The Rhythms of Stützenwechsel – Amuse-bouche #10 (Dennis Aubrey)


In photographing, thinking of and writing about these churches for Via Lucis, we have found it necessary to develop a language to communicate the ideas that result. Part of that language is, of course, architectural. Technical descriptors of the elements of the churches are necessary. If we were to describe the nave of Saint Michael’s Church in Hildesheim (Niedersachsen, Germany), for example, we would have to invoke the term Dreiachsigem Stützenwechsel, the rhythmic alternation of square pillars and round columns in the arcades.

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

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

As is befitting from the German terminology that describes the phenomenon, stützenwechsel is primarily an Ottonian development and is most known in today’s Germany and Switzerland. But in its less perfect form, it can also be found in other Romanesque churches, like the Basilique Sainte Foy in Conques. As we can see here, the alternation of square and rounded supports for the arcades creates the same form of rhythmic pattern that we see in Saint Michal’s Church.

Alternating piers and columns, Basilique Sainte Foy, Conques (Aveyron)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Alternating piers and columns, Basilique Sainte Foy, Conques (Aveyron) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Stützenwechsel is just another example of the ingenious and sophisticated techniques developed by medieval builders to make their churches more interesting. Their sensitivity to visual patterns and rhythms continues to amaze us a millennium after they built their masterpieces.

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.

5 responses to “The Rhythms of Stützenwechsel – Amuse-bouche #10 (Dennis Aubrey)

  1. And of course you whet the appetite to see more of this interesting pattern. I have seen it in other churches you have photographed, but if you emphasized the rhythm those times, I missed it. Beautiful

  2. Stützenwechsel. Wonderful word. I was saying it over several times when the spouse popped in and wanted to know what kind of pastry I was muttering about. Had to explain it had nothing to do with pastry, but was about columns and piers which got me a shaking head and a look that spoke volumes.

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