The church of Saint-Etienne (Saint-Vaast) in Beauvais was much discussed in the early literature on medieval architecture, particularly in regard to the vaults over the initial bays of the nave aisles. The vaults have long been considered among the earliest rib vaults in northern France, although their exact date had never been determined. The challenge to date these vaults precisely became critical in the late 1950s when local excavations under the present Late Gothic choir uncovered evidence that the original choir may have been rib-vaulted as well. This paper analyzes these unpublished excavations and their implications for the extant vaults of the nave aisles; it also provides a credible dating for the choir and these vaults. In the absence of constructional documents, the dating of Saint-Etienne must depend on stylistic comparisons correlated with the dates of major historical incidents in Beauvais that would have influenced the construction of the church. All of these factors taken together seem to indicate strongly the existence of a fully rib-vaulted choir at Saint-Etienne and of a unified campaign of construction encompassing this choir, the transept, and the initial bays of the nave aisles. Most significantly, a date as early as the 1070s is suggested for the vaults of the choir, thus making them the earliest known rib vaults in medieval architecture and forcing a re-examination of the structural aspect of medieval style in the 11th century.
- Copyright 1986 The Society of Architectural Historians