Life has been so full of changes lately with our move that we have woefully neglected Via Lucis. This is about to change, as PJ and I are planning our Spring trip to France (and possibly England!). Meanwhile, we take this moment to wish each of you peace and a happy holiday season.
We have often remarked how revered are the vierges romanes and especially the vierges noires in rural France. Notre Dame de Vassivière in the Puy-de-Dôme is no exception, in fact she has two homes. Since 1547, the statue has spent the winters in the Église Saint André de Besse in the town of Besse-et-Saint-Anastaise. Each summer on July 2, the feast of the visitation, she is carried up to her remote summer home at the isolated Chapelle Notre-Dame de Vassivière, a journey of about five miles due west. The statue is carried on a litter by the faithful in a festival called the Montée and returned on September 21st, the feast of Saint Matthew, in the Dévalade. Her return to Besse is accompanied by fireworks and gunfire.
The current version of Notre Dame de Vassivière is a copy of the original, burned in the Revolution in 1804. Five years later, Napoleon re-established the veneration of the statue and the copy was made. In 1881, the crowning of the vierge was celebrated by 30,000 worshippers.
PJ and I were anxious to photograph Notre Dame de Vassivière and when we visited in September of 2008, the chapel was almost empty. The Dévalade was scheduled for three days later, but we could not stay. She was on her spot high on the wall of the chapel. We took the pictures and then ventured to ask the gardienne if it were possible to take the statue down for photography. She thought for a moment and then agreed – PJ and I were absolutely delighted. We were delighted for only a moment, however. The woman came out with a rickety ladder and handed it to us. We were to take the priceless artifact down ourselves!
Now the ladder was not only rickety, but it had only about five steps. I would have to climb all the way to the topmost step and stretch my full length just to reach the vierge. Then I would have to lift her off her shelf with just my arms and bring her down! The sculpture was only 30″ high but it was solid wood and weighed at least 40 pounds.
PJ and I looked at each other, swallowed and made our only possible semblance of a plan – she would hold the ladder while I climbed, and as I descended, she would help secure the madonna. Gulp! And so we did. Climbing the ladder was an adventure. I am a very large man and the ladder was probably rated for someone half my weight when it was new. Now, it was a miracle that it was holding at all. PJ said she felt “abject fear” as I began moving the statue from its shelf. It became clear that the crown was not really secured and we would have to be extremely steady not have the gold crown come tumbling to the ground. I was in a state of fear and PJ was busy with her own calculations; if all went wrong, should try to save me, the vierge, or the crown?
Somehow we made it down without a disaster and placed the vierge on the altar for our photo session. The photographs were worth the effort, we figured, even though we would have to get the statue back up later.
We did manage to return Notre Dame to her lofty perch on the wall of the chapel, gave a small prayer of grateful thanks for our own personal deliverance, and returned to Issoire for an aperitif! We earned it on that particular day.
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.
I am reposting this article from June 3, 2013 for a very special reason, which will be made clear by the post that will follow shortly But it is important to introduce Mr. Milton Hammer, one of my life mentors. It also, in light of our current political election cycle, completely expresses my sorrow and frustration.
As a very young man, I worked a year in a rare book shop in Santa Barbara, California. The shop was owned by a wonderful couple, Milton and Jessica Hammer, who encouraged my passion for books and my love of all things literary. I spent half my meager salary on books and was never happier than browsing among the treasures. When Milton and Jessica traveled across the country on buying trips, I waited anxiously for the boxed treasures to arrive – to open and catalogue them, the first to touch the wonders.
One year while traveling they called me to see if a certain important shipment had arrived. I enthusiastically described the books and how I had cleaned and prepped them for pricing and shelving on their return. Milton asked how I liked the letter? What letter? I saw no letter. “Right on top of the books,” said Milton. “There was a letter that we wanted you to see right away.” But I had not seen any letter; I was distraught, even more so when Milton said it was a letter from D.H. Lawrence, one of my favorite writers at the time. It turned out that I was so anxious to look at the books that I threw all the packaging paper away and the letter was among that detritus. I immediately went out to the garbage dumpsters where I had cast the packaging, but this was also the garbage for El Paseo, a large Mexican restaurant next door. No matter, I climbed in all the bins and searched every fragment, in vain. I was covered in filth but all I felt was the shame of losing the precious letter, written by the hand of Lawrence. I still regret this loss.
