Saint Just de Valcabrère (Dennis Aubrey)


This is the second post of the Église Saint Just de Valcabrère. Since the first was a brief study of the superb north portal, this will take a look at the architecture of what can only be described as almost an iconic Romanesque church.

Église Saint Just de Valcabrère, Valcabrère (Haute-Garonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Église Saint Just de Valcabrère, Valcabrère (Haute-Garonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The nave features a barrel vault supported by transverse arches carried by heavy piers. There is no transept, but the crossing tower is carried over the first bay of the nave. The main entrance to the church is unusual, however, being in the north wall. Notice the wonderful floor of large paved slabs surrounded by rubble.

Nave, Église Saint Just de Valcabrère, Valcabrère (Haute-Garonne) Photo by PJ McKey

Nave, Église Saint Just de Valcabrère, Valcabrère (Haute-Garonne) Photo by PJ McKey

One feature that is quite clear in the church is that many of the stones and dressings from the old destroyed Roman town were used to build and adorn Saint Just. The Vandals destroyed the Roman city of Lugdunum Convenarum in the fifth century. In this shot of the apse from the south side aisle, we can see a lovely sculpted frieze and some dressed stone.

Apse, Église Saint Just de Valcabrère, Valcabrère (Haute-Garonne) Photo by PJ McKey

Apse, Église Saint Just de Valcabrère, Valcabrère (Haute-Garonne) Photo by PJ McKey

We can see in this shot of the apse how the builders reused materials from the Roman city. The hemicycle is composed of columns and capitals repurposed for use in the church. The apse itself is covered with an oven vault and pierced by deep windows to the exterior.

Apse, Église Saint Just de Valcabrère, Valcabrère (Haute-Garonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Apse, Église Saint Just de Valcabrère, Valcabrère (Haute-Garonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Two open side aisles flank the nave and terminate in a small apsidal chapel.

Side aisle, Église Saint Just de Valcabrère, Valcabrère (Haute-Garonne) Photo by PJ McKey

Side aisle, Église Saint Just de Valcabrère, Valcabrère (Haute-Garonne) Photo by PJ McKey

In this shot we can see the very short passage between the south apsidal chapel and the choir. Notice again the re-used Roman column and capital to the left of the passage.

Passage from apsidal chapel to choir, Église Saint Just de Valcabrère, Valcabrère (Haute-Garonne) Photo by PJ McKey

Passage from apsidal chapel to choir, Église Saint Just de Valcabrère, Valcabrère (Haute-Garonne) Photo by PJ McKey

This font by the north entrance is a classic re-use of a Roman element. A capital has been placed on a small column, hollowed out and used as a font for holy water.

Font, Église Saint Just de Valcabrère, Valcabrère (Haute-Garonne) Photo by PJ McKey

Font, Église Saint Just de Valcabrère, Valcabrère (Haute-Garonne) Photo by PJ McKey

Saint Just no longer serves as a place of worship and as a result is empty of any furnishings. Often this creates a desolate feeling in the viewer, but here it is quite the opposite. There is a sensation that one is in a shrine, one hallowed by extreme age. In fact, when a group of Korean tourists came in with their guide, listened to a three-minute lecture, took pictures for two minutes, and then left, the resulting quiet was quite remarkable. I remember sitting and enjoying the emptiness, the silence, and the coolness of the old stones.

North door, Église Saint Just de Valcabrère, Valcabrère (Haute-Garonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

North door, Église Saint Just de Valcabrère, Valcabrère (Haute-Garonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Saint Just de Valcabrère is just one of seventy Romanesque churches in the immediate region. Just to the south lie the churches of the Val d’Aran and the Val de Boi, both treasure-troves of Romanesque art. The small church dedicated to the Spanish martyr Saint Justus is one of the finest.

Location: 43.028340° 0.584887°

The Portal of Saint Just de Valcabrère (Dennis Aubrey)


The basilica of Saint Just de Valcabrère is a Romanesque church dating from the 11th and 12th centuries located in the Midi-Pyrénées area just north of the border with Spain. This area was settled as a Roman colony called Lugdunum Convenarum by Pompey to guard the roads to the Val d’Aran in the south. The town was later known as the home in exile of Herod Antipas, notorious for his association with the executions of John the Baptist and Jesus. In the 19th Century, an inscription was found outside of the chevet recording the burial of two Christians in 347 – Valeria Severa and a priest named Patroclus. The inscription is adorned with the Chi-Rho symbol. This marks Lugdunum Convenarum as an early Gallo-Roman Christian site.

