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


30.12.10
  Happy New Year

I wish everyone a Happy New Year. May your hopes and wishes come true.

My balcony in winter

Fred the Snowman sends greetings as well. He's been around for ten days now and hopefully will stay a bit longer. This winter has been a bit crazy so far, but I don't mind the cold and the snow. Only the frozen rain could have gone elsewhere. ;)
 


26.12.10
  St.Mary's Church in Magdeburg, Part 3 - From Reformation to Reunion

Magdeburg became one of the centres of the Reformation, not the least because the archbishop was heavily involved in the trade with indulgences. The cathedral was closed after his death (1545) and became a Protestant church in 1567.

(Detail from the crypt)

St.Mary's Abbey remained a Catholic enclave; its immunity was confirmed in 1555 under the Treaty of Augsburg. But the situation was not easy for the inhabitants; for example they stopped wearing their religious habits outside the monastery. After the death of the provost in 1597, the last canons abandoned the monastery, leaving the relics of St.Norbert behind. The relics were transfered to Prague in 1626 - the Thirty Years War was already raging in the surroundings - and two years later, several Premonstratensians returned to St.Mary.

The troops of the Catholic general Tilly conquered Magdeburg in 1631; the massacre of Magdeburg would become known as one of the most cruel events in a time when atrocities were committed almost daily. All of Europe, Catholic and Protestant, was aghast about what happened in Magdeburg. But the main churches survived the plunderings and fires. Tilly put St.Mary under his personal protection, and the cathedral was respected as well, despite being a Protestant church. The people who had managed to flee into both churches were among those who survived the massacres, but they had to hold out without water and food for three days.

With the town more or less destroyed, the canons left the monastery in the following year. The took the library and archive with them.

Well house in the cloister

The monastery was secularised in 1832. During WW2 the west wing of the cloister and the choir and roof of the church were damaged by airborne attacks. The choir was restored as early as 1947-49 and some repair work was going on in the years to follow - the GDR government considered St. Mary and Magdeburg Cathedral to be important enough to keep them, and I'm sure there were donations from west Germany as well (a lot of historical buildings fared much worse and were tumbling into ruins for lack of care). After the Reunion the crypt was restored, and redevelopment of the cloister began in 1999. That work was almost finished when we visited the place.

In 1993, St. Mary's Abbey was declared one of the main attractions of the Romanesque Road (Straße der Romanik), a net of roads that connects important Romanesque buildings in Germany; you can travel the 'road' all the way from the Alpes to the sea.
 


22.12.10
  Merry Christmas

I wish everyone a Blessed and Merry Christmas.

Christmas decoration in my sleeping room

I prefer handcrafted decorations; those angels are ceramic work from Sweden. Below is some traditional German craft from the Erzgebirge, a mountain area in eastern Germany long famous for its wood carving and turning crafts. Among the best known items they create are nutcrackers, Christmas pyramids, musical boxes, angels and other figures that are still made in small private craftsman's workshops. They also produce all sorts of wooden children's toys; there is a famous museum in Seiffen displaying toys from several centuries.

Advent decoration in my living room

The Erzgebirge was a mountaineering area since the 12th century. When less ore was to be found since the 17th century, people turned to other ways to make a living. Wood carving already had a tradition and there was no shortage in timber, so working with wood became a new source of income. The first products were everyday things like plates, spoons and whatnot, but over time, the people in the Erzgebirge specialised in toys and decorative art.

Snowman with trees, closeup

The spiral trees (made by wood turning) are something I collect. I try to get a new one every year.

If you want your very own spiral tree forest or nutcracker next Christmas, here is where you can order them.

Christmas decoration in my living room

The little nativity scene under the vase with fir green was carved in Israel. My late mother found it at a Christmas market in Braunschweig and gifted it to me. I never put out everything I have (I collected and inherited a good deal of decorative items) but that little nativity gets a place every year, usually together with the smallest spiral trees of my set.
 


17.12.10
  Exhibits from the Cathedral Museum Mainz: Choir Screen Figures

The Cathedral Museum (Bischöfliches Dom- und Diözesanmusem) in Mainz presents a number of beautiful Mediaeval works of art, among them a set of reliefs that once belonged to the choir screen. Choir screens (German: Lettner) are a feature of Gothic church architecture which separated the the area with the main altar from the naves and the congregation. They were elaborately wrought of iron or carved of wood or stone.

The screen in the cathedral of Mainz had been removed in the 17th century (where that feature was no longer felt appropriate) but parts of it were integrated elsewhere in the church which underwent a number of changes and repair / rebuilding during times. In the end, the remains of the choir screen made it into the museum.

