Welcome to the Via Lucis Blog for Romanesque Photography


Via Lucis Photography is about the art and architecture of Romanesque and Gothic churches in Europe. This blog highlights those photographs but also features the written word to characterize and give context to the images.

Photographers Dennis Aubrey and PJ McKey have photographed approximately 850 of these churches and captured over 100,000 images. We have created a library of more than 5,000 high-resolution images for licensing on the VIA LUCIS website.

If you are interested, here is a post that lists some of our personal favorite articles on Via Lucis.

Please note that all images and text on this Via Lucis blog are copyrighted by the photographers and authors. Thank you for respecting this notice.

The Nature of the Beast- Amuse Bouche #30 (Dennis Aubrey)


Today’s amuse-bouches features another capital at Notre Dame du Port in Clermont-Ferrand. The capital represents a theme familiar in medieval church iconography, the restraint of man’s animal nature.

Capital - Restrained ape, Église Notre Dame du Port, Clermont-Ferrand (Puy-de-Dôme) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Capital – Restrained ape, Église Notre Dame du Port, Clermont-Ferrand (Puy-de-Dôme) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The theme is illustrated by a man holding a rope tied around the neck of an ape, a symbolic gesture that would be easily understandable to the most simple of beholders. Just as the church checks man’s primitive urges, this man restrains the beast. We find echoes of this in Jung’s collective unconscious or Freud’s “archaic remnants” – those primitive forces and urges that exert an overwhelming force on human behavior.

This is part of a series of posts featuring an amuse-bouche, a bite-sized appetizer to whet the appetite of diners. Each of these will explore a single interesting feature of medieval architecture or sculpture. To see other amuse-bouches, follow this link.

The Metropolitan and his Cathedral – Saint-Étienne de Sens (Dennis Aubrey)


The Department of Yonne in Burgundy is one of our favorite places in France and very fertile for our photographic explorations. It is home to the Basilique Sainte Madeleine in Vézelay, the Cathédrale Saint-Étienne in Auxerre, the Collégliale Saint Lazare in Avallon and also the Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Sens.

Today, Sens is a fairly quiet town of about 27,000 people, the second most important of the Yonne after Auxerre. One would have no idea from its current state just how important Sens was in the Middle Ages as the seat of the “Primate of Gaul,” perhaps the most important bishop in France and superior to the bishopric of Paris. For much of the early Middle Ages, the Kings of France were anointed here, not at Reims.

Sens was the capital of an ecclesiastical province composed of several neighboring dioceses and headed by a metropolitan, the archbishop designated by the Pope. At its height, the Archdiocese of Sens counted seven suffragans – subordinate bishops – at Chartres, Auxerre, Meaux, Paris, Orléans, Nevers, and Troyes. Only in 1622 was Paris raised to the status of a Metropolitan See and Chartres, Orléans, and Meaux were separated from Sens.

Nave, Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Sens (Yonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Nave, Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Sens (Yonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Sens was an important settlement long before the Middle Ages. It was the site of an oppidum of the Senones, a Celtic tribe of Gaul. Caesar called it Agedincum and it later became an administrative center of Roman Gaul, situated at the intersection of the roads from Troyes to Orléans and Lyons to Paris . The first recorded Christian activity on the site was founded by the Saints Savinian and Potentian, sent by the Bishop of Rome in the 4th Century to proselytize the Gauls. They were martyred in 390. Their church was rebuilt in the sixth or seventh century. In 731, the Saracens ranged far enough north that they besieged the town, which was rescued by its bishop.

In the ninth century, the earlier church was succeeded by a Carolingian edifice, but this burned in 982. The church was immediately reconstructed by the Bishop Seguin and consecrated a few years later.

Around 1135, the Archbishop of Sens, Henri Sanglier, decided to replace the Carolingian cathedral of the tenth century with a structure befitting the importance of the metropolitan see over which he presided. Archbishop Sanglier was a singular person in the French landscape. He was a friend of both Abbot Suger of Saint Denis and Bernard of Clairvaux. He twice gave refuge to Thomas à Becket during his struggles with King Henry II. The second time was after Becket was forced to leave the abbey of Pontigny after the English monarch threatened to close every Cistercian house in England. When he was welcomed to Sens, Becket enthused, “ô douce, encore, ô très douce France! Oui, elle est douce, vraiment douce, la France!”