I have talked often of my sympathetic understanding of medieval relics, and this story probably explains much. To see and hold a first edition of James Joyce’s “Ulysses” was like a religious experience to me. I treasure my copy of Siegried Sassoon’s “To A Red Rose” with the hand-tinted illustration by Stephen Tennant.
One of the treasures I discovered all those years ago at Hammer’s Book Shop was Robert Burton’s “The Anatomy of Melancholy” originally published in 1621. I still have my copy of a later edition that was owned by the Hollywood producer Walter Wanger. One of my favorite passages was about the wise men of the past – Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Augustine, and others whose works have endured for centuries. In regard to these wise men, Burton described Bernard of Clairvaux‘s thoughts – “Saint Bernard will admit none into this catalogue of wise men, but only prophets and apostles; how they esteem themseves, you have heard before. We are worldly-wise, admire ourselves, and seek for applause, but hear Saint Bernard … the more wise thou art to others, the more fool to thyself.”
We have lost the ability to see ourselves in this way. The secular rationalism that dominates the western world today has contributed little to the ethical universe but to give us the tools for rationally justifying just about anything, any behaviour no matter how reprehensible. Greed – rapacious desire – is not only condoned, but praised. Envy, insatiable desire, is stoked by an international popular culture where we are exposed to the excesses of the rich and famous and then model our happiness on those excesses. Pride, gluttony, lust, and sloth have been redefined and transmuted into virtues. And wrath? Uncontrolled hatred and anger? It has become the staple of our political life for both the Christian right and the secular left. And expecting our leaders to lie, we no longer hold them to any standard of truth.
If Bernard’s examination was true for the great thinkers of the ancient world, what would he have to say about public figures today? Would he thunder in a voice of righteousness like the prophets of old and lay bare the deceptions and oppression? Would that voice even be heard, or would he be another unheard cry in a lonely and barren desert?
Last night PJ and I were talking and she said how she was so disturbed by the world today, how it moves so fast and is ruled by deception and fear. It breaks my heart to hear her talk like this because I can’t protect her. We can only live our close life with our art and books, family and friends. The flow of the world will nurture or destroy itself and we will be carried on the torrent like leaves on the Orinoco.
Postscript: Milton Hammer contributed a collection of books and letters to the Special Collections library at the University of California at Santa Barbara. The gift contains correspondence, photographs, and other material collected by Milton, much of it during his career as a rare book and manuscripts dealer. It features names like Henry James, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Napoleon Bonaparte and Harold Pinter. Box 1:1 is labelled with a name not nearly so distinguished but it has my complete curiosity. The name? “Dennis Aubrey”.
Cologne had been settled in the Roman times, and it was made the provincial capital of Germania inferior in the first century AD. It was the seat of a bishop going back to the earliest Christian era, and Charlemagne elevated the position to that of archbishop during his reign. Cologne is also a veritable cradle of the Rhenish Romanesque architecture which flourished in the 11th century. There are twelve Romanesque churches in the historic center of Cologne dating from this period, most of which suffered devastating damages during WW II. The restoration work lasted until the 1990’s for some of the churches. Sankt Maria im Kapitol which measures about 100 meters long and 40 meters wide, is the largest and most notable of the twelve, and is considered to be one of the finest achievements of the building art of the Salian dynasty (aka Frankish dynasty 1024~1125).
The original Sankt Maria is said to have been built in the 8th century by Plectrudis, wife of Pippin as a convent church for noblewomen on the foundations of a Roman temple and an earlier church built in Merovingian times. The present Sankt Maria im Kapitol was begun in 1040, and consecrated by Pope Leo IX in 1049. Although the main body of the church had been substantially completed by 1065, the construction continued toward the late Romanesque period, the architecture gradually acquiring a Lombardy style in its exterior design.
As illustrated by the plan, Sankt Maria in the Kapitol district of Cologne has the trefoil-shaped, three-apse east end. While there are two other churches of trefoil plan in Cologne, it is Sankt Maria which epitomizes the geometrical logic and the formal resolution of the trefoil-shaped triapsal plan to the fullest extent. The aisles are groin vaulted, whereas the nave had initially been built with flat timber ceiling, but rebuilt with sexpartite vaulting starting in 1219, one of the earliest on the present day German soil.