Choir screen, Passage of the Damned

The screen is a work of the Master of Naumburg. His name is not known, but he is regarded as one of the most important artists of the 13th century. He supposedly was educated in France and worked in Amiens and Reims, and since about 1230-1239 in Mainz where he created the choir screen. He then moved to work on the cathedral in Naumburg where several of the figures he created for the choir of the cathedral can still be seen.

Choir screen, Passage of the Blessed

The Passages of the Damned and the Blessed are part of a Last Judgement scene. The damned are dragged to hell on a chain to the left of Jesus (the Jesus figure is missing) while the blessed go to heaven at his right side. The presentation of the blessed follows the estates of the realm with the pope and a bishop (in the background) first, followed by a crowned emperor, monks and nuns, and a smiling boy who stands for the innocent children Jesus called to him.

Passage of the Blessed, closeup

Though at close look I suspect that boy wasn't so innocent. His smile is rather smug, more like, 'heh, I always teased my younger brother, grabbed the cat by its tail and filched apples from neighbour's orchard, and I still made it, neiner, neiner.' Makes you wonder if the Master of Naumburg had kids. :) One of the custodians told me the smiling boy is the most popular postcard and poster motive the museum sells.
 


11.12.10
  St.Mary's Abbey in Magdeburg, Part 2 - Emperor Otto IV and Archbishop Adalbert II

After the building of St.Mary's Church was completed under Archbishop Norbert, little has been changed during time. A few Gothic elements like cross grain vaults in the naves and Gothic windows in the apses have been introduced, the columns in the main nave were replaced with pillars (between 1220-1240), but overall the Romanesque character of the church remains intact.


(St.Mary's Abbey Magdeburg, westwork)

On Good Friday 1207 the old cathedral in Magdeburg was destroyed by a fire. St.Mary's Church was immediately elevated to the status of cathedral so Archbishop Adalbert II of Käfernburg could celebrate the Easter mass there.

A cathedral (German: Dom or Kathedrale) usually refers to a church that contains the seat of a bishop and serves as central church of a diocese or episcopate. But the word is also used for Protestant churches that started out as cathedral, and sometimes simply for large and important churches (St.Victor in Xanten is technically a chapter church but refered to as Xantener Dom - Cathedral of Xanten; while other chapter churches are sometimes called minster; but that denomination is also on occasion used for former abbey churches; it's very confusing, just look at a name like Westminster Abbey).

Adalbert II (alternate spellings: Albert, Albrecht) had the cathedral rebuilt in the Gothic style (that's another post that needs to be rewritten), but for several years he had to use St.Mary's Church. One important historical incident - and another thread in the tapestry of German history I try to weave on my blog - taking place in that church was Adalbert proclaiming the excommunication of Emperor Otto IV in 1211.

"An emperor Otto and an archbishop Adalbert founded the archdiocese of Magdeburg, and an emperor Otto and an archbishop Adalbert destroyed it," says the Chronicle of Lauterberg. (One Konrad, member of the chapter church Lauterberg near Halle, wrote a chronicle of the chapter up to the year 1224, making use of a now lost History of Magdeburg and other sources.) This refers to Otto the Great and Archbishop Adalbert I who founded the archdiocese in 968 and built the first cathedral, and to Otto IV and Adalbert II.

Adalbert of Käfernburg, born 1170, was the son of a Thuringian count, destined for a clerical life. He studied in Paris and Bologna and became provost in Magdeburg in 1200.

(St.Mary, well house in the cloister, seen from the cloister walk)

The archdiocese of Magdeburg had traditionally sided with the Staufen against the Welfen. Archbishop Wichmann had been a stout supporter of Friedrich Barbarossa and caused Duke Heinrich 'the Lion' of Saxony a lot of trouble. In the quarrel between Friedrich's son Philipp of Swabia and Heinrich's son Otto, Magdeburg took the side of Philipp, and his party elected Adalbert archbishop in 1205. Philipp, who considered himself rightful king (as did Otto), immediately invested Adalbert who kept supporting Philipp though that was not without risk. The main seat of the Welfen, Braunschweig, is not so far away from Magdeburg, and Otto had sent some troops before. They could not take the fortified town - and probably didn't intend to at the time - but they pillaged and burned the lands belonging to the diocese. Not a nice thing to do, of course, but it was a normal part of Mediaeval warfare (and Wichmann had done the same to Duke Heinrich, destroying fe. the town of Haldensleben and integrating it into the archdiocese of Magdeburg).

Pope Innocenz III who supported Otto, confirmed Adalbert as archbishop only after Adalbert had visited him and tried - not without success, it seems - to work towards an agreement between Innocenz, Otto, and Philipp.

But when Philipp of Swabia was assassinated in 1208, the Staufen party lost a great deal of power and influence. Otto suddenly found himself King of Germany uncontested, esp. since Pope Innocenz did not want the Staufen heir and King of Sicily, Friedrich II (son of Heinrich VI and grandson of Friedrich Barbarossa) to become King of Germany, and continued to support Otto.