At the time of Sanglier’s rebuilding, church architecture was dominated by the great Romanesque churches. Sanglier commissioned a new architect to build his new church, who proposed building with a revolutionary form of vaulting – the rib vaulting that had begun to appear in the Norman churches in France and England. Although the finished cathedral in Sens was not completed for four centuries, the main structure was the product of a single mind, Guillaume de Sens. While there is no direct documentary record, there is enough evidence that we can perhaps infer the identity of the architect.

Ambulatory, Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Sens (Yonne) Photo by PJ McKey

Ambulatory, Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Sens (Yonne) Photo by PJ McKey

Saint-Etienne was constructed in its original form between 1135-1164 and was consecrated on 19 April 1163 by Pope Alexandre III, who was then in exile in Sens. This makes Saint-Étienne the oldest Gothic cathedral in France. The first Gothic structure is the Abbey Church of Saint Denis, built by Suger, but it did not become a cathedral until the 20th Century.

There is an interesting side note to Guillaume de Sens. Becket was at Sens during the time of the building of Saint-Étienne and when he returned to Canterbury, he made plans to rebuild the cathedral there. He was assassinated before he could do so, but the architect who was hired to build was the same Guillaume de Sens. Some historians speculate that Becket made the recommendation. In 1180 while working on the construction, Guillaume fell fifty feet from the scaffolding. Crippled, he returned home to Sens where he died soon after.

Nave and sexpartite vaulting, Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Sens (Yonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Nave and sexpartite vaulting, Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Sens (Yonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The architecture of the Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Sens is defined by three elements – the vaulting, the width of the nave, and the style of the nave pillars and columns.

The church features early Gothic sexpartite vaulting over a modest clerestory, and may even have been the first church to be completely vaulted in this manner. Like the Romanesque churches it was designed to supplant, there was a gallery between the aisle arcades and the clerestory level.

Crossing vault, Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Sens (Yonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Crossing vault, Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Sens (Yonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The church’s size is fairly modest, perhaps because the builders were not completely confident in the new architectural style. Saint-Étienne feels Romanesque; it is perhaps more solid than beautiful.

The interior lacks height but is very wide. A comparison with the almost-contemporary Notre Dame de Paris is telling. Sens’ length is 113.5 meters, which is smaller than Notre Dame de Paris at 128 meters. The nave height is 24.4 meters, much lower than Paris’ 33.5 meters. The width of the nave, in contrast, is 15.25 meters, almost two full meters larger than Paris. This width is one of the distinguishing factors of the Saint-Étienne de Sens. It also makes clear the builders’ intent to cover the structure with a vault, since it is too large for a wooden roof.

Finally, there is an interesting variation in the nave arcade supports – alternating piers and columns between the bays. This was not an innovation at Sens, but a very interesting stylistic choice.

Alternating pillars and columns in nave, Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Sens (Yonne) Photo by PJ McKey

Alternating pillars and columns in nave, Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Sens (Yonne) Photo by PJ McKey

In addition to the architectural details, Sens contains some magnificent stained glass throughout the cathedral.

Transept windows, Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Sens (Yonne) Photo by PJ McKey

Transept windows, Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Sens (Yonne) Photo by PJ McKey

There are four in particular that are remarkable – the choir ambulatory lancets that were created at the beginning of the 13th Century, probably from Suger’s school at Saint Denis. They tell the story of Saint Eustache,the Prodigal Son, the Good Samaritan and finally the story of Thomas à Becket and his martyrdom at Canterbury.

Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Sens (Yonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Sens (Yonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The cathedral is the heart of Sens, visible from a great distance across the Yonne plain. There is little in the modern town to suggest that it was at the center of the life in 12th Century France and home to one of the most powerful prelates in the Church. But stepping inside, we can see the care and pride of both the patron and the builder in the stone and glass of Saint-Étienne de Sens.