In Sankt Maria the chancel is located at the junction of the easternmost bay of the nave and the crossing, with an 18th century rood screen. The eastern apse of the trefoil plan is the primary zone for the choir, while the northern and southern apses with entrances at centers are left free of seating today. Inside the space of Sankt Maria im Kapitol, one feels a distinct sense of movement north-south as well as east-west.
The nave elevation scheme shows that in place of piers with capitals, there are very wide piers with relatively thin cornices forming a nave wall with half-round arched openings rhythmically punctuating the plane. The nave elevation also shows what the restoration architects must have agonized, then finally chosen as a visual record of the compound piers of the sexpartite nave vaulting of the early 13th century. How gratifying would it have been if the sexpartite vaulting were reconstructed in the post-WW II restoration!
The view from the ambulatory at the southern entrance toward the northern apse shows that the rood screen for the chancel straddles the western column line of the crossing, and is constructed of two sets of four columns, one set on the nave side, and the other on the crossing side, and an organ loft is placed within the thickness of the main arch.
The axial view of the eastern apse accurately conveys the rich spatial layering of the ambulatory and the apse. The stained-glass-fitted clerestory windows describing a semi-circle of the apsidal space appear to be from the Gothic period.
An oblique view toward southeast from the ambulatory of the northern apse shows how logically the master builder worked out interlocking of the structure at every turn.
The 45-degree view toward southeast shows the entry to the chapel at that re-entrant corner of Sankt Maria indicated on the plan.
The view of the crossing toward northeast eloquently shows how the trefoil plan creates a rich spatial interplay.
The oblique view toward the entrance of the southern apse rewards visitors with wonderfully sculptural and generous space. The columns forming the trefoil apses of Sankt Maria im Kapitol are adorned with cushion capitals, which are not proportioned in accordance with the classical architecture, but are reminiscent of Byzantine precedents. They also bear certain resemblance to those of St. Michael in Hildesheim, but more cubic and taut.
Finally, the axial view looking up to the vaulting of the eastern apse shows an oven vault joined to barrel vaults at the short bay, and the dome at the crossing.
With its unique trefoil, three-apse plan, clarity of spatial organization and unity of form in its execution, Sankt Maria im Kapitol is justly considered a highpoint of the Rhenish Romanesque architecture of the Salian dynasty.
Location: 50.934600 6.958380
This article on Sankt Maria im Kapitol is the twentieth that Mr. Kimm has written for Via Lucis. We are so grateful for his enormous contributions to our site. For more information on Jong-Soung Kimm, please select this link.
Sitting in a chair in my new home in Ohio, thinking about Via Lucis, I realized that the project is as much about my beloved France as it is about medieval architecture. To me, these churches and places are infused with history and the collective memories of the millions who have passed through the stone portals.
Now PJ and I have moved to rural Ohio, just about 40 miles south of Columbus and every day we are moved by the beauty of the countryside around us.
We are continually reminded of France as we drive in the countryside around. Most of Ohio near us is flat farmland, rich with crops as far as the eye can see. From the town of Lithopolis, with a modest elevation of 945 feet, one gets a clear view of the high-rises of Columbus, 20 miles distant. But in our little corner near the Hocking Hills, there are small farms, small roads, and small villages, much like we see in France.
But it doesn’t take long to realize that there is something here that we don’t see in France. The first hints are signs on the back roads. We discovered that we live in the midst of a conservative Amish farming community.
PJ and I were familiar with the Amish to a degree – in 2009 we bought some lovely Amish furniture, and this spring we bought a full set of living room and dining room furniture built by Amish craftsmen.
The word “craftsmen” is an understatement, however, because this solid oak furniture is of extraordinary workmanship and quality. Even in close, detailed inspection the seam in our dining room table is invisible when closed, so finely matched are the wood grains and so perfect is the fit. And when we opened up the table for the first time to put in the leaf (stored in a special compartment), we were surprised to see that the slides are geared so that the table opens and closes with smooth action.
