First Contact in France – Chartres (Dennis Aubrey)


Last week we finally arrived in France, got our car and drove immediately to Chartres. Our objective was the restored cathedral that we have been documenting for the last six years.

We had lunch with the magnificent Servane de Layre-Mathéus, president of Association Chartres, sanctuaire du monde who has raised so much money in service of her beloved cathedral. She described Chartres as the “Cathedral of Life.” “What don’t you see here that you see in all other cathedrals?” she asked. I could not come up with an answer. “Tombs, she said. “There are no tombs for the dead here.” Once she mentioned it, one could not miss the absence. This is the home of the beloved Virgin and it was not a place for death. The cathedral reflects that purpose now and the difference from the years prior to the restoration is marked.

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Nave, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres, Chartres (Eure-et-Loir). Photo by Dennis Aubrey

I won’t get into what I consider the ridiculous Martin Filler screed on the restoration (and I hesitate even to link to it). I am sorry that his personal preference for the dark, moody, cathedral with its “patina” is gone, but to call the current restoration “scandalous” is simply the work of a provocateur. The difference in the sensibility of the cathedral is enormous. One can actually see the architecture, appreciate the brilliance of the stained glass, and understand the purpose of the building.

The restoration of the interior is not quite finished. The two side aisles and the transepts are still waiting, and several bays of windows are not done. PJ’s shot from the northern side aisle to the nave and crossing shows the difference in the restored-unrestored areas.

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Side aisle to crossing, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres, Chartres (Eure-et-Loir). Photo by PJ McKey

Shooting vaults in large cathedrals can be challenging when using a wide angle lens. It is not like I can lay down and just shoot up … the angles must all align properly, the tripod takes a special setup and I use a laser to center the shot. As a result, there is usually a small crowd of onlookers curious to see what I am doing; certainly there is an element of theater to it all.

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Nave vault, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres, Chartres (Eure-et-Loir). Photo by Dennis Aubrey

But this shot was made more difficult by an example of bad photographic etiquette. I was almost completely finished with the setup, probably fifteen minutes’ work, when a woman came up and asked me to move, as a “professional courtesy”. She was with a photographer who needed to take a full nave shot for a postcard. I reluctantly agreed since I had another fifteen minutes or so of work, stowed my equipment and moved to the side aisle. There I saw what “professional courtesy” meant to her. She was standing next to a photographer with a small consumer camera taking handheld shots with a built-in flash from the back of the church! This is as useless as taking a picture at the Super Bowl using a consumer flash camera. I was furious; and to make it worse, they “chimped” over almost every photograph. Finally they finished and I was able to go back to my shot, but had to start from scratch. Some day I will do a post on photographer-to-photographer etiquette, one of my pet peeves.

Our only disappointment in the three days here was our inability to visit with the rector of the Cathedral, Gilles Fresson. This kind and generous man was completely consumed with the preparations for a broadcast of the Sunday mass on French television and his own interview on the history of the cathedral. Next year, for sure!

Chartres messe

Chartres Mass (cfrt Productions)

And we begin in Chartres (Dennis Aubrey)


Regular readers of Via Lucis know that we are planning our Spring/Summer trip to France and that we have posted about the upcoming section of the Pyrénées. That is the middle of the trip and today’s post is about the beginning.

2015_11_14_0a_cdg-646c0In April we fly into Paris via Reykjavík, Iceland. We do this for two reasons. First we do it because PJ hates to fly and we can break up the transatlantic section of the flight. Second, and most important, we go through the European Union customs in Iceland instead of Paris, and that is worth a great deal right there. Customs is a breeze in Reykjavík and when we arrive in Paris, we pass quickly through in the EU line. Anyone who has been caught in customs at Charles de Gaulle airport (voted in one poll the “world’s most hated airport”) when two or three international flights arrive at the same time knows exactly what this means.

We arrive at CDG about noon and will be on our way in our new car by 1:30 or so. We will head directly southwest to Chartres, where we will spend the next couple of days photographing the magnificent Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres. As you probably know, the cathedral is undergoing an extensive and somewhat contentious restoration. Some critics decry the loss of the “patina” of the church and its associated atmosphere. We believe that the restoration is magnificent and that the patina will be restored over time while the deterioration is stopped.

Apse from the tribunes, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres, Chartres (Eure-et-Loir)  Photo by PJ McKey

Apse from the tribunes, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres, Chartres (Eure-et-Loir) Photo by PJ McKey

The last time we were in Chartres, the apse had just been completed and the teams were working on the side aisles. The nave was untouched. We understand now that both the side aisles and the nave have been completed, which means the interior is almost complete. Some sets of windows still are being restored, but it will be our first opportunity to see and photograph the restoration of Bay 140, financed by our great colleagues at the American Friends of Chartres, who previously financed the restoration of the superb evangelist lancets in the south transept.

