Sunday, September 9, 2012

Rock-hewn churches, cave monasteries, and stones: longing for travel

I come from a country with mostly flat terrain, some hills and mountains, but not much, lots of lakes and forests, and as you probably guess not many stone buildings. There are some, but most old buildings are made of bricks. Yes, brick Gothic is there too. Even the huge crusaders' fortress, Malbork Castle, is made of 35 millions bricks. Brick Gothic has its own fascinating features, and Gothic bricks themselves can be fascinating, but as you probably also guess I like stone buildings too. Actually I am really fascinated by them: huge cathedral or tiny shepherd chalet, I am hooked.

 So, the church of Notre Dame in Vals, Ariege in France (Pyrenees area) I find extremely interesting, this video lets you in.   Take a look at the humble Virgin statue, 1: 34. All it is element Earth in is glory, and very humble and simple at the same time.Gothic cathedrals have their beauty, but this one has own character, very Zen.

The Notre Dame church is Vals is Romanesque, partially build on the rock, (semi-cave church to be exact), has also very interesting frescoes, humble looking and with quite strong Byzantine influences, unusual in France, in addition to the only depiction of archangel Pantasaron, and depiction of scene after birth of Jesus.  Byzantine in appearance, as this is more often  found in Byzantine art, and also has strong Catalan influences, which is not so surprising given this is a neighbouring area to this region. The site was surveyed by archaeologists, and the conclusion is that there was human presence for thousands of years, even it must have been a cult site, at which point of the location  cannot be exactly said now, but the presence of ceramics used for religious purposes was there. But the site was at its peak during early Middle Ages, during the Merovingian times. I should write about the frescoes on another occasion, as they deserve attention on their own.

Landscape at Cote d' Azure, France, by Heidi Fuchs

Those stone churches like the one in Vals, the rugged and humble ones are very much in harmony with the environment. Those rock formations, this time at Cote d'Azure area, in spite of being regular, are in perfect harmony with anything which surrounds them. I couldn't help myself to post this picture. They are simply a silent part of the environment, awe-inspiring. But when I was really young I couldn't warm up to this type of aesthetics, the vegetation was kind of too dried-up for me, I liked lush green seen in the North during the Summer. Now I am enthusiastic about it. But also take  a look at the cave monastery in France,  Beaucaire, abbey Saint-Roman, photo taken by G. Freihalter, (via wiki commons) you can zoom in very closely.

Cave churches or monasteries are rare, but there are still plenty for curious travelers.List of cave beauties on wikipedia

Quite a number of those is to be found in Bulgaria.And bellow is a picture from Bulgaria,  rock-hewn churches of Ivanovo, with Byzantine  frescoes.

Ivanovo rock-hewn monasteries, Bulgaria, by Denis Berthel, via wiki commons

And take a look at this photo of Todorka Mountain in Bulgaria. Makes me want to follow advice by my  Bulgarian expatriate friends and visit their home country. Sure, I would love to. Who can resist the lure of ancient art and architecture, and of such sundown  like this bellow on the magnificent mountain. But again, I need to postpone it again, even if at the momentI have what the Germans call Fernweh,  which means aching for the far away.
 The mountian bellow is Todorka Peak, in Bulgaria, by Evgeni Dinev, via. wiki common.
 Artlicle about this mountain mentions the legends too.

Todorka Peak, in Bulgaria, photo by Evgeni Dinev, via wiki commons

The author of the picture has more interesting photos of Bulgaria on Flickr, and his photo gallery there is great! Those pictures are my recent discovery on this media stream, and they make me think about maybe putting more links to Flickr albums by various photographers. Take a look at Evgeni Dinev's other awesome pictures.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Green: Paradise and the color symbolism, history of color # 12

Green in Medieval times had rather varied symbolic meaning, depending if was used in the religious or secular context. In religious art it was a symbol of eternal happy existence, Paradise, and soul's hope for eternal bliss. Green robes symbolized eternal happiness through salvation, and often martyrs were dressed in red and green.

 As it was a happy color, specially the emerald was praised as the most beautiful jewel, in which all marvel of nature was incarnated and made imperishable. It was considered also an earthly representation of Paradise, and written about by monks. No wonder: emerald has strong color and is translucent, has light, and light and strong hues very important for the medieval aesthetics.

The painting on the left is by Hieronymus Bosch, who is often labeled as being  Northern Renaissance painter, but there is still so much of medieval elements in his paintings, also in this one. Bosch: a very mysterious painter, and lots was written about his speculated following of heresies. But this painting is quite conventional for Bosch's standards. It is the  left wing of the Last Judgement triptych, in the collection Gemaldesammlung der Akademie der Bildenden Kunste, in Vienna. It shows the fall of angels, and the story of creation of Adam and Eve, temptation and expulsion form Paradise. (Please click on the picture to view it bigger). It is about bliss, heavenly and earthly, and primordial sense of innocence, and about loss all of this. Also we see Jesus in Paradise. Why? Jesus was in medieval mystical writings and systems considered the Second Adam, the one who brings the Paradise back to the fallen human race.

But the hope of salvation was the expectation of something bigger, something which  could not be lost anymore, not a conditional existence in a Paradise in the story depicted in the Bosch's painting. It was about something above also the secular symbolism of green, which was found very limiting and temporary. In the secular world green was standing for Spring, new love, fertility. It was real hope for something beyond all  limitations, it was about the  life eternal, and the color of life was green, archetype of course,  but it got a new dimension: a heavenly one.

 And as such was totally elevated, wasn't anymore about life like in the Nature, where seasons  pass, or impermanent state of natural fertility which was bound with rebirth, suffering, aging and death. This life was about absolute perfection which never faded.

 And the hope, longing  for such existence was made one of the most important Christian virtues, (along with faith and unconditional love), and of course the color of it was green, because already showed symbolically what the all hope was about.

Mosaic of the apse int eh church of St Apolinare in Classe, Ravenna, Italy. Thank you Berthold Werner for releasing this picture into public domain.
 This happy symbolism of green came from the earlier Christian art- early frescoes and mosaics. In this post I follow the line form the youngest to the oldest art. Now a mosaic which is c. 900 years older than Bosch's painting. The picture above shows VI c. mosaic with St Apolinare in Paradise, adoring the cross, sheep around him, a very typical composition. Above, on the wall, Christ is giving his blessing, and we have the repetition of Paradise and the sheep. Click on the picture to see it bigger.

