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Sociable hermits

 
           
Psychologists define loneliness as one of our biggest nightmares. However, in many cultures and at all times, there have been people seeking solitude, on mountains, in deserts or in swamps, for prayer, meditation, and asceticism. It may therefore seem strange that there have been some "dropouts" who, after some time, and for whatever reason, wanted to remain hermits but still live in a community. The squaring of the circle.
 
For this predicament, fourth-century hermitism as the earliest form of Christian monasticism in the West found answers, the traces of which we - rarely - can find in architecture. In Asturias, in a pre-Romanesque structure, I came across this phenomenon in the form of the cámera oculta.
 
Asturien 5785.modAP2
 
 
Only through this window does San Pedro de Nora have access to a closed space above the choir. Such spaces can also be found in Visigothic architecture.
 
S.Pedro.Asturien 5787modAP2
 
 
The purpose of this has not been explored, most experts say. However, in his "Early Middle Ages", Barral i Altet provides a clue that is thought-provoking: hermits in extreme retreat might have lived there, in the midst of normal monastic life.
 
That would be a counterpart to Irish-Scottish hermit monasteries of the fifth and sixth centuries and the walled-in cells of medieval churches in England. The "movement" would culminate in the charterhouses of Bruno of Cologne in the eleventh century.
         
 




Fieldstone structures

 
Along the German highway E 30, southwest of Brandenburg an der Havel, lies the old town of Ziesar (first mentioned in 948).
 
For friends of medieval architecture it is worth a visit. Here, remains of a castle and a church of fieldstone have survived, a material - remnant of the ice age - that covers fields and meadows in large quantities.
 
Fieldstones are quite common as building material in the north-eastern German states, especially in village churches and fortifications. Usually, however, they are combined with other materials, often with bricks.
 
 
6023Ziesar Feldst modAP klein                                 Monastry church of the Cistercian nuns
 
 
IMG 6015modAPklein
                                                Keep of the castle
 
Large buildings that are built entirely out of fieldstones are rare. In the thirteenth century, the Late Romanesque monastery church of St. Crucis was built entirely of fieldstone. The later brick apse is Gothic.
 
On the grounds of the castle is a 35 m high keep from the period around 1200. The original entrance was about 10 meters high. The so-called "Bischofsmütze" ("Bishop's hat") was added in the sixteenth century and used as a guardhouse.
 
 
Those who are more into colorfulness can spoil their eyes with a visit to the late-Gothic castle chapel with its rich architectural decoration. In this brick building, fieldstones were used for the foundation.
 
 
 
Translation: Erik Eising (M.A.)




An alternation of supports

 
Walking through the central naves of Romanesque basilicas, the visitor is accompanied on the right and left by arcades, the arches of which are supported by either columns or pillars.
 
Especially in buildings with wooden ceilings, attentive observers will sometimes notice discrepancies. Instead of two rows of identical pillars, pillars and columns alternate on each side, either in a strict rhythm, or two columns can follow one pillar. In the first case, experts speak of a Rhenish, in the second of a (Lower-)Saxon "Stützenwechsel" ("alternation of supports").
 
 
 
Godeh.04 0693.modAP.resol
St. Godehard Hildesheim, Saxon "Stützenwechsel"
 
 
The reasons for these appear to be varied.
 
Geography might be a primary explanation, yet both the construction of St Cyriacus in Gernrode, built in the late tenth century (an important structure for the period), as well as the twelfth-century Basilica of Sts George and Pancrace in Hecklingen, also in the former territory of the Ottonian Saxons, feature a single, that is Rhenish alternation of supports.
 
 
Hecklingen.o7.8604.modAP.resol
Basilica of Sts. George and Pancrace, Hecklingen
 
 
This appears to be logical in case of structures with bound systems. The pillars mark the corners of the bays in the central nave, of which the squares, beginning with the transept square, determine the entire floor plan. The weaker columns between the pillars support the half-sized aisle bays.
 
Numerology has also been mentioned as a reason: with the Saxon "Stützenwechsel", the total of four pillars may allude to the Evangelists and the twelve columns on Christ's disciples or the tribes of Israel.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Translation: Erik Eising (M.A.)




A forest of columns in Monte Amiata

 
Already in the sixth century, the warlike Germanic people of the Lombards had conquered a part of Byzantine Italy and had the opportunity to develop their own architectural style based on antique and Byzantine examples.
 
 
  In an eighth-century crypt, sheltered by the 300-years-younger church of the Monastery of San Salvatore, early medieval stonemasonry and modern lighting technology have come together and created a magical space.
 
 langobardenkrypta2  
Although not comparable, I cannot help but think of the forest of columns of the mosque in Córdoba.
 
  Here, Lombard artists created 36 monolithic columns with richly varied sculpted capitals. They carry a brick groin vault. During its twentieth-century restauration, twelve columns were newly created.
 
  Translation: Erik Eising (M.A.)
 
 
 




Lion gates

 
In the Middle Ages, the lion was a powerful symbol.
 
It stood for power and strength, as well as for a royal attitude. Lions adorned flags and coats of arms, and somtimes word and symbol were merged into the name of a powerful aristocrat.
 
Take for example Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony (1130?-1195) or the English king Richard the Lionheart (1157-1199).
 
The Church appreciated lions as well. Numerous medieval bronze doors  are adorned with lion heads as defensive and protective symbols.
 
Still more imposing are lion gates, which can especially be found in Italy. Only occasionally did they find their way to other countries.
 
 
Stiftskirche San Quirico OrciaCollegiate  Church of San Quirico d'Orcia, Southern Tuscany
 
 
kaiserdom koenigslutter
Imperial Cathedral in Königslutter
 
Usually, two lions with opened mouths face each other. Their backs support columns or human figures carrying an ecclesiastic structure.
This symbolizes that the powerful have to submit to the Church.
 
A different variant (e.g. found in Matera Cathedral) shows the lions holding human figures beween their paws. This underlines danger, yet nevertheless implies that these too have to serve the Church.
 
 
 
Translation Erik Eising (M.A.)
 




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