lipprose Werner Nolte über mittelalterliche Architektur und Geschichte
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The Gem in the Valley

 
About 15 kilometers northwest of Caen there is a quiet valley with an absolute gem of Norman architecture, the parish church of Saint-Pierre de Thaon. A murmuring brook, trees casting shadows on the ancient stones, white cows grazing the lush meadows...
 
 
it is just as romantic as described. The place would actually have been ideal for a Cistercian church, yet the Order did not exist then.
 
                                  IMG 4987 klein(2)
 
 
 
Inside the church, which dates from the second half of the eleventh century, a time during which the famous monasteries of William the Conqueror, Saint-Etienne and Sainte-Trinité in Caen were built as well, a far-flung community met for mass.
 
 
At its core, the building remained almost untouched. Only the aisles were demolished during the eighteenth century, and the arcades were walled up. Noteworthy are the architectural decoration and the tower.
 
 
The church was cautiouslly restored, and excavations are conducted inside. Visits should be possible with an appointment. A group of enthusiasts is trying to preserve this old house of worship.
 
A good description can be found in:
 
Musset, Lucien, Romanische Normandie (West), Echter Verlag, Würzburg, 1989
 
 
 
 
 
 
Translation: Erik Eising (M.A.)
 




Pendant vaults

 
Pendant vaults - in German ungraciously called "Abhänglinge", which might be translated as "dangling vaults" -  are the hanging keystones that normally adorn the highest points of ribbed vaults.
 
But how many times has it not happened that, at the end of a great epoch, the force for fundamental innovation was depleted. This also happened in Gothic architecture. At some point, the building masters started to try out aesthetic gimmicks.
 
 
Abbey church, Bath (GB), medieval, copied 19th century
 
 
 
Those who look closely will occasionally also find pendant vaults in German churches. Sometimes they are only hinted at, for example in the form of a knob. There are also vaults that only have a purely decorative function.
 
 
 
 St. Pierre, Caen (F), late gothic
 
 
 
Yet, there is another adventurous type: pendant vaults as separate structures attached to the ceiling, and not integrated in the actual vault.
 
 
 
Translation: Erik Eising (M.A.)
 




Many hounds soon catch the hare

 
 
We don't know whether Nicholas of Verona knew this saying, but hares do play a central role in his famous hunting frieze in the apse of the Kaiserdom in Königslutter.
 
First, the depicted narrative shows the usual course of action. The hunting dog grabs the hare by the neck and brings the booty to the hunter.
 
 
LOEnigsl fries modAP Resol 0512
 
 
K lutter fries modAP Resol 0518
 
 
But then, something unexpected:
 
 
 
The hunter on the ground, tied up by the hare.
 
 
It is not surprising that this scene has been interpreted in different manners. The most popular interpretation states that the image symbolizes the triumph of Good over Evil.
 
The church itself is a fine example of Romanesque architecture, standing on a hill and covered by old lime trees. The structure is beautifully decorated with sculptures and features a wonderful cloister wing.
 
 
 
Actually a Benedictine monastery church, the Kaiserdom is the burial site of Lothar III (ruled 1125-1137) who, after the end of the Salian dynasty, managed to prevent the Staufers grabbing power (see also: the 12th century - the Holy Roman Empire).
 
The church is well worth a visit. Königslutter is near Braunschweig.
 
 
 
Translation: Erik Eising (M.A.)
 




Waterplay

 

After the Benedictines at Cluny, through their accustomation to praying in beautiful vestments, had forgotten about manual work, the foreseeable reaction was the foundation of a reform order by protesting monks. This happened around 1100 under Robert de Molesme, with the Order that would become known as the Cistercians. Central to the Cistercians stood the primary principle of St. Benedict of Nursia, namely labor.

 

The white monks were versatile. In response to the prohibition of all forms of sculpture, they treated the stones of their churches with the utmost care. They were great farmers and loved the water. Many Cistercian monasteries were built in solitary forest valleys with ample water. The monks cherished water as a source of energy, as the basis for fish farming, and as a means of waste disposal. And naturally, they needed water for cooking and hygiene.

 

Fountain House Maulbronn

 

In their cloisters, the monks built beautiful fountain houses for their ablutions before prayer, such as that in Maulbronn, originally from the thirteenth or fourteenth century. Only the the bottom of the three bowls is medieval, however. Other examples can be found in Zwettl and Heiligenkreuz.

 

 

Translation: Erik Eising (M.A.)

 

 
 




Blood and Architecture

 
Medieval knights did not tend to thoughtfully stare into the fire of their homely hearths. Fights were to be fought, either on their own behalf or on that of their feudal lords. There were heathens to convert or to exterminate. A lot of blood flowed, mostly that of the weak.

At some point, however, these heroes grew old. The average life expectancy of these men lay between 40 and 60. Even the worst ruffians would ultimately start to think about death, the Last Judgment, and eternal damnation.

 DSCN2704m Gernr innen OCollegiate church at Gernrode

What could they do? There was the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, circumstances permitting. Santiago de Compostella and Rome were possibilities as well.

      Gero mod sharp cut mod2 Geros sarcophargus

 

Yet, great and rich sinners, or their confessors, occassionally would get doubts about the proportionality of sin and atonement. In that case, the foundation of a monastery was required.

This was also the case for Margrave Gero (c. 900-965).

To this butcher of Slavs we owe the foundation of the collegiate church of Gernrode. It is one of the most beautiful examples of Ottonian architecture.

 

Translation: Erik Eising (M.A.)