An earlier mosaic, this time from V c, is on the entrance wall of the mausoleum of Galla Palcidia, Also in Ravenna , Italy.

Jesus as the Good Shepherd, mosaic, V c. Galla Placidia Mausoleum, Ravenna, Italy
This type of mosaic is part of the iconographic tradition of  mosaics seen in the one with St Apolinar. The iconography is overlapping. But here we have Christs who is depicted as beardless youth was the typical figure in early Christian art. He is not the Pantacrator Jesus giving blessing, he is tender and pensive, and all sheep are looking is his direction.This was a common way of depicting Jesus: among his sheep, in Paradise, not hanging on the cross. He was shown as such even in earlier art, in a fresco, still in the catacombs, also as a good shepherd. One stream of the symbolism of the color green has a long lineage dating from early Christian art.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Paradise on Earth-the legend

Legends were extremely important during the Middle Ages, sure. Some were the source of psychological strength, like the legend of the terrestial paradise, which gave people sense of hope and was interchangeable with the idea of heaven. First during the Renaissance this belief  faded away, but not completely, and when people stopped to believe in the paradise on Earth, their belief system became more gloomy, more fearful of devil and the punishing God. The disappearance of the belief  in terrestrial paradise is not the only factor that the times became very somber: more of natural catastrophes, more wars, including religious wars, legacy of black death,  increased activity of Inquisition, all combined with fire and brimstone preaching through XV-XVII c. gave way to a more depressive mood.paradise was no more to be found on the Earth full of suffering.

Medieval people were more optimistic: they believed that Paradise existed on Earth in their present times in some far away land, and trusted that some travelers indeed have seen it with their own eyes. Ancient manuscripts have maps, the Paradise was located somewhere in Armenia, China, India, later in Japan: in general it was very far  in the East. The Tree of Life was there, wonderful climate, of course vegetation was fabulous and abundant, with plenty of fruit to eat. There was not even a glimpse of darkness, day time always, never falling of a night,  and the Paradise was filled with light seven times brighter than the daylight on the rest of the planet.  The multitude of precious stones of many kinds was joy for the eyes. Abraham and Jesus was there too. This illuminated page from shows Christ on the lap of Abraham, with personifications of fours rivers in the circles of four corners of the mandorla. Those rivers are Euphrates, Gihon, Pison and Hiddekel were the four great rivers of the Paradise.

The Three of Life was in the center, also a Fountain of Life, which cured all imperfections a human  body could have. Sabine Baring-Gould wrote about this myth ( Curious Myths of the Middle Ages), mentioned maps pointing the location of the Paradise, but also writes about the manuscripts in which the legend is recorded as a  true fact, also he lists the various authors of the narration. For example he states that St Brendan took the journey to Paradise because one monk traveled there, and told about the wonder for this place, and St Brendan became very curious. St Brendan went to the East, very far, and reported on the Paradise he visited, and told about going further until he came to the place no one alive was allowed to cross.  According to Sabine-Baring a map in the Cambridge collection depicted the Paradise as a round island  located close to the mouth of Ganges. According to another legend  Alexander the Great was eager to see this land of delights, but hadn't possessed proper mind, as it was an inner Paradise, not the physical one. But the most detailed account was given in the Icelandic narration of Eirkes Saga Vidforla, form XIV c. mixing pagan and Christian beliefs. The following centuries the Paradise narrations didn't die completely out, the occurred as "learned  treatises."

What I was not aware of is the fact that the legend was also given strong  theological validity, and is found often in the books of sermons. Books of sermons in general are quite numerous, and give a good insight into medieval religiosity,  they also repeat legends. The master dissertation by Gavin S. Fort gives examples how this legend was functioning in religious life, specially interesting is the relation of this legend to medieval  monasticism. Monasteries were supposed to be images of Paradise on Earth, were people had the great opportunity to cleanse their souls ans enter the state of perfection, and have angelic habits. In monastic life celibacy was equated with the attempt to live like angels, than celibacy was a requirement in monastic life, later the argument for angelic life became a point in deciding that the celibacy should be extended to priests also. Later the belief  in a geographical location of the Paradise developed into the abstract meditative practice on the inner Paradise. Are you interested in additional reading? I recommend the Master degree thesis by Gavin S. Fort about Paradisal language in Medieval reform

  Take a look at this mysterious  diagram of a mystical Paradise  from the Rare Manuscripts Collection of Walters Museum of Art, by Conrad of Hirsau, XIII c.

I didn't find the remnants of this legend in today's Europe, not a full narrative but just some short mention about which I am not sure if this is  truly oral tradition as told,  but this fragment is similar what wrote Baring-Gould. According to this mention the Paradise was sealed by the walls of fire, and is guarded by an angel and no one could step in. The walls of fire are relating to some medieval reports about inaccessibility, (Baring-Gould), the angel with sword is of course the cherubim of the Genesis.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Dark Ages? Not everywhere: Byzantine love for classics

In popular opinions Dark Ages were taking over Europe until the Renaissance came with revival of classic traditions. This is only partially true. Byzantine Empire continued the tradition of Greece and Rome, combined with Eastern influences. Medieval renaissances of Europe, to be exact Western and Central Europe were brought by closer contact with Byzantine Empire.

 Byzantium was the name of the city, which was renamed by the emperor Constantine Nova Roma, meaning the New Rome, as it became new capital, but it was also renamed  Constantinople . It became Europe's biggest city, it had half million inhabitants.The people who inhabited this empire called themselves Romans, the empire was called Romania. Greek was spoken, as the local language and the language of educated elites, nothing unusual, even in Rome educated people spoke Greek, as Romans were totally admiring Greek culture and copied a lot from it. The library of Constantinople was very prominent, Byzantine equivalent of the great library of Alexandria. Ancient writings were not only preserved here, but also studied and copied, to keep the knowledge from disappearing. There were also periods of additional stronger interests in classics, such as Macedonian Renaissance of the X c. from which time the page of the manuscript called the Psalter of David is dated. King David is depicted as a Byzantine emperor, but the other two figures are very classical. No wonder: as Rome had  monuments of the classical past, so did this area of Byzantine Empire.