There is a tradition that after the 5th Century destruction of the Roman town by the Vandals, Saint Just was used as the local cathedral. Others use the evidence of the many burial monuments to suggest that it was a necropolis.

Église Saint Just de Valcabrère, Valcabrère (Haute-Garonne)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Église Saint Just de Valcabrère, Valcabrère (Haute-Garonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

At any rate, the present basilica was consecrated in 1200 by Bishop Raymond-Arnaud de Labarthe and was constructed in part with stones from the remains of the Roman town.

We know the date of the consecration by a remarkable accident. In 1885, the priest of Saint Just discovered a parchment in the masonry of the high altar. The document reads, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord thy God is one. Thou shalt not take in vain the name of thy God. Observe the day of Shabbat. Honour thy father and thy mother. Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not bear false witness. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s well … The year of the Incarnation 1200, Philippe was king of the French, in October, the altar was dedicated in honor of Saint Stephen the first martyr, the saints and martyrs Just and Pasteur, by Lord R. Bishop of Comminges.”

Also found in that cache were a pair of glass urns containing bloodstained cloth and bones, presumably from the brothers Justus and Pastor, martyred in Alcalá de Henares near Madrid in 304 during the Diocletian persecutions. The church was named after Saint Justus.

Parchment  discovered in 1885

Parchment discovered in 1885

The church is approached from the north, and the north portal is a remarkable ensemble. It features a conventional tympanum with Christ in Majesty surrounded by the four evangelists, with censing angels above on either side.

Tympanum, Église Saint Just de Valcabrère, Valcabrère (Haute-Garonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Tympanum, Église Saint Just de Valcabrère, Valcabrère (Haute-Garonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The items of most interest to me are the four unique statue-piers around the portal, surmounted by historiated capitals. They represent Sainte Hélène, the mother of Constantine who brought the True Cross back to Byzantium and three martyrs – the brothers Justus and Pastor and Saint Stephen, disciple of Christ who was stoned to death by the Sanhedrin. Each of these columns serves as the springing for the archivolts over the tympanum.

The figures on the left of the door represent Saint Pastor and Saint Stephen. Notice how these figures stand on compositions of animals.

Portal statue - Saint Pastor and Saint Stephen, Église Saint Just de Valcabrère, Valcabrère (Haute-Garonne) Photo by PJ McKey

Portal statue – Saint Pastor and Saint Stephen, Église Saint Just de Valcabrère, Valcabrère (Haute-Garonne) Photo by PJ McKey

The capital over each statue-pier tells the story of that person. We can see in this detail the decapitation of Saint Pastor and the stoning of Saint Stephen.

Portal statue detail  - Saint Pastor and Saint Stephen, Église Saint Just de Valcabrère, Valcabrère (Haute-Garonne) Photo by PJ McKey

Portal statue detail – Saint Pastor and Saint Stephen, Église Saint Just de Valcabrère, Valcabrère (Haute-Garonne) Photo by PJ McKey

The closeup of the capital showing the stoning of Saint Stephen demonstrates the superb quality of the sculpture here at Saint Just de Valcabrère, probably from a nearby school at Comminges. We also see remnants of the polychrome paint that once decorated the entire ensemble.

Portal capital - the stoning of Saint Stephen, Église Saint Just de Valcabrère, Valcabrère (Haute-Garonne)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Portal capital – the stoning of Saint Stephen, Église Saint Just de Valcabrère, Valcabrère (Haute-Garonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The statues on the right side of the portal represent Sainte Hélène and Saint Just. The capital of Saint Hélène is quite enigmatic and seems to be of a man carrying a keg offering a woman a ride on a horse. Nobody seems to provide a satisfactory explanation for the imagery, but the image of Sainte Hélène is important to Saint Just de Valcabrère because at one time the church held a fragment of the True Cross that was an important pilgrimage relic.

Portal statues - Sainte Hélène and Saint Justus, Église Saint Just de Valcabrère, Valcabrère (Haute-Garonne) Photo by PJ McKey

Portal statues – Sainte Hélène and Saint Justus, Église Saint Just de Valcabrère, Valcabrère (Haute-Garonne) Photo by PJ McKey

In the detail of the execution of Saint Justus, we see the bound martyr with the sword at his throat. I am not sure about the object in the other hand of the executioner. It appears to be a mallet of some sort, probably used to drive the sword home, although in the capital showing the death of Saint Pastor, the executioner uses his free hand to hold the head of his victim.

