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.
The exterior view from the north shows a double height wall with alternating aisle windows and blind arcades on the gallery level.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The view of the ceiling clearly shows a parallelogram set up by a skewed nave with fairly recent painting of the wooden structure.
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.
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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