So Adalbert decided to open up negotiations with Otto. He wanted concessions, of course. Otto should permanently renounce all Welfen rights to Haldensleben (which Wichmann had annexed in 1181), pay 3000 gold marks towards the new cathedral, and accept Adalbert as first counsellor. Adalbert's support must have been important for Otto to agree to those conditions. Otto was indeed elected king - again, lol - in Frankfurt a few months after Philipp's death, and this time unanimously.

(Pillar capital from the cloister walk)

Adalbert accompagnied Otto to Rome where he was crowned emperor in October 1209. Pope Innocenz wanted concessions, too, the most important being a promise that Otto would not claim the rule over the towns in Italy that traditionally belonged to the German kings, and over Sicily.

A few days later, on their way back from Rome, Otto and Adalbert quarreled big style. Unfortunately the chronicles do what they like to do (ask Kathryn, lol) and don't mention the reason for the quarrel. Several guesses have been made; one that sounds plausible is that Otto obviously was slow in signing over Haldensleben to the archdiocese of Magdeburg. We'll see that he tried to wiggle out of other agreements as well.

The following year Otto returned to Italy to do exactly what he had promised not to do: having Italian towns hail him as king. It's an understandable move, in a way, since there was always the danger that Friedrich II would try the same, but to the pope, it was blatant oathbreaking. Which isn't entirely true; from what I could find out it was not a formal oath but a private promise, and there's a difference between those in the Middle Ages.

Well, Innocenz excommunicated Otto and told the German princes they were free to elect another king and emperor-to-be. They chose Friedrich II who in fact had the strongest claim among the members of the Staufen family. Otto gallloped back to Germany, but his support was melting like the snow outside my window. Adalbert had joined the princes who voted for Friedrich but on the other hand, he was loth to announce Otto's excommunication in his diocese. It took an angry letter from the pope until Adalbert finally proclaimed Otto an heretic and all oaths towards him invalid in front of the altar in St.Mary's Church in February 1211.

Otto in turn gathered the followers he still had in a Imperial diet and put Adalbert and the archdiocese of Magdeburg under Imperial ban (basically declaring the people that lived on the land outlaws, including the archbishop). The surroundings of Magdeburg were attacked by Otto's armies several times in the years to follow; once Adalbert barely escaped capture. One may wonder why Otto put so much effort into that adventure, esp. after the lost Battle of Bouvines (1214). My guess is that Otto needed to give the vassals he still had in Saxony and at the Lower Rhine a chance to gain some riches because he had not much left to distribute. A catch like Adalbert or conquering a rich town like Magdeburg would have filled a few purses and kept a few vassals by his side.

Otto IV died 1218, Adalbert II 1233. He was buried in the cathedral which was partly finished at that time.


Sources:
Matthias Puhle: Die Beziehung zwischen Otto IV und Erzbischof Albrecht II 1205 - 1218, in: Otto IV - Traum vom welfischen Kaisertum, issued by Braunschweigisches Landesmuseum, 2009
Klaus von Eickels: Otto IV (1198-1218) und Philipp (1198-1208), in: Die deutschen Herrscher des Mittelalters, edited by Bernd Schneidmüller and Stefan Weinfurter, München 2003
 


4.12.10
  St.Mary's Abbey in Magdeburg, Part 1 - An Austere Archbishop

This is one of the posts I mentioned that needed to be completely rewritten. We visited Magdeburg in 2005, before I got my own digital camera, so the photos are by courtesy of my father.

The monastery Unserer Lieben Frauen (To Our Dear Lady, also known as Liebfrauenkloster or St.Mary's Abbey) in Magdeburg is one of the most important Romanesque buildings in Germany. It is used as art museum and concert hall today.

(Liebfrauen-Monastery Magdeburg, westwork)

Magdeburg already had a cathedral dating to the time of Otto the Great (912-973) and was the see of an archbishop. St.Mary's Abbey was founded by Archbishop Gero in 1015 and started as collegiate church for a non-monastic community of clergy led by a dean. The first building may have been half-timbered, but since 1063 it was replaced by a stone basilica. There must have been a break in the building process because the basilica was only finished during the time of the Archbishop Norbert of Xanten (consecrated 1126).

Norbert of Xanten, founder of the Premonstratensian Order, was an interesting character, and since he played a more important role in Magdeburg than his native Xanten, I'll put his story here.

Norbert of Gennep (born between 1080-85) had his life cut out for him with a nice prebendary in the St.Victor Chapter in Xanten and a political career ahead. He accomp-agnied King Heinrich V to Rome but obviously got disillusioned by the events that led to Heinrich's coronation as Emperor in 1111.

