Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Pillars of the Earth: Cathedrals of Europe - Worms Cathedral

Recently I finished Ken Follet's best seller “Pillars Of The Earth”. It is an enthralling book, with the spine of the story being the erection of a Gothic cathedral. Needless to say, and combined with my recent visits to such monumental buildings in Europe, it sparked a renewed interest in Gothic architecture in me. So I decided to make a series of posts about important cathedrals I have visited. The first one, to make the transition easily from the previous posts, is the Worms cathedral. We are going to have a close look at this impressive church as well as its troubled history that involves Byzantium, European emperors and kings, the Reformation and many wars.

General view of the cathedral - the eastern towers are getting a facelift.

The Cathedral of St Peter (Wormser Dom) is the principal church and most important building of Worms, Germany. Along with Speyer and Mainz, it ranks among the finest Romanesque churches along the Rhine. This magnificent basilica, with four round towers, two large domes, and a choir at each end, has an imposing exterior, though the impression produced by the interior is also one of great dignity and simplicity, heightened by the natural colour of the red sandstone (typical in this part of Germany) of which it is built. The eastern end has an apse, without ambulatory, and the western end has second lower apse, typical of German Romanesque and possibly derived from a free-standing baptistery - that means two altars inside, one at the eastern side (the one all churches have) and one on the western side - where normally a large ceremonial portal should be. The reason for building two chancels is not entirely clear. Many scholars suggest that there is some symbolic significance, such as empire and church, or body and spirit, but no irrefutable evidence for these theories exists. Others claim that the construction has a functional purpose for ceremonial processions. Whatever the original intent of the double chancel, the eastern chancel came to serve as the location for the mass and the western chancel was reserved for the bishop and pontiffs.

The western chancel and towers

The cathedral rises on the highest hill of the urban district, about 100 meters over the sea level. It is 110m long, and 27m wide, or including the
transepts, which are near the west end, 36m (interior measurements). The height in the nave is 26m; under the domes it is 40m. The plan is that of a modified Latin cross with slight projection of the transept. The entrance is through a southern porch. Above the crossing and at the western end are short octagonal towers. There are two taller towers flanking the building at either end. Each has a steeply pointed roof - a projectile, either conical or octagonal. The various sections of the building are massive, clearly-defined units, looking like they were built from a child with a set of building blocks. It creates the sense that the building could be disassembled and rearranged.

Gothic southern portal and Nicolas Chapel

The origins of the Worm’s cathedral can be traced back to early Christian times during the late Roman era. The first officially appointed Worms bishop was Berthulf, appointed in 614AD. The first early Christian cathedral came out from a Roman Basilica, which lay in the midst of the forum, and was built by Dagobert I (625 -639), but much smaller than the existing one . The cathedral's north portal, one of the parts which were frequently changed, followed in a more Frankish style in Merovingian and in Carolingian times. It served as a burial place for the ancestors of the Salian royal family who had a castle in Worms well into the 11th Century. The cathedral reached it's present size under the outstanding bishop Burchard of Worms (1000-1025) , who was fundamental in starting to rebuilt the church since 1005. From this monumental building from late Ottonian- early Salian era, some parts are preserved. A large new building was erected by bishops Burchard II and Konrad II in the 12th century, mainly because of the heavy damages the previous building had suffered. The old building was torn down gradually, while the new one was erected, again a commonplace practise of the era. Still today's cathedral essentially corresponds to the plans of its predecessor.

A metal model of the cathedral on the south lawn.

Burchard’s cathedral was dedicated in 1018, in the presence of emperor Heinrich II. Unfortunately, two years after this event, the western part of the church unexpectedly collapsed: within two years it was rebuilt. The base range of the east choir as well as the bases of the two round east towers are preserved from that era, to be recognized by the relatively small and even sandstone ashlars masonry. This is also present on the south side in the base of the transept. Also the two round western towers are from Burchard's era, one of the northern towers, and three of the southern. The southern tower is called "donkey tower", because, instead of stairs, a ramp with a cobbled surface rises upwards. Burchard’s cathedral was a three-nave Basilica with a transept and a straight closed eastern choir. A semicircular western choir was dedicated to the martyr St. Laurentius, inserted between the towers. The church room had a flat timber ceiling. The wall arrangement corresponded to the Limburg Monastery at Bad Dürkheim or the Speyer cathedral.