In the Bremen area, where we live, these are farmers. We see them working in their fields early in the morning and late into the evening. They grow, harvest, and provide for their families. They sell in farm stands, at the local farmers’ auction, and to local businesses. Everywhere is a bounty of vegetables and fruit, baked and canned goods, and occasional hand crafts. I bought a beautiful hand-turned cherry wood rolling-pin.
And what can I say about the quality of the produce? The watermelon was a revelation – unctuously sweet and ripe. All of the fruit – peaches, nectarines, Shinseiki pears, blackberries that we picked from their bushes ourselves (“we don’t have any picked but you can take a flat and do a ‘you-pickum'”), strawberries and ginger gold apples! Vegetables like we’ve never seen, even though PJ is an accomplished gardener. Farm corn here is unlike anything that I had ever tasted before.
The prices for these fruits, vegetables and farm eggs are remarkable. In the village of Bremen, I approached an Amish farmer who was in the town meat market to sell his leftover produce after the bi-weekly farmers’ auction. He sold me a flat of 25 perfectly ripe tomatoes for $5.00! The price list on the farm stand will give you an idea of what we pay for this bounty. On Tuesdays and Friday we can go to the auction and bid for lots if we need to.
In a world of unbridled materialism and brand consumption, the Amish are conspicuous exceptions. Nothing is wasted. The brimmed straw hats worn by the men are converted into brimless caps for the boys when they wear out. One small boy of about nine or ten wore a hat that was composed of at least ten other hat remnants, woven together for him. It was a patchwork of different colors and weaves, but it worked. His clothes were hand-me-downs and the pant cuffs were at his calves instead of his ankles. In the summer, the entire families are barefoot – men, women and children. This is not poverty but thrift.
There is a purity and openness in these people. The piercing blue eyes of the children are clear and unafraid, utterly without guile or pretense. The older children marshal the younger and everyone has a chore. When PJ and I stopped at our favorite Amish roadside stand, two young girls attended to us. One disappeared into the fields and returned with a cabbage – the most perfect cabbage either of us had ever seen, the size of a bowling ball. The girl held it in her hands like an offering, an angel offering a gift. PJ was moved almost to tears at the sight. How much we want to photograph them, to capture just these fleeting moments, but that would be a violation.
This is a different world, co-existing with our own materialistic culture. We – “the English” – are foreigners here. These people belong to their land, God, families, and laws. We are so moved to see this around us.
Yesterday there was a cow lying next to the road near the farm stand and I made bold to pet her like I had seen the children do. The cow was completely calm and I could almost swear that in her soft brown eyes I saw the same shy modesty that shone in the eyes of the children.
Somehow, we feel close to rural France that we’ve always loved when we are among these people, we feel the same echoes of the past.
And not a tourist to be seen …
In 326 A.D. Constantine the Great traveled to the West after many years of residency in Constantinople to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of his reign as the first Christian Roman emperor. He stayed in Rome and started construction of the great St. Peter’s Basilica. He also traveled across the Alps to Trier (Augusta Treverorum, Trèves in French), his one-time home, to lay foundation stones of a major church, on the site of the palace of his mother Helena. The Cathedral St. Peter of Trier is the oldest cathedral in Germany, and Trier had been one of the seven Elector-Archbishoprics of the Holy Roman Empire. Trier Cathedral, as befits its importance in the Western history, is a unique work of architecture which fuses the early, mature and late Romanesque styles with the early 4th century Roman nucleus. The Constantinian church is said to have been about four times as large as what comes down to this day. Extensive damages to the church in the 5th and 9th centuries left it in ruins, but the Cathedral was rebuilt starting in 1035 in the early Romanesque style, then the cross rib vaults were constructed in the late Romanesque style in the 12th century.
The plan shows that Trier Cathedral is laid out in general as a basilica plan with the nave and side aisles, eastern transept and two apses, with some unusual architectural features. The existing part of the 4th century Roman basilica, about 42-meter square structure shown in black on the plan, forms the core of the Cathedral. The square bay (B) in the center, about 18 meters to the side, was joined by rectangular bays (A) on all four sides. The center square bay had become the Crossing of the Transept which was finished flush with the outer walls to the north and south. The nameless master builder of the 11th century building workshop, quite brilliantly expanded the structure by adding another square bay, and a rectangular bay to the west, setting up the rhythm of A – B – A – B – A for the nave itself. Then a somewhat shorter rectangular bay for the Chancel was built to the east. The eastern and western apses which are as wide as the nave were joined later to the nave thus formed.
