St. Quirinusmünster, Neuss

Across the Rhine from bustling Düsseldorf is the relatively quiet town of Neuss. A military camp was established near here in 16 B.C. by the Romans. The site of this church was originally a cemetery with a small chapel. Successive church buildings appeared on the site as the camp grew into a town. In time an abbey was established adjacent to the church. By the early 13th century, the church had acquired essentially its current form, though roof and towers have been damaged and restored multiple times.

Quirinus was reportedly a tribune who was martyred in A.D. 116 and interred in Rome. In 1050, his bones were brought to Neuss by the Abbess, Gepa, who may have been a sister to Pope Leo IX. I’m always fascinated by the variety of roman martyrs to whom churches in medieval Germany were dedicated. There was a definite interest connecting with early Roman christianity through relics of early martyrs, even though details of their lives were often sketchy and of late date.

In 1794 French occupiers of the area used the church for fruit storage and later as a horse stable. Subsequently the adjacent abbey buildings were destroyed. After the region was incorporated into the Prussian State in the late 19th century, the church was restored. A new gold shrine was constructed to hold the bones of Quirinus and is now displayed in the apse.

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A distinctive feature of the church is the design of the east end. Two semicircular apses flank the eastern apse, rather than a typical transept. The design is similar to contemporary structures along the Rhine, e.g. St. Maria im Kapitol and Great St. Martin’s in Cologne. The image below is of the north “transept”.

The copper sheathing on the baroque style Central tower unifies it with the much older romanesque main structure. A statue of Quirinus caps the tower.

Aachen Through the Ages

The cathedral at Aachen incorporates more than 1200 years of history into one building. The heart of the church is the octagonal Palatine chapel. It was built during the reign of Karl Der Große (Charlemagne ca A.D. 800) as a two story church. Many renovations, demolitions and expansions have produced the current structure. Thirty kings and twelve queens were crowned here over the centuries.

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The image above was taken from the original chapel looking toward the 14th century choir that was modeled after Ste. Chapelle in Paris. The reliquary or shrine in the lower center reputedly contains the robe of Mary, the swaddling clothes and loincloth of Christ, and the beheading cloth of John the Baptist. The shrine is opened periodically for viewing.

The image below shows the verticality of the original chapel. At the time of construction it was the tallest building north of the Alps. The mosaic in the ceiling is a 19th century creation in the mode of medieval mosaics. Some of the columns are thought to have come from Rome. The 12-sided chandelier hanging from the roof represents the heavenly Jerusalem. It was donated by the emperor Frederic Barbarossa in 1165.

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The arches and vaults of the ambulatory around the chapel shift kaleidoscopically as one walks around.

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In this view of the church, the Palatine chapel is bracketed by the gothic addition and the Gothic superstructure over the original narthex.

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The choir, with its stained glass walls, contrasts with the heavier central chapel. The reliquary at the bottom of the photo is reputed to contain the bones of Charlemagne. At the very least it contains the bones of a tall man who died early in the 9th century, so the tradition has credibility.

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Dominikanerkirche St. Andreas, Köln

Dedicated to St. Andrew, this church lies a short block from the more famous Cathedral of Cologne. The nave, aisles and west end were built between 1180 and 1245 in the romanesque style.

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The choir and apsidal transepts were added in the 15th century in the high gothic style. The choir is longer than the nave, almost making two churches that meet at the crossing. Yet, the overall effect is very unified.

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This church is the repository of some remarkable relics (giving them the benefit of the doubt for the moment). St. Andrew’s arm bone is reputedly contained in a reliquary in the apse of the choir. The south transept holds a 16th century gilded reliquary that reputedly contains the bones of seven Jewish brothers and their mother. The apocryphal book of 2 Maccabees records their torture and death at the hands of Antiochus. When the synagogue near which they were buried was converted to a Christian church, their bones were recovered and eventually found their way to Cologne in 1164.

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When the choir was built, the crypt underneath was sealed up. After WWII, the crypt was reopened and renovated. A chapel was opened up underneath the crossing to house the relics of Albertus Magnus, a Dominican scholar and scientist of the 13th century. The sarcophagus is a roman artifact once held at the nearby St. Ursula church. Albertus was canonized and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1931.

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As unique as the shrine of the Jewish martyrs is, the reliquary in the vestibule (with St. Andrew in the background) is perhaps the strangest. I thought at first it was a baptismal font. It is in fact supposed to contain the blood of the virgins who were martyred with St. Ursula in the 3rd or 4th century. The stone “font” itself is 16th century.

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St. Gereon Part II

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.

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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.

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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.

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Opposite the font is a late gothic altar. The wall paintings date to the mid-13th century, about the time of construction.