Close up of a tower - see how it is divided into sections like being made of separate parts

The ground was laid out with a mosaic from white marble and dark slate. In the nave it lay only scarcely under today's level, as was also the transept and eastern choir. The western choir was even 30 cm higher than today. According to the description in Burchard's biography from around 1030/40, the church was splendidly decorated, mentioning columns with gilded capitals. Four Salian family members were already buried in the altar area of the Frankish cathedral and they were exhumed during Burchard's construction. They got to rest anew in the eastern nave; five more followed up to the year 1046. The sarcophagi stand since the beginning of the 20th Century in an accessible crypt created for them beneath the altar.

The model again - you can see the clean forms of the building very clearly.

Because the floor level of the transept and the eastern choir stands out over six meters from the soil, one must assume that a crypt (Unterkirche) was present at that particular site, however so far there is still no possibility for the appropriate search and excavations to begin. There are early references to the relic of St. Nicolas, which allegedly was brought over and donated by empress Theophano
(niece of Byzantine emperor Ioannis Tzimiskes) from Byzantium on the occasion of her wedding with emperor Otto II in the year 972 AD. Although by this time Bishop Nicolas was still entombed n Myra in Asia Minor (in 1087 his remains were transferred to Bari in Italy), the story helped spread the worship of St. Nicolas in the West, particularly on the Rhine area from Cologne to Worms.

St. Nicolas reliquary - the original was brought by Empress Theophano from Byzantium.

In the year 1058 during the tenure of Bishop Arnold, a small St. Nicolas chapel was erected and dedicated to the southern side nave within the range of the 3rd and 4th bay. Between 1280 and 1315 today's substantially larger St. Nicolas chapel was made in Gothic style. The dedicating inscription of 1058 is still there, immured within the niche along with the new St. Nicolas reliquary, procured at the end of the 20th century. The original reliquary was lost because of the destruction during the Palatinate succession war. The chapel serves now as the Baptistery of the cathedral. The outstanding late Gothic Baptism stone (around 1480) comes from the Johanneskirche, the ten-sided Roman original Baptistery and since the Middle Ages parish church on the area south of the cathedral (formerly a cemetery). The building was auctioneered after the abolition of the diocese in the course of the secularization during the French occupation and cleared away completely.

The baroque styled pulpit.

The cathedral of the 12th century was built on the existing plans from the east to the west, in three sections. After the results of carbon-14 dating, which do not contradict any stylistic comparisons or written documents, the eastern parts (thus choir, transept with the cupola at the crossing, eastern towers up to the next to last projectile and beginning of the nave) were established approximately in the period of 1125/30 and 1144. The next section of the nave followed between 1160 and 1170. The third and last section followed directly afterwards. It contained the increased western choir with dome tower and the completion of the towers. Into this building phase belong the new building of the Johanneskirche and the completion of the cathedral cloister, which was already begun together with the southern side nave. More buildings were also built in the three storied cloister complex. In the first third of the 19th century, the threadbare remains of the cloister could be reconstructed at the external wall of the southern side of the nave.

The western chancel. Notice the lovely windows.

On 2 May 1181 the solemn cathedral dedication ceremony took place, with numerous bishops present. One can hardly assume all construction phases were already finished at this time, as it was common practise to dedicate a church as soon as it was possible to hold a mass in one of its parts. In 1184 the north portal in the nave was already changed again, so that emperor Friedrich I Barbarossa could declare the special privileges given to the city of Worms and its citizens, making the cathedral a Kaiserdom (Imperial Cathedral). This also happened in Speyer and Mainz in a similar manner.

The northern portal with the Barbarossa inscription above it.