Portal capital detail - the execution of Saint Justus, Église Saint Just de Valcabrère, Valcabrère (Haute-Garonne)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Portal capital detail – the execution of Saint Justus, Église Saint Just de Valcabrère, Valcabrère (Haute-Garonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

While there is a good deal of other fine sculpture at Saint Just de Valcabrère, PJ and I find that the north portal is one of the most fascinating sculptural ensembles in Romanesque France. There is something almost pagan about the figurative piers, which is appropriate for a church built on the site of a Roman city and dedicated to two young martyrs to Roman persecution. Our next article will be about the interior of this fine Romanesque church, which is certainly deserving of so much attention.

Two Romanesque Masterpieces of Stained Glass (Dennis Aubrey)


We are preparing some detailed technical posts on medieval stained glass, but thought that this would be a nice introduction. Stained glass is generally thought of as a Gothic art form, but in researching the history, we found that this glazing was known earlier. The earliest windows with figurative scenes are known from the Basilique Saint Remi in Reims from around the year 1000. These windows no longer exist. The earliest surviving example of pictorial stained glass is a tenth-century head of Christ from the tenth century excavated from Lorsch Abbey in Germany. The oldest surviving in situ stained glass windows are thought to be the five clerestory windows depicting the prophets in Augsburg Cathedral, which date from about 1065.

In France, we still have a few examples of Romanesque windows in Poitiers, Le Mans, and – of course – Notre Dame de Chartres.

In 1194 a fire destroyed the great Romanesque cathedral of Bishop Fulbert of Chartres. This church was filled with stained glass, but of those that survived, only a few were deemed worthy of reuse in the new cathedral – the large windows in the west facade and Notre Dame de la Belle Verriere.

Notre Dame de la Belle Verriere, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres, Chartres (Eure)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Notre Dame de la Belle Verriere, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres, Chartres (Eure) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Notre Dame de la Belle Verriere features a crowned Mary a throne dressed in a garment of blue. On her lap is Jesus, with a nimbus surrounding his head. In his left hand he holds an open with the words Omnis vallis implebitur. This is a quotation from Isaiah 40:4,

“Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”

Detail, Notre Dame de la Belle Verriere, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres, Chartres (Eure) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Detail, Notre Dame de la Belle Verriere, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres, Chartres (Eure) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

In this closeup we can see the pearled nimbus surrounding the Virgin’s head. In 1906, the glazier Gaudin restored this section of the window. Previously Mary’s gaze was fixed straight ahead, but after the restoration her head inclines slightly to the left.

The Crucifixion window at the Cathédrale Saint Pierre in Poitiers is at the center of the flat chevet, a large (8.45 x 3 meters) stained glass ensemble from Suger’s Saint Denis atelier. It is described by Robert Grinnell as having “an Ascension lunette at the top, a large Crucifixion register in the center, and a smaller quatrefoil in the lowest register containing a Visitation to the Sepulcher, the Martyrdom of SS Peter and Paul, the resurrection of Adam and Eve, and a donor’s lobe with a badly mutilated inscription in the bottom panel.” [Robert Grinnell, Iconography and Philosophy in the Crucifixion Window at Poitiers (The Art Bulletin V. 28 No. 3, September 1946)]

Crucifixion window, Cathédrale de Saint Pierre

Crucifixion window, Cathédrale Saint Pierre, Poitiers (Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The window is located in the oldest part of the structure and ascribed to the second half of the 12th and the first quarter of the 13th century. The iconography is so compelling and powerful that I find it difficult to describe, and for this reason the image we posted is of higher resolution than normal to allow readers to inspect it closely. But let me draw your attention to one thing beyond the brilliance of the reds and blues – the image of the crucified Christ is not an image of suffering as we would expect. Instead, the saddened Christ seems to be embracing the world with eyes open and arms outstretched, beyond the pain and suffering and already taking on his role as Redeemer. This is an astonishing depiction and gives the window a sublime majesty.

Crucifixion window detail - Cathédrale Saint Pierre, Poitiers (Vienne)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Crucifixion window detail – Cathédrale Saint Pierre, Poitiers (Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

While certainly the art of stained glass reached its apogee in the 13th and 14th centuries, these earlier examples demonstrate that the artists well knew both their craft and how to use it for the depiction of sacred scenes. Both of these masterpieces remind us of the genius of these medieval arts. To be able to look back nine hundred years to gaze at them in their perfection is a gift to all of humanity, not merely Christians or art historians.