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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.

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St. Gereon, Köln, Part I

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.

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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.

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St. Pantaleon Kirche, Köln, Tenth Century HRE Family Connections

_DSC1125_HDRHoly 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.

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.

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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.

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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).

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.

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Germany’s First Gothic Cathedral: Magdeburger Dom

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The massive Magdeburger Dom rises from a rocky outcrop along the Elbe River.

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.

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On entering the cathedral, one is tempted merely to absorb the immensity, the repetition of lines and curves, and 800 years of history.

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There are many details to study as well. (Click each thumbnail for bigger images).

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.

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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.

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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.

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A Different Angle: Marktkirche St. Benedikti, Quedlinburg

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.

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View to West. Notice the south wall (left) of the nave arcade is shifted inward from the line of the choir wall.

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.

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View from Sternkiekerturm of the Marktkirche

The asymmetrical spires are the result of reconstruction after fires in 1701 and 1901.

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Kalandskapelle

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.

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Altar

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.

The pulpit dates to 1595 and is carved out of linden wood with images of the garden of Eden, the apostles, and the Passion.

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16th century carving of King David.

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

St. Cyriakus, Gernrode

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.

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South Elevation

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.

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East Apse, Chancel and Transept

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.

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View of Nave from the Gallery of the South Transept

 

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.

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Frescoes of the East Apse

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.

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Chancel Ceiling

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.

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View to West with Tomb of Gero

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.

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South aisle with Holy Sepulcher.

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

A Visit to the Minster at Freiburg

Before planning a visit to the Minster at Freiburg, I knew two things about it: the spire is regarded as the most beautiful of Gothic spires, and the four organs sound magnificent. There is a wonderful quadraphonic recording of E. Power Biggs playing the 4 organs simultaneously. The sound reverberates long after the organist has released the keys. A similar visual reverberation lingers in my memory long after my visit earlier this year. The history of this church is available from many websites and books, but being there in person is a completely difference experience to reading about it.

There is at once a sense of age and freshness about the church that invites examination and investigation of details. Though it was built, and rebuilt in stages over several centuries it was completed during the Gothic era and thus retains the elegance of the age without too many distracting emendations of later times.

Time plays havoc with these monuments however and they are in constant need of maintenance. I had the misfortune to see the spire covered in scaffolding. The spire is undergoing a major renovation, including replacement of several massive cornerstones that bear the enormous weight of the, only-apparently, delicate structure.

The church was begun in the Romanesque style in the early 13th century. The chancel, transepts and part of the nave had already been finished when it was decided to complete the church in the Gothic style. The chancel and transepts were initially kept as is, and the nave as we see it today was completed in the Gothic Style. Afterwards, most of the original Romanesque structure was replaced in a late Gothic style. The more complex and higher vaulting in the present chancel was the result.

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Nave looking east

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High Gothic Chancel

Below is a view of the nave from the choir. One organ is in the loft at the rear and another on the upper right-hand wall. The second photo shows an organ in the north transept. The fourth organ is behind the choir. All four can be played from the console in the lower left of the first photo below.

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In the north aisle, one chapel contains this life sized depiction of the Last Supper. The figures are in stone carved by Franz Xaver Hauser in 1806.

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The St. Nicholas chapel is the oldest portion of the church above ground. The round arches and carving are indicative of its Romanesque origin. It is easily overlooked because it is used primarily as a passageway from the south transept to the south aisle of the chancel.

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Blind arcade in the Nicholas chapel.

The exterior view of the south transept shows the round arches and flat aspect of the Romanesque construction. The cock tower, as it is called, partially visible at the right, is Romanesque to the second tier of windows. The upper stories are later, Gothic, construction. The porch is more recent but was completed with round arches. _D6A8742_007_600 There are numerous details on the exterior indicative of the various stages of construction. The flying buttresses on the nave (first photo below) extend from the wall to the pier in a solid arch. The later choir side (second photo below) has very delicate buttresses by comparison.

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Gothic windows and buttresses of the nave.

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High Gothic windows and buttresses of the chancel.

There are many interesting details in the exterior carvings. A number of the carvings have been replaced with replicas over the years. The flowers on the main tower were a nice touch. They were not there on my first visit but showed up a day or two later. _D6A8755_013a_600 The central door under the tower has colorful and detailed carvings. _D6A8997_014_600

There are dozens of chapels, wonderful windows and many more carvings and furnishings. I hope to return some day for a more thorough visit.

Some of the information in this blog was derived from “The Minster at Freiburg im Breisgau” 4th edition, by Heike Mittmann, Kunstverlag Josef Fink, 2012.