The cathedral is decorated in all its parts with high-quality building materials. Numerous designs of fearsome figures, that are intriguingly appalling, depict those that had the mischief of being expelled by the church and also show the fight between good and evil. There are also representations referring to the Apocalypse of St. John. On the parapet wall of the eastern choir windows, lions are to be seen and in addition a female bear with her cub and a ram. Over it in the colonnaded gallery is a column with a man carrying an ape on the shoulder, thought to be the building master. The cornices at the eastern towers are decorated with grimacing faces. The outstanding ornamental decoration of the pilaster strips inside the choir area (not accessible for visitors) is remarkable. Here one can see a rare representation of St. Juliana, who hauls off a bound devil. In the nave the portals with their tympana are also important.

A closer look of the western chancel - check out the ornamental decoration of the pilaster strips.

The southern portal was changed around 1300 in the Gothic style influenced by the recently finished Strasbourg Cathedral, but the Romanesque tympanum was preserved and placed at the interior. Christ is surrounded by saints and bishops. Also at this portal are the lion sculptures: in the St. Anne Chapel there is a representation of Daniel in the lion pit. The portal, which led from the side of the nave into the Roman St. Nicolas Chapel, shows a portrait of Bishop Nicolas in the tympanum as a teacher, surrounded by his pupils. The writings in his opened up book are puzzling. Also at the northern portal, the bishop and emperor portal, the tympanum was turned inwards, when in 1184 the privileges given by Friedrich I Barbarossa to the citizens of the city were attached to the exterior. In the western choir, predominantly outside of the colonnaded gallery, monstrous figures like fire demons emerge again.

The Gothic southern portal. The women statues decorating it are particularly interesting as they are sculpted from the back (invisible to the passers-by) to show demons - a sign of the low place women held in medieval Europe and in church in particular.

The cathedral was richly painted inside: meagre remainders of these murals are still preserved. The oversize large representation of St. Christopher is most important at the east wall of the northern transept, from around 1200 A.D. Later additions enriched the appearance of the cathedral. Under Bishop Johann von Dalberg (1482 - 1503) the cathedral cloister was again established in late Gothic forms and decorated with sandstone relief, which show scenes from the life of Jesus. In early 19th Century the cloister was eliminated, the relief decorating now the northern side of the nave of the cathedral

A better view of the southern portal. This is used as the main entrance of the church.

The most important religious event however had little to do with the architecture of the cathedral: In April 1521 Martin Luther, appeared before emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms, in the bishop's palace (the area of today's Heylshof garden), and had to answer for his new teachings. He refused to recall his writings, and of course we all know that this led to the Reformation and changed the course of Western civilization.

Close look of the sculptures decorating the church on the outside.

The next centuries left visible traces to the cathedral. It was strongly damaged during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) by the Swedish troops. Forty years later, in the course of the city devastation during the Palatinate succession war, the cathedral interior was totally destroyed by fire after a failed attempt to blow up the building; the buildings in the surrounding area were also heavily damaged. The bishop residence, which had also served as accommodation for the kings and emperors of the Middle Ages coming to Worms, was obliterated.

The nave towards the eastern chancel - see the baroque altar at the far end.

In the following decades, new interior decoration with a baroque altar and quire were made. The altar was made by Balthasar Neumann, from 1738 to 1742 and implemented by Johann Wolfgang of the Auwera. It ranks among the highest quality altars of this time. The side altars of Johann Peter Jäger were developed between 1751 and 1759, and from 1755 - 1759 the Quire was remade by Franz Anton Hermann in the Rococo style. In 1792 Worms was conquered by the French revolution troops. The cathedral served them as stables and barracks. One can only imagine the damages suffered. Only in 1886 a first thorough renovation of the cathedral began. The western choir had to be renewed down to the foundation walls. The process was considered finished in 1935. But the additions were not finished yet.

Closer to the altar.

