Main SourcebooksAncientMedievalModern

Subsidiary SourcebooksAfricanEast AsianGlobalIndianJewishIslamicLesbian/GayScienceWomen

About IHSP Help Page IHSP Credits

The Church of the Guardian Angel

(Roman Catholic)
193 W.21st Street at 10th Avenue 

by Wendy Plaut 

"The church's simple brick and limestone Southern Sicilian Romanesque facade merges with the Tuscan village forms of auxiliary buildings to the north in a well- related group." (AIA Guide to NYC, p.175)

Early historians of medieval art followed a similar pattern. To them, the great climax was the Gothic style, from the thirteenth century to the fifteenth. For whatever was not-yet-Gothic they adopted the label Romanesque. In doing so, they were thinking mainly of architecture. Pre-Gothic churches, they noted, were round-arched, solid, and heavy, as against the pointed arches and the soaring lightness of Gothic structures. It was rather like the ancient Roman style of building, and the term "Romanesque" was meant to convey just that. In this sense, all of medieval art before 1200 could be called Romanesque insofar as it shows any link with the Mediterranean tradition. 

The most conspicuous difference between Romanesque architecture and that of the preceding centuries is the amazing increase in building activity. An eleventh century monk, Raoul Glaber, summed it up well when he triumphantly exclaimed that the world was putting on a "white mantle of churches." These churches were not only more numerous than those of the early Middle Ages, they were also generally larger, more richly articulated, and more "Roman-looking." Their naves now had vaults instead of wooden roofs, and their exteriors, unlike those of early Christian, Byzantine, Carolingian, and Ottonian churches, were decorated with both architectural ornament and sculpture. Geographically, Romanesque monuments of the first importance are distributed over an area that might well have represented the world- the Catholic world

Interesting Facts 
  • The Church of the Guardian Angel is reminiscent of the early Romanesque sculpture at the abbey of Moissac. Both churches have a scalloped profile that seems to incorporate a bit of Moorish influence. Both the human and animal forms are treated with the same incredible flexibility. The purpose of this carefully illustrated art work is not only decorative but expressive. They embody dark forces that have been domesticated into guardian figures or banished to a position that holds then fixed for all eternity.
  • The portal proper at the church is preceded by a deep porch, with lavishly sculptured sides. It is adorned with events from the early life of Christ. Only the proportions of the bodies and the size of the figures vary with the architectural context. What matters is the vividness of the narrative, rather than consistency of treatment.
  • The Church of the Guardian Angel was built in the 1930s by John Van Pelt.

Works Cited
  • The Dictionary of Art. Edited by Jane Turner. Volume #23. Macmillan,  New York, 1996.
  • AIA Guide to New York City. Elliot Willensky and Norval White. 3rd Edition. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers: New York, 1988.

Back to Medieval New York

The Internet History Sourcebooks Project is located at the History Department of  Fordham University, New York. The Internet Medieval Sourcebook, and other medieval components of the project, are located at the Fordham University Center for Medieval Studies.The IHSP recognizes the contribution of Fordham University, the Fordham University History Department, and the Fordham Center for Medieval Studies in providing web space and server support for the project. The IHSP is a project independent of Fordham University.  Although the IHSP seeks to follow all applicable copyright law, Fordham University is not the institutional owner, and is not liable as the result of any legal action.

© Site Concept and Design: Paul Halsall created 26 Jan 1996: latest revision 5 June 2023 [CV]