A Gatehouse and Westwork in the Romanesque architecture of Germany – Guest post by Jong-Soung Kimm


One of the earliest examples of the Carolingian architecture, if not the earliest, is the gatehouse for a former Benedictine abbey in Lorsch (between Worms and Darmstadt, Hesse) of ca.764 AD. It has come down to this day remarkably intact, belying its building in the mid-eighth century. Although it has been called Torhalle, the structure appears to have been a free-standing building in a spacious forecourt to the abbey, all but a trace today.

Some scholars see a connection between the form of this structure and the Arch of Constantine, while others link it to the Propylaeum of the old St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. In either case, it shows the Carolingian tendency to look for inspiration from the glory of the Constantinian era. Lorsch structure has two stories with stair turrets on either side, and a very tall, steeply sloped hip roof. Unlike triumphal arches, however, only the outer walls of the structure have arches, and the underside of the upper story is framed with flat ceiling between the outer walls. According to one account, on the upper story was located a chapel of St. Michael, a commonly found element which was placed at the westernmost spot of the ground of an abbey for the archangel to ward off the evil spirit.

Torhalle, Imperial Abbey of Lorsch, Lorsch (Hesse)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Torhalle, Imperial Abbey of Lorsch, Lorsch (Hesse) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The façade with three arcade openings is defined by four semi-cylindrical engaged columns with the Composite capitals, with a relatively thin architrave with shallow relief above; on the inner faces are placed shorter columns with capitals to support the half-round arches. Over the architrave are placed fluted pilasters, three bays per each arcade below, with Ionian capitals with very shallow relief. A zigzag pattern of beams, rather than half-round blind arcades, straddle these pilasters. The wall surfaces are filled in with hexagon- and square-shaped brown sandstone tiles, in a Roman technique called opus reticulatum. The wall articulation for the upper story at Lorsch relies on the use of an appliqué, like weaving in a textile as Frankl described, unlike the lower story with structural expression of columns and arches. The master builder, quite ingeniously, worked out all the geometrical relations of the sizes of tiles to the spaces to fill so that nothing is left to chances, including the incline of the aforementioned zigzag beams at 60 degrees to correspond to hexagons.

Torhalle, Imperial Abbey of Lorsch, Lorsch (Hesse)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Torhalle, Imperial Abbey of Lorsch, Lorsch (Hesse) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

If it had been said that Lorsch might be the earliest work of the Carolingian architecture, the Palatine Chapel in Aachen is the most important architecture of the Carolingian era. Charlemagne is said to have instructed his master builder, Odo of Metz to study San Vitale in Ravenna of 547 AD, another Roman capital. Little did Charlemagne or his court envision that what Odo did deliver would be a wholly new work of architecture, a work of the Western sensibility as contrasted to the immaterial space of the Eastern, or Byzantine church. The Palatine Chapel was consecrated by Pope Leo III in 805 AD to Virgin Mary.

Palatine Chapel, Aachen Cathedral, Aachen (North Rhine-Westphalia) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Palatine Chapel, Aachen Cathedral, Aachen (North Rhine-Westphalia) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The term Westwerk was invented in the nineteenth century to describe what Carolingian writers referred to as castellum or turris at the west end of a church. The westwork of the Palatine Chapel in Aachen, constructed as an integral element of Charlemagne’s palace compound, is placed on the axis of the Chapel facing a spacious rectangular forecourt which was connected to, and defined by an elevated walkway from the palace quarters. What is quite visibly different from a typical westwork is that, unlike a west façade for a church of a basilica plan, the westwork at Aachen is rather narrow, because it is joined to only one side of an octagon. It also has a prominent concave surface on the relatively narrow surface, reminiscent of the façade of the Palace of Exarchs in Ravenna built sometime after 712 AD. From the tribune level above the niche, Charlemagne would address the crowd. Additions of more height to the square tower, and a rather slender steeple built during the Gothic era resulted in the present westwork.

Westwork, Aachen Cathedral, Aachen (North Rhine-Westphalia) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Westwork, Aachen Cathedral, Aachen (North Rhine-Westphalia) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The imperial abbey of Corvey in North Rhine-Westphalia was established sometime in the early part of the ninth century, and populated by monks from a Benedictine abbey of Corbie in Picardie, present-day France. The abbey church itself had been transformed into a Baroque architecture in the seventeenth century, but the westwork at Corvey, built between 873~85 AD, is the only Carolingian westwork extant today.

