the north); the arched outline of the eastern opening is still visible from the south (now filled in with a later frame and a small door) and the south face of the other has been completely remodelled, though the original flattened arch is still visible from the north; the dimensions suggest two equal openings with windows or sculpture over doorways; part of the frame on the right side is now hidden behind the later NE3 shafts; the original height of this room may be indicated by the upper arches on the north side; the rib vaults were inserted later (Phase 40).
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Phase 10 - 1120s [1122]- choir (b)


Choir piers placed outside the walls of the still-existing choir and pilasters against the earlier drums in two or three campaigns [yellow]; the over-wide plinths under some piers are like those on the north side of the crossing suggesting part of the choir may have been erected with the north aisle (or by the same master on a later visit); they have an additional shaft that may have been for a wider arcade arches or for ribs; if there had been a shaft on the future flanking aisle side of any of these piers they are now buried inside the later pilasters; the pilasters against the southern crossing pier is later than the one in the north, their bases being those of the group erected in phase 20; the square-ended eastern bay may have been begun at the same time though the bases are hidden under the raised floor; the walls in the first campaign were raised only 3 or 4 courses above the bases, built of rubble between ashlar quoins inside and out; there is no evidence at this level for a transept nor for lateral chapels, and so one has the impression that the church was intended to be rectangular; there are remnants of openings or recesses in the sidewalls of the apse on both sides, and though the plasterwork makes it is very uncertain what they were for, the remaining stones do suggest the sides of openings or the start of arches.
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Rationale for dating :

Examined from the number of phases and the flow of work I estimate that (as many other buildings) the annual rate of pier construction was about 8-10 courses per year: see MCS #08 "Construction Timetables".

Phase 11 - 1120s [1124]- choir (a)


The two capitals on the sides of the eastern crossing piers on the 24th course (a-) may have been for an entry arch into the apse, a screen or support for a cross, or they could be the missing capitals in the (c+) level that were not raised with the rest of the western choir, but replaced by one of the Saint-Martin carvers. A question about the eastern pilaster on the EN1 pier is why was it needed if the arcade arch was already there? Maybe this has something to do with what was built in the north bay, see phase 19.
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Phase 12 - 1120s [1125]- choir (c)


All the choir clerestory capitals may have been intended to be level with the lower chapel vaults (c); this would have placed the clerestory some 11 courses lower than today, level with the lower vaults in the eastern chapels; this matched the level of the sills in the clerestory windows of the nave as discussed in Phase 8, and lines up with the string on the eastern wall at the 33rd course; as long as the vault was designed for a level crown there would have been ample room for the clerestory windows; the reasons are that the upper level capitals look misplaced, both in height and angulation and the imposts are confused; the upper capitals could not be placed until the last pilasters had been fully erected, and considering the 44 courses and the extent of the scaffolding, and that the arches between the transepts and the chapels at the lower (c) level had to be erected first, there could have been some years between them.
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Rationale for dating :

Visualise the three central bays of the choir brought to a common level with the nave, and roofed over (but not vaulted) and services then being held in this partly-completed space, 11 courses lower than today; then consider the dilemma when, some years later, it was decided to enlarge the choir and raise the height, a decision that would involve a prolonged construction, and since no one would have wanted to disrupt services during the following years these bays were left roofed at the lower level; and remained at this level until services could be transferred into the north in Phase 32.

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Phase 13 - 1120s [1126]- choir (c+)


The capitals in the choir clerestory upper level (c+) at the 44th course are in the same mode as those in the (c) level, but some are misplaced, too small or too short for their location and the imposts confused; in the eastern bay the internal coursing of the side walls is continuous into the window frames, as it is outside into the uppermost courses of the four chapels, showing that the work above the string course was built at the same time, see Phase 32; the design of the upper eastern wall of the apse and the upper lateral windows are unlike the lower, suggesting a significant change above the string course, and in addition, the style of the capitals in the upper windows of the eastern choir, both inside and out, is similar to those in the uppermost part of the adjacent treasury; in this scenario the capitals were all placed at the (c) level until Phase 32 when the adjacent choir was raised sufficiently for them to be moved up, also little more could be done in the choir until the encasing shafts had been added after phase 20, these shafts forming the critical path for this work; the rough quality of the work may have had something to do with the restrictions in funding during the Crusade.
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Phase 14 - 1130s [1130]- n transept (b)