Heinrich V didn't get along with the pope any better than his (in)famous father Heinrich VI and imprisoned the pope and a bunch of cardinals to blackmail the pope into a) crowning him as emperor, b) releasing his dead father from the church ban so he could be buried in the crypt of Speyer Cathedral, c) never excommunicate him (he learned from his father there, lol), and d) allow Heinrich the investiture of bishops in his realm.

BTW Heinrich V married Maud, the daughter of Henry I of England in 1114; the betrothal had taken place in 1110 before Heinrich became emperor, but Maud was not with him in Italy.

St.Mary's Abbey, Magdeburg, exterior

Norbert refused a position as bishop of Cambrai which Heinrich offered him and instead gave his possessions to the poor and got ordained as priest. Legend tells that his change of mind was caused when during a ride "...suddenly the terrifying sound and sight of a thunderbolt struck the ground opening it to the depth of a man's height. From here steamed forth a putrid stench which fouled him and his garments. Struck from his horse he thought he heard a voice denouncing him." (Vita Sancti Norberti, Version A)

After Norbert failed to reform the chapter in Xanten while himself living as hermit nearby, and after he barely escaped an accusation of heresy in 1118, he obtained permission to become an itinerant preacher. Norbert wandered through Belgium and France, calling people to a true vita apostolica in the following of Jesus and his disciples, and criticising the Church that has become too worldly and too rich.

The majority of bishops and other churchmen didn't like that, of course, and the pope tried to channel his activities by offering him to establish a monastery and a new religious order. Norbert finally accepted and chose a village named Premontré near Laon. The Order of the Canons Regular of Premontré was officially approved by Pope Honorius II in 1125.

St.Mary's Abbey, interior

But Norbert exchanged his contemplative life in a French valley again for the intrigues of the German Court. He traveled to Rome in 1125, where he was honourably received by Pope Honorius II and agreed to work for King Lothar III (the future Emperor Lothar of Süpplingenburg). Lothar, Duke of Saxony, had been elected king after Heinrich V had died without children.

Later that year Norbert was offered the position as archbishop of Magdeburg during a diet in Speyer. "All the leaders of the Church of Magdeburg cried out, 'He is our choice for our father and bishop, we approve him as our shepherd.'" Norbert didn't want the position, but "... Finally, yielding to numerous arguments and the apostolic authority, he accepted the yoke of the Lord, not without much weeping; and thus dismissed by the emperor, he set out for Saxony to the place destined for him." (Vita Sancti Norberti)

The Church of Magdeburg was in for some changes. Norbert arrived, according to the Vita, barefoot and in poor robes, and started reforming the clergy (no more sex and parties) and wrestling church possessions back from burghers who had obtained them as pawn from the archbishops. Soon even many of those who had called him wanted to get rid of Norbert, and there were two assassination attempts plotted by members of his inner circle. But it got worse; the citizens of Magdeburg rebelled and drove Norbert out with armed force. Well, he was not as saintly as the Vita makes him and put the town under interdict which brought the people back to obedience and Norbert back to Magdeburg.

The two-storeyed cloister

In 1129, Norbert transfered the St.Mary's Abbey to the Premonstratensian Order, an act that was confirmed by Pope Honorius the same year. My guess is that Norbert not only wanted to enlarge the possessions of the order he founded (and which would soon extend into the Slavic lands east of Magdeburg that future emperors would conquer) but also hoped to replace the unruly canons with men more loyal to him. At that time the towers of the church were completed, and the cloister, the wellhouse, and the refectory added.

Norbert also changed the Monastery of Pöhlde into a Premonstratensian monastery.

One of the walks in the cloister

Soon Norbert would become involved in Imperial politics again. The death of Pope Honorius led to a schism during which Pope Anacletus drove Pope Innocenz II out of Rome. Innocenz fled to France where he gathered support for his cause. He could make King Lothar an interesting offer: the Imperial crown; so Lothar traveled to Italy with an army to do something about Anacletus. Norbert accompagnied the king. The army didn't prove large enough to kick Anaclet's followers out of St.Peter's Basilica in Rome, but the investiture took place in the Lateran Church instead (June 1133). There were a lot of negotiations going on between Innocenz and Lothar; I'm not going into details in this post. Archbishop Norbert stayed with the king during the time in Italy, even acting as chancellor, and only returned to Magdeburg in 1134. He died there in June, probably of malaria. "It was the year of the Lord's Incarnation 1134, the Wednesday after Pentecost, the eighth day before the Ides of June, in the fifth year of Pope Innocent, in the ninth year of the reign of Lothair." (Vita Norberti; you gotta love Mediaeval dates).

Norbert was buried in front of the altar of the holy cross in St.Mary's Church. Saint Norbert was canonized by Pope Gregory XII in 1582 and is the patron saint of Magdeburg and Bohemia.
 


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 and Scandinavia.

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 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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