The unique decagonal nave of this church opens to east into a choir which was completed about 1156. Much of the original furniture was destroyed in WWII and the structure required significant repairs. Yet the heavy, round-arch, romanesque design elements are evident.
The apse retains most of the original wall paintings, including the enthroned Christ, St. Gereon, and a bishop brandishing a sword. The windows are modern.
Opening off the south side of the decagon is a baptistry built 1242-45. By that time the gothic style had taken hold in German lands. The font itself is of a somewhat earlier date.
Opposite the font is a late gothic altar. The wall paintings date to the mid-13th century, about the time of construction.
One of the most striking features of the church is a chapel with a 19th century pieta. Although the gilded vault and variegated marble panels are eye-catching, the monochrome sculpture stands out even more.
St. Gereon Kirche is unique north of the Alps. The lower levels date to about 350-65. The central structure is oval with semicircular niches that may have once held memorials to early noble families. Some of the stone in the vaults of these niches was recycled from Roman structures. The upper portions of this structure were renovated and extended several times during the past millennium. The visual splendor can only be approximated in photos, but this view of the ceiling gives some idea of what it is like to stand in the center of this remarkable church.
Each of the niches mentioned has a different pieced glass window. Here are a few of them. They are just another indication that modern ideas of unified design did not obtain in the Middle Ages.
A fascinating aspect of these ancient churches is the stories they have to tell about the people who inspired them, built them and worshipped here.
St. Gereon was, according to tradition, one of fifty Roman soldiers from Egypt who were beheaded for refusing to deny their Christian faith. They were thrown into a well on the site of this church. Excavations after WWII failed to locate such a burial, but there are sarcophagi here from Roman times. These same excavations uncovered coins minted after 345, disproving the tradition that the church was founded by St. Helen. However, it is certain that the main oval structure was begun during the 4th century.
This sculpture of Gereon´s head is in the park adjacent to the church. It weighs 8 tonnes and measures about 8 feet from the neck to helmet. An international project in some sense, it was created by a German-Turkish sculptor in Thailand.
Holy Roman Emperor Otto I, who is entombed at Magdeburg, appointed his brother Bruno as Archbishop of Cologne. Bruno found St.Pantaleon in need of repair and began a massive renovation. He died in A.D. 965 and is buried in the crypt. In 972, Otto arranged the marriage of his son, Otto II, with Theophanu, a princess of the Byzantine Empire. After Otto’s early death, Theophanu ruled the empire as regent during the minority of her son, Otto III. She installed her daughter Adelheid as abbess at St. Serviatus, Quedlinburg. She funded the extension of the westwork of St. Pantaleon, and on her death in A.D. 991, was entombed at St. Pantaleon.
Sarcophagus of Archbishop Bruno
Sarcophagus of Theophanu
The church is a quick guide to the history of art and architecture from roman times to the present. Beneath the choir, excavations have uncovered the foundations of a roman villa dating to the 3rd century.
Later this plot of land became a cemetery and a simple chapel was raised on the site in the 7th century. In the 9th century, under Bruno, this was lengthened and remains as the nave of the church. Theophanu’s contribution was the western extension with these bi-color arches that were characteristic of 9th and 10th century Rheinland churches.
In the 12th century, side aisles with groin arches were added, a gothic rood screen followed in the early 16th century with further additions of a gothic apse, stained glass windows and a massive baroque altar (1747-9).
Rood Screen from 1503.
Gothic Apse, 1620, and Baroque altar 1740s.
The central nave was vaulted in the 17th century. But after damage in WWII, it was restored as a coffered ceiling more in line with the original design. The religious symbols etched in the panels are executed in a very 20th century style.
The gothic style first appeared in France at St. Denis in A.D. 1147. The style came to Germany 60 years later. I’ve often wondered why it took so long. How the style came to Magdeburg is clear however. Archbishop Albrecht II von Kefernburg (in office 1205-1232) had studied in Paris and seen the building of Notre Dame Cathedral. The 300 year old church in Magdeburg burned in 1207. Albrecht razed the ruin and re-built in the new style beginning in 1209.
