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The Urge for Gothic


The beautiful Romanesque parish church in Roussillon, built in the middle of the eleventh century and rebuilt in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, has been through a lot. For example, she was set ablaze in 1285. The people seeking refuge inside the church fell victim to enemy soldiers.


Elne 072

 Ste-Eulalie-Ste-Julie, Elne


Nevertheless, it was rebuilt and enlarged during the later Middle Ages.This is demonstrated by the Romanesque tower.Famous is the well-preserved cloister from the High Middle Ages.


During my visit, I was fascinated by something next to this cloister that, at first glance, appeared to be banal.


The desire of late medieval builders to use Gothic forms is undisputed, but apart from towers with different heights or missing towers, one rarely sees an attempt that failed as vividly as in Elne. It is an image that is touching in a way: the foundations of a Gothic chapel from the beginning of the fourteenth century, which was to replace the Romanesque choir.


As in most cases, the problem was financial in origin.The early thirteenth-century Bishop Ramon V did not raise enough money. The Gothic fragments painfully testify to this failed project.




Translation: Erik Eising

Einhard's Stones


About 13 years ago, I published an article on the Carolingian  Einhard’s Basilicain Steinbach.

During my visit there, I had looked at the size of the bricks used and I thought of the statement of professor Arnold Wolff, the second master builder of Cologne cathedral, that, with their departure, the Romans had taken with them the art of brick burning. Only the famous Bishop Bernward of Hildesheim (950/60-1022) had for the first time again ordered the production of bricks or roof tiles.  This has now been confirmed by archaeological research. For this reason, I spoke of the reuse of Roman stones.


Einhard 1.modAP2


In 2010, a friendly reader pointed out that my statement about the building material was not correct.The Hessian State Office for the Preservation of Monuments (Landesamt für Denkmalpflege) has found bricks of poor quality, obviously from local production.  In the meantime, I had learned of a letter from Einhard to a certain  Egmunelus, who was entrusted with the brick production for the basilica.

Thus, I corrected my statement.

Some time ago, I read more specific information in Matthias Untermann’s book on medieval architecture: Egmunelus  received an order of 260 stones in two different sizes.  In total, however, about 7000 stones were used.

I corrected the article a second time.

Let's finish the topic with my wife's question, "Don’t you have anything more important to do?"



Untermann, Matthias,Handbuch der mittelalterlichen Architektur, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft Darmstadt, 2009




Translation: Erik Eising

Sociable hermits

Psychologists define loneliness as one of our biggest nightmares. However, in many cultures and at all times, there have been people seeking solitude, on mountains, in deserts or in swamps, for prayer, meditation, and asceticism. It may therefore seem strange that there have been some "dropouts" who, after some time, and for whatever reason, wanted to remain hermits but still live in a community. The squaring of the circle.
For this predicament, fourth-century hermitism as the earliest form of Christian monasticism in the West found answers, the traces of which we - rarely - can find in architecture. In Asturias, in a pre-Romanesque structure, I came across this phenomenon in the form of the cámera oculta.
Asturien 5785.modAP2
Only through this window does San Pedro de Nora have access to a closed space above the choir. Such spaces can also be found in Visigothic architecture.
S.Pedro.Asturien 5787modAP2
The purpose of this has not been explored, most experts say. However, in his "Early Middle Ages", Barral i Altet provides a clue that is thought-provoking: hermits in extreme retreat might have lived there, in the midst of normal monastic life.
That would be a counterpart to Irish-Scottish hermit monasteries of the fifth and sixth centuries and the walled-in cells of medieval churches in England. The "movement" would culminate in the charterhouses of Bruno of Cologne in the eleventh century.
Translation: Erik Eising

Fieldstone structures

Along the German highway E 30, southwest of Brandenburg an der Havel, lies the old town of Ziesar (first mentioned in 948).
For friends of medieval architecture it is worth a visit. Here, remains of a castle and a church of fieldstone have survived, a material - remnant of the ice age - that covers fields and meadows in large quantities.
Fieldstones are quite common as building material in the north-eastern German states, especially in village churches and fortifications. Usually, however, they are combined with other materials, often with bricks.
6023Ziesar Feldst modAP klein                                 Monastry church of the Cistercian nuns
IMG 6015modAPklein
                                                Keep of the castle
Large buildings that are built entirely out of fieldstones are rare. In the thirteenth century, the Late Romanesque monastery church of St. Crucis was built entirely of fieldstone. The later brick apse is Gothic.
On the grounds of the castle is a 35 m high keep from the period around 1200. The original entrance was about 10 meters high. The so-called "Bischofsmütze" ("Bishop's hat") was added in the sixteenth century and used as a guardhouse.
Those who are more into colorfulness can spoil their eyes with a visit to the late-Gothic castle chapel with its rich architectural decoration. In this brick building, fieldstones were used for the foundation.
Translation: Erik Eising (M.A.)

An alternation of supports

Walking through the central naves of Romanesque basilicas, the visitor is accompanied on the right and left by arcades, the arches of which are supported by either columns or pillars.
Especially in buildings with wooden ceilings, attentive observers will sometimes notice discrepancies. Instead of two rows of identical pillars, pillars and columns alternate on each side, either in a strict rhythm, or two columns can follow one pillar. In the first case, experts speak of a Rhenish, in the second of a (Lower-)Saxon "Stützenwechsel" ("alternation of supports").
Godeh.04 0693.modAP.resol
St. Godehard Hildesheim, Saxon "Stützenwechsel"
The reasons for these appear to be varied.
Geography might be a primary explanation, yet both the construction of St Cyriacus in Gernrode, built in the late tenth century (an important structure for the period), as well as the twelfth-century Basilica of Sts George and Pancrace in Hecklingen, also in the former territory of the Ottonian Saxons, feature a single, that is Rhenish alternation of supports.
Basilica of Sts. George and Pancrace, Hecklingen
This appears to be logical in case of structures with bound systems. The pillars mark the corners of the bays in the central nave, of which the squares, beginning with the transept square, determine the entire floor plan. The weaker columns between the pillars support the half-sized aisle bays.
Numerology has also been mentioned as a reason: with the Saxon "Stützenwechsel", the total of four pillars may allude to the Evangelists and the twelve columns on Christ's disciples or the tribes of Israel.
Translation: Erik Eising (M.A.)

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