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After the Benedictines at Cluny, through their accustomation to praying in beautiful vestments, had forgotten about manual work, the foreseeable reaction was the foundation of a reform order by protesting monks. This happened around 1100 under Robert de Molesme, with the Order that would become known as the Cistercians. Central to the Cistercians stood the primary principle of St. Benedict of Nursia, namely labor.


The white monks were versatile. In response to the prohibition of all forms of sculpture, they treated the stones of their churches with the utmost care. They were great farmers and loved the water. Many Cistercian monasteries were built in solitary forest valleys with ample water. The monks cherished water as a source of energy, as the basis for fish farming, and as a means of waste disposal. And naturally, they needed water for cooking and hygiene.


Fountain House Maulbronn


In their cloisters, the monks built beautiful fountain houses for their ablutions before prayer, such as that in Maulbronn, originally from the thirteenth or fourteenth century. Only the the bottom of the three bowls is medieval, however. Other examples can be found in Zwettl and Heiligenkreuz.



Translation: Erik Eising (M.A.)



Blood and Architecture

Medieval knights did not tend to thoughtfully stare into the fire of their homely hearths. Fights were to be fought, either on their own behalf or on that of their feudal lords. There were heathens to convert or to exterminate. A lot of blood flowed, mostly that of the weak.

At some point, however, these heroes grew old. The average life expectancy of these men lay between 40 and 60. Even the worst ruffians would ultimately start to think about death, the Last Judgment, and eternal damnation.

 DSCN2704m Gernr innen OCollegiate church at Gernrode

What could they do? There was the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, circumstances permitting. Santiago de Compostella and Rome were possibilities as well.

      Gero mod sharp cut mod2 Geros sarcophargus


Yet, great and rich sinners, or their confessors, occassionally would get doubts about the proportionality of sin and atonement. In that case, the foundation of a monastery was required.

This was also the case for Margrave Gero (c. 900-965).

To this butcher of Slavs we owe the foundation of the collegiate church of Gernrode. It is one of the most beautiful examples of Ottonian architecture.


Translation: Erik Eising (M.A.)


Cistercians - Forbidden architectural ornaments


The Cistercians, the Order of Benedictine reform, wished to return to the ideals of St. Benedict by living an ascetic life and actively distancing themselves from the pomp and circumstance of the monks at Cluny, who were Benedictines as well. Both of Benedict's commands, "Ora et labora", were to be adhered to again, not merely the prayer part.

The architecture and furnishings of the churches were to demonstrate humility and modesty. Under Bernard of Clairvaux, strict regulations were adopted: no church towers, only modest ridge turrets, no triforia (walkways), no polychrome interiors - indeed, no stained glass windows -, no sculptures, except for a statue of the Holy Virgin, and no ornately carved capitals.

This all had to be substituted by artisanally high-quality architecture, particularly evident in the meticulous stonemasonry.

Initially, the rules were strictly observed and monitored. Yet, the yearning for ornament was stronger. More and more deviations occurred. Real triforia were avoided, yet they were painted on the wall, such as in Doberan.


dob0343                             Painted triforia Doberan

Ridge turrets were not modest, but opulant, such as in Bebenhausen.

Bebenhs modAP 0002Ridge turret, Bebenhausen


By the early fifteenth century, after 300 years, the strict regulations had been more or less forgotten.



Translation: Erik Eising (M.A.)


"Give us this day our daily mush"


This might have been the prayer of the majority of people in the early Middle Ages. Bread being served to the upper classes only.

The annual consumption of breadstuffs per person, estimated by experts, varies greatly depending on - for example - region and century. As an average, one may assume 200 bis 250 kg. That means that a major German city, such as Cologne or Lübeck, with a medieval population of about 40.000, required around 8000-10.000 tons per year.

Leaving aside the difficulties producing such an amount - with the conventional methods of that day and a cost/income ratio of 1:4 - the transport and storage required exceptional efforts as well.



Dinkelsbuehl 7201 mod resolDinkelsbühl


Noble landlords, cities and monasteries built storehouses, also called tithe barns or fruit boxes, made of quarry stone or half-timber. Architecturally striking were the long rows of windows for ventilation. The enormous buildings dominated their environment and represented hallmarks for their builders.


Detmd 3023 mod  resolDetmold


The preserved buildings, mostly dating from the late Middle Ages, are interesting examples of medieval civic architecture. They had an important function in the prevention of famine, but also played a role in speculation.



Translation: Erik Eising (M.A.)


The Master of Cabestany


Cabestany, a village on the Rousillon plain, owes its art historical fame to one wandering sculptor and his tympanum from the second half of the twelfth century, in the parish church.

As is all too common in medieval art, he remains anonymous. Twentieth-century art historians gave him, like many of his colleagues before and after him, a notname, a name of convenience.

Scholars have tried to identify his other works based on characteristic similarities. The common viewer usually first notes his overlong hands, but also the antiquated drapery and, when observed more closely, the  drilled holes in the corners of the eyes.


046Meister Cabestany modAP


These features are reminiscent of elements that can be found on capitals in monasteries such as Serrabone, about 50 km to the west, in the Pyrenees.

Art historians have been able to track this master's journey from Tuscany, through southern France, up to Navarre - thus providing us insights in the wanderlust of medieval masters. A great success in research


Translation: Erik Eising (MA)


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