Happy Holidays 2013


We have had another wonderful year on our Via Lucis site and would like to thank all of you who participated! We wish for you the best possible holiday season. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from PJ and Dennis.

Collégiale Saint Pierre, Chauvigny (Vienne)  Photo by PJ McKey

Collégiale Saint Pierre, Chauvigny (Vienne) Photo by PJ McKey

Monasterio Santa Maria de Vilabertran (Girona) – A Guest Post by Jong-Soung Kimm


Monasterio Santa Maria de Vilabertran in the Spanish province of Girona was founded by a Pere Rigall (Rigau) on the site of a former church of Santa Maria in the latter half of the 11th century as an Augustinian monastery. After two decades of construction, the church was consecrated in 1100, whereas the cloister and the campanile were completed some decades later. Even after Abbot Rigall’s death sometime in the first or second decade of the 12th century, the monastery continued to flourish, and served for a while as a shelter for pilgrims on the way to the Holy Land, due to the family connection of an abbot and a grand master of the Knights Templar.

Santa Maria Vilabertran was the site of a royal wedding in 1295 when King Jaime II married Blanca of Naples as his second wife.

Nave, Monasterio Santa Maria de Vilabertran (Girona)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Nave, Monasterio Santa Maria de Vilabertran (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The church has a square plan with a nave and two aisles and short transepts. The nave has a barrel vault supported by four arches springing from sturdy half round pilasters with simple capitals integrated into the smooth masonry walls of the nave, while the relatively narrow aisles are framed by half barrel vaults buttressed by half arches. A diaphragm arch with two tiny oculi above the apse roof demarcates the nave from the chancel. The view down the nave adequately describes the spatial organization, and also conveys the sense of dignity and repose of the space.

Side aisle, Monasterio Santa Maria de Vilabertran (Girona)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Side aisle, Monasterio Santa Maria de Vilabertran (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The apse with its pure geometry and human scale must have endeared, as well as inspired the faithful in the monastery for many centuries earlier, as it does enchant the visitors so profoundly today. Although the Romanesque churches in Catalonia are mostly free of Islamic architectural influences, when we look closely at the diaphragm arch springing from the capitals, we can see that the master mason had built the bottom of the arch with ever so slight inward curve.

Apse, Monasterio Santa Maria de Vilabertran (Girona)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Apse, Monasterio Santa Maria de Vilabertran (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The next photograph shows the nave from the north aisle with sturdy, yet elegant columns placed on cross-shaped bases, smooth plane of the nave wall, and the pure geometrically carved capitals for the nave arcades.

Nave, Monasterio Santa Maria de Vilabertran (Girona)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Nave, Monasterio Santa Maria de Vilabertran (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The north transept has a chapel, resplendent with a small rose window and lancet windows with stained glass on either side, probably constructed in early 15th century when the then abbot is said to have reinforced the north wall of the church that had been weakened by time and continuous attacks by the pirates.

North transept, Monasterio Santa Maria de Vilabertran (Girona)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

North transept, Monasterio Santa Maria de Vilabertran (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The church continued its building work even after the consecration of the nave and the chancel, and the trapezoidal cloister was built sometime during the later decades of the 12th century. In contrast to the nave capitals which were carved with almost no ornamentation, the columns for the cloister are adorned with capitals with elegant floral motives.

Cloister, Monasterio Santa Maria de Vilabertran (Girona)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Cloister, Monasterio Santa Maria de Vilabertran (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The plaza in front of the Santa Maria lined with neatly trimmed shade trees is one of the important public spaces in Vilabertran. The monastery is now given a new life as a museum, and also as home to the annual “Schubertiade” music festival from late August through early September. The well-proportioned Lombardy style campanile, three tiers with faint cornice lines between the levels but otherwise without any ornamentation, was built between the end of the 12th century and the beginning of the 13th century.

Campanile,  Monasterio Santa Maria de Vilabertran (Girona)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Campanile, Monasterio Santa Maria de Vilabertran (Girona) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

This is a repeat of a post originally made in January 2013. For more information about our guest writer, Jong-Soung Kimm, please see this link.