Ambulatory chapel, Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Sens (Yonne) Photo by PJ McKey

Ambulatory chapel, Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Sens (Yonne) Photo by PJ McKey

Location: 48.198142 3.284078

Basilica of San Isidoro, León (Castile-León) – A Guest Post by Jong-Soung Kimm


The basilica of San Isidoro (La Real Colegiata Basilica de San Isidoro) was dedicated in 1149 in the presence of King Alfonso VII and several bishops including the archbishop of Santiago. The importance accorded to the church at the time is due to the fact that it was a church honoring the 7th century archbishop of Seville San Isidoro, Doctor de las Españas, one of the most celebrated academic and theologian of that era; the older part of the church, Pantéon de los Reyes was the resting place of royalties of not only the kingdom of León, but also some royalties of Castile; and the two bishoprics of Santiago de Compostela located in the kingdom and León had a close tie between them.

San Isidoro stands on the site of a Roman temple. The first Christian structure on this site was a church dedicated to St. John, the Baptist and San Pelaya, which was destroyed in the Moslem invasion by Al-Mansur (Almanzor) in 996. After the devastation and repopulation, Alfonso V of León established a monastery, and a new church was built in the early part of the 11th century. Alfonso’s daughter, the infanta Sancha would marry Count Ferdinand of Castile, and he would ascend to the throne as Ferdinand I. When the relics of San Isidoro were brought from Seville in 1063 through Ferdinand’s diplomacy, the church was dedicated to the saint in December of that year.

The basilica of San Isidoro stands facing the spacious Plaza San Isidoro to the south. As the basilica abuts the older Pantéon de los Reyes to the west, the main entrance, la Puerta del Cordero is located on the south façade leading into the south aisle. Above the Puerta del Cordero is placed the 18th century equestrian statue of San Isidoro. Also on the south façade is located a second door at the south transept, la Puerta del Perdón.

León-Basilica de San Isidoro 01sm

The church of San Isidoro has gone through a major restoration of its exterior in recent year, and the beige toned exterior is rather unexpected and refreshing to the eyes of visitors who were used to the centuries old patina before the restoration. One view of the restored exterior of the Puerta del Perdón and the southern apse amply illustrates the striking difference.

Southern apse, Basilica of San Isidoro, León (Castile-León) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Southern apse, Basilica of San Isidoro, León (Castile-León) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The west end of San Isidoro is anchored by the Romanesque Torre del Gallo right on top of the medieval city wall.

Torre del Gallo, Basilica of San Isidoro, León (Castile-León) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Torre del Gallo, Basilica of San Isidoro, León (Castile-León) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

San Isidoro is built on the basilica plan: the nave with two aisles, projecting transepts and three apses on the axes.

Plan, Basilica of San Isidoro, León (Castile-León)

Plan, Basilica of San Isidoro, León (Castile-León)

Of the standing church, the Pantéon de los Reyes (church IV to borrow Fernie’s classification), is the earliest, probably the latter part of the 11th century, thought to be under the patronage of Doña Urraca, the daughter of Ferdinand and Sancha. The Pantéon is a three bay by three bay structure abutting the Roman wall to the west, ending at the western wall of the present church, but not aligned to the axis of the old foundation on which the present church was built. The church of San Isidoro in most part, however, is from the church V and VI from the period of Alfonso VII, the son of Ferdinand and Sancha.

The nave (church V), with a gallery, or a tribune over the three western bays, is covered with barrel vault with semi-circular transverse arches defining each bay, most of them springing from the capitals of the engaged columns.

Nave, Basilica of San Isidoro, León (Castile-León) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Nave, Basilica of San Isidoro, León (Castile-León) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The second transverse arch from the crossing, however, springs from responds on the nave walls for some reason.