The interestingly coloured stained glass windows come from the second half of the 20th Century. Of special interest are the 1992 windows finished by Heinz Hindorf (1986-1988), the windows of the Mary Chapel, formerly St. Ägidien Chapel, with the life of Mary. In 20 scenes based on persons and important personalities, the diocese of Worms and its urban history are represented, from the earliest mentioned Bishop Victor at 345A.D. up to the destruction of the city at the end of World War II in 1945. And the process of restoration of course never ends.

The current organ was installed in 1985.

Together with Mainz and Speyer, the three Roman emperor cathedrals on the northern upper Rhine form a unique constellation of medieval sacred buildings. For the city of Worms, the cathedral has been for over 1000 years its landmark. The cathedral is the work of many generations. A joint work, which cannot at first sight be understood completely. Bishops, emperors and kings, workers, building people and stone-cutters, financial backers - and also the faithful - contributed to its building. They created a singular church from Roman and Gothic architectural styles.

Close up of the organ, perched high in the church nave - the oldest recorded organ was installed here in 1259 A.D.

P.S I. For every one to follow easily the architectural terms used in this and previous posts , some simple plans to explain the layout of a cathedral:

First we see the Amiens cathedral plan with a very clear explanation of all major parts of it. Click on the image to enlarge it and see the details better.

Here is the nave:

Then the aisles:

The transepts:

I hope this helps!

P.S II. Apart from wikipedia, invaluable help was this site (only in German).

Sunday, June 22, 2008

She finally danced away from us: A tribute to Cyd Charisse

Last Tuesday, my favourite dancer in Hollywood died at the age of 86. Cyd Charisse had had a brilliant career in Hollywood musicals, having danced in the best of them from her first major dancing role in "Singing In The Rain" partnered with Gene Kelly, to her Broadway début, at 70 years of age no less, in a role of an ageing ballerina in Grand Hotel. She even appeared in the video clip of Janet Jackson's song "Allright"

She was not the greatest of actresses. As Guardian writes in her obituary:

When she sang, she was dubbed. When she spoke, she was on cue, at best. But when she danced, there was no need for artifice. A couple of dozen times in the 1950s, she moved across a screen to music and brought us all close to heaven.

Memorable in her partnering with the two legends of film dance, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, Cyd was special because she was classy and sexy and an excellent dancer, not to mention beautiful. But a beauty unlike the prim and proper bottle blonde girls populating the major motion picture companies' rosters. When she began her career in films, as an actress who danced, she usually was cast as an exotic woman (even Polynesian) due to her dark hair and sultry features. She eventually chose to dedicate herself to dancing, beginning an illustrious career.

She was featured in the 2001 Guinness Book of World Records under "Most Valuable Legs", since a $5 million insurance policy was reportedly accepted on her legs in 1952. MGM was reputed to have insured her legs for a million dollars each, but Charisse later revealed that that had been an invention of the MGM publicity machine.

She was born Tula Ellice Finklea on March 8, 1922, in Amarillo, Texas. Her older brother nicknamed her Sid, a variation on Sis. In Hollywood, she changed the spelling to Cyd.

Ironically, she began ballet lessons at age 6, encouraged by her father, Ernest, after she developed a mild case of polio that left her with a slight atrophy on her right side. Who could then imagine how that frail child would turn out?

She was married to singer Tony Martin for 60 years, amazing even for a normal couple, let alone Hollywood. She stayed away from gossip and scandals, projecting to the very end the image of a real lady. She is survived by her husband, her two sons and grandchildren.

Here are three of her most iconic performances - and my top favourites:

1. From the film "The Band Wagon" with Fred Astair in 1953:

2. From the film "Dancing In The Rain" with Gene Kelly, in 1952:

3. From the film "Meet Me In Las Vegas" in 1956:

Farewell Cyd.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Worms: The city of myths and legends - part Two

After a second visit to the cathedral (to see the inside too as earlier the Sunday Mass was held and no tourists were allowed in), we headed off to see more historical sites. On our way through the old palace grounds (it does not exist today) we saw another strange bird looking us from a public building - could this be the town symbol? Could I take one home with me?