On the west face of the north transept three large buttresses were built some 4 metres up to the window string and with a circular staircase in the corner; though the doorway to west with its decorated shafts has different coursing in the lower masonry the jointing and the continuous coursing above the imposts suggests that the wall and door were built together; the size of the buttresses suggests the wall was for a tall transept, marking when the decision may have been taken to raise the height of the whole building; was the door in some way associated with whatever was built in the north transept bay in phase 19 [marked in yellow on plan]?
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Rationale for dating :

In order to display a realistic building sequence I have numbered each of the dates between square brackets to the year; this is of course untenable on the available evidence, but it is nevertheless surprising that when continued for many buildings the procedure makes for a more precise understanding of construction sequences across many buildings.

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Phase 16 - 1130s [1131]- n chapels


The bases and coursing show that the northern two chapels and north wall with its door and the two intermediate piers were built together to the string course at the 19th course over two, maybe three, campaigns; the shaft arrangement suggests they intended groin vaults [see iplan of EN2].
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Rationale for dating :

One of the carving teams that I named Palmier carved here more than anyone else, and the steps in construction provide the sequence for the development of his ideas; the dates are locked around Palmier's work here and in the Saint-Denis narthex as well as the Chartres west portal; the north door has capitals with Palmier and Lapwing templates and very Chartrain imposts that I have used to date the start of the northern choir to the early 1130s, while the later capitals in the same mode under the north transept vaults that match capitals in the upper Saint-Denis narthex help to dates its completion to 1140; for convenience dating is arranged in annual increments with an average construction rate in the piers of between six and no more than twelve courses a year; further connections between other carvers can be followed in the ARK pages and the Master Carvers Series (MCS).

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Phase 17 - 1130s [1132]- s portal


Carving and erection of the south portal; note Palmier capital on the left embrasure; with enough imagiers the portal could have been carved in a few months, but it would have needed more time to erect all 34 courses up to the lean-to roof at the (c) level; the 2.6 metre thick wall that now covers part of the portal was one of the last parts of the choir to be built; the upper angel on the right sits within an arched recess the back of which is bonded into the ashlar behind the angel, and was the side of the nave buttress on the east of the portal, now covered by the thickened wall from Phase 34.
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Rationale for dating :

Imposts for Chartres and Etampes portals are discussed in MCS#29:3-; Etampes is probably some 7 years before Chartres from the order of their building campaigns and the stylistic connections between the foliate carving: http://www.johnjames.com.au/pdf/07-Palmier, master and carver.pdf and http://www.johnjames.com.au/pdf/29-Portal impost study.pdf.

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Phase 20 - 1130s [1134]- se chapel (b)


On the south side of the choir the walls of the first chapel step down from east to west indicating a delay to the entry pilasters of that chapel, which have doubled shafts over a simpler plinth; once above the 10th course all courses are even again, and the use of doubled shafts in other phases may have been to retain unity.
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Phase 21 - 1130s [1135]- south (b)


A large program: the pilasters to the outer faces of the choir piers, outer walls of the two south chapels from the apse to the nave [green], and the layout for the treasury, and the plinths for the transept next to the south portal, all to a lower floor level than the choir; nothing could be constructed in the upper parts of the choir until these bases and next 44 courses of masonry were erected, at the earliest by phase 30; once these pilasters were in place the 1120s choir capitals could be moved up and work on the next 11 courses begun while the nave roof remained where it was; the bases have double plinths with a complex profile that continued along the wall inside and out and the torus outline is flattened with a large scotia that runs continuously between tori (under small shafts the outline seems almost vertical); against WS1 drum the remnants of shafts from the 1120s were covered by this pilaster that could only be added after the demolition of south nave aisle wall; in south-west corner the upper courses of the wall step down leaving an opening for the ingress of materials; the courses in this corner were gradually raised, though always well below the rest of the building [confirmed in the location of the curved imposts of Phase 34].
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Phase 23 - 1130s [1137]- choir n3(c)


The type A impost with a groove and curve [blue]; to understand the order of the imposts there are five identifiable profiles, as noted on each plan; I will refer to them as A, B, A+, C and D; in the north wall the windows are set 2 courses above the capitals of the vaults, so B is after A; the shafts on the south side against the pre-existing wall of the apse would be quicker to build than the solid walling around the chapels and so A could be before A+ with a projecting roll under a cyma; once the arches across the second row were completed above the (c) level there are eleven courses before the capitals of the higher vaults at (c+).
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Rationale for dating :

The Palmier capitals that are so like those in the Chartres north tower help to date this section.

