Abstract. Dirk Huylebrouck queries Nexus Network Journal readers on what is special about the vaults of a church in Zsambek, Hungary.

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Query: The Vaults of Zsambek

Date: Monday, 14 February 2005
From: Dirk Huylebrouck <huylebrouck@gmail.com>

I would like to propose a topic for your "query". Last October, I visited an old church in Zsambek, Hungary. Apart from the turbulent history of the place, and the church in particular, there was something special with some arcs, as shown
in this picture:

Well now, Kim, is this a good start for a Nexus discussion with your readers? Maybe it is even a good idea for a new Nexus column "I have seen this, but what (the hell) was it?"


From Beth Cardier, a writer living in Prague:

I think this is called a keystone arch, and I think its story went like this: the engineering of the keystone arch was hard to master and in fact kept secret by monks (?) for a long time. This church's keystone arch was the largest (and perhaps latest) version of this dome-like version (as opposed to the corridor-like style). I forget what made this dome special apart from its size, but I want to say the number of ribs (not the technical word?) leading up to it. Maybe this one has more than most - six. Perhaps six is some of feat.

From William S. Huff, a Professor Emeritus of the State University of New York at Buffalo (USA):

This is late Romanesque -- while all arches are still round -- just before the development of the pointed or broken Gothic arch. Note that two of the segments are generally parts of a sphere; four parts are warped vaulting. These experiments were very intense in Norman architecture where some of the earliest Gothic churches occurred/or almost happened. Not being an historian (while not being in a library) and not knowing the age of the Zsambek church, I cannot tell whether it pre-dates the Norman achievements; the Zsambek church facade did look like late Romanesque (If any one finds out more, let me know.)

I do not have my architectural dictionaries in Pittsburgh, but in Buffalo. However, I am not sure that the center piece can be called a keystone. A keystone is the centerpiece of an arch; but I am not sure what the centerpiece of a vault is called. The center stone of this 6-part vault may not do as much work as a keystone does in an arch; in fact, I believe it can be removed and the vault may still hold together, a little like a dome. (But note that the ribs thrust into it, instead of into each other.) An arch will collapse if the keystone is removed.

See p. 167 from A.D.F.Hamlin, A History of Architecture, New York, 1900:


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