lipprose Werner Nolte über mittelalterliche Architektur und Geschichte
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Man and Architecture

 
 
Over the course of the past twenty years, I have travelled extensively throughout Europe, in the footsteps of medieval architecture.
 
 
I have taken thousands of photographs. The representation of buildings was important to me, people were more of a disruption.
 
 
Today, somewhat more mature, I start to see this somewhat differently.
 
 
Here, two examples that have made me think:
 
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The Collegiate Church of San Quirico d'Orcia
 
 
A medieval scene in sunny Southern Tuscany, in front of the western portal of a Romanesque church constructed during the twelfth century. A person resting on the steps in front of a façade built with natural stone.
 
 
The façade is filled with symbolism: knotted columns are intended to repell evil, and the columns on the backs of the large, guarding lions symbolically support the Church. The reliefs decorating the console consist of various fantastic creatures.
 
 
Whether the 21st-century person in the picture had any interest in and sense of this architectural work, built 800 years ago?
 
 
 
In rather cloudy Vorpommern, a great contrast: an imposing brick portal from the fourteenth century. A "small" person strolls past, without granting the Gothic architecture one look. There are no steps to offer a chance to rest.
 
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The Western Portal of the Collegiate Church (Dom) of. St. Nicholas, Greifswald
 
 
Unlike in Tuscany, the tenfold stepped portal of brick and masonry was constructed with artificial stone. The builders joined thousands of clay-mottled and glazed blocks, produced through pre-industrial means, into an impressive portal. The modern era was just around the corner.
 
 
What connects both scenes, despite all these opposites? I believe: the small human in front of these great works of medieval architecture. A bit of humility would be appropriate.
 
 
 
Translation: Erik Eising (MA)
 
 
 




Logistics at the construction site

 
Logistics at the construction site Standing in front of medieval buildings, we often ask ourselves: How did builders move heavy blocks, mortars, beams, and lead plates all those hundreds of years ago? How did they get the material to such great heights?
 
Primitive devices for single persons, such as containers, existed, with which construction workers transported mortar. Heavier materials were carried by two men using two parallel spars with cross boards.
 
The wheel was of course well-known. Wheelbarrows were used from the twelfth century on. Two- or four-wheeled carts, usually pulled by mules or oxen, were also used. These were commemorated in the towers of Laon Cathedral.
 
 
 
Wismar 4550 modAP Replica of a pedal wheel - in front of the Church of St. Mary, Wismar
 
For the goods lift, a fixed role and different cranes, for example gallows cranes, were used. The loads were lifted by means of rope and reel, either by reels or tricycles in which people or animals ran. All of these devices were made of wood.
 
The stone tong was made of iron, a useful device for lifting cuboids. Two S-shaped arms closed as soon as the rope was tightened, clamping the stone. Even today in the walls of medieval buildings we can occasionally see the small holes in the middle of the blocks in which the tips of the pliers arms were placed.
 
Despite all these means of transport - human workers bore the brunt, both on the ground and on the rickety scaffolding. Construction work was tough, then as it is now.
 
 
 
 
Translation: Erik Eising (MA)




Handles and Grommets

Those with an interest in the quirky aspects of medieval art are constantly able to find new details of which the meaning cannot be explained today, or details that indeed may be meaningless.
 
 
On the exterior and in the interior of the Church of Neuwerk in Goslaer - the construction of which began in the twelfth century - enthusiasts can get their money's worth. Here, only one interesting element in the basilica's central nave can be mentioned.
 
 
 Gslr Neuwerkk 8515 modAPres
 
 
 
 
Some of the half-columns that help carry the vault abandon the wall - and therewith their original task - to protrude the interior space, only to return to the wall again further upward.
 
 
Yet, this is not all. These "handle"-like elements are hung with rings, or they feature a sculpted mask.
 
 
The "grommets" have been interpreted as variations on the "Ouroboros", the antique symbol of the serpent biting into its own tail.
 
 
So-called "little green men" or leaf-masks can be found among the church's ornaments as well.
 
 
 
 
Translation: Erik Eising (MA)




Incredible Eleonore

 
Daughter of a troubador, Duchess of Aquitaine, and Queen of France (1137-1152).
 
 
Nothing unusual during the twelfth century, just as the fact that she bore ten children, eight of which from her second marriage.
 
Then her participation during the Second Crusade, as a Queen! And the suspicion of adultery with an uncle.
 
Once returned in Europe: the annulment of the marriage, allegedly because the kinship with her husband was too close.
 
Two months later, the marriage of the 30-year-old woman with the 11-year-old Duke of Normandy, Count of Anjou. As Henry II he would become King of England. Eleonore gave him a swath of French territory and therewith unintentionally sowed the seeds for the Hundred Years War between France and England.
 
During the 35-year marriage, many political and personal conflicts arose between the two, which led to a conspiracy between three of their sons against the king, that was supported by the Queen. Eleonore paid the price with fifteen years of house arrest.
 trifels 0004.modAP.resol
Castle Trifels in Germany, Richard's Prison
 
After Henry's death and her release, she committed herself energetically to her son, Richard Lionheart, who languished in the dungeons of Emperor Henry VI. At the age of 72, she personally delivered the required ransom.
 
Eight years later she died at the age of 80, five years after Richard. She now rests next to two English kings, father and son, in the Abbey of Fontevraud.
 
Translation: Erik Eising (MA)
 




Old Cloisters

Next to monastic churches, cloisters are the second-most interesting and important structures of medieval convents. Via arcades, the walkways, which are sometimes two stories high, grant access to a usually square courtyard. These functioned as places of regeneration, communication, and reading. Wells and fountain houses allowed for washing.
 
 
Ast 5966 modAP kl
  Collegiate Church  San Pedro de Teverga, Asturias (E)
 
During the early Middle Ages - verifiable at least from the eighth century on - these facilities were modest and, when a convent was newly founded, often made of wood. An example from Asturia, though from early modern times, may serve to illustrate this.
 
Early cloisters are rare. The oldest fragment in Germany, dating from around 1000 and consisting of six arches, is found in the Church of St. Pantaleon in Cologne.
 
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St. Pantaleon, Cologne
 
Prior to the cubic capital, its rare mushroom capitals were already used in Ottonian architecture.
 
 
 
Translation Erik Eising (MA)