Penitence of David, Paris Psalter,  X c.Biblioteque Nationale, Paris

We see David twice: sitting on his throne, and also bowing feeling remorse for all the bad deeds  he has done. Classical figures are here- the admonishing prophet, and the female figure which is the personification of penitence. She is dressed in green and red, the colors later seen often in robes of Mary Magdalene. Why we know that this is penitence? One thing is that personifications were common in the art of Antiquity, another prof is her name written above. It was common in Byzantine art to include captions about the figures to indicate who was who. (People in Byzantine Empire were quite literate, the culture was vibrant). Also above the prostrating David we have the caption which spells his name, that the viewers shouldn't be confused. The writing connected to the female figure there is the word "Metanoia," which term meant repentance in Greek. Meant changing one's mind, turning point. The flagellants of Latin Christianity gave it bad connotations. Penitence was about making amendments, changing mind, changing lifestyle.

But Byzantine Empire was of course more sophisticated than Latin West, were tribal warfare and other struggles went on through some longer periods of time, but still medieval times were not as dark as it is held in popular imagination. The movies may show this time as era of ignorance, superstition, dirt, illness and decline, as this imagery adds drama, but the times were more lively and enlightened. Rather during the Renaissance, or general during the XV-XVII c.Europe had even more dark turmoils: more of  illness, witch hunts, inquisition, wars,  fears of devil,belief that magic equals science, etc. Even medieval universities were not all about faith, as is often assumed: popular belief is that science believed the Earth was flat, or in medicine there was no dissection of corpses, the medical knowledge of Antiquity wasn't practiced, etc. Not true, we know thanks to explosion of knowledge about the Middle Ages during he XX c. So, why the term Dark Ages?

First putting down on the predecessors occurred during the Renaissance, in order to point out the new achievements. Gothic art was called Gothic in a derogative way, as Goths were considered barbarians. The Renaissance mind was so enamored in the nostalgia for antiquity, that they couldn't really appreciate the art and achievements of earlier generations. This lack of appreciation went thorough centuries, and the era of Enlightenment in order to contrast is own achievements needed the idea contrasting light and darkness, needed the term Dark Ages. In addition the term Age of Faith was used, in order to brand the times as irrational and dark. The Enlightenment prided itself not only for its light, but also for reason as opposite to faith. There were even attempts to create temples of reason in churches.

Byzantine manuscript, X c. Paris Psalter, King David Playing Harp, very much in the tradition of classical frescoes

During the XIX c. the scholars were talking still about Dark Ages as the time from which were not too many written records left, but there was also medieval fashion . (Pre-Rafaelites, Romanticism, Gothic Revival, etc). This intense interest in all things medieval was combined with the Romanticism's love for mystery, the  fantastic, emotional and the irrational. Hard reason of previous era wasn't the fashionable idea. During the XX c. however, the term Dark Ages started to be criticized, in light of the new scholarship, and the term was used in a more neutral way, and even the neutrality of the term was disputed. It was argued that the scholars may know that the usage isn't negative, but the general public will not interpret it such way. And the criticism was right on target.

And myself I used the term provocatively in the title of this post. Still, I think in popular culture Byzantine Empire doesn't get enough credit, and this was an empire of great sophistication and influence, and lasted of a millennium. Holy Roman Empire lasted almost a millennium, but there were empires which existed for much shorter time: The British Empire, Austrian Empire, Empire of Austria and Hungary, Bulgarian Empire, and others. So, maybe it is time to refresh the memory of this part of common history? But still, I think the movie industry, mainstream literature, computer games, TV, advertisements, press,some popular chanels historical documentary movies, and others are still in the dark about not-so Dark-Ages.

Quite often there is a misconception of great Rome which fall:yes, Rome was sacked, but before became very empoverished because of Byzantium. The idea of "fall of Roman Empire" first was again talked about during he Renaissance, by popes. It was an idea supporting propaganda: Pagan empire which "fall," quite clever idea, remember, there was the schism between Byzantium and Latin Christianity. It is not very historically accurate common misconception, but quite often still, in XXI c. has place in the classroom.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Byzantine tradition: icons, garments and liturgy

Once strolling through the old streets close to Krakow's Old Town Market Square I heard amazing singing, Orthodox choir. I stood on the street and listen, assuming someone had a nice CD playing, the sound coming from one of the open windows. But listening more carefully I heard that the sound came  the courtyard. Knowing from experience that those centuries-old houses quite often have beautiful an intriguing yards surrounded by walls, I went, slowly. Somehow the music pulled me. Than I saw the sign, "Orthodox Church," and an arrow. I followed, after climbing some steps in one of the old buildings I entered a church which was housed among apartments, not a regular Orthodox church building I normally knew and view from afar, but never visited during liturgy. There I saw the choir: three women with white kerchiefs covering their heads, and with them was one man, all very focused and singing beautifully. The congregation was very small, but there were icons on the walls, with  lamps hanging before them, and the liturgy was celebrated. In my country Orthodox Christians have a reputation of being excellent singers, and here was the proof, there were just so good that I was thinking it was a CD!  After the liturgy people were kissing the icons. All was very touching, I was moved by the music, liturgy, and by the solemn atmosphere. Something like in the videos below, specially the second one, the link.

The icon here is Christ Pantecrator, XXI c. by anonymous maker for tourist industry in Bulgaria, but I love it anyway!

Religions don't bother me, (unless there is some kind of abuse going on), but in general I find a lot of beauty in this kind of human involvement. The word religion comes form the words re-ligare, which means reconnect. I like this interpretation of the word's origins.

I will be writing more about Byzantine traditions, as they are important. They are part of Europe's cultural heritage, and without Byzantium there wouldn't be Italian Renaissance as we know it, nor it would there be European heritage as we know it. There the traditions of  Greece and Rome lived while in Western Europe it was a strong break. Not that ancient  philosophies were not read in the West during the Middle Ages, after all Latin Europe had medieval renaissances, but those parts of Europe were culturally developing in their own direction, and were much poorer.

Byzantine art was a mixture of classical Greek and Roman  traditions influenced by Eastern mysticism and love for imagination. Icons represented Jesus, or Mary, saints and angels, but also in its highly stylized canon there was representation of aesthetics and fashions of the imperial court. So, Jesus and Mary are dressed in robes of imperial purple, or the saints and angels depicted as dressed like important people of the imperial court. Icons didn't change much. Of course there are various schools of icon painting, and there also some influences among those schools which are more Westernized, but in general the icons are preserving the past very well, now and here. The tradition is followed rather strictly, and we can see how people were dressed long time ago, still can today see the stripes of fabric called loros still part of the garments, or see the color which are in the range of hue variations of real purple of Tyre. We can see how some courtiers looked like at the court of Constantinople, which was than the city of amazing luxury.

