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.

A Visit to Speyer Cathedral

Walking down Maximillianstrasse in Speyer for the first time is dangerous. The eye is drawn so powerfully to the massive block of the west face of the Cathedral (Dom) that one is apt to collide with an oncoming pedestrian or bicycle. The alternating courses of red and yellow sandstone make the broad front seem even wider than it is. There is symmetry, rhythm and balance to the main face of the church. But the weathered roughness of two plain, red towers and a cupola rises behind, photo-bombing the finer detail of the main face.

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I suppose that is why so many writers complain of the west front which was re-built in the 1800s. There is nothing wrong with it in itself, IMHO, but it conflicts with the 1000 year old feel of the rest of the church.

It is not the case however that the rest has survived unaltered. In 1689 the church burned, the western half nearly leveled, and it was not restored until about 70 years later. That first reconstruction though was fairly true to the original building and it takes a close look to find the boundary between the 11th/12th century original and the 18th century repairs.

Circumambulating the church, one is impressed by the length, 134m, the long rows of windows and arcades and the essential unity of style. Even the copper roof complements the red sandstone. Surrounded by parkland, it is relaxing to take some time doing this. Apart from the sacristy on the southeast corner, Speyer did not acquire the gothic additions that its siblings at Mainz and Worms did. Or rather, those it did acquire perished in the 1689 fire. Thus there is a stronger sense of unity and integrity here.

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The square towers at the east end are the oldest structures, dating to the early 11th century. They are constructed of smaller, rougher stone than the rest of the church.

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We enter from the west. The nave is very well lit. When the clerestory was updated in about 1125, the windows were unusually large and only superseded in size and luminance by Gothic construction. Also unusual for a Romanesque church are the tall half cylinder columns that were added in the early 12th century to support the vaults. They create a strong vertical element that draws the eye upward as effectively as the long arcade draws the eye toward the sanctuary.

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There is a large-scale rhythm created by the twelve lower level arches, triforium level paintings, clerestory and vaults. As you move around the church, into the aisles and even to the crypt, the regular division of space and round arches create a harmonious whole. In the images above, taken to the east and west respectively, one can identify the demarcation between the original work and the 18th century reconstruction. On the left, the nearest transverse arch is entirely pink stone indicating it is part of the reconstruction while the farther arches alternate yellow and pink. On the right the closest several piers are mostly yellow stone from the early building while the farther pink sections in the west are from the reconstruction. The organ was installed in 2011.

The exterior of the eastern apse is built of  finely finished ashlars, but the interior is built of rougher stone and the courses are not quite level. I suspect the reason was that it was easier and cheaper to build with small stones and not finish them smoothly if they intended to plaster and paint the wall. It could represent an economic decision rather than a skill deficit on the part of the early builders.

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The crypt is the largest Romanesque crypt in the world. There are seven altars, a chapel and tombs of 8 German emperors from the 11th through 13th centuries, including Rudolf I, the first king of the Habsburg dynasty.

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All visitors should climb the tower, where I received a bit of unexpected cultural education. A young guide was happy to chat about the view, cathedral, town and historical events. I asked him about the French invasion of 1689, the attendant fire and destruction. He earnestly responded that “we don’t say French, we just say foreign army. We are all friends now.” Message received. He does not want anyone to think he holds any modern person responsible for something that happened in the past.

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The prospect from the top is spectacular. One can see the roof and towers up close with the backdrop of the Rhine on the east and a view over the town with the mountains of the Palatine Forest to the west.

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There is much more that could be said about this special place but that will have to wait for another time.