Westwork, Imperial Abbey of Corvey, Corvey (North Rhine-Westphalia)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Westwork, Imperial Abbey of Corvey, Corvey (North Rhine-Westphalia) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

It is built as a sort of vertically organized church in itself: the ground level, a square plan of three bays by three bays, is built of sturdy square piers with groin vaulting like a hall crypt, with the axial bay leading to the abbey church; the central section of the exterior wall of the westwork projects forward from the generally flat surface up to the tribune level; stairs on either side lead to that tribune level, where a partially restored Carolingian chapel, called Johannischor at one time, gives us a glimpse of the space as it was built. The view of the west front clearly shows where, in the 12th century, additional tower floors were built with different stone coursing.

Interior detail, Imperial Abbey of Corvey, Corvey (North Rhine-Westphalia)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Interior detail, Imperial Abbey of Corvey, Corvey (North Rhine-Westphalia) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The westwork at the Cathedral of SS. Petrus and Gorgonius at Minden, constructed in the first half of the tenth century, presents to us another important example of what a Carolingian westwork might have appeared, although a twelfth century alteration has given it a markedly perpendicular emphasis.

Westwork, Cathedral of SS. Petrus and Gorgonius, Minden (North Rhine-Westphalia)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Westwork, Cathedral of SS. Petrus and Gorgonius, Minden (North Rhine-Westphalia) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The westworks of St. Cyriakus in Gernrode, and St. Godehard in Hildesheim present a pair of cylindrical stair towers flanking a half-round western apse, one of the characteristic features of Ottonian architecture.

Westwork, Church of Saint Cyriakus, Gernrode (Saxony-Anhalt) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Westwork, Church of Saint Cyriakus, Gernrode (Saxony-Anhalt) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Westwork, Church of Saint Godehard, Hildesheim (Lower Saxony)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Westwork, Church of Saint Godehard, Hildesheim (Lower Saxony) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Other notable examples of westwork in the Romanesque architecture in Germany include St. Pantaleon in Köln; Cathedral St. Stephen of Trier; Cathedral St. Peter of Worms; Cathedral SS. Mary and Stephen of Speyer; St. Kastor in Koblenz; and St. Georg in Limburg-an-der-Lahn.

Westwork, Church of Saint Pantaleon, Cologne (North Rhine-Westphalia) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Westwork, Church of Saint Pantaleon, Cologne (North Rhine-Westphalia) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Westwork, High Cathedral Saint Stephen of Trier, Trier (Rhineland-Palatinate)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Westwork, High Cathedral Saint Stephen of Trier, Trier (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Westwork, Cathedral of Saint Peter, Worms (Rhineland-Palatinate)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Westwork, Cathedral of Saint Peter, Worms (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Westwork, Imperial Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption and Saint Stephen, Speyer (Rhineland-Palatinate)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Westwork, Imperial Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption and Saint Stephen, Speyer (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Westwork, Basilica of Saint Castor, Koblenz (Rhineland Palatinate)   Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Westwork, Basilica of Saint Castor, Koblenz (Rhineland Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Westwork,   Cathedral of Saint George, Limburg an der Lahn (Hesse)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Westwork, Cathedral of Saint George, Limburg an der Lahn
(Hesse) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

It would be appropriate to include here three Romanesque churches in Alsace with important examples of westwork: Saint Foy in Sélestat; Saint Etienne in Marmoutier; and finally, the abbey church of Murbach.

Église Sainte Foy, Sélestat (Bas-Rhin)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Église Sainte Foy, Sélestat (Bas-Rhin) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Westwork, Abbaye Saint-Étienne de Marmoutier, Marmoutier (Bas-Rhin)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Westwork, Abbaye Saint-Étienne de Marmoutier, Marmoutier (Bas-Rhin) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Westwork, Abbaye de Murbach, Murbach (Haut-Rhin)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Westwork, Abbaye de Murbach, Murbach (Haut-Rhin) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

It is the eastern façade of Murbach with an impressive composition comparable to a westwerk which merits inclusion in the present essay.

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14 responses to “A Gatehouse and Westwork in the Romanesque architecture of Germany – Guest post by Jong-Soung Kimm

  1. Oh, I had seen a few photos of some of these churches, but the totality of the beauty of what you have sent is extraordinary. Thank you all very much
    As the give great joy on such a grey day as today.

    • Some suffered damages during the war, i.e. St. Pantaleon in Cologne. I am gratified that the restoration architects after the war did their utmost to bring many of these works of architecture to their former glory. Jong-Soung

  2. Really admire your work,comments and pictures.I’ve just taken a good decision,to travel east.I live in the Walloon Ardenne (Belgium),and have almost never traveled to Germany (shame!).Will in the spring. Bonne continuation.

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