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 trip to the Mountains in May (Dennis Aubrey)


PJ and I are planning another mammoth photography session in France and Spain this year. We’ll be gone about two months and will photograph most of the southern periphery of France, through the Pyrénées and up through Provence. We will, of course, visit our favorite spots in Chartres, Poitiers, Vézelay and the Souillac, but this is primarily new territory for us. The new stuff begins south of the Dordogne, where we will spend a week between Villeneuve-sur-Lot and Agen. From there, we head to the mountainous border between France and Spain, the Pyrénées, where we will spend a full month.

We begin our trip in virgin Pyrénées territory for us, the extreme southwest of France. In the area around Vic-en-Bigorre ①  we are planning to photograph eight important churches, most of which are part of the Compostella pilgrimage route. We are particularly excited to photograph the mosaics at the Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption de Lescar.

The Pyrénées section of the trip

The Pyrénées section of the trip

From Vic-en-Bigorre, we head southwest towards the main route into Spain at Saint Jean-Pied-de-Port, but will be using Oloron-Sainte-Marie② as our headquarters. This will be the base as we explore the last French churches on the Compostella route before the Roncesvalles pass.

From Oloron, we make a short drive to Luz-Saint-Sauveur③. The purpose here is to shoot the Église Saint-Savin in Saint Savin and see the Vierge noire des croisades. She is no longer a Black Madonna, but is a compelling vierge romane. In Luz itself is a Templars’ church, Eglise des Templiers de Luz with its own vierge romane.

Next is Bagnères-de-Luchon④ in the Haute-Garonne which we will use to explore a line of six mountain churches in Bonnemazon, Cazaux Frechet, Mont, Saint Aventin, Cazaril-Laspènes and the Spanish town of Bossòst.

Église Saint Julien et Sainte Basilisse, Jujols (Pyrénées-Orientales)  Photo by PJ McKey

Église Saint Julien et Sainte Basilisse, Jujols (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by PJ McKey

After Bagnères-de-Luchon, we leave France briefly and drive south to the Val d’Aran⑤ in Spain. This is one of two narrow valleys in the Pyrénées region of Spain with a string of beautiful Romanesque churches. The other, the Vall de Boí, is only about fifteen miles south of here but we don’t have the time to shoot there and we are saving these spectacular churches for a later trip. In the Val d’Aran we shoot nine churches, if possible, arrayed on an approximately twenty mile east-west line. Nine churches is a lot to photograph in three days, but we have been offered the logistics assistance of our very kind AirBnB host in the town of Escunhau.

We then return to France and drive northeast to Saint-Lizier⑥, a town with a population of 1500 souls but boasts two cathedrals that testify past prominence.

Exterior of Eglise à Saint-Génis-des-Fontaines, Saint Genis-des-Fontaines (Pyrénées-Orientales)

Exterior of Eglise à Saint-Génis-des-Fontaines, Saint Genis-des-Fontaines (Pyrénées-Orientales)

From Saint-Lizier we continue southeast to the Ariège⑦. Centered on the town of Luzenac is a cluster of four beautiful Romanesque churches.

After Saint-Lizier we are back in familiar territory, the Pyrénées-Orientales, Catalan country. We stop first in Angoustrine-Villeneuve-des-Escaldes⑧. This is at the west end of the long valley that extends from the Mediterranean coast near Perpignan to the heart of the mountains.

Our next stop is a favorite, Prades⑨, home to the music festival founded by Pablo Casals. The Romanesque heritage in this part of the world is astounding, but one of the highlights is that we will return to the Abbaye de Saint-Martin du Canigou and visit with our friend, Sister Anne-de-Jésus.

PJ and Sister Anne-de-Jésus, Abbaye de Saint-Martin du Canigou, Casteil (Pyrénées-Orientales)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

PJ and Sister Anne-de-Jésus, Abbaye de Saint-Martin du Canigou, Casteil (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

From Prades we return to Spain for a week. We’ll spend a couple of days relaxing in Cadaqués⑩ on the Mediterranean.

Cadaqués, photo by Covetotop

Cadaqués, photo by Covetotop

We then return to work and head west to the small town of Besalú①①, home to no less than five churches. There are many eminent churches in the region but we are intrigued with La Vall de Bianya, a narrow east-west valley filled with Romanesque churches.