Second transverse arch, Basilica of San Isidoro, León (Castile-León) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Second transverse arch, Basilica of San Isidoro, León (Castile-León) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The barrel vault surface of the nave is plastered, and painted with a burnt clay color. It is thought that the nave was covered with flat timber roof initially, and was rebuilt with stone vaulting some decades later, probably by the master builder of the church VI. The aisles are built of groin vaults between semi-circular arches, again thought to be a replacement of flat timber roofs. There are columns located in front of windows on both the north and south aisle walls, indicating that they were added in order to support the additional load of the vaulting.

Side aisle, Basilica of San Isidoro, León (Castile-León) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Side aisle, Basilica of San Isidoro, León (Castile-León) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The nave arcades are slightly elongated half round, with extension of the straight sides, rather than half round resting on capitals.

Nave arcades, Basilica of San Isidoro, León (Castile-León) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Nave arcades, Basilica of San Isidoro, León (Castile-León) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The intersection of the nave and crossing presents a marked visual difference in the colors of masonry as well as the stone joinery. The transepts (church VI) are built also with barrel vaults, probably contemporary to the nave vaulting. The crossing, where one would expect a crossing tower, is covered with a barrel vault running east-west, continuing the flow of the length of the nave.

Crossing vault, Basilica of San Isidoro, León (Castile-León) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Crossing vault, Basilica of San Isidoro, León (Castile-León) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

A new sensibility is imparted in the north and south transept arches of the crossing, however, in their scalloped stone work, a nod to the Moslem influence.

Transept arches with scalloped stone work, Basilica of San Isidoro, León (Castile-León) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Transept arches with scalloped stone work, Basilica of San Isidoro, León (Castile-León) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The chancel (also church VI) was the section of San Isidoro that was built the last with the rib-vaults of the mature Gothic style.

Gothic rib vaults, Basilica of San Isidoro, León (Castile-León) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Gothic rib vaults, Basilica of San Isidoro, León (Castile-León) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The shape of the central apse was intended to be semi-circular when we look at the plan, but it is built as a flat end, with slightly faceted masonry on the exterior. It is unusual for a medieval church that the name of the master builder should be known, but the builder of the Church VI is Petrus Deustamben, and he is buried in the church with an epithet, which states that he built the “upper part” of the church, presumably referring to the vaultings of the nave and aisles, the crossing, as well as the chancel.

Apse, Basilica of San Isidoro, León (Castile-León) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Apse, Basilica of San Isidoro, León (Castile-León) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

La Real Colegiata Basilica de San Isidoro is important monument of Romanesque architecture on the pilgrimage route which has benefited from the royal patronage of the successive kings of León due to its being the home of the Pantéon de los Reyes. It recalls the position of San Salvador de Leyre in Navarre, another important work of Romanesque architecture contemporary to San Isidoro, which also housed the Pantéon for the royalties of the kingdom of Navarre.

Location: 42.600702° -5.570983°

For more information about our guest writer, Jong-Soung Kimm, please see this link.

The Capital Gift (Dennis Aubrey)


We have seen several instances of a signature from a medieval mason, most recently Robertus’ signature at Notre Dame du Port in Clermont-Ferrand. Gofridus’ famous signature at the Collégiale Saint Pierre in Chauvigny is as prominent as a neon sign over the image of the Adoration of the Magi. At Abbatiale Notre Dame de Bernay in Normandy, the sculpture announced on an image high above the ground, Me Fecit Isembardvs. The most famous is the tympanum of Cathédrale Saint Lazare in Autun. This is a supreme accomplishment of medieval sculpture and has the additional caché of having what many believe is the artist’s signature, Gislebertus hoc fecit directly below the Christ figure.

Tympanum detail, Cathédrale Saint Lazare, Autun (Côte-d’Or) Photograph by Dennis Aubrey

Tympanum detail, Cathédrale Saint Lazare, Autun (Côte-d’Or) Photograph by Dennis Aubrey

In her book “Legends in Limestone: Lazarus, Gislebertus and the Cathedral of Autun,” Linda Seidel posits that the signature of Gislebertus in Autun is not that of the sculptor, but refers to the donor of the tympanum. It is a persuasive argument, but I am not convinced. Perhaps it is more a result of my personal bias, but I still feel that these were signatures of the sculptors themselves. There is, however, support for Seidel’s position at other churches. We have actual records of a donation – Notre Dame du Port in Clermont-Ferrand. There is a capital known as Stefanus offrant un chapiteau, “Stefanus donates a capital”.