What fascinates me that when you look at the traditional icons or frescoes in Byzantine style and you see the liturgical garments used today, you recognize that some garment are very similar to what we see on the icons.Byzantine fashion of a millennium ago. I hope you will enjoy the beauty of the chants, and the visual part, and see similarities of the garments worn by the clergy mirroring the garments of the saints on the frescoes. It is like being among the people of Constantinople of old.

And take a loo at the fresco at 8:45, the creature with one face and six red wings with some writing (reads Cherubim) is an archaic depiction of a cherubim, one of the highest angels in angelic hierarchy. Stained glass window at 12: 25 shows also a cherubim or a seraph, those were often interchangeable. This is a sequence of very interesting and beautiful  pictures, not a liturgy video. Enjoy!

And just  in case you want more, here is another video! The piece sung here is Agni Parthene, a non-liturgical hymnopoem to Virgin Mary. Have blessed time!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Dragon of the Wawel Castle, Kracow, and some dragon examples

On the left is a snapshot from small part of the courtyard of  the Wawel Castle in Cracow. I revisited this city, I liked to go there since I was in my late teens. When I was a child, like every kid  I read the legend about the dragon, which is actually a founding myth of the city of Cracow. And the dragon's den is still there, the cave at the Wawel Castle Hill, open for the tourists to walk trough its dimly lit entrails, than coming out to the light at the other side, toward the Vistula River. It would be a perfect initiatory cave for pre-Christian pagan worship including symbolic death and rebirth. Only a part is open for tourists, the rest is the domain of the scientists, also the rare small animals living there.Would be also too difficult to pass through, even though the names such as "Coronation Hall" could be enticing.

In the founding legend the terrible dragon lived in this cave, and the voracious  beast terrorized the people who needed to give him lots of cattle as an offering every week. When the dragon wasn't satisfied, he used to devour humans also. The latest version, if I am right dating  from the XVI c. says that a clever shoemaker apprentice decided to slay the monster. No one really believed that he would come back alive, but he did. He filled a sheep skin with sulfur and gave to the hungry dragon. The beast devoured it in an instant, and felt very thirsty right away. The dragon went to the river and drunk, and drunk, but his thirst was not possible to quench. He drunk so much that his belly exploded, everyone was saved, and the courageous and the clever young man was elected the leader of the tribe. In the other version the savign hero, Krak, when he died after prosperous reign, thankful  people with their own hands and effort created a mount, still in Cracow, kurghan -type construction. But archeological excavation of the kurghan (usually a grave mount) didn't result in any finding of an ancient burial.

The older version of the legend, not much known, as was less flattering.This relation dates from the XII c. and was written down by Kadlubek, the early chronicler, and  involves two sons of the tribal leader Krak. The brothers killed the terrorizing beast the same way as the shoemaker's apprentice did, but one of the brothers killed the other, hungry for power. As he returned he told his father that the brother was killed by the dragon, and as a hero he became the new tribal leader. But in two years the fratricide was revealed, and he was expelled from the community. Wanda  the princes became the ruler instead, and she also lead army to battle against invading Germanic powers. The legendary Wanda and the versions of the legends about her was used as argument supporting the reign of some of the female monarchs in Poland, but sadly  also became a part of anti- German sentiments fueling XIX c. Polish nationalism.
Sebastian Münster, woodcut, Cosmographia Universalis, 1544
 Wawel Hill was inhabited already during the stone age, and pagan temple was close to the Vistula river.Cracow was  neighbouring the Moravenses terra Moravia, the short-lived Kingdom of Moravia. First mention about Cracow as a city comes form X c. and the city than was ruled by one of the Přemyslids, a cruel prince who was indeed charged with fratricide.He was the descendant of legendary princes Libuse, and here we come to another ancestor named Krak.  Krak, or Krok was also mentioned in Czech chronicles as father of three daughters, one of them, Libuse became the legendary founder of city of Prague. She was also the matriarch of the Přemyslid dynasty which ruled until XIV. c. and had a flaming she-eagle as their family crest. Prague is still the capital of the Czech Republic, Cracow was the capital of Poland until the end of XVI c. when Warsaw became a seat of Polish kings and place where they were elected.

In general in early history Cracow was thriving, until the ravages of the war with Sweden which was called the Deluge, as created as much destruction as WW II, and big parts of the Wawel Castle were burned and looted. Some parts of the buildings at the Wawel Hill were not  rebuilt anymore, but still the place has a lot to offer. It was a castle of proud monarch who wanted to show their glory. Wawel Castle was occupied by the Nazis, and in German  also can be described as Wawelburg, (Wawelthe name, Burg is castle, German combined words). But is not the same as the Wawelburg  the rumored place of the Holy Grail of also rumored Nazi mysticism. But Wawel Castle has visitors who are searching for the energy of the mystical stone, to the annoyance of the Wawel Castle personnel.

Dragon legends were common in Europe, (and not only there). The dragon of Wawel Castle is one of the main figures in the founding myth, and three is also the theory that Kadlubek just wrote his version of the legend about Alexander the Great battling a dragon, as this legend was very popular during the Middle Ages.Kadlubek was educated in Italy and France, where the legend was popular, known as The Romance about Alexander the Great, based on writing by pseudo-Callistenes. So, we don't know if this was truly a legend in local oral tradition, or Kadlubek's embellishment.

The old  architectural details of the Wawel castle show dragons, also two churches at the Wawel Hill  were dedicated to St George and St Michael, the known in Christian legends as dragon slayers.Churches were not rebuild anymore, just parts of the walls are still remaining. And at the entrance to the Wawel Cathedral, on the left,  are hanging  bones of a mammoth and a whale which were presented and believed through the ages as the true and real  bones of the dragon himself- until the development of more modern of sciences. The pictures of St George and St Margaret, both victorious over dragons, are also present. Dragon was a symbol of evil,  in iconography. But the Slavic dragons also have their peculiarities, and while for ex. the crest of Moscow has St George slaying dragon,  another Slavic capital, Ljubljana has a protective dragon in its crest.  Also quite a number of cities have dragons in their crests, not slayed, just being themselves, as they were also believed to be benevolent.
A heraldic dragon, but not a viwern
But also Arthurian legends were adapted in Poland, and wivern the green dragon of King Arthur becomes the heraldic animal of the Piast  princes of Czersk, visible on seals, crests of cities and towns, also appears on coins. This article is in Polish, but shows the crests with the green wivern. See wiverns in Poland.  Czersk line of Piasts died out in XVI c. Unusual phenomenon in heraldry, as the dragon as such was clearly a negative symbol then. Dragon appeared also as crest of the voivods of Transylvania during the XIV c.