We are particularly excited that we will get to meet our WordPress friend Covetotop, whose blog is the best chronicle of the Catalan countryside that we have found. At his suggestion we will dine at the Restaurant Can Roca in Esponellá, just outside of Besalú.

Restaurant Can Roca, Esponellà. Photo by Covetotop

Restaurant Can Roca, Esponellà. Photo by Covetotop

This will end our month in the Pyrénées and we proceed to the Provence for a week. There we will continue our strict diet of Romanesque churches, fine food, and wonderful local wines.

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”.

Trier Cathedral – A Guest Post by Jong-Soung Kimm


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.

Plan - Dom Sankt Peter, Trier (Rhineland-Palatinate)

Plan – Dom Sankt Peter, Trier (Rhineland-Palatinate)

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.

Western facade, Dom Sankt Peter, Trier (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Western facade, Dom Sankt Peter, Trier (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

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.

View from northeast, Dom Sankt Peter, Trier (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

View from northeast, Dom Sankt Peter, Trier (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

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.

Eastern nave, Dom Sankt Peter, Trier (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Eastern nave, Dom Sankt Peter, Trier (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

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.

Nave elevation, Dom Sankt Peter, Trier (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Nave elevation, Dom Sankt Peter, Trier (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

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.

Eastern chancel crossing, Dom Sankt Peter, Trier (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Eastern chancel crossing, Dom Sankt Peter, Trier (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

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.

View from eastern choir, Dom Sankt Peter, Trier (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

View from eastern choir, Dom Sankt Peter, Trier (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

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.

Nave vaulting, Dom Sankt Peter, Trier (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Nave vaulting, Dom Sankt Peter, Trier (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

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.

Eastern choir, Dom Sankt Peter, Trier (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Eastern choir, Dom Sankt Peter, Trier (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

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.

North side aisle, Dom Sankt Peter, Trier (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

North side aisle, Dom Sankt Peter, Trier (Rhineland-Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

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.

A Via Lucis Lecture


PJ and I are going to give a presentation on Romanesque church architecture for the English Speaking Union in Columbus, Ohio. The event will be on September 11 at the Scioto Country Club.

esu-banner

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

Time: Noon

If you are in the area, we would love to see you there!

Mainz Cathedral – a Guest Post by Jong-Soung Kimm


Strategically situated as it is at the confluence of the Rhine and Main rivers, Mainz had already been settled in the Roman times, and it formed the northernmost frontier of the empire. Along with Speyer and Worms, Mainz is one of the three Imperial Cathedrals (Kaiser Dom) on the Upper Rhine, constructed under the patronage of several Holy Roman emperors of the Salian (1024~1125) and Hohenstaufen (1138~1266) dynasties as symbols of the imperial power over the papacy. Mainz was one of the seven elector-archbishoprics of the Holy Roman empire, the coronation site for several emperors, and was better known in the English-speaking world by its French name Mayence until the recent history.

Archbishop Willigis laid the foundation stone for the earlier Ottonian-design Mainz Cathedral in 975. Willigis had been in the service of Otto the great at the same historical moment as when Bernward of Hildesheim was also in Otto’s court. Willigis was appointed as the Archbishop of Mainz by Otto II in that year. After more than three decades of building campaign, the Cathedral was consecrated in 1009. On the consecration day, however, a fire destroyed the bulk of the Cathedral. Although Willigis began the process of rebuilding, he passed away two years later, and two successive archbishops were not effective in re-building. It was left to Archbishop Bardo to oversee construction of the main body of the Mainz Cathedral, which was consecrated in 1036. It lasted less than half a century, as another major fire destroyed the Cathedral in 1081, and most of what comes down to this day as the Mainz Cathedral of St. Martin was built in the Lombardic style under the patronage of Henry IV (1050~1106, Holy Roman emperor 1084~1105), who also initiated building of Speyer II, and it was consecrated in 1137.

Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz (Rhineland–Palatinate)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz (Rhineland–Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Unusual for a major cathedral of the Middle Ages, Mainz Cathedral is sited in the heart of the market square of the city, its red sandstone massing dominating the cityscape. The view of the Cathedral from the northwest toward the southeast shows the sculptural ensemble of the octagonal eastern crossing tower, two stair turrets which survive from the original Ottonian construction, as well as the lime stone Gothard Chapel built at the turn of the 13th century.