This character is represented as a layman, dressed in a short tunic, with a beard and finely coiffed hair. With his right hand, he supports the base of carved capital that he offers to an angel. The angel holds an open book with an inscription reading In onore sancta[e] maria[e] stefanus me fieri jussit, “in honor of Holy Mary, Stefanus directed me to do this.”

Capital – Stefanus donates a capital, Église Notre Dame du Port, Clermont-Ferrand (Puy-de-Dôme) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Capital – Stefanus donates a capital, Église Notre Dame du Port, Clermont-Ferrand (Puy-de-Dôme) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

This imagery perpetuates in stone the memory of the donation to the Blessed Virgin by Stefanus. In like manner, the book carried by the angel perpetuates the good deed of helping in the construction of the church, ensuring the promise of salvation.

Detail of capital - Stefanus donates a capital, Église Notre Dame du Port, Clermont-Ferrand (Puy-de-Dôme) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Detail of capital – Stefanus donates a capital, Église Notre Dame du Port, Clermont-Ferrand (Puy-de-Dôme) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

There is another example of the donation in nearby Saint Nectaire. At the famous basilica, there is a capital showing a layman donating a column with a capital, although he seems a bit more mercantile. Rather than relying on angels to inscribe his donation in a book of good deeds, he prefers to sign the column in large letters with his name – Ranulfo.

Capital - Ranulfo donates a capital, Basilique Saint Nectaire, Saint Nectaire (Puy-de-Dôme) Photo by PJ McKey

Capital – Ranulfo donates a capital, Basilique Saint Nectaire, Saint Nectaire (Puy-de-Dôme) Photo by PJ McKey

We must make note that the practice of recording the gift of the donor in a great book is still active today. The names of all contributors who help with the restoration of the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres are inscribed in the “Golden Book of Donors” which is kept on public display in the cathedral. We ask all of our readers to consider a gift to American Friends of Chartres – no matter how modest – to help in the great work of bringing Notre Dame de Chartres back to her full glory. You can also make the donation in honor of or in memory of someone – that person’s name will also be inscribed. We all will be continuing the great work of Stefanus and Ranulfo, although I’m not convinced that they were able to use Paypal!

To make a contribution to American Friends of Chartres, please follow this link. Thank you.

A Signature Moment (Dennis Aubrey)


Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily. (Matthew 1:19) King James Version

The capitals of Notre Dame du Port in Clermont-Ferrand are justly celebrated and worthy of extended analysis for their often complex iconography. One of these is an illustration of a completely human moment in the New Testament – the Annunciation, the announcement by the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive and become the mother of Jesus, the Son of God. This particular capital shows the reaction of Joseph to the news that his wife was carrying a child.

The story of the capital is told on the inscription that begins on the bevelled abacus, the slab that forms the top section of the capital and continues on the two phylacteries held by the flanking angels. The phylactery was used in medieval art to represent speech. In this case, the words read Joseph voluit occulte dimitere eam, or “Joseph decided to relinquish her.”

Capital - Angel rebukes Joseph, Église Notre Dame du Port, Clermont-Ferrand (Puy-de-Dôme)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Capital – Angel rebukes Joseph, Église Notre Dame du Port, Clermont-Ferrand (Puy-de-Dôme) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

In other words, Joseph, humiliated by Mary’s pregnancy, was planning to renounce his wife. But the narrative of Matthew 1:20 continues, “But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.”

The sculptor who created the capital, however, contributed to the story in two ways. First, he showed Joseph scratching his head in confusion to the mysterious events, a wonderfully human touch to a complex situation. Secondly, he showed the angel seizing Joseph by the beard to stop him from renouncing Mary. Joseph’s body is headed one direction with firm resolve but his head is yanked backwards toward the angel.

