lipprose Werner Nolte über mittelalterliche Architektur und Geschichte
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Covadonga

 
 
When I heard this word for the first time, I let it roll from my tongue. Just beautiful.
 
But who or what is it - Covadonga?
 
It is not shameful not to know, unless you are a Spanish schoolchild.
 
The answer is important for the history of the country. Near the cave of Covadonga in the mountains of Asturias, a Christian force attacked the Arab invaders around 720, about ten years after the devastating defeat of the Visigoths' army. The commander, Pelagius / Pelayo, member of the ancient Visigothic nobility, became king of Asturias, the first Christian empire after the Moorish invasion, and a Spanish national hero.
 
 
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Historians struggle with the exaggerated descriptions from both Muslim and Christian perspectives. It was probably  a fight, not a battle. The facts nevertheless are that it took place, near Covadonga, andthat the occupiers were defeated.
 
The event had a high symbolic significance, even beyond all its military and political consequences. It marked the beginning of the Reconquista, the expulsion of the Muslims from the Iberian Peninsula. Whether Pelagius himself had thought this far into the future? It took almost 800 years, until 1492, before Boabdil, the last Sultan of Granada, handed over the city and state to the Spanish kings, without a fight.
 
 
Translation: Erik Eising (MA)
 




In Full View

 
Who has not stood shivering in ancient halls, looking at the draughty open windows, wondering how one closed them during bad weather or the cold winter. The obvious possibilities (wooden planks, animal skin, or parchment) would have left much to want in comfort.
 
Latticework was more solid und elegant. It was already in use in Late Antiquity, as well as during the early Middle Ages.
 
I first noticed these ornamented openings, made from flat stone slabs and decorated with thin alabaster, in Asturian churches. Latticework could be produced with stucco as well.
 
 
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Especially on sunny days, the ornamentation creates beautiful effects in church interiors. Even the decorative patterns on the stone slabs themselves are visible.
 
 
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With this image, one wonders whether the "inventors" of the tracery work of ca. 1200 were inspired by this latticework. The artisans similarly cut ornamental holes in slabs and, with this process, created the predecessors of elegant Gothic tracery.
 
 
 
 
Translation: Erik Eising (MA)
 




The Lion

 
 
No one who studies the Holy Roman Empire of the twelfth century is able to ignore Henry the Lion (c. 1130-1195). The Welf was the Duke of Saxony as well as Bavaria, and, only second to the Emperor, the most powerful ruler of the Empire. His nickname is already mentioned in contemporaneous sources.
 
He was ambitious, efficient, and ruthless. His neighbors in Saxony, the Slavs, as well as Emperor Frederick I. Barbarossa, knew this all too well. He additionally had a healthy dose of self-confidence. This is for example illustrated by the copy of a lion monument in front of his castle Dankwarderode in Braunschweig.
 
 
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This monument, erected around 1170, is worth mentioning not only for its size - art historians consider it to be the eldest preserved full-scale statue in medieval Europe north of the Alps. The sculpture underlined Henry's claim to power. The material used, bronze, emphasized the monument's extraordinary rank.
 
Yet, the bronze lion could not protect the great man from a deep fall. After Barbarossa had settled his affairs in Italy, he set his eye on Henry. Around 1180, the Duke was ostracized and sent into exile to his father-in-law, King Henry II of England.
 
His faithful follower, Bernhard II of Lippe, is supposed to have visited him there, after he had fallen into disgrace as well. In the end, Barbarossa forgave both.
 
The Lion nevertheless went into exile anew. Bernhard began a new career, first as a Cistercian monk, subsequently as abbot in Dünamunde, and finally as bishop of Semigallia in Livonia.
 
 
 
Translation: Erik Eising (M.A.)
 




A Monk with Back Problems

 
Is this not what appears to be represented? He definitely seems to carry a heavy load. Perhaps he groans under the weight of an obese canon.
 
 
 
 
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With this unusual depiction, I would like to draw your attention to the choir stall, an interesting piece of medieval church furnishing.
 
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From the Romanesque period, little has remained. Also from the Gothic period, only fractions have survived.
 
 
Yet, it is worthwhile to study them. Particularly the misericords underneath the folding seats, which were supposed to alleviate the prolonged standing during the celebration of Mass, frequently feature rich, artful, and often comical woodcarvings.
 
 
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Depending on the number of monks or canons, as well as the period of production, the choir stall could be modest yet also enormous. Especially during the late-Gothic period, the wood carved decorations could be very rich. The master woodcarvers were often inspired by the stone decorative elements of church architecture, with their pinnacles and canopies. Of the largest original ensembles, only remnants have survived.
 
 
Translation: Erik Eising (M.A.)
 




A Bride with Deficiencies

 
 
The Middle Ages knew great women and female rulers.
 
 
One of these was Theophanu, Empress and Regent of the Ottonian Empire in the tenth century. For reasons of politics and prestige, Otto I, Emperor between 962 and 973, had sought a tighter relationship with Byzantium, which regarded itself as the heir of the Roman Caesars.
 
Marriage policy offered itself as a solution. The heir to the throne, the later Otto II, was of a marriageable age. Thus, the court sent a delegation to Byzantium to seek a purple-born bride – that is, the daughter of Emperor Basil II.
 
The choice fell on Theophanu, not the daughter but the niece of Basil. The disappointment at the Ottonian court was great, despite the precious dowry. Scholars have determined that parts of the bridal gift were incorporated in the pulpit of Henry II at Aachen Cathedral.
 
 
 
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Ambo in Aix-la-Chapelle Cathedral
 
 
 
The court considered to send the girl back to Byzantium. Yet, either Otto I possessed good people skills or he feared a scandal, and Theophanu staid and married her 17-year-old groom. After his death in 983, Theophanu resolutely defended the crown and throne for her three-year-old son against a Bavarian relative who (not undeservedly) was called "The Brawler", and became regent for the later Otto III.
 
 
 
Sarcophagus in St. Pantaleon, Cologne
 
The Empress died in 991, at the age of 36 or 31, four years before the coronation of her son.
 
 
She is interred in a white marble sarcophagus in the Church of St. Pantaleon in Cologne.
 
The likewise well-respected Adelheid, widow of Otto I, took over the regency.
 
 
 
Translation: Erik Eising (MA)