 According to scholar from Maria Sklodowska-Curie University in Lublin, Wojciech Gorczak, Polish heraldic symbols are not well known in Europe, and a common misconception is that the wiverns  appear only in the heraldry of  British Isles, as connected to the Arthurian legends. Gorczak quotes sources where the King Arthur is called "the highest dragon," and of course the dragon is the symbol of the ruler himself. So, quite positive. But also dragon in the same form, but different color as King Arthur's is the symbol of the Mazovian Piasts of Czersk, and became also a territorial symbol.Gall the Anonymous, the chronicler used the word draco-dragon, describing the ruler of Czersk. In Europe only in the Arthurian legends the ruler is described as dragon in a positive manner (King Arthur as dragon) and the Piasts of Czersk. By the way, the Excalibur-like sword is included in the Polish verion too.

In addition Gorczak found that in the old chronicles form the XIII c. are quite number of similarities with the Arthurian legends, and the Grail story.  Presence of Holy Grail legend and place bound with it I mentioned only shortly before in another post. It seems that Poland had a phase of adaptation of Arthurian legends, and some real historical rulers were personifications of common ideas of the romance literature. If you are interested to know more, here is the article by above mentioned scholar, in Polish. Google translator makes funny mistakes, like for example making Industry from the name Przemysl, or Monet is instead of coins, but Polish is complicated. It is easy to understand what the article is about. Interesting how the stories were adapted. Interesting how the rulers were eager to present themselves, or the chroniclers were eager to present them as fitting the ideal of the Arthurian romance.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Mountain of Venus: legend about Tannhauser

Recently I saw with my husband the movie Wagner's Dream. Totally fascinating documentary (and my husband told me it was very interesting to watch me watching the movie, my reactions, etc.) It was about the Ring of Nibelungen cycle, but this brings me to Tannhuaser, the other hero of Wagner's operatic world, and the legend about Mountain of Venus, a real mountain called Venusberg close to Horschelsberg. Located between Gotha and Eisenau in Thuringia, Germany. This area was explored by ethnographers of the XIX c., the Grimm Brothers included.Certain legends are as significant in German cultural heritage as the legends of King Arthur in Britain. This one is about Tannhauser, a knight and  a poet who supposedly took part in the literary competition at the Wartburg Castle, along with few of other historically known knight-poets.The real life Tannhauser (or Tannhauser, as his name was also written), as a poet wrote very erotic and easy-going pieces, not as refined as the courtly love poems by the other knight-troubadours (Minnesangers in German,  literally singers of love).

The Mountain of Venus itself is located somehow close to the  Wartburg castle. Here according to records (which may or may not be true) took place a competition between Minnensangers, who were German troubadours. Among others beside Tannhuaser very famous names come up: Walter von der Vogelweide, also Wolfram von Eschenbach, who is probably most known as the author of the Grail romance; Perzival.
You can see  them and their poetry in the Codex Manese manuscript

Here at  this mountain  with caves,  according to the legend, Tannhauser, their real life peer,  knight and poet,  met the goddess of love, Venus herself. She was surrounded with her court of beautiful women, and invited him to her subterrean world. He followed gladly, as he was a very sensual person, and through they entered  through the cave into the earth. The knight resided there for seven years. Some versions talk about one year. He enjoyed the easy fulfilment of all his carnal desires, and was very happy, unaware of passing time.  But finally he started to  feel empty, longing for earth, in spite of all delights, including pleasures given by Venus herself.

Venus Cave bellow, auhtor: Metilsteiner.
Venus Cave, Venusberg Mountain, Thuringia
Venus, however, didn't allow him to leave. When he was thinking of Virgin Mary, yearning for freedom, the Virgin appeared in an instant, and all charm of the under-terrestial world disappeared. At once Tannhauser found himself at the feet of the Wartburg Castle.

Wartburg Castle,  by Robert Scarth                          .
Yes, the same where Luther was given protection, the house of St. Elizabeth, and the place of competition of Minnensangers, and featured in Wagner's opera Tannhauser. Click on the picture to see high resolution.
Here he felt free , and in a state of rapture collected flowers. It was a kind of religious ecstasy. He decided to confess all his sexual debauchery, and ask Got for forgiveness. However, every priest who heard his confession was too shocked and didn't want to grant him absolution, telling that God will never, ever forgive such sins. Tannhauser even went to Rome in despair, confessed to the pope Urban IV himself, and asked for  forgiveness again. All this made the stern pope very upset: he said that first his pontifical staff  "will rather grow green, and bloom than God will forgive such lust." Depressed Tannhauser departed, decided to go back to the Venusberg, as there was no place for him on earth, he went back to the goddess and her realm of carnal pleasures. But after three days the pastoral staff of the pope greened with lush leaves, and flowered profusely. The pontiff send his  messengers after the desperate knight, but they couldn't find him anymore. The people in the village close to the  Venusberg told them he passed by, with somber face.He was never found again.

Picture on the left  is Tannhauser himself, from page of Codex Manese where some of his poetry are compiled, among them also a repentance song. The Codex is an anthology of medieval German poetry. The legend of Tannhauser made to German literature during XIX c. when literati  started to be interested in folklore and medieval world. But the strongest increase of popularity came after Richard Wagner's opera, named after the poet and retelling the Venus  legend, and the story about   competition at the Wartburg Castle, combined with Wagner's own creative liberties.

The Venusberg story is very interesting for three reasons: first it talks about real-life poet and maybe a real-life poetic competition, fits the history of a  personality, and his creative output into a legend. Second, it is an old legend Christianized, similar as the grail story was Christianized,it is a hybrid. It shows dynamism of a society which was in transition from culture of paganism to conforming into a new religion, and still quite new fedaul reality. The third reason: it gives a moral lesson about forgiveness, which it is not granted freely, and forces the protagonist to go back to the old ways.It shows that people are not forgiving, but the divine forgives. A lot of moralising here: about the goddess Venus and her court, personality of the  poet knight, but also about the hard hearts of the clergy.No one is spared, and in this story the divine gives a lesson that forgiveness should be granted freely and quickly, and this is a true loving way. The story is of course about carnal and spiritual love, and about serving a lady, but it is so multi layered. This were also times when Europe clarified its own ideas of romantic love.

