The Normans are a bunch of Vikings that settled in northern France, and within a century they were Christians speaking French. By 1066 they had become very experienced at fighting wars between themselves, a skill that came in useful, but they also produced magnificent cathedrals across Normandy and later, England.

So where did this come from? Did the rich Norman lands attract experts from across Europe? If so, why didn't they also go to rich Anglo-Saxon England?

Was it just a fashion that happened to catch on there?

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    We are a bit low on tags for anything not WWII related - and I don't have the rep. Can somebody add 'norman' cathedral building etc
    – none
    Commented Dec 10, 2011 at 16:29
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    I added 'norman'. Dunno if 'cathedral' needs to be a tag. :) Commented Dec 19, 2012 at 17:44
  • There is a huge temporal gap between the Normans being bunches of Vikings, and the Normans building cathedrals all over the place. Cultural adaptation/assimilation and many other things happened.
    – Dohn Joe
    Commented Mar 6, 2020 at 13:06

3 Answers 3


As "Vikings," the Normans were good SHIP builders. Once they reached land, it wasn't much of a stretch for them to transfer their skills to building churches and other buildings.

The Normans adopted a style of architecture that is known as "Romanesque." It was originated by the Romans, but later imitated by many west Europeans, chief among them the Normans. This style made use of rounded arches and was milder than the "Gothic" style, with pointed arches. As to why the Normans were such good imitators,

The Normans were described by others (in modern terms) as hungry, ambitious people.


Hence, they showed a greater desire to learn (and imitate) than their European peers. It appears to have been part of the restless "personality" that caused them to leave Scandinavia in search of more hospitable climates. Once they found them, they became "more royalist than the king," that is more "European" than the other western Europeans.

  • @MartinBeckett: Not everyone saw the Normans as "blood-thirsty trouble makers". French history looks at the whole episode with some glee... ^_~ Let the Great French-English war continue in this flame war... Or something. Commented Dec 12, 2011 at 16:38
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    @MartinBeckett: The battle of Stamford Bridge to be exact. The king and his army marched south and had to fight another invading army. This time they lost. The bridge is still there, on the outskirts of York (Jorvik once Eboracum). Nice place, I drive on it to a friend's house... Commented Dec 12, 2011 at 16:58
  • Your answer seems to imply that "Gothic" architecture is older than "Romanesque" architecture. The opposite is the case.
    – fdb
    Commented Jul 24, 2016 at 15:15

The Normans, this "bunch of Vikings" as you call then, did not build cathedrals with their own hands. They hired stonemasons and other craftsmen to do it.

  • This is a comment, not an answer.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Jul 24, 2016 at 16:04

In architecture "Norman" is just the insular British term for Romanesque architecture in Britain and Normandy since Romanesque architecture was basically introduced to Britain when the Norman Dynasty ruled England. It is like the insular British and American term "Victorian" for 19th century architecture.

The reason why the Normans and "Normans" associated with them paid for the construction of such great Romanesque cathedrals in Normandy and England was the same reason that other people of other ethnic groups in Germany and France, Spain and Italy, etc. paid for the construction of such great Romanesque cathedrals in their lands at the same period.

  • And that reason that everybody in Western Europe at the time built great Romanesque cathedrals was: that they could afford it, and the technology now existed perhaps? Commented Jul 22, 2016 at 21:52

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