The Faces of Rosheim (Dennis Aubrey


The church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Rosheim is one of the classic examples of Alsatian Romanesque. The church experienced a great deal of destruction in its day. The first version of record was built in 1051 and destroyed in 1132 during the fight between Frederick of Swabia and Bishop Gebhard of Strasbourg. It was rebuilt between 1140-1190. Despite many other alternating campaigns of destruction and restoration, the church looked in good shape when Henri Le Secq took this picture for the Missions Héliographiques and the behest of the Commission des Monuments Historiques.

Eglise Saint Pierre et Saint Paul, Rosheim (Bas-Rhin) Photo by Henri Le Secq (Photo in the Public Domain) 1851

Eglise Saint Pierre et Saint Paul, Rosheim (Bas-Rhin) Photo by Henri Le Secq (Photo in the Public Domain) 1851

Less than a decade after Le Secq’s photo was taken, the French architect Antoine Ringeisen restored the church. Ringeisen was born in the region, a mere 30 kilometers from Rosheim, but worked in Paris for the first part of his career. While practicing architecture in Metz, he became the Patrimoine architect for the Colmar region. Rosheim was one of the 114 communes under his supervision and he restored the Eglise Saint Pierre et Saint Paul. In the 18th century, the church was made over in the contemporary style. Under Ringeisen’s direction the post-Romanesque additions were removed, the whitewashed walls restored to their original unpainted state, and the Baroque furnishings removed.

Nave, Eglise Saint Pierre et Saint Paul, Rosheim (Bas-Rhin)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Nave, Eglise Saint Pierre et Saint Paul, Rosheim (Bas-Rhin) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The church is built of yellow and red sandstone and in the form of a latin cross. The nave is divided into two double-bays separated by heavy cruciform piers and thick solid walls with a single column in the middle. The walls are massive – almost a meter thick – but seem in proportion to the rest of the structure. The vault over the double-bays allows for clerestory windows that provide ample natural light for the nave. The transepts are fairly short and the crossing is topped with an octagonal tower.

Nave arcade, Eglise Saint Pierre et Saint Paul, Rosheim (Bas-Rhin)  Photo by PJ McKey

Nave arcade, Eglise Saint Pierre et Saint Paul, Rosheim (Bas-Rhin) Photo by PJ McKey

The harmonious proportions of the nave are carried over to the side aisles, topped with groin vaults. Each of the monolithic arcade columns has a finely carved capital.

South side aisle, Eglise Saint Pierre et Saint Paul, Rosheim (Bas-Rhin)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

South side aisle, Eglise Saint Pierre et Saint Paul, Rosheim (Bas-Rhin) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The most famous of these capitals is on the north side aisle – the chapiteau à têtes features 21 realistically carved heads ranged in a circle around the column. Each of the heads features a nimbus, so these probably represent 21 saints.

Chapiteau à têtes, Eglise Saint Pierre et Saint Paul, Rosheim (Bas-Rhin) Photo by PJ McKey

Chapiteau à têtes, Eglise Saint Pierre et Saint Paul, Rosheim (Bas-Rhin) Photo by PJ McKey

A great deal of the sculpture of the church has been lost over the years, but some fascinating items still remain. One of the most interesting is this exterior sculpture at the base of the crossing tower. The figure is life-sized and beautifully carved. The sculpture has been variously described as a “Jew holding a money purse” and a beggar, but nobody knows for certain. There is a paired statue on the other side of the church featuring an old man stroking his beard.

Roof sculpture, Eglise Saint Pierre et Saint Paul, Rosheim (Bas-Rhin)  Photo by PJ McKey

Roof sculpture, Eglise Saint Pierre et Saint Paul, Rosheim (Bas-Rhin) Photo by PJ McKey

We found Rosheim to be a beautifully proportioned structure, lovingly maintained by the community. There was nobody in the church during our visit, which is a rarity, but the flowers on the pews indicated that there was going to be a wedding in the near future. For us, they might have been garlands for Peter and Paul, and the figure on the roof was toasting the saints with the fine local wine.

Location: 48.496809° 7.470680°

10 responses to “The Faces of Rosheim (Dennis Aubrey

  1. I know i should know this but why are Peter and Paul so often associated rather than any other pair of saints, and disciples… if I recall correctly they were not from the same era… Peter was a disciple of Jesus, Paul never met him…

    • Joel, Saint Peter was one of the twelve disciples and considered to be the first Pope, or Bishop of Rome. He was martyred in the reign of Nero. Saint Paul (Saul of Tarsus) was essentially a missionary who ended his days with martyrdom in Rome about the same time as Peter. The See of Rome is traditionally said to be founded by Peter and Paul, which is why they are so commonly linked in the names of these churches.

      By the way, take a look at this link.

    • We feel that all of the churches in the Alsace seem to be over-restored, it is one of the reasons that we have not written much about them until now. In terms of Rosheim, the church went through an extensive 19th Century renovation, but the sculptures that we featured are original.

  2. Many thanks for this. How we all need the humanising touches in our buildings, letting us weave our stories with theirs – and here it is little more than the lovely capital of the twenty-one and the roof protest of the two. Indeed your shot down the nave seems to be taken when most new buildings are photographed – just after the contractors leave and before people have had a change to get their mucky hands on it.
    The exterior view by Le Secq is fine – would be great to be able to compare it with yours a century and a half later.

    • Thanks, John. One of our problems with the Alsatian churches is the tendency to over-restore and make them look like new. The charm of the stone and the original construction is often lost.

      As far as the exterior view is concerned, I have one from a different angle but it does not give the same sense of the church as a whole that the Le Secq photo did.

  3. A couple of comments about points raised above.

    First issue. Why are SS Peter and Paul so often associated? As correctly noted by Dennis they were the patrons of the See of Rome. Check out the church calendar of saints for their feastdays and you’ll see what I mean. (A word of warning – there were two feasts of the See of St Peter – Antioch and Rome!) The two saints also represented the Traditio Clavis (Tradition of the Key of Heaven – Peter) and Traditio Legis (Tradition of Church Law – Paul) which symbolised the tradition of the Petrine authoritiy – the authority given to Peter by Christ and exercised by every pope since. The pope had the power to open and close the gates of heaven (hence indulgences and interdicts) as well as lay down church law (canon law). Thus Peter and Paul represent both aspects of papal authority.

    Second issue. The heads around the columns are fascinating – they remind me of the heads around the doorways of 12th century Hiberno-Romanesque churches in Ireland. A long standing opinion among scholars (still held in the popular imagination, sadly) is that the Irish heads represented an ancient Celtic practice of displaying the severed head of enemies at one’s door. This idea makes no sense in the Christian context and Francoise Henry (a Frenchwoman) suggested that Irish scholars should look at the moulded heads on Limoges enamels and imagine the stone heads painted and surrounded by a painted nimbus. Now we have another detail to support Ms Henry’s idea! Thank you, Dennis!

  4. I’m not that much of a online reader to be honest but your blogs really nice, keep it up!
    I’ll go ahead and bookmark your site to come back in the future. All the best

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