lipprose Werner Nolte über mittelalterliche Architektur und Geschichte
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Let There Be Light

 
How were the dark naves and high vaults of medieval churches lit after dusk?
 
Wax candles were used to fight the darkness. Although expensive, and the potential cause of fires, they were indispensable. The faithful made donations to the churches in the form of such candles so that their houses of worship would be lit.
 
 
The most impressive method of creating light in the dark was through wheel chandeliers. These symbolized the walls of Heavenly Jerusalem, and were filled with donated candles.
 
 
Four medieval chandeliers are preserved in Germany, three of them dating from the twelfth century:
 
The Barbarossa-chandelier in Aachen Cathedral, recently restored and over 4 meter in diameter. It holds up to 48 candles.
 
 
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Barbarossa chandelier
 
 
The Hartwig-chandelier in Comburg Abbey, over 5 meter in diameter. It holds up to 48 candles as well.
 
 
The Hezilo-chandelier in Hildesheim Cathedral, with a diameter of 6 meter the largest wheel chandelier. It holds up to 72 candles. What a sight it must be when the light of its burning candles reflects upon the walls and towers of the symbolic city.
 
The Azelin-chandelier (or Thietmar-chandelier) in Hildesheim Cathedral should be regarded as a smaller "sibling" of the Hezilo-chandelier.
 
For the sake of  completeness: the beautiful wheel chandelier in the Basilica of St. Godehard, also in Hildesheim, dates from the nineteenth century.
 
 
 
Translation: Erik Eising (MA)
 




Covadonga

When I heard this word for the first time, I let it roll from my tongue. Just beautiful.
 
But who or what is it - Covadonga?
 
It is not shameful not to know, unless you are a Spanish schoolchild.
 
The answer is important for the history of the country. Near the cave of Covadonga in the mountains of Asturias, a Christian force attacked the Arab invaders around 720, about ten years after the devastating defeat of the Visigoths' army. The commander, Pelagius / Pelayo, member of the ancient Visigothic nobility, became king of Asturias, the first Christian empire after the Moorish invasion, and a Spanish national hero.
 
 
covadonga
 
 
Historians struggle with the exaggerated descriptions from both Muslim and Christian perspectives. It was probably  a fight, not a battle. The facts nevertheless are that it took place, near Covadonga, andthat the occupiers were defeated.
 
The event had a high symbolic significance, even beyond all its military and political consequences. It marked the beginning of the Reconquista, the expulsion of the Muslims from the Iberian Peninsula. Whether Pelagius himself had thought this far into the future? It took almost 800 years, until 1492, before Boabdil, the last Sultan of Granada, handed over the city and state to the Spanish kings, without a fight.
 
 
Translation: Erik Eising (MA)
 




In Full View

 
Who has not stood shivering in ancient halls, looking at the draughty open windows, wondering how one closed them during bad weather or the cold winter. The obvious possibilities (wooden planks, animal skin, or parchment) would have left much to want in comfort.
 
Latticework was more solid und elegant. It was already in use in Late Antiquity, as well as during the early Middle Ages.
 
first noticed these ornamented openings, made from flat stone slabs and decorated with thin alabaster, in Asturian churches. Latticework could be produced with stucco as well.
 
 
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Especially on sunny days, the ornamentation creates beautiful effects in church interiors. Even the decorative patterns on the stone slabs themselves are visible.
 
 
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With this image, one wonders whether the "inventors" of the tracery work of ca. 1200 were inspired by this latticework. The artisans similarly cut ornamental holes in slabs and, with this process, created the predecessors of elegant Gothic tracery.
 
 
 
 
Translation: Erik Eising (MA)
 




The Lion

 
 
No one who studies the Holy Roman Empire of the twelfth century is able to ignore Henry the Lion (c. 1130-1195). The Welf was the Duke of Saxony as well as Bavaria, and, only second to the Emperor, the most powerful ruler of the Empire. His nickname is already mentioned in contemporaneous sources.
 
He was ambitious, efficient, and ruthless. His neighbors in Saxony, the Slavs, as well as Emperor Frederick I. Barbarossa, knew this all too well. He additionally had a healthy dose of self-confidence. This is for example illustrated by the copy of a lion monument in front of his castle Dankwarderode in Braunschweig.
 
 
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This monument, erected around 1170, is worth mentioning not only for its size - art historians consider it to be the eldest preserved full-scale statue in medieval Europe north of the Alps. The sculpture underlined Henry's claim to power. The material used, bronze, emphasized the monument's extraordinary rank.
 
Yet, the bronze lion could not protect the great man from a deep fall. After Barbarossa had settled his affairs in Italy, he set his eye on Henry. Around 1180, the Duke was ostracized and sent into exile to his father-in-law, King Henry II of England.
 
His faithful follower, Bernhard II of Lippe, is supposed to have visited him there, after he had fallen into disgrace as well. In the end, Barbarossa forgave both.
 
 
 
The Lion nevertheless went into exile anew. Bernhard began a new career, first as a Cistercian monk, subsequently as abbot in Dünamunde, and finally as bishop of Semigallia in Livonia.
 
 
 
Translation: Erik Eising (M.A.)
 




A Monk with Back Problems

 
Is this not what appears to be represented? He definitely seems to carry a heavy load. Perhaps he groans under the weight of an obese canon.
 
 
 
 
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With this unusual depiction, I would like to draw your attention to the choir stall, an interesting piece of medieval church furnishing.
 
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From the Romanesque period, little has remained. Also from the Gothic period, only fractions have survived.
 
 
 
Yet, it is worthwhile to study them. Particularly the misericords underneath the folding seats, which were supposed to alleviate the prolonged standing during the celebration of Mass, frequently feature rich, artful, and often comical woodcarvings.  
 
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Depending on the number of monks or canons, as well as the period of production, the choir stall could be modest yet also enormous. Especially during the late-Gothic period, the wood carved decorations could be very rich. The master woodcarvers were often inspired by the stone decorative elements of church architecture, with their pinnacles and canopies. Of the largest original ensembles, only remnants have survived.
 
 
Translation: Erik Eising (M.A.)