Although the church includes pointed arched and ribbed vaults, there are no flying buttresses, and the overall visual effect is a blend of the late Romanesque and early Gothic. Some of this blend can be observed in the chancel: mixed round and pointed arches, mixed groin and arched vaults and thick rectangular piers with half columns supporting arches.
On entering the cathedral, one is tempted merely to absorb the immensity, the repetition of lines and curves, and 800 years of history.
There are many details to study as well. (Click each thumbnail for bigger images).
Cowgoyle at west portal
The parable of the ten virgins and the last judgment. North Transept.
I didn’t catch his name, but he’s looking right at me.
Pieta with Flowers
Screen inside West Portal
Otto I (d. 973) who was instrumental in consolidating and extending the German Empire, is entombed in the center aisle of the choir. We attended an Anglican evensong service here (in English, mit deutscher Übersetzung). The sound was glorious.
One evening, we were reading the notice board at the entrance to the Cathedral when a man on a bike paused to speak with us. He told us how, as a student in the DDR (East Germany), during a two week work period before the term, he had helped lay the cobblestone paving of the churchyard. The statue is St. Mauritius a third century African Roman soldier honored by the cathedral.
When we arrived just before sunset to photograph the west front of the Cathedral, a boy and his father were kicking a soccer ball in the plaza. I was waiting quietly, but impatiently, for them to move on. After about 5 minutes they did.
In the 11th century, jewish merchants and bankers from Italy and France migrated to the city of Speyer on the River Rhine. Under the protection of the bishop, they established a community that thrived for 400 years. Talmudic Scholars from Mainz also arrived and Speyer to became an internationally recognized center of jewish learning by the 13th and 14th centuries.
The largest jewish neighborhood was immediately to the west of the bishop’s palace. There is nothing left of the medieval houses, due to a major file in 1689 which also nearly destroyed the cathedral, but the ruins of the synagogue and mikvah survive. A fine museum has been established at what is called the Judenhof. It contains tombstones from the jewish cemetery and a recovered treasure hoard that had been buried during a period of persecution.
The mikvah is a special point of interest. This ritual bath was use for ceremonial cleansing. The bath itself is located 10 meters below the street level, where “living” groundwater was available.
A stairway leads from ground level to a changing room and from there a semicircular stair leads to the level of the water. Windows above let dim light filter down. There was some debris in the water when I was there. Presumably someone would have been tasked with skimming it off when it was in daily use.
Consecrated in the early 12th century, the synagogue was probably built by some of the same craftsmen who worked on the nearby cathedral. One assumes this was a result of the bishop’s protective oversight. The stonework is rough, more like the earliest, eastern section of the cathedral than like the finely finished stone of the nave. It probably was plastered over in any case. In the image below, the red stone was the original wall while the brick section on the left was an addition built for the use of the women.
The Jews were driven out of Speyer about A.D. 1500. The synagogue became a storage facility. Today little is left of the interior. The outline of the tabernacle where the Scriptures were stored can be seen in the image below on the wall under the round window. The women’s section on the right was separated from the men’s by a wall. Holes in the wall allowed them to hear the proceedings.
Speyer is only about an hour’s drive from Heidelberg. Though the magnificent cathedral is the main draw, this museum and ruins are definitely worth a visit. interpretive signs are in German, English and French. A selection of brochures are available in other languages as well.
Consecrated by a woman, rebuilt and repaired with dramatic asymmetry, this church stands in the center of a World Heritage town of narrow crooked streets.
The original cross-shaped, romanesque basilica on this site was consecrated in 1173 by Abbess Adelheid III. The bishop of Halberstadt objected to this procedure but was overruled by the Pope who confirmed the right of the Abbess to perform the consecration.
The first thing one notices on entering the nave is that the axis of the nave is offset significantly from the axis of the choir. The center aisle is more than a meter narrower on the right hand side than the choir. Furthermore, the first arcade opening on the south is several feet wider than the opening on the north.
