My History Blog, Focussing mostly on Roman and Mediaeval Times
I wish everyone a happy Halloween. Don't get scared by those carved pumpkins. ;)
Here be some monsters for you:
Relief carving in Gernrode Chapter Church
Mediaeval masons came up with some scary and grotesque things and for some odd reason always put them in churches and cloisters. All of those are Romanesque.
Semi-relief capital in the cloister of the Romanesque chapter church in Gernrode / Harz
Another cutie from my Mediaeval Monster collection:
Pillar capital in the cloister of Königslutter Cathedral
There are more interesting decorations in the Köngslutter Cathedral
Walkenried - From Monastery to Museum
I have too many photos in my files. When I posted those pictures from odd angles a few weeks ago, I added one from Walkenried monastery and realised I had never introduced you to the place. So here we go.
Walkenried was founded as Cistercian monastery by Countess Adelheid of Clettenberg in 1127, member of one of the smaller and more obscure noble families in the Harz area.
(Remains of the choir against the autumn sky)
The Cistercians were an enclosed order which means they had to stay within the confines of the land belonging to the monastery. Other orders, like for example Benedictines and Franciscans, enjoyed more freedom of movement. Cistercians were a fairly new order that started in Citeaux / Burgundy in 1098 out of the Benedictine rule which they still fowllowed in a purified version. Adelheid had met them in Kamp at the lower Rhine. She invited some monks to move to the Harz foothills and offered them a suitable piece of land, sufficiently distant from settlements, with water access and chances of agricultural development. A first convent moved in and started building the first church on the grounds, in the older Romanesque style. They got additional money from Emperor Lothar of Süpplingenburg (the one who founded the church in Königslutter), and in 1137, Pope Innocenz II officially confirmed the foundation.
The white monks (as they were called because of their white habits) started to drain the swamps along the southern Harz to gain arable land, got involved in mining in the Harz mountains that are rich in silver and other ore, and also in financial transactions. Their possessions - fields, mines, forests and charcoal kilns - grew during the next two centuries and extended outside the Harz area. More than a hundred monks and two hundred lay brothers worked on Walkenried lands in the 13th century.
It was one of the foremost tasks of the Cistercians to cultivate lands and establish an infrastructure in hence 'wild' areas. They had special knowledge in techniques like draining swamps and improving soil for the growth of corn, or the breeding of farm animals. Though the monks did a lot of work themselves, the also employed lay servants.
View from the dormitory into the cloister yard
(The reflections are due to the glass of the dormitory windows)
Walkenried became one of the richest and politically important Cistercian monasteries. Heidenreich of Walkenried became abbot of Morimond, one of the four Citeaux daughter foundations in 1202. Duke Heinrich the Lion spent some time in the monastery to recover from a riding accident (1194) and his son, Emperor Otto IV
, received the sacrament of the extreme unction from the hands of the Abbot of Walkenried as he lay dying in Harzburg Castle in 1218.
View from the main nave to the ruins of the choir
The timeline on the official website
mentions a meeting of 53 Cistercian abbots under the leadership of Abbot Heidenreich and Emperor Otto IV in 1209. Too bad nothing is mentioned of the reason for that meeting, but it surely underlines the importance of Walkenried. Heidenreich initiated the building of a new church in the early Gothic style, an endeavour that was financially supported by Otto.
The new building followed a layout taken from Morimond, a three nave basilica with five bays in the main nave. The eastern part was used for service since 1253, but the entire church would only be finished in 1290. With a length of 90 metres it was one of the largest sacral buildings in northern Germany at that time. The original choir was replaced by an equilateral polygon in the 14th century - some of it is left today.
The double cloister
The enclosure (the cloister with the rooms above, like dormitory, library etc.) was finished in 1330. It is one of the most beautiful examples of Gothic cloisters in Germany with an unusual double-naved northern wing where the gross grain vaults are supported by an additional row of pillars. This part of the cloister is today used as concert hall.
The decline of the monastery began in the 14th century with a crisis of the Harz mines, plague and other problems. The monastery was attacked during the Peasant War in 1525, though the monks had fled and taken most of the valuables and manuscripts with them. But the crossing vault was badly damaged and the church could no longer be used. When the monks returned, they changed the chapter house into a church.
The few remaining monks converted to Protestantism in 1546 and the church was used as quarry. The enclosure housed a Latin school since 1556, and most of the lands were sold or pawned out.
The counts of Hohnstein took over the administration of the monastery in 1578 until the line died out in 1593 and Walkenried fell to the dukes of Braunschweig-Lüneburg. An interesting tidbit is that the father of the last count, one Volkmar Wolf of Hohnstein was married to Agnes of Everstein, descendant of the family we have met in Kugelsburg Castle
(Another shot of the remains of the choir)
Some basic renovations took place in the 19th century to prevent the ruins from tumbling into a heap of debris. The remains of the choir and and the southern nave still made for a picturesque view, and people in the 19th century loved that.
