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Holy Graves

Around 800, the Islamic ruler Harun al-Raschid is said to have recognized Charlemagne as the official protector of the Christian Holy Sites in Jerusalem.

Despite frequent turmoil among various Islamic ruling dynasties, Christian pilgrimages had been possible before, and they would also be after this period. The high nobility, among which Henry the Lion and the later King Conrad III, made pilgrimages to Jerusalem as well
Impressed by the Holy Sepulcher, some returnees built replicas of the structure.


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St. Cyriacus, Gernrode


The oldest of these works north of the Alps featuring figurative decoration are the tombs of the collegiate church of St. Cyriacus in Gernrode, built around 1090.
>>Ottonian collegiate church at Gernrode

Rotundas in particular were commonly used forms, such as in the case of the Mauritius Rotunda at Constance Cathedral, constructed in 1260, and the Holy Grave at >>Magdeburg Cathedral, built during this same period.


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Magdeburg Cathedral


Also worth mentioning is an important representation of the Holy Sepulcher as part of the Jerusalem complex in Görlitz, dating from the end of the fifteenth century.

Those who returned to other European countries built replicas of Christ’s grave as well.

Resting in Dignity

Ossuaries or bone houses, called “Karner” in the Alpine regions, have become rarities in Germany.

During the Middle Ages, they were quite common in monasteries. When space became scarce at the cemetery, these buildings became the final resting place of the remains of the dead.

In contrast to today’s rather minimalist practice, ossuaries were richly decorated.

An example of such a bone house can be found on the premises of the Cistercian monastery church at Doberan, dating from the middle of the thirteenth century. The slim octagon was placed over the crypt. Up until the middle of the sixteenth century, it functioned as the monks’ final resting place.

Based on medieval remnants, the interior was richly decorated with paintings during the nineteenth century.

At the beginning of our century, the entire structure was extensively restored.

The monks had hardly skipped an opportunity to decorate the exterior of the brick structure.

The window section was furnished with horizontal rows of alternating darkly glazed and red stones. Delicate brick torus moldings frame the pointed-arch windows. Torus moldings enclose the eight sides of the structure as well.

Above the window section one can see dazzling decoration consisting of halved quatrefoils topped by gables with differently colored and shaped bricks, separated from the window section by narrow cornices.


The door, below a rosette, is decorated in a similar manner as the windows.

The Singer’s Pulpit

They are always richly decorated, such as this example in the Church of St. Nicholas in Stralsund, first mentioned in 1276. There it “hangs” over the high altar in the eastern section of the church.

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The fourteenth-century Gothic Cathedral at Exeter contains a singer’s pulpit as well, in this case on the northern side of the Gothic nave. It is thought to have been created around 1340, shortly before the completion of the church.



The pulpit, decorated with angelic musicians in stone relief, is still in use today.


The Cross on the Market Square

During the Middle Ages, the granting of markets rights by kings and other rulers was a tremendously important economic privilege, whether it concerned permanent, weekly or annual markets.

Besides the merchants, the cities and sovereigns benefited from levies and duties.

Usually, market rights were awarded along with city rights. The right of coinage was commonly awarded at the same moment as well.

Flags or crosses marked the market square, where usually the town hall was located. Market peace was protected by the ruler.

Unlike in continental Europe, market crosses were rather common in England. These were often not merely crosses, but open, accessible buildings with rich sculpture, such as the Gothic “cross” in Salisbury.

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This city even had four crosses for just as many submarkets. In addition to the "poultry cross", there were also crosses for cheese and wool. These structures demonstrated the wealth of the local citizens and merchants.

Stories in Stone

The Germans and especially the Vikings loved to immortalize their own deeds and those of their ancestors in stone.

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Rune stone with a serpent at the foot of the cross, 11th century.
Round church in Nylars, dedicated to St. Nicholas

Inscription: “Sasser had this stone erected in memory ofHalwarth, his father.He drowned along with his whole crew.Christ help his soul for all eternity.This stone stands in his memory.”

To this peculiarity and the long-lasting material, we owe important insights into the mentality and history of people in the Early and High Middle Ages.



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Round church in Österlars



Rune Stone with crucifix symbol, 11th century
Inscription:Thorkil erected this stone ...

The Vikings' characters, the runes, were well suited for carving in stone and wood. Around 3000 – mostly upright – rune stones are said to have been found in Scandinavia alone. But they also exist in peripheral areas, for example in Haithabu (Schleswig-Holstein).






I warmly thank the reader Joachim Feik for the information on the inscriptions.



Translation: Erik Eising


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