The reason for this misalignment may have been funding. When the choir and nave were rebuilt in the 15th century as a Gothic hall church, the north side of the nave was widened, and new foundations were established for the piers of the arcade. On the south side, as apparent cost saving measures, the old foundations were retained, and a portion of the former transept was retained as the east wall of the aisle.
I can imagine the architect thinking, “If the client won’t provide the funds to do it right, I’ll build something they will regret for the next 1000 years.” But seriously, the building is still in use 600 years after these practical measures were taken. That’s more than we can say for a lot of more recent structures that have disappeared.
The asymmetrical spires are the result of reconstruction after fires in 1701 and 1901.
The Kalandskapelle was the gathering place of the local chapter of a charitable society of prosperous citizens and priests who met on the first day of each month (i.e. of the calendar). The society was quite widespread from the 9th century through the end of the middle ages, and there are a couple chapters extant even today. The altarpiece dates to about 1480.
The high altar, dating to about 1700, includes the familiar, the apostles Paul and John, Moses, David, Christ on the road to Emmaus, as well as some unusual images for an altar, Jonah and the fish and Samson carrying the gates of Gath.
Carvings on the stair to the pulpit
Carvings on the stair to the pulpit
Carvings on the pulpit
Carvings on the stair to the pulpit
Carvings on the stair to the pulpit
The pulpit dates to 1595 and is carved out of linden wood with images of the garden of Eden, the apostles, and the Passion.
This statue of David was once used as a support for the organ loft.
Information for this article was gathered at the church and from the booklet “Quedlinburg, Marktkirche St. Benedikti, Welterbe der UNESCO.” ISBN 3-89643-598-1
The village of Gernrode, at the edge of the Harz mountains, barely shows up on maps. Yet, it is home to a remarkable 1000 year old church. The Margrave of the East March (sounds like something from Tolkien), named Gero, established here, in A.D. 959, a secular women’s abbey. His widowed daughter-in-law, Hathui, was the first Abbess. She ruled the abbey for 55 years.
Gero was diligent in establishing the credentials of the abbey. He obtained sanction from Otto I in 961 and renewed it with Otto II. He also traveled personally to Rome in 963 to obtain Papal sanction. He returned from there with a relic of St. Cyriakus, who as far as I can tell, was an african martyr in the Diocletian persecution of A.D.303.
Construction began with the Apse and Chancel.
There were apparently strong connections between this region and Byzantium. The wife of Otto II was from there and their daughter became the second Abbess in 1014. The nave and its arcade were built in the Byzantine style. Note the multi-columned arcade and gallery above the side aisles.
No structure lasts unmaintained for hundreds of years. There was a major restoration in 1859-65. The chancel painting was restored based on traces of 13th century frescoes. It shows Christ seated with with Book of Life. The middle row shows various saints, with Cyriakus in the center. The lower row shows Gero with member of his family. Hattui the first abbess is shown on the lower right.
The ceiling of the church is quite dramatic. A coffered ceiling was removed in the 19th century restoration and rebuilt based on remnants of an earlier ceiling. The nave portrays the apostles and prophets. The chancel ceiling shows angels in paradise.
Looking west from the chancel steps, we see the west apse and organ loft. The paintings there are from the restoration of 2003-2012. Underneath the organ is the west crypt. The tomb of Gero in the lower center is of 16th century construction.
One final curiosity is the replica of the Holy Sepulcher dating to the 12th century. It is the oldest and most exact replica in Germany. I presume it was built after people returned from the capture of Jerusalem in 1099. It is an elaborate replica of the tomb they would have seen there.
The building is still home to a living community. It hosts weekly Catholic and Protestant services as well as concerts. http://www.stiftskirche-gernrode.de
Information in this post was derived from information in church displays and the booklet Stiftskirche St. Cyriakus Gernrode, Verlag janos Stekovics 2013