The Double-Apsed Church (Dennis Aubrey)


This post is inspired by a question from one of our readers on Jong-Soung Kimm’s post on Saint Michael’s Church in Hildeshim. Dom Gregory Pilcher, OSB said, “Beautiful in all respects! Can you explain the purpose of having two chancels? What were they used for? I can see the purpose of the east chancel, but why have one on the west?” He closes out with “Inquiring Benedictine minds want to know.”

I had no idea of the answer and decided to do some research. I hope that experts with more knowledge than I will weigh in with some more answers, but I have found a couple of references in my library.

The early Byzantine churches featured the apse in the east, but there was evidence of other Christian traditions elsewhere. In Arthur Kingsley Porter’s “Medieval Architecture: its origins and development”, he refers to the African and Roman origins of the twin apses.

“The type of plan with two apses – one at the east and the other at the west end, – is characteristic of the churches of Africa and is found in at least one instance in Egypt, and once at Rome.”

During the time of Constantine, the domed apse became a standard part of the church plan and was placed at the west end of the basilica. Records show that the original Basilica of Saint Peter in Rome was configured like this. In the 6th and 7th centuries the Roman branch of the church changed the orientation of the apse to the east, as the Byzantine churches had done earlier.

Exterior, Abbey Church of Maria-Laach, Andernach (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Exterior, Abbey Church of Maria-Laach, Andernach (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

There seemed to be a renaissance of these twin-apsed churches in the Carolingian empire. I have found documentation that they existed in Treves, Mayence, Verdun, Nevers, Besançon, Fulda, Naumburg, and the Abbey of Laach.

The famous plan of the church at Saint Gall represented a church with twin apses.

Plan of the Abbey of Saint Gall, Wikipedia Commons

Plan of the Abbey of Saint Gall, Wikipedia Commons

Saint Augustine’s church in Canterbury had a double apse and there is evidence that even Saint Denis might have originally had a “counter-apse” in the west.

In the “History of English Church Architecture” George Gilbert Scott attributes the double-apse phenomenon to the growing monastic orders. Beginning with the premise that most of the early churches had a western apse, he says that as the monks became more numerous, they “… required an altar of their own, and also more lofty screens for their enclosure than was consistent with the basilican plan. The difficulty was met, as I conceive, by leaving the original altar at the west end to serve still as the people’s altar, and by adding at the east end a new apse to accommodate the altar of the religious.”

Saint Augustine's Abbey, Photo by Casey and Sonja, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

Saint Augustine’s Abbey, Photo by Casey and Sonja, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

This does not seem convincing to me, and a better examination can be found in Charles B. McClendon’s masterly “The Origins of Medieval Architecture”.

“The abbey church at Fulda, of course, differs from its model in the use of two opposing apses, but this too seems to have been motivated by a desire to emulate Rome. Indeed, the placement of an altar, and concomitantly its apse, at the west end of the church was described by an eye-witness, the monk and scholar Candidus, as “following Roman custom” (more Romano). The first known example of a double-apse scheme in Carolingian architecture is Saint-Maurice d’Agaune, in present-day Switzerland, where a western apse was added around 787 to a traditionally oriented small basilica, built ten or so years earlier … At Saint-Maurice, the western apse housed an annular crypt which can only have been inspired by Old Saint Peter’s.”

But McClendon goes on to add a more convincing liturgical explanation for the double-apse scheme.

“In the 780’s, the Ordo Romanus, a description of the stational masses for the basilicas of Rome, began to be used as a model for the reform of the Frankish liturgy. As Carol Heitz has pointed out, one section of this Roman Mass book in particular has profound architectural implications when it states that the pope, after kissing the gospel-book and the altar, “approaches his throne (in the apse) and stands facing east.” These instructions conformed perfectly to the arrangement at the Roman basilicas of the Lateran and Saint Peter’s where the apse and papal throne were at the west end of the church, but they could not be followed literally in a church with an eastern apse, as was the norm elsewhere in Europe. Thus Heitz suggests that the western apses were built at Saint-Maurice, Cologne, and Fulda to comply with Roman practice.”

The “Heitz” referred to is Carol Heitz, author of Recherches sur les rapports entre architecture et liturgie à l’époque carolingienne, Paris, 1963, which appears to be the authority on the subject.

In the book, Heitz also observes that there was a preference for storing relics of the Holy Cross in the westworks of Carolingian churches, and this is often where the Good Fiday and Easter liturgies were recited. This is based on orientation of the Church of the Resurrection at Golgotha where the rock is in the west of the church.