The south transept lancets, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres, Chartres (Eure-et-Loire) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The south transept lancets, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres, Chartres (Eure-et-Loire) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Of course when we go to Chartres we have to visit with the indomitable Servane de Layre Mathéus, head of Chartres, Sanctuaire du Monde, a private French organization, which for 14 years has worked in close cooperation with the Historic Monuments Commission and supports the public efforts of the French government to restore this glorious cathedral. We also get to spend time with Gilles Fresson, historien et intendant of the cathedral. He is a fountain of knowledge about Notre Dame de Chartres and guides us through the walls and in the hidden corners of the structure.

South side aisle, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres (Eure)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

South side aisle, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres (Eure) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Sirui P-204S monopod

Sirui P-204S monopod

In preparation for the work at Chartres, we have made some changes in equipment. PJ now has a new camera, the latest version of the estimable Canon 5D that she has used for a decade. It gives her much greater resolution and the “Live View” preview.

Our work demands that we use tripods because of the long exposures that we use in the churches. This works perfectly for most of the time, but there are times when the tripod is too bulky to us. For that reason, we also got PJ a monopod, the Sirui P-204S, to carry when she enters the upper warrens of the cathedral. No longer does she have to lug her tripod in those close and narrow confines. With this fine piece of equipment, she has a versatile monopod/tripod that folds down to just two feet and weighs less than three pounds.

It is hard to believe we are so short a time away from this trip. In two months we will be photographing Chartres again starting our France adventure for 2017. Can’t wait to show you the results of the photography and the restoration.

Unrestored Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres (Eure-et-Loir)  Photo by PJ McKey

Unrestored Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres (Eure-et-Loir) Photo by PJ McKey

Researching our 2017 trip (Dennis Aubrey)


PJ and I are now a mere 10 weeks from leaving for Europe and the excitement mounts as the preparations intensify. We have been diligently researching our target areas for the Romanesque gems that delight us. There are many places on the internet, both amateur and official Patrimony sites, where we glean the information. How do we collate it all? Since the very beginning of the Via Lucis project in 2007 we have used Google Earth as the repository of information. Except for a few glitches, it has worked beautifully – as you can see from this map, we are able to track both the churches that we intend to photograph (with the orange icons) and the ones that we have photographed (red icons).

Google Earth database of churches

Google Earth database of churches

Each individual marker contains information on the churches that is important for our research – descriptions from the sponsoring Patrimony organization (in France, this would be the Patrimoine de France), relevant descriptions from expert sources (like the famed Éditions Zodiaque), links to other sites, and photographs. We often include address information (even though the icons are precisely placed over the chancel crossing of every church, if possible) and hours and rules of visitation.

Google Earth entry detail

Google Earth entry detail

We have also been developing the same database for Romanesque churches in England, Spain, Germany, and Italy. Those are, of course, much less exhaustive than the French database. Our French Gothic database is also under early stages of construction. If these seem like exhaustive databases, consider the real numbers. Our French database consists of about 1080 Romanesque churches, which represents less than 25% of the total number found in the country.

Based on these maps, we plan our itinerary for each trip. There are a couple of provisos – we must always stop in Lacave in the Lot to stay (and eat) at the Pont de l’Ouysse. As I have mentioned before, this is my omphalos, the center of my spiritual universe and I have gone there every trip since 1986. The Pont de l’Ouysse is always our “splurge” place but it is worth every penny. Second, we must stay at the Crispol in Vézelay. Vézelay is critical, of course, because of the presence of the magnificent Basilique Sainte Madeleine on top of the hill. But we must also go because across the valley is the Crispol hotel, run by the equally magnificent Paule Schori. She is a force of nature and has become a dear friend. We are so delighted to be spending three days with her again this year.

Hotel Crispol

Hotel Crispol

Finally, we are making one small two-day detour that has nothing to do with Romanesque churches at all. We are going to drive from Sisteron in the Provence through the old Alpine roads to the tiny Italian town of Chiomonte. Why would we do this? Part of it is to drive the old roads that I remember from my childhood. Chiomonte is known for the seven old fountains that adorned the chemin royal of the country. But our reason to visit is the Ristorante e Affittacamere Al Cantoun. The restaurant is a small building in an old private square. The young chef is Paolo Aiello and his Piemontese cooking is spectacular. We stayed there on our way into Italy in 2015 and again on our way back to France – we can get as excited about finding a great new restaurant as an old Romanesque church!

Ristorante Al Cantoun, Chiomonte

Ristorante Al Cantoun, Chiomonte

So the trip is planned, the lodging all booked, car reserved, airplane tickets purchased. We land in Paris on April 19 and go directly to Chartres, where we will spend two days photographing the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres. More on that in the next post!