Eventually we found out that the town's symbol is the dragon (being the birthplace of the Nibelungen myth) - there were plenty around to remind you, here is the first we noticed:

We reached the main square, where one can see another example of the variety of architectural styles in Worms: the Dreifaltigkeitskirche (Trinity Church). A single-naved Baroque hall church with a five-sided chancel and a three-sided west façade influenced by French style which ends in the younger looking tower. It was built as a Lutheran town church from 1709-25 “at the place where Luther first professed his teachings” in place of the magnificent old town hall “Münze” (Luther actually stood in Bischofshof before Emperor Karl V).

It was designed by the Palatinate chief-engineer Villaincourt. Following the destruction of 1945, the interior was rebuilt according to plans from Prof. Otto Bartning, incorporating a more modern style. There is a cycle of 15 stained glass windows representing biblical scenes and the creed as well as a mosaic showing Luther in front of Emperor Karl V.

The Choir Door

What interested me at most were the amazing doors found at regular intervals around the church - the scenes depicted on them are incredibly designed and made.

The new City Hall is right next to the church, with a zodiac circle decorating it:

Another important church is St Martin’s chapter church. The buildings which once surrounded it have largely disappeared today. It is a three-aisled transept-less pillar basilica with a straight chancel end. The church has many typical architectural features of the 12th to 15th centuries, with red sandstone walls whose whitewash was recently stripped away. It is the tomb of the once influential Kämmerer family, known as the von Dalberg family, whose estates were situated in the neighbourhood of the church, in today’s Kämmererstraße.

Legend has it that there was a dungeon in the basilica, where St Martin was incarcerated in 357 since he had refused to fight in a battle for Emperor Julian.
St Martin’s church was probably endowed under bishop Burchard (1000–1025), who also had the Cathedral built, but there are hints that it may have been founded around the year 900. So todays building is definitely not the one St. Martin was incarcerated inside, but only shares the spot. The Romanesque church, along with the Dom and three others as well as the Romanesque old city walls, make the city Germany's second in Romanesque architecture only to Cologne.

Within the church one can see varied styles of decoration, from Romanesque to Modern. Impressive though are the statues of the evangelists, placed in pairs like this, with St. John and St. Marcus:

Out of the church (to go inside you have to pass through a small charming garden) and back in the city, we headed towards the Jewish neighbourhood, passing through the picturesque old city. To do that, we had to pas through the site of the Martinsporte, the wall gate through which Martin Luther entered Worms. Now there is a huge old building there (wall incorporated within) with a restaurant with the same name.

The Judengasse (Jewish quarter) is surrounded by the north east curve of the medieval town walls with its typical multi-storey houses. It was inhabited by Jewish people as early as the 10th Century. The first documented synagogue in Worms was built in the year 1034. The city is widely known as a former centre for Judaism. The Jewish Cemetery in Worms, dating from the 11th century is believed to be the oldest in Europe. Much of the Jewish Quarter was destroyed in the events known as Kristallnacht in 1938. Worms today has a very small Jewish community. and a recognizable Jewish community in Worms no longer exists. However, after renovations in the 1970s and 1980s, many of the buildings of the Quarter can be seen in a close to original state, preserved as an outdoor museum.

Photo of the Synagogue in Worms, from this blog.

A new synagogue was built in 1174/75 at the same time as the new Romanesque cathedral. Next to it's entrance is the original founder’s inscription fixed on the wall. The men’s synagogue was erected by workers of the cathedral guild. The architecture on the portal and the capitals inside the building are comparable with similar forms in the cathedral.

Worms Synagogue interior model

The men’s synagogue is an east-facing hall with two naves, divided by two pillars which support the vaults. The impost of the eastern pillar bears the inscription 1174/75. These capitals were counted as the most beautiful example of the so-called Worms or Strasburg capital.
The original pillars were destroyed during the devastation of the Third Reich but the portal is still the original one. We visited the synagogue, my first time ever in such a place. I must say it did not inspire to me the same feelings of awe and serenity that sacred places of worship do (whatever their vocation is), but it was thrilling none the less. We had to don a kippah or yarmulke to go inside, respecting the Jewish tradition - although the attendant there did not wear one until he saw us inside...