Phase 24 - 1130s [1138]- choir ne(c)


Impost B in the north wall at (c) level and one over the pilaster on the second choir pier [green]; the profile is a rectangular recess over a long simple curve; the capitals in this zone are from a dense stone and so fairly flatly carved foliates akin to the Palmier manner.
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Phase 25 - 1130s [1139]- choir nw(c)


Impost A+ in the (c) level [pink] includes the isolated pier between the chapels and the transepts with two levels of capitals for both the lower height of the chapels and the higher in the transept; they stand alone without any connections in the south; many of these capitals follow a similar flattened design that is not repeated in later work; these capitals may have been carved at the same time as those in Phase 24, but not placed immediately; once the north-to-south arches were completed above the (c) level there are eleven courses before the capitals of the higher vaults at (c+).
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Phase 26 - 1140s [1140]- choir n(v)


South of the choir most of the imposts to the chapels and their window heads [blue]; there may have been a delay after finishing the north (c) capitals and then proceeded with the south in the next phase, or they may have been simultaneous, indeterminable because it is not possible to relate the campaigns on the upper walls and vaults in the north to the plinths and lowest courses in the south, and so, for convenience, I have located the first imposts in the north as being after the last plinths in the south, though these campaigns may have overlapped.
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Phase 27 - 1140s [1141]- s windows (aw)


Impost B [green] capitals for two sets of shafts, one pier and one window; the window imposts are 9 courses below the (c) capitals, and therefore A is before B. It is not possible that the A profile in the (c+) level could be from the same campaign as the complexity of the vaults indicate a number of campaigns between them; so I suggest the south was erected in the order A, B, C, and B again in the (c+) level and, finally, D in the south-west corner; the presence of the Saint-Martin carvers among the last group suggests that work at the nearby abbey may have stopped by then.
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Phase 28 - 1140s [1142]- S-s door (a)


This may be when the capitals in the south door in the south wall (now blocked) with the impost B were carved, utilising some members of the St Martin’s team; the outer face of the 2.5 metre thick wall in the south-west corner of the south transept may have been begun here, or a little later, and was so wide it covered the eastern corner of the south portal [see phase 17]; it may have been a temporary measure that became permanent, to support a large crane to help construct the vaults, and thereby reduce the builder’s yard that impinged on the space of the market.
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Phase 29 - 1140s [1143]- s chapels (c)


Impost A in the southern chapels and windows marks the start of the lower vaults in the south just above the windows [blue]; the uppermost walls above the capitals to support the vaults are built from excellent ashlar all round the north.
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Phase 30 - 1140s [1144]- n choir (c)


All the northern lower (c) vaults had been proceeding over a number of these campaigns, probably including the two bosses with the radiating kings.
 

Phase 31 - 1140s [1145]- choir n(c+)


All the capitals for the (c+) north transept piers and crossing with impost C [yellow] being a simple curve; the two on the west wall of the south transept may have been carved at the end of this campaign as WS1(c+) is incomplete; above the level of the (c) capitals, on either one side or the other, some courses of the added pilasters against the crossing drum seem loosely bonded into the courses of the drums, suggesting that the upper courses of the pilasters and the adjacent courses of the drums were built together; this means that the uppermost parts of the drums were extended after the choir of the 1120s, and thus the earliest dates for the upper courses seem to be determined by the bases to these pilasters; the decision to install a groin vault over the crossing may have been because there was no space at the top of the piers to rest a rib across one of the largest spans from that period, and a groin vault was the safest solution within their experience; as each pilaster has 44 courses from bases to imposts they would not have been the work of a few weeks, and would have been continued over many years and different campaigns.
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Rationale for dating :

Some courses of the pilasters against the crossing drums are loosely bonded into the courses of the drums on one side or the other, suggesting that the upper courses of the pilasters and the adjacent courses of the drums were built together; the earliest dates for these courses are therefore determined by the bases to these pilasters.

