lipprose Werner Nolte über mittelalterliche Architektur und Geschichte
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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)


Barefoot Monks in the Valley of the Blessed


After my move to Siegburg, it took me several years before I realized how close to a jewel of Mendicant architecture I live, namely in Seligenthal, at the foot of the Wahnbach Dam.

Around 1230, shortly after the death of St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226), Mendicants came to the Rhineland and found charitable patrons in count Heinrich III of Sayn and his wife Mechthild.

During the late twelfth century, the Sayns, an important Rhenish noble family, lived on a rocky spur along the river Sieg, on which they had founded the castle and town of Blankenberg. Their relations with the Benedictine Abbey in Siegburg and the Archbishop of Cologne were not always harmonious.

Around 1231, the count and countess allowed the Mendicants to build a small monastery on their land in the Wahn Valley - likely the first Franciscan monastery north of the Alps.

How the Franciscans must have felt in this solitude of the forest along the stream, a place which would have delighted the Cistercians. The rules of the Friars Minor stipulated the duties of preaching and nursing, and they had to beg in order to fulfill their vow of poverty. Yet, benefactors and an audience they could find not far from their hermitage on the old road from Cologne to Frankfurt.

In 1255, they consecrated the Church of St. Anthony, the oldest Franciscan church in Germany.

IMG 6913  6903Seligental modAP


It only has two naves. The southern nave was part of the cloister, which, together with other monastic buildings, was constructed later.

Art historically, the building represents a transitional phase between Rhenish Late Romanesque and Gothic. The fan windows, arched friezes, as well as niches in the gable of the western facade are late Romanesque. The ribbed vaults and pointed arches in the interior are Gothic.

Despite repeated restorations, the building nowadays radiates a characteristic impression of the original church. Noteworthy are the beautiful color schemes, based on the original plaster- and paint residues.


Translation: Erik Eising (MA)


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