The remains of the church and the enclosure that was still in decent condition have been preserved and renovated since 1977, when the monastery was taken over by the Foundation Braunschweigischer Kulturbesitz
. Part of the choir polygon had to be rebuilt to prevent further decline in 1988, and the cloister got glass windows. Archaeological digs showed some foundations of the older Romanesque church.
Today the buildings are still used. The chapter house is a Protestant church, concerts take place in the cloister since 1984, and a new museum about the Cistercians and about the history of Walkenried monastery opened in the rooms above the cloister in 2006. The museum won a few prizes for innovative presentation of history - and rightfully so; the hour we spent there wasn't enough to do it justice, so it's on the Have to Go There Again-list.
Yet More Castles and Churches
Because we have plenty of both and you keep saying you aren't getting tired of them. So here we go with a fresh batch (only the short version for today).
I found the castles in the south-eastern Harz foothills in ex-East Germany. Castle touring is healthy because the parking lots are always at the bottom of the mountain and you'll have to hike up to the summit where some count or lord built the thing.
Hohnstein Castle, the palas building on a rock
Hohnstein Castle dates back to about 1120, assumeldy founded by Count Konrad of Sangershausen, nephew of the Landgrave of Thuringia. Konrad's heirs increased their influence in the southern Harz area, acquiring more and more land. Hohnstein became their main seat. But divided heritages split the Hohnstein family into several branches and led to a decline in power. Like most Medieaval (and modern) families, they started quarreling among each other, with Hohnstein Castle being the target. It was conquered in 1412 and fell to an ally outside the Hohnstein family.
A veritable maze - remains of Hohnstein Castle
The Hohnstein family died out in 1593 and the castle came to the Count of Stolberg who modernised the defenses and rebuilt the main palas
in the Renaissance style. At that time Hohnstein was one of the largest castles in the Harz. Like so many castles it suffered during the Thirty Years War and other wars and was left as a ruin. After the reunion, the remains have been repaired so it's safe to visit the castle today.
The pretty red colour is caused by the porphyry used in building the castle. The rocks beneath it are porphyry as well. The next castle just a few miles from Hohnstein used the same sort of stone.
Castle Ebersburg, the keep
was built by Hermann I Landgrave of Thuringia between 1180 - 1191. There was a time of splendour in the late 12th / early 13th century, but in the following centuries the castle saw different owners, several times as result of a feud, until the Ebersburg fell into decline in the 16th century. The remains are upkept by the Society for 'lebendiges Mittelalter' (a German variant of the SCA) but there's a lot of work to be done to prevent the ruins from detoriating further - the keep is impressive but tries to imitate the Tower of Pisa.
Chapter Church Bad Gandersheim, the westwork
The Chapter of Gandersheim, a town in the Leine valley on the western side of the Harz, was founded by the Saxon duke Liudolf in 852. It soon developed into an important institution, first as family chapter of the Liudolfing family; since the 13th century as 'free chapter of the realm'. Gandersheim became an important town and was frequently visited by the emperors of the Ottonian and Salian dynasties.
The canonesses, who came from noble families, didn't take vows, could keep private possessions and were free to leave the chapter. But else they led a religious life pretty much like nuns, and the head of the chapter was called abbess. One of the tasks of the canonesses was the education of daughters from noble families. The chapter of Ganderheim existed until 1810.
Chapter Church, view to the abbess' lodge in the westwork
The church is pure Romanesque style (except for the Gothic annexes along the outside of the naves), dating to 1100 - 1168 when it was consecrated. It's a basilica with transepts and a single apse at the eastern end. The so-called Sächsischer Stützenwechsel
(Saxon alternating support - one column, two pillars) separates the naves; the main nave has a flat ceiling, the side naves a cross grain vault. The most impressive feature is the westwork with its two towers and the connecting two storey block.
Romanesque church in Clus
The monastery in Clus is the little brother of the church in Gandersheim, founded by the Gandersheim abbess Agnes, a niece of the Emperor Heinrich IV
. The church is mostly Romanesque as well (1127 - 1159), except for the Gothic choir from 1485. The westwork lost its southern tower which had been in bad repair. The monastery was abandoned during the reformation in 1596; the buildings that once belonged to the monastery today house a pony farm.
Forest at the Harzhorn
On the way back we made a little detour to the Harzhorn near Kalefeld where the 3rd century Roman battlefield
is located. You can't see much without a guided tour because the archaeologists try to cover their traces due to the problems with illegal diggers. So it was more a nice walk along the slope the Romans tried to climb while the Germans shot pointy things from above. What got stuck in the soft earth of the slope were the Roman pointy things, though. So far about 1800 pieces have been found (weapons, coins, a horse skeleton and more). I'll get back to that one.