Regarding an old legend combined with Christianity; Sabine Baring-Gould mentioned this one  in his book Curious Myths of the Middle Ages. He reported that the legend appears in its basic version in many countries in Europe, on which the local folklore built other layers. No confession and clerical invlovement is seen except Taanhauser story.Which I was not aware of. Basic version is that under-terrestrial beings want to contact human beings. A man comes in contact with them, has a very beautiful women as  a lover. He longs for earth, and escapes. However, he needs to return, as the earthly world is not receptive to him anymore. Baring-Gould gave examples of stories which have variations, but retain the basic roots. A very folklorist  view. Sometimes a pagan goddess, sometimes the goddess Venus herself  is present, and there is also a motive of ring and the marriage. There are also more mountains of Venus in Germany, also in Italy, there called Venus mountains, or mountains of Sybil. (I wonder if this has to do with Roman presence there). Baring-Gould also mentions that  the story of Tam Lin, tells stories from Catalonia, Farroe Islands, Sweden, Pomerania, Switzerland, etc. and mentions written versions by various ancient authors.Some are more related, some are more distant relatives.

 I also see now the connection between a legend from Poland, about a young knight who went through the waves into the heart of the lake to be married to some beautiful woman who held a court there. He was telling his loyal horse-or loyal friend who was a rider, depends on version- to go to and to tell his family he wedded a beautiful lady of the lake. The mother of the knight in the bottom of the lake knew the  he will never come back. Poland has of course many stories about aquatic world, courts and the cities, as there are so many lakes.

Tannhauser was present among supernatural beings, under the earth. Main ruler of the court here is chtonic type of the goddess, in spite of the goddes being Venus,a conflation. And the idea of under-terresatial folk itself reminds me of a huge bestseller, kind of  the Da Vinci Code of the turn of XIX c. It was a novel about Vril and subterrean super race living in  caves under the earth. The novel was an enormous financial success. Many people actually believed in reality of such race, and this belief was rumored to linger for long. Some of the Nazis supposedly believed it, it was believed in some occult circles, in Theosophy belief in Vril still exists to some extend. It was a novel, but seriously captured people's belief in reality. Vril, similar like the grail, is the idea about power granted, about  fulfillment of wishes. No wonder that both, the grail and the vril resonated so strongly with the audiences.  Recently we had The Secret phenomenon, which falls in the same category:  power of fulfilment of wishes, power of belief. Law of Attraction, another magical world for the frustrated. But I prefer the legends, I confess, Vril and the Secret don't attract me.  Are they an equivalent of today's court of Venus, where first after some time one sees the illusion?

As for the caves in Venusberg: local society hopes they will attract tourism, and the caves were explored. In them are diverse colonies of rare  bats, which hopefully will not suffer in case tourism increases one day. Iron bars at the entrance of some caves make a lot of sense, and here is a responsible way of protecting nature.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Yellow: Triumph and Fall, history of color #11

Yellow is unusual in art history regarding the attitudes people had toward this hue: it was held in high esteem until did fall low.

First during medieval times yellow was replacing gold when it was too expensive for the project, like for example usage for the background in frescoes, large surfaces. Sometimes of course, gold was used on frescoes also, it depended on how much a community could spend. Yellow was a much cheaper alternative and still represented divine light. In an earlier post I wrote about symbolism of gold as representing divine light, as the color symbolism is theological). But yellow wasn't used symbolically only, also when needed to give some beautfil robe to a saint, for composition purposes, the color was used freely.

Chromatically yellow is also the lightest color from all chromatic ones. (White is non chromatic). Also it was used in illuminated manuscripts, as we see in this masterwork of medieval art: the book of Kells, from Iona, dating from the times when Irish monks spread their culture and knowledge in Europe. Columba was visiting Reichenau, as I told you before. This folio showing Christ enthroned makes use of yellow, which is fine of a color to even line the cross and painted as color of Jesus' hair. The birds are peacocks, about symbolism of this bird in this this article. The circles at the feet, surprise, surprise! Those are angels, called Thrones, often depicted as wheels, sometimes as wheels with eyes and wing, specially in medieval Byzantine art. Wanted to mention it, as they are not uncommon, and people wonder about what is it. But also can mean the heads of the nails of the cross. The book Christ is holding represents the divine law.

Christus Enthroned, Book of Kells, Ireland, library of Trinity College, Dublin, via wiki commons

 The figures are angels, one angel is a seraf as the posture of his wings indicates (lower corner on the right, will write more about angels another time). This part of a wonderful lecture later describes the peacocks too: as incorruptibility of Christ's flesh, with chalices and hosts.

Closer to Renaissance the elevation of yellow to color of light started to diminish, when art started to be more realistic, the golden backgrounds fell out of fashion. Now yellow started to be viewed as color of falshood and treason. It was used to brand those who were considered socially less acceptable: prostitutes, Jews, heretics. Jews were ordered by law to wear yellow badge. About yellow as color of prostitution I wrote already when I wrote about Mary Magdalene.

And as we see in this fresco by Giotto, yellow was assigned to bad people.Jesus has a loving peaceful face, he is dressed in red and blue, Judas in all-yellow garment.
Giotto, Kiss of Judas, Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy, via wiki commons

Cathars after Albigensian Crusade were forced to wear yellow cross, as badge of shame. Of course they couldn't be Cathars by choice, they needed to provide prof of marriage and repent, than their live were saved. Repentant heretic was important, as too many heroic personalities burned on stake wasn't good advertisement for ideological side of religion. Some of  information about Cathar religion we know from writing of a Cathar convert to Catholicism. Those crosses called las debanadoras were to be worn always outside the house. It depended on the depth of involvement in Catharism judged by the Inquisition in a trial of , if a person needed to wear one cross or two (front and back). Those crosses were usually six inches wide and had height of eight inches. Unless one was of aristocratic birth, the badge of shame was to be worn for the rest of someones life. Many simply didn't comply, or were unrepentant. It was not a simple badge of shame:Cathars didn't like the cross as a symbol, this refusal of the symbol was written in their religious philosophy. It was much more cruel punishement than a known more widely and younger scarlet letter for adultery. Following link will bring you the wikipedia articles about Cathars and yellow cross 

As for heresies: they were not considered a religious offenders only, but in Western Europe heresies were viewed also as treason against the state, and considered anarchy. This was also one of the  reasons why it was relatively easy to prosecute those who didn't conform. Rulers were offended by heresies, specially because almost every heresy also criticized materialism of the status quo, preached poverty or renunciation of material world, Catharism did it to.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Purple, the Imperial Color, History of Color #10

Byzantine Emperor Justinian, mosaic in St Vitale church, Ravenna, Italy

I wrote about red and blue as colors of power in my recent entry. But the ultimate color of power was purple, before red and blue rose to higher prominence. It was before the sack of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade in 1204, which I mentioned in the entry about the holy blood relic in Reichenau and Bruges. Constantinople never recovered enough to produce purple dyed clothes again. This fact might give you some insight how expensive purple dye was.