The western façade of Trier Cathedral facing Liebfrauenstrasse and a spacious square presents a one-of-a-kind Romanesque Westwork. At the outer corners, two cylindrical stair turrets are placed forward of the cubical blocks for the western towers of different heights above, as the turrets and tower bases are connected diagonally. In front of the towers, on axes with aisles inside, are the tall entrance bays with significant upper story arches and relief. At the center flanked by the entrances is the very wide half-round western apse, completed in 1196. Stair turrets pulled forward, stepping of entrance bays with the somewhat squat towers behind, and the very wide half cylinder apse in the middle all contribute to making the Westwork of Trier Cathedral quite different from other well-known works of the Carolingian and Ottonian architecture which have taller, and flush Westwork.
The view from the northeast shows the Cathedral ensemble with myriad structures accumulated over the centuries. It also shows what might be described as half of the twelve-sided eastern apse joined to the end wall of the nave, the tall gable of the northern transept, and more vertically proportioned eastern towers. The octagonal Baroque chapel at the eastern end with its own crypt is not shown on the more diagrammatic cathedral plan.
The longitudinal view toward the eastern choir shows the nave appearing not as long as its length of about 80 meters, probably due to absence of a rhythm set up by regularly spaced piers and columns in a normative Romanesque church space.
The nave elevation scheme of the western of the two square bays illustrates this point further. Here, the relatively narrow south aisle reads as lateral expansion of the nave space itself, rather than appearing as continuation of a linear “aisle” running parallel to the nave in the east-west direction. The aisle space here has been made into a sort of shallow narthex for the door from the adjoining Liebfrauenkirche of mid-13th century.
A closer view of the crossing toward the eastern chancel shows that the steps to the choir starts at about the midpoint of the crossing, and a very elaborate Baroque altar is placed high up in the six-sided apse with ornate Gothic ribs on the vault ceiling.
The view from the raised eastern Choir looking west conveys the unique spatial character of Trier Cathedral faithfully. As said earlier, due to the lateral expansion of the nave space at the square bays and absence of a rhythm, the sense of sweep lengthwise is halted at these two points. From the entrances on either side of the western apse, the sense of movement toward the eastern chancel is subdued. The nave is a calm and deeply contemplative space of worship.
The view looking straight up to the nave vaulting shows the rectangular bay at the midpoint of the Cathedral with an ornate Baroque organ loft, and the Crossing to the east (down), the “narthex” bay with gallery above to the west (up). Trier Cathedral is 26 meters high at the crown of the nave vaulting, and the width of the nave is about 18 meters.
The view of the eastern Choir looking north shows on the left a generous Gothic arch with well-lit gallery above, and a well-crafted choir screen. It also shows on the right an opening leading to the northeastern stair tower, and a gallery at a mezzanine level.
The view of the north aisle at the western square bay opposite the “narthex” on the south side, looking east accurately conveys the feel of expansion of the nave space, as the relatively narrow aisle space beyond reads as a separate spatial compartment, rather than a linear continuation of the north aisle.
One special treasure of Trier Cathedral, although rarely put on public view, is the Holy Tunic of Christ, which legend relates was worn by Christ shortly before he was crucified, and was subsequently brought from Jerusalem by Helena (later St. Helena) when she made pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and was entrusted to the new church of her son.
Location: 49.756221 6.643821
For more information on Jong-Soung Kimm, please select this link.
The English-Speaking Union was formally organized in the United States in 1920 and arose from the conviction of its founder, Sir Evelyn Wrench and a group of like-minded American and British friends, that maintenance of the close personal and national ties forged during World War I was necessary for the preservation of peace. He imagined the ESU as an inclusive organization “founded in no narrow attitude of race pride, in no spirit of hostility to any people.” The Columbus chapter was founded in 1923.
If any of the Via Lucis community are interested in attending, here is the online reservation link. Proceeds from the event will go to support the High School Shakespeare Competition.
Here is the information on the event:
Location: Scioto Country Club
2196 Riverside Drive
Columbus, OH 43221
Date: September 11, 2016
If you are in the area, we would love to see you there!