Some Experimental Photos
Which is a fancy way to say, 'I just pressed the shutter release and wondered what would come out of it.' It also makes for a lazy post because I had a busy week.
Sometimes it looks like modern art.
A staircase inside the keep of Plesse Castle. The stairs aren't Medieaval, of course. The keep tower has been restored to its original height; the upper part was in ruins in the 19th century.
Sometimes nature assists in creating an interesting photo.An Ent at work
A tree growing right inside Hardenberg Castle. In a fight of stones and tree roots, the trees win in the long run. Ask Treebeard (that tree looks a lot like one of his friends).
Sometimes the light makes for a cool pic.A Scherenschnitt
Remains of Walkenried monastery against the afternoon sun. Looks like a Scherenschnitt
(paper cutout; it's another word that made it into English together with the craft, obviously).
And there's always the windows views.Window into the past
Or some forest, at least. It's one of several such photos from all over the place (like the one from Criccieth in the post below). This one is from Scharzfels Castle.
Modern technology can add to an interesting photo as well.Roman architecture meets the 21st century
The baths in the Archaeological Park Xanten, seen from the second floor of the adjacent museum. The remains of the baths have been covered with an elaborate steel and glass construction in the size of the original rooms.
Sometimes the art is right there.Chagall Blues
Some of the Chagall windows in the St.Stephanus Church Mainz. Those windows are stunning; photos don't do them justice.
BTW, I may be off to add another castle or two and maybe a Romanesque church to my collection this weekend. The weather finally has turned into golden autumn.
Castles of the Welsh Princes - The Rise of House Aberffraw in the 12th Century
Reading up on Welsh history makes me suspect it was the Princes of Gwynedd who invented the dysfunctional family and the Plantagenets only copied them. There was a lof of brothers fighting each other, one ending up in exile from where he would promptly return with a fleet (Irish/Norse in most cases), or in prison from which he would escape and manage to find an army somewhere. Adding to this that the English kings and the marcher lords (in particular the Earls of Chester) also played that battle / exile / hostage game, it's surprising that northern Wales saw times of peace at all. But it did.
The Welsh stone castles mostly date to the 13th century, but they make for some nice illustrations nevertheless.
The first ruler of Gwynedd who managed to establish some sort of stability north of the Conwy river was Gruffydd ap Cynan. Gruffydd's mother Ragnhild was a daughter of Olaf of Dublin. Little is known about his father who obviously died while Gruffydd was still very young. Gruffydd made a first attempt to oust his rival Trahaearn ap Caradog from Gwynedd in 1075. He had the aid of his Irish relations and of Robert of Rhuddlan, a Norman lord and cousin of Hugh d'Avranches, Earl of Chester. Some strange alliance that, and it didn't hold. Gruffydd managed to drive Trahaearn out, but tensions arose between the Welsh and Gruffydd's Irish-Danish host. The Welsh rebelled and Trahaearn kicked Gruffydd back to Ireland.
Where he would not stay forever. In 1081, Gruffydd tried his luck again. This time he allied himself with Rhys of Deheubarth, perhaps lectured his Danes about being nice to the Welsh, and killed Trahaearn in the Battle of Mynydd Carn. The Normans didn't like a strong ruler in Gwynedd, though. Earl Hugh of Chester lured Gruffydd to a meeting where the Welsh prince was taken captive. Some say by treason of one of his own men, others blame Robert of Rhuddlan which would make sense because Robert was to gain a nice chunk of land. The Normans extended their supremacy over most of Gwynedd and built several castles in the years to follow.
It's not clear how long Gruffydd stayed in prison in Chester (Ordericus Vitalis in his Historia Ecclesiastica
can't make up his mind whether it was 12 or 16 years). Gruffydd eventually managed to escape and participated in the Welsh rebellion in 1094/95. He retreated to Anglesey before Earl Hugh of Chester's advance and had to flee to Ireland. Again. Moreover, Gruffydd had to cross the sea in an open boat. Sounds like fun.
OK, I promise the fourth time will work. This is getting sorta boring. The death of the Earl of Chester in 1101 brought Gruffydd back to Gwynedd and this time he managed to consolidate his power both by war and diplomacy. King Henry I of England, not liking the idea of a strong Welsh ruler, promptly invaded Wales and forced Gruffydd to do homage, but the Welsh prince could keep his possessions. Gruffydd's sons who led the men of their aging father, extended the power of their family further into the south of Wales.
Gruffydd ap Cynan died in 1137 and was buried in Bangor Cathedral.