Detail, Angel rebukes Joseph, Église Notre Dame du Port, Clermont-Ferrand (Puy-de-Dôme) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Detail, Angel rebukes Joseph, Église Notre Dame du Port, Clermont-Ferrand (Puy-de-Dôme) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

But the sculptor has not finished yet. Under the horizontal line on the left phylactery is a curious additional text reading RTBRTVS me fecit, or “Robertus made me”, almost certainly the signature of the sculptor who created this and many of the other capitals.

Phylactery detail, Angel rebukes Joseph, Église Notre Dame du Port, Clermont-Ferrand (Puy-de-Dôme)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Phylactery detail, Angel rebukes Joseph, Église Notre Dame du Port, Clermont-Ferrand (Puy-de-Dôme) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Like the signature of Gofridus at Chauvigny, the placement is of great interest. Robertus chose to sign his name to this example of the most human reaction to the mysteries of faith.

A Green Man in Clermont-Ferrand – Amuse Bouche #29 (Dennis Aubrey)


The Green Man figure is one of the most compelling and mysterious figures in Romanesque sculpture. It usually depicts the head of a man ensconced in vegetation, most often with leaves or snakes emerging from his mouth. Julianna Lees has an entire website devoted to investigations on the Green Man and other stylized motives from the era. This “Green Man of Cercles” site has much useful information on Romanesque sculpture.

Today’s example of a Green Man comes from one of the finest Romanesque churches in France, Clermont-Ferrand’s magnificent Notre Dame du Port. This capital is not the standard version of the Green Man, but a variant. The simplicity of the form – the head emerging from the vegetation – is compensated for by the beauty of the sculpting.

Capital - Green Man, Église Notre Dame du Port, Clermont-Ferrand (Puy-de-Dôme)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Capital – Green Man, Église Notre Dame du Port, Clermont-Ferrand (Puy-de-Dôme) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

This figure is often called an “exfoliate head”. The Clermont version is characterized by the serenity of the man’s gaze. Normally the Green Man seems to be associated with man’s relationship to nature, often the representation of a sinful Adam with snakes emerging from his mouth. Here we see a figure at peace with nature, calm and serene, even wise.

This is part of a series of posts featuring an amuse-bouche, a bite-sized appetizer to whet the appetite of diners. Each of these will explore a single interesting feature of medieval architecture or sculpture. To see other amuse-bouches, follow this link.

The Church of Saint Cyriakus in Gernrode (Jong-Soung Kimm)


Gernrode is a small community in the Harz Mountains in Sachsen-Anhalt, recently amalgamated as a part of the municipality of Quedlinburg. In 959, Margrave Gero, who was one of the important advisers to Emperor Otto I, and who had his family root in Gernrode, made a vast donation to found a convent in memory of his son Siegfried who had died heirless. The construction for the church of the convent was begun around 960, and it is probable that it was initially dedicated to St. Mary and St. Peter. When the relics of an early 4th century martyr Saint Cyriakus, which were obtained by Gero himself in Rome around 950, were brought to Gernrode in 963, the abbey church was re-christened as Saint Cyriakus.

Additions to the church were constructed in the 11th and 12th centuries including the west crypt, galleries above the aisles, the taller western towers and the Westwork. The church was completed with the building of the western apse in 1130. In the 16th century, the convent embraced a Protestant creed, and then was secularized later in the century. In 1831 the abbey was dissolved, and the property sold to private party. The inevitable decline had set in. In 1858, however, Duke Leopold Friedrich IV of Anhalt-Dessau ordered a restoration due in large measure to the intervention of art historians Franz Theodor Kugler and Ludwig Puttrich. The task of the restoration work was undertaken by Ferdinand von Quast, then the Prussian Conservator of Monuments, and the work lasted until 1866. While the exterior was partly modified in the course of the restoration, the interior of the church was brought back to the original Ottonian architectural style in most part. The church is now the home to a Reformed Evangelist congregation.

The view from the west shows the prominent Westwork flanked by two cylindrical towers, a Carolingian architectural feature. It also shows one characteristic of the Ottonian style, the absence of a plinth on which the main volume of an edifice is placed.