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.

For more information on Jong-Soung Kimm, please select this link.

The Song of the Cathedrals (Dennis Aubrey)


Sometimes it feels like the world is old and tired. We are desolated by an election that showed just how far we have lost our way. We have lost scent of truth like a hound turning haplessly in circles sniffing forlornly. And then someone shows us something that elevates the spirit and makes us smile again.

For me, this someone was my long-ago ex-student Lee Pochapin, who posted this wonderful video of the Rockin’1000, an Italian project of one thousand volunteer musicians performing David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel”. Watching it I personally felt the spirit of those thousands who built the great cathedrals so many centuries ago, cathedrals that are often the subject of this blog. To see such a communal spirit, working selflessly in common, makes me understand how those structures came to exist. The builders were singing the songs of the cathedrals, for where but in music can a multitude act freely in perfect unison?

concert-boy

Watching this made me feel for just a short moment like that young boy looking out in wonder at the people cheering him and all the others with their instruments. It makes me feel part of something larger again, something greater than my our little world. For that, I have to be thankful. Thanks, Lee.

Ambulatory, Cathédrale Saint-Etienne, Bourges (Indre)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Ambulatory, Cathédrale Saint-Etienne, Bourges (Indre) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The More Fool to Myself (Dennis Aubrey)


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.

"The Mystic Mill" capital in Basilique Sainte Madeleine, Vézelay (Yonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

“The Mystic Mill” capital in Basilique Sainte Madeleine, Vézelay (Yonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

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.

Stephen Tennant illustration, "To a Red Rose" by Siegried Sassoon

Stephen Tennant illustration, “To a Red Rose” by Siegried Sassoon

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.”

Two Devils Fighting, Basilique Sainte Madeleine, Vézelay (Yonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Two Devils Fighting, Basilique Sainte Madeleine, Vézelay (Yonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

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?

Trumeau statue of Jeremiah, Abbatiale Saint Pierre, Moissac (Tarn-et-Garonne)

Trumeau statue of Jeremiah, Abbatiale Saint Pierre, Moissac (Tarn-et-Garonne) Photograph copyright PJ McKey (All Rights Reserved)

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”.

Sankt Maria im Kapitol, Cologne – Guest Post by Jong-Soung Kimm


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.

Plan, Sankt Maria im Kapitol, Cologne (North Rhine-Westphalia)

Plan, Sankt Maria im Kapitol, Cologne (North Rhine-Westphalia)

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.

Nave to chancel, Sankt Maria im Kapitol, Cologne (North Rhine-Westphalia) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Nave to chancel, Sankt Maria im Kapitol, Cologne (North Rhine-Westphalia) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

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!

Nave elevation, Sankt Maria im Kapitol, Cologne (North Rhine-Westphalia) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Nave elevation, Sankt Maria im Kapitol, Cologne (North Rhine-Westphalia) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

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.

Northern apse, Sankt Maria im Kapitol, Cologne (North Rhine-Westphalia) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Northern apse, Sankt Maria im Kapitol, Cologne (North Rhine-Westphalia) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

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.

Eastern apse, Sankt Maria im Kapitol, Cologne (North Rhine-Westphalia) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Eastern apse, Sankt Maria im Kapitol, Cologne (North Rhine-Westphalia) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

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.

Ambulatory to eastern apse, Sankt Maria im Kapitol, Cologne (North Rhine-Westphalia) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Ambulatory to eastern apse, Sankt Maria im Kapitol, Cologne (North Rhine-Westphalia) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The 45-degree view toward southeast shows the entry to the chapel at that re-entrant corner of Sankt Maria indicated on the plan.

Re-entrant corner chapel, Sankt Maria im Kapitol, Cologne (North Rhine-Westphalia) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Re-entrant corner chapel, Sankt Maria im Kapitol, Cologne (North Rhine-Westphalia) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The view of the crossing toward northeast eloquently shows how the trefoil plan creates a rich spatial interplay.

Crossing, Sankt Maria im Kapitol, Cologne (North Rhine-Westphalia) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Crossing, Sankt Maria im Kapitol, Cologne (North Rhine-Westphalia) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

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.

Entrance to southern apse, Sankt Maria im Kapitol, Cologne (North Rhine-Westphalia) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Entrance to southern apse, Sankt Maria im Kapitol, Cologne (North Rhine-Westphalia) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

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.

Vault, eastern apse, Sankt Maria im Kapitol, Cologne (North Rhine-Westphalia) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Vault, eastern apse, Sankt Maria im Kapitol, Cologne (North Rhine-Westphalia) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

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.