His sons Owain and Cadwaladr had an uneasy relationship. Troubles started when Cadwaladr had - for some reason unknown - Owain's ally and brother-in-law to be Anarawd of Deheubarth assassinated. Owain drove his brother out of his lands in Ceredigion; Cadwaladr fled to Ireland but returned and made peace with his brother only to fall foul of Owain again; he fled into exile once more in 1155, this time to England. Well, the latter is at least some change to the routine. *grin*
Owain used the civil war between Stephen and Maud in England to push the borders of his realm further east into Powys, even conquered Rhuddlan Castle in 1154 and came close enough to Chester to make the earl feel uneasy about this neighbour. Not that the latter was anything new, though. Owain also made it into several of Ellis Peters' Cadfael
But when King Henry II of England came to power, matters changed. Henry tried to gain supremacy over Gwynedd with his shiny Norman army, but after he almost managed to get himself killed in the battle of Basingwork in 1157, he decided to resort to diplomacy for a change. "A people called Welsh, so bold and ferocious that, when unarmed, they do not fear to encounter an armed force, being ready to shed their blood in defence of their country, and to sacrifice their lives for renown," he later wrote to the Emperor of Byzantium.
Welsh landscape near Dolwyddelan
The men who gave Henry such a hard time were Owain I of Gwynedd and his son Dafydd. Cadwaladr who meanwhile had married a sister of Gilbert de Clare 2nd Earl of Hertford, fought on Henry's side. Despite his advantageous position, Owain made peace with Henry, rendered homage to the king for Gwynedd, sent two of his sons to England as hostages (not Dafydd, though) and restored Cadwaladr to his share of Gwynedd, probably muttering something about shared heritages being a stupid idea under his breath.
But it turned out Owain had been bidding time. During Henry's quarrel with Thomas Becket, he started a revolt (in 1163), together with Rhys ap Gruffydd of Deheubarth. Cadwaladr acted as Owain's second-in-command this time. Wales came up with the best Welsh weather it could manage, and Henry's splendid army got stuck in the morass of a Welsh valley. He could join Varus in blaming the rain, bogs and trees for his defeat. Unfortunately, his Angevin temper got the better of Henry and he had some 20 hostages mutilated, among them Owain's sons.
Owain continued to keep some stability in Gwynedd. No army fought north of the Conwy river in his time. Owain also was the first to call himself Prince of Gwynedd.
Criccieth Castle, view from the outer gatehouse over Tremadog Bay
(No Irish fleet in sight, though.)
When Owain died in 1170, he left behind a few too many sons by several wives and concubines. According to Welsh law, both legitimate and illegitimate sons could inherit, which would lead to trouble in the generations to follow.
Owain had proclaimed Hywel his heir, the surviving son he had with an Irish woman (there's some dispute whether the allegation she was a concubine was not made up by some of the other sons). He most likely wanted to keep the strong connections between the rulers of Gwynedd and the Irish of Dublin intact - you never know when you have to flee there again, lol. Two other sons, Dafydd and Rhodri were the offspring of Owain's marriage to Cristin ferch Goronwy, his cousin once removed; a marriage the Church didn't acknowledge because of consanguinity. The only undisputed legitimate sons were Iorweth and Maelgwyn he had with Gladys ferch Llywarch.
Dolwyddelan Castle, Llywelyn's Keep
Iorweth and Maelgwyn first killed Hywel in a battle. Unfortunately, Iorweth took a fatal wound in that fight himself and died in 1174, leaving his infant son Llywelyn the prey of his big cousins. Llywelyn's mother remarried into a ruling Powys family.
Dafydd, Rhodri and Maelgwyn seem to have shared the lands of their father between them (with several other half-brothers getting little bits as well), but soon Dafydd drove Maelgwyn out of Anglesey. His further fate is not know, though he probably fled to Ireland. Next Dafydd "seized through treason" his brother Rhodri and imprisoned him.
You know the routine by now, don't you? Rhodri escaped from prison in 1175, gathered an army and drove Dafydd out of Anglesey. The brothers decided to divide the lands between them - Dafydd got the lands north of the Conwy river to the Dee, and Rhodri got Anglesey and the lands south of the Conwy - an arrangement that would surprisngly hold almost 20 years. It was not Dafydd who caused trouble but the sons of another half-brother, Cynan, who chased Rhodri into exile on Man in 1194.
View from Anglesey to the mainland
The man who would cause Dafydd's downfall was his nephew Llywelyn.
Llywelyn 'the Great' also built Dolwyddelan Castle and parts of Criccieth Castle we can see today. There will be more about him and his
dysfunctional sons in another post.
R.R. Davies, The Age of Conquest, Oxford 1987, repr. 2000