Cross-section of The Church of the Holy Sepulchre showing Golgotha in the west

Cross-section of The Church of the Holy Sepulchre showing Golgotha in the west

The fact that these Carolingian western apses were added to existing churches, not placed in the churches when they were originally built, reinforces the idea that they were built in support of the liturgical reforms.

Gregory Pilcher is a Benedictine and his question has led to a fascinating examination on the effect of the liturgical reformations in Europe on the developing Carolingian and Romanesque architecture. I look forward to finding out more about this subject.

Saint Michael’s Church, Hildesheim (Jong-Soung Kimm)


Situated on the Michaelshugel at the western edge of the historic core of Hildesheim, St. Michael’s Church (Michaelskirche) was built between 1010 and 1031 as the abbey church of a Benedictine monastery. Bishop Bernward, a tutor and adviser to Otto III, founded the monastery, and is believed to have had a strong influence on the architecture of the church. Bernward travelled to Rome in 1001 as part of Otto’s entourage, and stayed in his palace near the Early Christian basilica of Santa Sabina on the Aventine hill.

Saint Michael’s Church, Hildesheim ( Niedersachsen, Germany) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

St. Michael’s Church has both eastern and western chancels, and two transepts. Square towers at both the east and west crossings and cylindrical turrets at the four transepts, combined with apses at both ends of the church create a harmonious, yet very sculptural and dynamic massing. As two entrances are located on the south side of the church, an unusual arrangement, the south aisle functions as a sort of indoor narthex. The structure is conceived in a geometrical relationship of parts to the whole so that the nave is three times as long as the square crossings, and the aisles are about two thirds of the nave in width. Square piers at the third points of the length of the nave alternate with two cylindrical columns between the piers, endowed with very simple cubical capitals, a characteristic of Ottonian architecture in the Lower Saxony called Dreiachsigem Stutzenwechsel.

Saint Michael’s Church, Hildesheim ( Niedersachsen, Germany) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

This photograph from the north aisle looking toward the raised western chancel above the crypt, clearly conveys the complexity of the interior organization. It also shows the contrast between what remained after the bombing in March, 1945 and what was rebuilt after the war, as well as the most recent renovation to coincide with the thousand year celebration in 2010. To the credit of the German experts for the post-war rebuilding, Bernward’s original design had been restored where possible to the spiritual spatial ambiance experienced today.

Saint Michael’s Church, Hildesheim ( Niedersachsen, Germany) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The choir screen at the crossing of the north wing of the western transept shows some original stone carving dating from Bishop Adelog’s rebuilding after the fire of 1186, some obviously new plastering within round arches and contemporary cabinet work.

Saint Michael’s Church, Hildesheim ( Niedersachsen, Germany) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The western chancel is the more spacious, with ambulatory which is screened off to the general worshippers. Bernward died before witnessing the completion of his grand enterprise in 1022, and his successor, Bishop Godehard transferred his remains to the crypt after the consecration of the church in 1033. The view from the raised western chancel toward the east conveys the feeling of a solemn spatial quality of the quintessentially Ottonian Romanesque St. Michael’s Church.

Saint Michael’s Church, Hildesheim ( Niedersachsen, Germany) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Today, the main altar is located in the eastern chancel at the crossing. When the Reformation was adopted in Hildesheim in the mid-16th century, St. Michael’s Church became Lutheran, although the Benedictine monastery continued its existence until the beginning of the 19th century when it became secularized. This photograph shows the elevation organization of the north transept clearly. Set in front of the center column is the bronze “Column of Christ,” one of the treasures of Michaelskirche.

Saint Michael’s Church, Hildesheim ( Niedersachsen, Germany) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The photograph shows a prominence given to the apsidal chapels at the eastern end. The double story chapel terminating the north aisle looks as significant as the central chapel on the axis.

Saint Michael’s Church, Hildesheim ( Niedersachsen, Germany) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Another of the treasures of St. Michael’s Church is the painted oak ceiling over the nave measuring 8.7 by 27.8 meters, dating from around 1230, named the “Root of Jesse,” a genealogical tree of Jesus. It is made of over 1,300 oak planks, painted with meticulous craftsmanship, marvelously restored in time for the millennial celebration in 2010.

Photographic note: All pictures were taken with the 21mm Super-Angulon for Leica on Canon 5D with an adapter.

Location: 52.152970° 9.943703°

This is a repost of a post from April 2012. For more information about our guest writer, Jong-Soung Kimm, please see this link.