 The purple dye was so expensive that it was a subject of sumptuary laws, and mostly restricted for the imperial or royal families. It was produced from Murex sea snail, and tens of thousands were needed to dye one piece of garment. Color purple took the name from the dye, wasn't the description of color itself. The price of dye was equal of weight in gold.  The main center of the craft of dyeing in purple was Tyre, in Phoenicia. The name Purple of Tyre comes from it. This purple wasn't the hue we perceive today as such: it was more reddish brownish, a very muted but intense color. The emperors robe on the mosaic above looks more blueish than in person. The robe of Jesus looks more brownish, but it is difficult to take very accurate pictures of mosaics in the interior, where every detail will be of exact color. And the purple of Tyre doesn't get reproduced very well on the computer screens either. But you get the idea.
Mosaics at San Vitale church, Ravenna, Italy, via wiki commons, thanks to Tango

Not only rulers were depicted in purple, but also Jesus and Virgin Mary. Byzantine art showed them as rulers, full of dignity and somehow stern looking, as does the Christ dressed in purple on Byzantine mosaic from the church St Apolinare Nouvo, Ravenna, Italy (via wiki commons) The style is Early Byzantine.

And here is shroud of Charlemagne, early IXc. manufactured in Constantinople, today in Paris, Musée National du Moyen Âge. (via wiki commons). Purple on silk created wonderful effects that enchanted the eye: depending on light looked more blueish or reddish, had luster fro which was prized too. Not many fabric are left from Byzantine times, mostly fragments, and like this one found in the graves of the rulers of the time.

Shroud of emperor Charlemagne, purple dyed silk
 The purple was known already in Antiquity, and was mythologically credited to be discovered by the dog of Hercules. Plato mentioned this color in his Symposium as the greatest hue of all. It was used in Egypt, and became the color of Roman emperors. Sometimes the law was not harsh and women were allowed to wear purple, but other times anyone else than emperor wearing a purple robe would be killed. The first church in Europe was founded because of religious devotion and courtesy of a woman, Lydia, who was a business woman, a merchant in purple dyed fabrics. She must have only rich clients.

One of the Roman emperors forbid his wife to buy additional purples robes, as he considered too expensive.

Today, to all my knowledge there is only one pigment manufacturer mill, Kremmer Pigmente from Germany, which sells  this kind of  purple for art conservation purposes. One ounce would be 153,120 $, of course on the website for the art conservators this dye is sold in fractions of  1gram (1 once has 30 grams, to remind you), so , it is sold sold here in fractions of grams
According to Kremmer Pigmente, it takes 10,000 snails to make 1 gram of purple, which would be 300, 000 to make one ounce.

Later instead of purple silks were dyed with kermes, which was red dye made of the bodies of dried insects. I am for sure glad we use different process in fabric dyeing today, not involving killing masses of mollusc, or insects. (But still,  today fashion industry is terribly unfriendly toward the environment, one of the main polluters). Lucky for me, a fine artist, I can pick and chose which pigments I want. Honestly, I couldn't bear to buy paints or dyes containing colors made out of living creatures. I don't wear silk either for this reason.

This red coronation mantle of Roger II, silk and gold thread, pearls and precious jewels was done in royal workshops  from Palermo, Sicily. Now in Vienna treasury.We see the new fashion coming, replacing purple with red, which resulted in pictures of royals, nobles and Virgin Mary dressed in red mantles.

Roger's II coronation mantle, via wiki commons, by Gryfindor

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Colors of Power: red and blue- History of Color in Middle Ages # 9

Red and blue, most prominent color duo of the Middle Ages. People just loved them so much, that even when writing about rainbow  they wrote often only blue and red! Also the existence of separated guilds of dyesrs dedicated for each color may be a testimony for high esteem and priceses of those particular colors.

 We see here in the video the colorful splendor of the Middle Ages, about illuminated manuscripts about British royals. Lots of color, but most prominently the duo of red and blue. Fresh colors, most of the time.Video window may not come up in an instant.
Interesting movie by BBC about royal illuminated manuscripts.

Here Charlemagne is  being crowned.

Emperor's Charlemagne Coronation, Illuminated mansucript, via wiki commons

Red and blue were colors of power in the secular world, why?  Red and blue dyes were expensive, not common, and people loved those hues, of course. Red was used after the purple of Tyre, very expensive and reserved only for the rulers, became less and less available. Red in a more dark, dignified edition was replacing purple,which had a brownish tinge, not what we commonly classify as purple today, until appeared in its pure form, lighter and brighter. As we see bellow, on the Annunciation picture.The same with blue, it was considered a very noble color, and as the blue dye became to symbolize affluence and also royals were using it. (Royal blue).

Announciation by Petrus Christus, via wiki commons

Here on this Anounciation by Petrus Christus we see Virgin Mary dresses in a red mantle. We see the typical elements of Announciation, as the lilies signifying Mary's purity, the vase a pure vesel, open book also is traditional. Always opened on the same page on all paintings, Isaiah 7:14, or psalter pages in earlier book. Other written words is the passage from Announciation of the New Testament, the words spoken by the archangel ("Ave Maria,  gracia, plena"etc) was directly written in the picture. Mary is here depicted as a fine lady, dresses in a rich garment, expensive mantle.  Click here to read more about Announciation symbolism.
This painting is considered early Northern Renaissance, but still has elements of Gothic art. For example the folds of the robes of the angels are still very hard and geometric, the angel's posture is typical for Medieval art, also his wings, strong color, not white. But we see already linear perspective on the tiles of the floor, increased realism of depiction in painting, eye for detail.

