lipprose Werner Nolte über mittelalterliche Architektur und Geschichte
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Merciful Middle Ages

We often speak of the "Dark Middle Ages", yet, in many European countries, a number of preserved buildings testify to active charity.

Hospiz.Lübeck.2 "Hospital of the Holy Spirit" of 1286 in Lübeck

The first of these hospices or hospitals for travellers and sick people were created during the pre-Carolingian period. They often carried the "Holy Spirit" in their names. During the High Middle Ages, their tasks were divided.

Separate from the pilgrim hostels, the sick, poor and orphans were cared for in hospitals. The initial single cells became large halls, which enabled better supervision and a closer connection to the altar and worship.

Caring for patients with leprosy and the plague, who were cared for in special, remote hospitals – if at all – was a particularly difficult challenge.

There were Orders, such as that of St. John, which were specialized in these tasks.

Goslar 8302
                         "The Great Holy Cross" in Goslar

A number of these medieval buildings have been preserved. In addition to the hospital in Lübeck, the "Holy Spirit Hospital" in Wismar is particularly interesting. It was founded around 1250 as a poorhouse and a hospital. The "Great Holy Cross" in Goslar was built in 1254 as a hospice and offered a night camp and food for the needy, infirm and orphans, but also for pilgrims and other travellers.

Some of these old hospices still offer comfort and help to the dying.

A bear's fart


We know how outraged Bernhard of Clairvaux, the great abbot and organizer of the Cistercian Order, was about the capitals of some Benedictine orders.
We do not know whether he was also familiar with this capital. It is located in the church of St. Andoche in Saulieu in Burgundy.


969px Saulieu Saint Andoche Chapiteaux 01                             Wikipedia, Christophe.Finot - Own work

This unusual depiction is based on a pagan legend, described for example by Sylvie Germain in "Chanson des mal-aimants". Briefly retold: in this manner, bears released wandering souls that were collected by them into spring, after the end of hibernation.

The Church had also taken up with this issue and assigned St. Blaise, who on the capital assists with lifting the tails of the bears.

Late Birth

As a young man, I spent a year in Paris in 1962. Following our art teacher, I became acquainted with Gothic cathedral architecture, with which France took over the leadership role in European church construction during the 11th century.

At the time, I could not suspect what great a role medieval architecture would occupy in my life after retirement.

After settling near Cologne, the problem was right in front of me. The pivotal point was the year 1248 - the laying of the cornerstone of Cologne Cathedral's choir, which is not only by local patriots considered to have been the introduction of Gothic architecture in Germany.


2011.Köln 0104


Thus, the use of this new style was lagging behind that of France, its country of origin, by a century.
What is interesting in this context: the last major Romanesque building in Cologne, the Church of St. Kunibert, was completed in 1247.
On the other hand, work started on the Gothic choir of the Cologne Minorite Church three years before 1248.
Decades earlier other great churches, generally classified as "Gothic" were built.
However, Magdeburg Cathedral was not accepted as such by many purists, because of the "Romanesque choir".


Magdebg. 015 0411 Kopie


Magdeburg Cathedral (started 1209)


The Liebfrauenkirche in Trier, as a centrally planned building, was not generally accepted as "Gothic".


Trier001Liebfrauen v. O aus Dom Kreuzgg


Liebfrauenkirche Trier (started 1230)


Only the beautiful Elisabeth Church in Marburg found general approval as a Gothic building.

IMG 7062


Elisabeth Church  Marburg (started 1135)




The birth of the stairs occurred when people were no longer satisfied with one-story dwellings.

Diverse.Lippe.Oerlinghausen04 1411

Initially, a notched tree trunk had to be used to reach the upper floor. However, in the long run this solution was too primitive. Consequently, the concept of the stairs was invented, first made of wood, then of stone.

The constructions gradually became more daring, and some even famous, such as the wide staircase of Wells Cathedral, which leads from the choir’s northern side aisle up to the chapter house.



In some monasteries, the so-called “night stairs” connected the Dormitory with the choir, to facilitate the way for the monks to pray for the Hours.


IMG 2181.Marksburg

Equestrian stairs had rather flat steps. In the early modern period, these could even lead to the tops of towers, such as in the Round Tower of Copenhagen, but in that case as a riding ramp without steps. A similar system was established in so-called “donkey towers”. In the winding corridor, goods were carried on the backs of these animals.



I'm just reading that the German Federal Labor Secretary is planning a 13th Social Code. It is supposed to carry the number 14, as 13 is an unlucky number. This is quite considerate of Secretary Heil. The discomfort with the number 13 is still widespread, even in the digital age. Who has never seen a hotel room with the number 12a?
In a similar fashion, the phenomenon of the "black cat" is likewise still well-known.
It is therefore not surprising that superstition was also rampant during the Middle Ages.
4095Maria.Cosmedin.Rom.800B "The Mouth of Truth" in front of the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome.
The enormous marble slab is said to be over 2000 years old. Since the Middle Ages, it has been believed that the “mouth” can distinguish between truth and falsehood. In the latter case, it snaps shut. – This young woman came away unscathed.
The same lady was observed putting her hand on the left foot of the statue of the famous Jewish scholar Maimonides (12th-century) in Córdoba. Whether a little bit of wisdom passed onto her…?
IMG 0175
Let's stay a little bit closer to home: In Cologne it is said that, during the Middle Ages, touching of the statue of St. Christopher inside the Cathedral ensured the survival for this day.
Similar "proposals" were common throughout medieval Europe.

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