Westwerk, Stiftskirche Saint Cyriakus, Gernrode (Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Westwerk, Stiftskirche Saint Cyriakus, Gernrode (Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The exterior view from the north shows a double height wall with alternating aisle windows and blind arcades on the gallery level.

Exterior from north, Stiftskirche Saint Cyriakus, Gernrode (Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Exterior from north, Stiftskirche Saint Cyriakus, Gernrode (Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The main body of the church is built on the basilica plan of a nave and two aisles, two apses and two transepts. It is documented that the eastern choir and transepts of the abbey church was built first, and then the old western choir. What would constitute the nave was a temporary wooden construction at the time of its first dedication. The plan indicates that the nave and two apses are not aligned, and they set up a doubly skewed axis, a phenomenon found in some churches constructed over old foundations, or due to inaccuracy of medieval measuring technique.

Plan, Stiftskirche Saint Cyriakus, Gernrode (Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany)

Plan, Stiftskirche Saint Cyriakus, Gernrode (Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany)

As one enters the church through the small door near the western edge of the north wall, and walks a short distance under the north gallery into the nave, a visitor is suddenly thrust into a generous space of an elegant proportion. The view down the nave toward the western choir above the crypt with organ loft shows that the length of the nave is divided into two equal lengths by substantial piers at the center. Two halves of the nave, in turn, are composed of two half-round arches supported by columns on both walls of the nave, thus creating Stützenwächsel.

Nave, Stiftskirche Saint Cyriakus, Gernrode (Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Nave, Stiftskirche Saint Cyriakus, Gernrode (Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The gallery levels over the aisles are also divided into two by piers continued from the nave floor level. Instead of maintaining the two half round arch motif, however, the galleries are framed by six smaller arches in three groups of two arches each supported by columns. The rather spacious gallery reserved for nuns only, a special plan element found in nunneries, is an architectural feature that can be traced to the Byzantine architecture, and found later in the Carolingian architecture as well.

The clerestory windows do not align with the six arches of the gallery level, but spaced evenly. This arrangement is considered a carryover from the Carolingian practice. Above the capitals of the columns at the nave level, two opposite ends of arches are conjoined with triangular indentation between the bottoms of the arches, setting up a rather modern looking geometry.

Nave elevation, Stiftskirche Saint Cyriakus, Gernrode (Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Nave elevation, Stiftskirche Saint Cyriakus, Gernrode (Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

In the 12th century, a shrine had been built at the eastern end of the south aisle. It is a late 11th century copy of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, one of the oldest of its type in Germany.

Shrine, Stiftskirche Saint Cyriakus, Gernrode (Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Shrine, Stiftskirche Saint Cyriakus, Gernrode (Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The outer walls as well as the interior of the burial chamber are endowed with very fine sculpture as seen on the western outer wall.

Sculptural ensemble, Stiftskirche Saint Cyriakus, Gernrode (Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Sculptural ensemble, Stiftskirche Saint Cyriakus, Gernrode (Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Sculpture detail, Stiftskirche Saint Cyriakus, Gernrode (Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Sculpture detail, Stiftskirche Saint Cyriakus, Gernrode (Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The view of the ceiling clearly shows a parallelogram set up by a skewed nave with fairly recent painting of the wooden structure.

Wooden ceiling, Stiftskirche Saint Cyriakus, Gernrode (Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Wooden ceiling, Stiftskirche Saint Cyriakus, Gernrode (Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The spacious western crypt, of a hall church-like ambience, reached by a few steps from the nave level, is amply lighted from relatively large windows.

Crypt, Stiftskirche Saint Cyriakus, Gernrode (Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Crypt, Stiftskirche Saint Cyriakus, Gernrode (Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

According to the records, the abbey had a two story cloister during its prime, but it is all but erased, and private buildings are found in its place.

The abbey church of Saint Cyriakus in Gernrode is an important monument in the development of the Ottonian architecture, evolving from the Carolingian style which had lapsed into close to a century of inactivity. The church of Saint Michael in Hildesheim of 1010~31 may perhaps be considered to represent the flowering of the Ottonian architecture.

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