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Phase 32 - 1150s [1155]- choir (c+)


This could be when the older choir capitals were raised and reset at the (c+) level; in the upper wall of the eastern choir windows the coursing is continuous between the corner pilaster and the window frames, showing that the whole section above the string course was built at the same time, and on the outside the continuous coursing ties this wall in with the uppermost courses of all four chapels; the style of the capitals in the upper windows of the eastern choir, both inside and out, is similar to that in the uppermost part of the adjacent treasury [blue], and as they are more in the style of the 1150s we need to explain (a) the great gap in time between them and the 1120s choir capitals in the corners just a few courses below, and (b) the continuous coursing of the whole of the (c+) choir including the capitals over the eastern window and the vaulting of the treasury; this phase included the upper capitals (c+) in the wall across the west face over the lower southern vaults.
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Rationale for dating :

Services in the central vessel of the choir could now be transferred into the northern bays, leaving the three central bays free for scaffolding to support the raising of its height by 11 courses; my impression from the confused work is that the first step of raising the capitals was during the Crusade when all funding was concentrated on war, and few skilled teams were available, and that this was followed by the rib vaults.

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Phase 33 - 1150s [1156]- choir s(c+)


33 Impost B (green) in the upper vaults of the south transept; unlike the north there was no matching profiles on the external southern wall; the carvers came from St-Martin; the presence of this team in the facing (c+) capitals in the eastern crossing and the use of the same imposts links the crossing clerestory to the surrounding work.
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Rationale for dating :

The facing (c+) capitals in ES1n and EN1s would have been 1120s in manner like all the others from the 1120s choir, but instead they are from the St Martin team that worked in the south transept as the church was being finished; the earliest date for this level of the choir crossing is fixed by the other (c+) capitals in the south transept.

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Phase 34 - 1150s [1158]- s trans (c+)


Walls to south-west corner of the south transept under impost D [purple] where work had been held back, presumably because this is where the materials were delivered for the vaults, and when one considers the streets available for delivery the builders would have needed an accessible delivery area; there are three sets of capitals, all with the same impost D, that flank the two southern rose windows, the walls that encase them and the vaults in southwest corner; capitals in the south crossing pier with carvers from St-Martin [one using a stylized Palmier format], which may help link the programs in both buildings; also in the south wall in Es1n(c+) there is work by a Palmier-copyist.
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Phase 35 - 1190s - west (c+)


All this time the lower roof at the (c) level over the nave was still in place, making it difficult to build the 16 courses above the (c+) capitals in the two bays flanking the nave on western side of the transepts [red lines and blue shaded areas in ARK images]; there was thus a ‘hole’ in the centre of the building until the upper nave walls and these two in the transepts could be finished; when they did proceed the outer faces were built of rubble that is occasionally toothed into the ashlar buttresses; the walls have unique window frames and string courses; the joint and the stepped junction at the level of the capitals shows that these rubble walls were totally separate phases of work to the rest of the transept clerestories; the filling of the ‘hole’ had to be after the upper walls of the transepts, north and south, and could have been contemporary with the organ loft in the next phase
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Rationale for dating :

The timing of this section is necessarily unsure, and if the rubble over the nave clerestory windows was part of the same campaign and if the nave roof remained in place during the whole of the next operation, this may have been the last part completed many years later.

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Phase 36 - 1190s - w portals


The western wall with three portals, the passage on the south and the chapel on the north were built and vaulted, and the interior of the tower base was encased in ashlar with reinforcing arches; this was extended to meet the piers of the nave enlarging the whole of the ground floor for the support of the intended tower and spire and to provide lateral bracing over what might well have been considered shaky foundations; in the northwest corner of the southern passage the encasement stops at the western end where a small part of the earlier tower remains exposed.
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Rationale for dating :

1193± from the decadic range of the capitals, see "The Ark" 1:632.

Phase 37 - 1190s - organ loft (c+)


Above the enlarged lower level the tower was encased in ashlar with a large window on the west and two rib vaults on the inside; the large opening on the east behind the organ is framed by small shafts that begin below the level of the nave string course (c), and the coursing is loosely bonded with the drums above the nave clerestory sills, showing this wall was built with upper 11 courses of the adjacent drums, and with it the raising of the height of the capitals; the other nave capitals may have been raised to this level at the same time in which case the earlier roof over the nave at the string level would have been removed; the joints on the inside indicate that the jambs for the nave clerestory windows were begun at the same time, though to different designs in the north to the south indicating a number of campaigns; during this time the lower roof over the nave remained in place.
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