Roman and Mediaeval History, Illlustrated Travel Journals, Mediaeval Literature, Geology


11.2.08
  Heiligenstadt - St.Martin Church

The architectural history of St. Martin is a bit of a mess. We can see it's a Gothic church in the basilica style (aisles lower than main nave), with an annexed crypt in late Romanesque style. The oldest part seems to be the choir and the main nave. One chronicle from 1276 mentions a request for donations to rebuild the old church which obviously was about to crumble. No remains of this older building have been found so far. Another source points to the fact that the choir seems to have been finished in 1316.

St. Martin Church, Heiligenstadt; seen from the south

While the nave and choir thus are early Gothic style, the southern aisle is high Gothic, and the west facade with it's rosette window is late Gothic - in England called perpendicular or flamboyant style. But the interior of the church gives the impression of harmony, despite the long time that passed until the building was finished.

View from the choir to the south aisle

The arcs of the vaults are not rounded like in the Romanesque style, but pointed at the center. During the development of the Gothic style the pointed structure gets more angular and steep, abandoning the form of a true arc.

Main nave, ceiling

The main nave looks higher than it is because of the unadorned walls. They are often structured by ornaments in other churches. The heavy 'bundled pillars' that divide the aisles from the main nave add to the effect. The aisles are more like rooms of their own here than in some other churches I've seen.

View to main nave from the north aisle.

In the photo below youcan see the rosette window behind the organ. The west part is the youngest; rosette windows are a sign of the perpendicular style. Though Heiligenstadt can't compete with York in size, the interior still gives the impression of great harmony.

Main nave, view to the west

I aimed the camera slightly towards the ceiling so you can see the late afternoon light coming in through the clerestories while the lower part of the nave remains in twilight. It was a very peaceful atmosphere the day I visited the church.

Main nave, view to the east with the choir windows

I've mentioned the architectonic tricks like the heavy bundled pillars and the unadorned walls that lend the nave greater height. Fortunately, the changes from the Baroque times, like wall paintings, additional altars and pulpits and probably some of those gilded chubby angels had been removed as early as 1862, so the original structure is visible again.

Of course, the church could have been whitewashed or painted in the Middle ages as well. But 14th century frescoes would have fit better with the architecture, I'd say. I have not found any mention of traces of Medieaval colours on the walls in the guide book, so I don't think any have been found under all that Baroque stuff. I prefer the unadorned stone.

Pulpit on the north wall near the quire

Heiligenstadt had strong connections with the archbishopric of Mainz, which is interesting because it is a good distance east of the Rhine. The influence of the archbishops of Mainz in Saxony will tie in with the posts about our friend Otto of Northeim. For now I'll only say: men of the Church were probably worse intrigants than secular nobles. :)

The crypt (photo below) must have belonged to an older church and was intergrated into the Gothic building.

St. Martin, crypt from about 1250

It is not clearly to be seen in the photos because of the angles, but this one shows an earlier stage where the rounded Romanesque style you may remember from Lippoldsberg (last picture in that post) just started to develop into the Gothic one. If you compare the vaults of the crypt with the arc on the second picture, you can see a slight difference.

Dragon relief on a capital in the south aisle
(The photo was taken free hand in a rather dark room)

These charming dragons with intertwining tails are part of a capital decoration. They date from 1360-70. Compared to the Italian Romanesque ornaments in Königslutter, the figures are more twisted with less regard to anatomy, leaves and other ornaments more splendid and wild, and the symmetry sometimes broken.

The hunt had a symbolic meaning in the Middle ages, and so we find the motive here as well.

Hunting motive on a capital in the south aisle

Since it was already evening, and I hadn't brought a tripod, it was very tricky to get some useable pics free hand. Flash doesn't work with reliefs, it flattens the outlines.
 
Comments:
Gorgeous architecture. I love Gothic arches. And the
atmosphere in churches and cathedrals, even though I'm not religious. Their serenity is incredible.

Though the sheer skill of the architecture, gorgeous though it is, lets us know those clergy were fair raking in the cash. Destroys the illusion a little bit. ;)
 
Yep, as Goethe has his Mephistopheles say in Faust, The Church, it has a big stomach. It can well take this sin (meaning the jewels Faust gave to Gretchen) without corruption.

I'm not religious, either, but I love old churches as well.
 
Beautiful!

It would be interesting to see how the colored stone looked in its day--though I think I too prefer the unadorned stone.
 
Beautiful. I prefer the natural stone, too.
 
Wonderful!
You captured the paradox of stone and spirit.
 
Susan,
I think colour taste in former times was more garish, probably due to the overall drabness of the common people's life (undyed wool, wattle and daub huts, earthenware dishes ...) and thus attending mass in a church with frescoes and decorations was indeed a special time of the day or week.

Thank you, Shelley.

Thanks, Bernita. I'm always glad when I can catch more than what's visible to the eye on a photo.
 
Lovely photos.

I've heard it argued that church paintings worked like a sort of strip cartoon, illustrating scenes from the Bible for people who didn't have access to books and/or couldn't read.
 
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Miscellaneous musings of an aspiring Historical Fiction and Fantasy author. Illustrated essays on Roman, Dark Age and Mediaeval history, Mediaeval literature, and Geology. Some poetry translations and writing stuff. And lots of photos of old castles, cathedrals, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes from Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and the Baltic States.

All texts (except comments by guests) and photos (if no other copyright is noted) on this blog are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.

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I'm a writer of Historical Fiction and Fantasy living in Germany. I got a MA in Literature, Scandinavian Studies, Linguistics and History, I'm interested in Archaeology and everything Roman and Mediaeval, an avid reader, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, and photographer.


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