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Cistercians - Forbidden architectural ornaments


The Cistercians, the Order of Benedictine reform, wished to return to the ideals of St. Benedict by living an ascetic life and actively distancing themselves from the pomp and circumstance of the monks at Cluny, who were Benedictines as well. Both of Benedict's commands, "Ora et labora", were to be adhered to again, not merely the prayer part.

The architecture and furnishings of the churches were to demonstrate humility and modesty. Under Bernard of Clairvaux, strict regulations were adopted: no church towers, only modest ridge turrets, no triforia (walkways), no polychrome interiors - indeed, no stained glass windows -, no sculptures, except for a statue of the Holy Virgin, and no ornately carved capitals.

This all had to be substituted by artisanally high-quality architecture, particularly evident in the meticulous stonemasonry.

Initially, the rules were strictly observed and monitored. Yet, the yearning for ornament was stronger. More and more deviations occurred. Real triforia were avoided, yet they were painted on the wall, such as in Doberan.


dob0343                             Painted triforia Doberan

Ridge turrets were not modest, but opulant, such as in Bebenhausen.

Bebenhs modAP 0002Ridge turret, Bebenhausen


By the early fifteenth century, after 300 years, the strict regulations had been more or less forgotten.



Translation: Erik Eising (M.A.)


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