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 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.

Worms Cathedral

The Wormser Dom or Cathedral of St. Peter is the smallest of the three Kaiserdoms (Mainz, Worms, Speyer), though only by a few meters, and it feels darker, moodier. Its Romanesque core sets the tone, but this church has more dominant gothic additions on the south elevation than the other two.

Most churches in this region suffered structural damage and loss of the original furnishings during various wars and shifts in the boundaries of Catholic and Protestant control. In the case of Worms the restorations extended into the 20th century and were set back again by World War Two. Many different approaches have been taken to restoration. At Worms a limited collection of sculptures have been gathered in the nave and aisles, while the main, eastern chancel has been furnished in the Baroque style.

The view below is toward the west with light falling on statues of St. Joachim and St. Sebastian.

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Though each bay of the nave is identical in the first story, the space below the clerestory shows interesting variations. There are several bays with single blind archways above the nave arches, the westernmost bay and the easternmost on the north have only a flat wall. The second bay from the west on the south, opposite the organ has blind double archways. These can be seen below.

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The transverse arches above the nave are supported by different pier configurations on the north and south. On the south, the transverse arches spring from half cylinder columns while the smaller diagonal arches and arches over the windows, spring from a rectangular shaft behind the half cylinder. On the north there is a second rectangular shaft behind first that separates the springing of the window arch from that of the diagonal arches. There are also variations in the capitols.

There is apparently no documentation as to why or how this occurred. Such variation in many cathedrals is due to changes in technique or style over long periods of time, but the nave here was built between 1160-1170, so time does not seem to be the main factor. My pet theory is that the bishop was nearsighted and the architect took advantage of this to experiment with different techniques.

To my eye, the view toward the west is most pleasing. That is to say the western chancel seems more consistent with the clean lines of the nave, yet it still provides an attractive focal point.

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The eastern chancel is filled with gilded Baroque furniture and is quite eye catching, but it strikes me as clashing with the building as a whole.

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The north aisle wall preserves a number of sculpture panels that were moved here when the adjacent monastery was demolished. The windows above them are modern and the rectangular designs clash a bit with the ancient setting.

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The south aisle was augmented with a number of gothic chapels in the 14th century. The strong red and blue of the windows in the large Nicholas Chapel lends a sense of quiet solitude.

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Variation in design is to be found outside as well as inside. The lower levels of the four staircase towers are similar, but the upper stories vary in height and windows design. This is the west elevation showing different height and window placement in each of the five upper stories. (Renovation seems to be a ‘way of life’ for these buildings, but I do wish they had not placed the containers directly in front.)

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The north elevation once had an elaborate imperial entrance and a cloister that were destroyed, apparently in 1689. The western retains the outlines of damaged stone around the present doorway. In a couple places a rough patch or perhaps the rubble fill of the main wall is exposed. The eastern doorway which had been the imperial entrance was refurbished.

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