The oldest Christian inscription preserved in Gaul is from 334; and even before the barbarian invasions a certain number of churches had been built. At the time of Clovis the bishops had great political importance; they represented the Roman order, and extended the traditions of the old regime under the new masters. On the other hand, with the exception of the Arians of the South, the barbarians destroyed little: the great devastation dates back especially to the Norman invasions of the eighth and ninth centuries. But the unity of Gaul ended: the Burgundians founded their realm in E., the Visigoths in S., the Franks, established in the northern regions, proved to be the most intelligent and conservative.
The baptism of Clovis (496) marks his adhesion to what remained of the Gallo-Roman system, his children gave games, dressed as consuls, resumed their guard over the Rhine escaped from the weak hands of the last Caesars. Moreover, the Franks were too few in number to be able to modify the substratum of the country. In vain there is an attempt to attribute to these children of the forests the remote origin of Gothic architecture, from the vaults made in imitation of the galleries of foliage. They had not created any monuments where they came from, and they did not create any in Gaul. They loved jewels (treasures of Childeric, of Gourdon, in the Cabinet of Medals in Paris: treasure of Pouan, in the museum of Troyes; Merovingian jewels in the museum of Cluny), but it is proven that they are goldsmiths of oriental origin (v., art) because in the twilight of the West during the fifth and sixth centuries the light of Byzantium and Sassanid Persia shone.
The pilgrims brought the so-called Byzantine art to Gaul, made up of Greek and above all oriental elements. We know from Gregory of Tours, from Sidonio Apollinare that a great number of churches were built in their time. The foundation of several French cathedrals dates back to the century. V, but all were rebuilt several times later, and almost nothing is preserved from that era. The church of St. Peter of Vienne (Isère), with that of Néris (Allier), are perhaps the only monuments dating back to the end of the century. V. The Basse-Œuvre of Beauvais seems to date from the 13th century. VIII. Some minor monuments – martyria, tombs, baptisteries – such as the chapel of St. Lawrence in Grenoble, the baptisteries of Aix-en-Provence, of Riez, of Fréius, of Poitiers (4th century, remodeled in the 7th), of Vénasque (7th century), they are from that era. The crypt of Jouarre (Seine and Marne) with delicate Byzantine marble capitals, perhaps sculpted in Italy, preserves some tombs of abbesses of the century. VII. The layout of these churches is generally basilical, with a roof, with three naves divided by columns with women’s galleries. Many of their particularities came from the East: the concentric plans, although so widespread in Roman architecture, the double-apse plan of the ancient cathedral of Clermont (5th century), so often imitated by Carolingian artists, the apses flanked by chapels or from square environments. The Gauls, excellent carpenters, raised on the crossing of the transept with the nave a high wooden tower (St. Martin in Tours; the cathedrals of Nantes and Clermont). The masonry is of stones with brick appurtenances. Inside, the columns torn from pagan monuments, marbles, frescoes, mosaics, silk wallpaper, gilded ceilings, altars and shining goldsmith chandeliers, made the basilicas sumptuous.
But a rapid dissolution caused the Merovingians to decay; Arab danger loomed; the barbarians were agitated. All the elements of the order, still existing in Gaul, were concentrated in some great diocese or monastery. Since that annihilation, the Carolingian Restoration attempted to recreate an order and consolidate it. And it was almost a first Renaissance.
According to Constructmaterials.com, the Carolingian Renaissance in architecture almost limited itself to maintaining and restoring what threatened ruin. Charlemagne cannot be counted among the great builders; the only construction commissioned by him is the palatine chapel of Aachen (v.), the work of Eudes of Metz (790-804), probably inspired by S. Vitale of Ravenna. The small church of Germigny-des-Prés, built by Theodulf, bishop of Orléans, was poorly restored in 1867. The most valuable surviving document of religious architecture of that time is the famous map of St. Gallen in Switzerland (about 800), with a church with two choirs, two apses with ambulatory. The ancient abbey of Saint-Riquier (Somme) had the same plan, and the same characteristics are found in Fontenelle, in Corbie; they are still preserved in Nevers, Besançon and Verdun;
The monuments of the 9th and 10th centuries, of a rough style, are just a dozen in France: S. Filiberto di Grandlieu (Lower Loire), S. Generoso (Deux Sèvres), some parts of S. Martino d’Angers, the church of Cravant (Indre et-Loire), etc.; the most important remains, fragments from 940, are those of Jumièges. These buildings have numerous common elements that prelude to Romanesque architecture: pillars, vaults, apses flanked by apses, facades with a tower or bell tower separated from the body of the church. The stone sculpture, which fell after the century. IV in a state of barbarism, it was almost abandoned. Instead it flourished in the small ivory carvings, and had distinct characters in different schools (see ivory): in the ivories, as in the miniatures (Godescalc’s Bible, Charles the Bald’s Bible, National Library of Paris), the spirit of the Carolingian Renaissance was particularly manifested. Unfortunately the frescoes have disappeared; the only one left, depicting the martyrdom of St. Stephen and belonging to the century. IX, was discovered in 1927 in the crypt of S. Germano in Auxerre. The mosaic had a great development during the Merovingian times (church of the Daurade, ecclesia deaurata, in Toulouse, 5th century, destroyed in the 18th century); but the beautiful ancient tradition died out with the mosaic of Germigny-des-Prés of the century. IX (see Carolingian, art).