The view of the Cathedral from the east on a Sunday illustrates how it is integrated into the bustling commercial activities of the city.

East façade, Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz (Rhineland–Palatinate)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

East facade, Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz (Rhineland–Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

That atmosphere contrasts with the engraving of the eastern façade from the justly famous Dehio-Bezold folio. Visitors’ eyes are drawn to the master builder’s deft use of “dwarf gallery” around the eastern apse, a design feature which helps to reduce the apparent weight of the semi-cylindrical masonry volume, and imparts a sense of scale to the true size of the mass.

East elevation, Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz (Rhineland–Palatinate)

East elevation, Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz (Rhineland–Palatinate)

As shown on the plan, Mainz Cathedral is laid out on the basilica plan with both the western and eastern apses; the nave of five squarish bays covered with Gothic cross vaults; aisles with two slightly rectangular bays corresponding to one nave bay, covered with groin vaults; two larger stair turrets at the east end and a pair of smaller stair turrets at the west; prominent western transept and two crossing towers. At Mainz, the western choir dedicated to St. Martin of Tours, was given prominence over the eastern one as conceived by Willigis, that appears to have been inspired by the great St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Although the appearance of the now lost Ottonian western choir is not known, its present architecture is from the late Romanesque period.

Plan, Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz (Rhineland–Palatinate)

Plan, Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz (Rhineland–Palatinate)

The nave elevation scheme shows that while square piers are laid out at even spacing, on every other pier there is a semi-cylindrical pilaster which reaches the sill level of clerestory windows with a simple impost. The piers with these pilasters in turn support, or figuratively speaking, “collect” the nave arches as well as the ribs for the cross vaults, defining each bay. The clerestory windows are paired within this bay, rather than being evenly spaced across the length of the nave. The nave walls of Mainz Cathedral are articulated by shallow round-arched indentations that rise above the nave arcades, and extend to just below the clerestory windows. One notes that pairing of clerestory windows create displacements, so that clerestory windows are not centered on the nave arcades. The height of the nave is 28 meters, a notch lower than 33 meters for the nave of Speyer Cathedral.

Nave elevation, Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz (Rhineland–Palatinate)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Nave elevation, Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz (Rhineland–Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The view toward the eastern chancel, dedicated to St. Stephen, adequately conveys the spatial character of the Mainz Cathedral interior, with its stately progression of alternating piers down the nave.

Eastern chancel, Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz (Rhineland–Palatinate)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Eastern chancel, Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz (Rhineland–Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The view of the eastern apse shows the oven vault over the semi-circular space built in the Lombardic design replacing the former flat Ottonian gabled façade. The chancel bay with the octagonal tower above, almost anticipates the presence of an eastern transept, but it is enclosed by substantial masonry walls separating it from the aisles and the stair turrets beyond.

Apse, Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz (Rhineland–Palatinate)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Apse, Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz (Rhineland–Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The view looking straight up to the nave vaulting indicates the prominence given to the slightly larger bay preceding the chancel before the crossing tower. The Gothic rib vaults for the nave date from around the turn of the 13th century.

Nave vault, Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz (Rhineland–Palatinate)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Nave vault, Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz (Rhineland–Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The view toward the more spacious, as well as visually more important western chancel illustrates the solemn ambience of Mainz Cathedral befitting the stature of an Imperial Cathedral.

Western chancel, Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz (Rhineland–Palatinate)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Western chancel, Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz (Rhineland–Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

The western chancel and the western transept had been rebuilt around the year 1200, presumably on the foundation of the original building under Willigis in the late Romanesque style, but already showing the impulse for the Gothic vaulting technique.

Western chancel and transept,  Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz  (Rhineland–Palatinate)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Western chancel and transepts, Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz (Rhineland–Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

On the transept wings, there are galleries over somewhat wider span. The view looking up to the western crossing tower and transept wings contrasts the later construction of the tower with the Lombard moldings to the Romanesque space of Mainz Cathedral.

Western crossing and transepts, Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz (Rhineland–Palatinate)  Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

Western crossing and transepts, Mainzer Dom Sankt Martin, Mainz (Rhineland–Palatinate) Photo by Jong-Soung Kimm

A footnote to Mainz: Johannes Gutenberg was born here, and the Museum of Printing honoring him attracts visitors to the city. Mainz today is the capital of Rhineland-Palatinate, and the assembling point of German wines from the Rhine and Main vineyards.

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