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