Men's Synagogue model

Then it was on to the ritual bath - the Mikvah, created in 1185/86. The supports here have simple square capitals. It is underground, next to the Synagogue, and the steep steps leading to the water pool inside are tricky to handle. As my camera's battery was playing tricks on me, I will use another blogger's photo of the bath, taken about a month before my trip there:

The Synagogue and the bath are near the Jewish Museum, which houses an impressive collection of models of Jewish buildings and important ceremonies, as well as documenting the history of the once thriving Jewish community here. I loved the artefacts on display, most of them impossible to see otherwise for one not of this faith. Below you can see how a typical Jewish house looked during Yom Kippur in the 18th century.

The Judengaas is near the old wall, still in good condition in some parts:

After a small walk, we discovered another church: St. Pauluskirche. The chapter church of the Dominican Monastery of St. Paul, it was built from 1002 on the remains of the Salian castle which Bishop Burchard had pulled down. This has been proven by excavations in the 1990s by Dr. Gruenewald and it is also well documented. The chapter church was originally built as a three-naved buttress basilica. The stone dome-shaped helm roofs of the towers that were built in the 13th century in the Byzantine-early Christian style of the burial church of Jerusalem are a visible monument to these times.

The chapter church with its Romanesque style was almost completely destroyed in the fires of 1689. But by 1717, the church was rebuilt, this time as a Baroque hall church with ceiling paintings showing scenes from the life of St. Paul. Spiritual life here was extinguished in the year 1797 with the advent of secularisation. St. Paul’s chapter was dissolved and profaned. Over the following decades it was used as a warehouse, a barn and finally from 1880 as a municipal museum. In the 1920’s, the order was interested in re-establishing itself and on 16th May 1929, the place of worship that is now the Dominican monastery was officially opened. During the bomb attacks of 21st February 1945, large parts of the monastery church fell to dust and ashes. Through the great support from the local population, the church was able to be rebuilt (with a new organ installed) and was once again in use by 1947.

The impressive new portal, cast in bronze, is the newest addition to the church (but not the most charming as you will later see). Made in 2007, the portal, a copy of the Bernwardstür of Hildesheim Dom replaced the previous cast iron one, due to war damage and the ageing and corrosion process of the material.

And lo and behold, there it was! Our third encounter with species of the flying kind cast in metal in Worms, this little chap was stuck on a pole in front of the church. I wonder what do the birds mean to Worms (since the dragon is the official mascot of the city). If anyone can find out more about them, please contact me. Strange little fellow!

Then we were on to the Luther monument, in a big park near the Dom, on the site of the former town moat. It is one of the best places in the city to rest for a while, with a nice little cafe (with delicious pastries) inside the park. Unfortunately only one wretched photo survived the battery dying and here it is:

Created in honour of the Reformer Martin Luther by Ernst Rietschel and unveiled on 25 June 1868, the Luther Memorial is the world’s largest Reformation Memorial. Here, the history of the Reformation is presented from its very beginning into the pre-Reformation era and on to the 19th Century. Martin Luther is placed in the centre with the pre-Reformers sitting at his feet. On the outer wall are important contemporaries of Luther. Between the wall and the statue of Luther are the names of other towns which also played an important role in the Reformation. It is like reading a whole history book, going around the memorial, seeing the names of all the people and cities that played a part in this important event.

Of course this is the city of the Nibelungen. I am sad to report we did not have time to visit the Nibelungen Museum (next time!). The city is the place of the Nibelungen Festival, with amazing celebrations and dramatisations of the myth taking place each year, centred on this fascinating German myth. There was a nice bronze monument inspired from the saga, decorated with effigies of the protagonists and verses from the lied inscribed on it.

I hope you liked this tour of Worms as much as I did. I will be coming back, ideally to watch the Nibelungen Festival and see all the things I missed (and the impressive Rhein bridge!).