Court scene from November,  Book of Hours of the Duke de Berry, Via Wiki commons

What a rich blue wears this duke! Probably he is the Duc de Berry himself, it is a miniature by Limbourg brothers, form the Tres Riches Heurs di Duc de Berry, form the magnificent manuscripts collection of the Musee Condee.
Announciation, unknown German Master, via wiki commons

The Announcaition again, this time we see all elements traditionally depicted in announciations, but this time the book is  not opened, but text is written on the banner held by the archangel.("Hail Mary, full of grace"). this banner as a speech bubble appears often.Wallraf Richttarzt Museum Cologne. Mary with a book again, it has significance, depends if closed or open, etc. Soon about Mary and book symbolism, an elaboration on this  important element of  iconography.

Altdorfer, Virgin Mary with Child, XIV.c via wiki commoms
Virgin Mary as queen, with infant Jesus in her arms, by Altdorfer, (German), museum in Budapest.Infant Jesus has a necklace symbolzsing his future Passion and death on the cross (coral ) which in secular symbolism and superstition of the days: it  was supposed to avert evil. The apple is relating to original sin, held by Jesus is a symbol of redemption, eradication of sin.
Death of the Virgin, by Konrad von Soest, Mary on her death bed attended by humans of saintly and common stature, and by angels themselves. We see richly embroidered blue mantle and blue angels, as the symbols of heavenly realm.Also prominent is red/blue color duo, gold background. Closed books also present, symbol of the Virgin. What is written on the open scroll, which is read by bearded man dressed in red, with his head covered as sign of respect and humility? The paleographers would tell. The saint whose hand holding quill  is almost touching Virgin's hand is, has "Saint John the Apostle" written on his hallo.

Death of Mary by Konrad von Soest, via wiki coomons

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Holy Blood Relic of Reichenau: lost glory also?

 Relics, kind of strange to many of us, but they have important place in medieval history. And history of art too, as reliquaries have elaborate and artistic forms. Just a visit to the treasury of Constance cathedral, also located at the Lake of Constance, where is a collection of relics, not far from Reichenau, show abundance of gold, silver, glass and jewels and human creativity. A very good lesson about medieval mind.

 In Germany there are three holy blood relics, believed to be blood of Christ himself. The most famous one is in Weingarten, one in Rothenburg-ob-der Tauber, one in Reichenau. There are others also, but connected with host. On my art historical journey I visited those places,but  the relics were not my main purpose of visit, but history of art. Specially Rothenburg  and Reichenau are very special and feast for the eyes, not that Weingarten isn't impressive and beautiful. I write this because I know there are blood relic fans, and Reichenau isn't even mentioned on wikipedia. (Bruges, Mantua,Wiengarten are, but not all places).

 The Reichenau relic was very known and revered in the past. No legend is associated with it. It is the oldest surviving holy blood relic, recorded in history, without legends, rediscovery and claims. The name of the previous owner who belonged  to Byzantine nobility is included on reverse of the little golden cross holding the relic itself, it is part of inscription in Greek.We know his name and his family records. Seems like rather clear provenance. Claim is that the blood was collected by Joseph of Arimathea. Other blood relics claim that the blood was collected by Longinus (Wiengarten relic, brought from Mantua) and Mary Magdalene (Weissenau relic, brought from France).

The blood  relic is hosted in St Mary and Marcus church, on picture bellow. The church was important for keeping the relic of St Mark the Evangelist, still kept in the treasury of the church.

St Mary and Marcus church, Reichenau, Lake of Constance, Germany

The relic of Reichenau was presented by Schwanhilde, November 7th 925. Before she had the relic, it belonged to the emperor Charlemagne, this precious object was a gift  to the emperor by Arab Hassan. The story of the relic  was recorded by an  anonymous monk in Reichenau.  The relic contains soil said to be drenched with the blood of Christ, also part of fabric with blood and part of the cross.The relic parts are contained in a small golden cross with Greek writing on reverse. Interesting, for those of you who like blood relics, that the other place which  has blood relic, Weingarten- not too far from Reichenau, received it from Judith of Flanders, on May 31 1090. She was a relative, the step daughter of Baldwin V, Count of Flanders whose descendant, (grand grand-son) Thierry of Alsace, according to the legend, brought another blood relic to Bruges from the Second Crusade to the  Holly Land during XII c. Bruges relic is blood-stained piece of fabric.

Bruges is a popular tourist destination for a reason, and the procession during the day on which the relic is presented is an  impressive pagentry. Reichenau is just more mysterious, more off the beaten path. It is not as popular tourist destination, as the other places, specially for the sake of the relics. Streets of Bruges and Rotherburg are filled with joyful tourists, specially  during the Summer, as there is so much too see on every corner. In Reichenau, where walls and art is older than in Rotheburg and Bruges (the abbey was founded in VIII c.) were some tourists when I visited, and I am happy about it, but I also has time for peaceful contemplation, alone. And strolls on the island of vineyards, orchards and gardens, shore overgrown with reeds is an additional bonus.

 But going back to Bruges: recent historical research shows that most likely the Bruges relic was brought from the Fourth Crusade by Baldwin IX, Count of Flanders,  in which he and his army devotely  participated. It was most likely the loot taken when Constantinople was sacked during the Fourth Crusade, 1204, not earlier, from the the Second Crusade as the legend claims. The Fourth Crusade (1202-1204) was unusual in this sense that was directed toward Christians, not against Muslems as in previous crusades,  or pagans as in Northern Crusades.  Only five years later, 1209,  another  crusade against Christians in Europe-in today's Southern Franc followed. This was the second Albigenesian Crusade against the Cathars. The crusaders had lots to do: Constantinople, Southern France, for the sake of forgiveness of sins and for the sake of loot.

 Constantinople, than was the richest, most learned and most beautiful city of Europe from which culture flew and influenced others, where the tradition of Antiquity, philosophy and scholarship didn't dim was sacked by fellow Christians. Without Byzantium and its capital  Italian Renaissance wouldn't be complete. This splendid city influenced Ottonian renaissance, (and other medieval Renaissances), under which Reichenau flourished, St. Gallen, Chartres, Reims, and Glastonbury, from which Theophanu, the Byzantine princess, wife of the emperor Otto came. During three days of killing, looting, desacrating churches and burning the famous Library of Constantinople was burned. This library, similar to the Library ff Alexandria, was enormous, and continued traditions of Antiquity, preserving wisdom of ancient Greeks and Romans for almost one millenium. More about the famous library here. The Bruges relic was most likely stolen during those three horror filled days.

Interior of St Mary and Marcus church , Island Reichenau, on the Lake of Constance, Germany

And gift of relic of Reichenau is more more historically documented, not as legendary. I have to admit for my own comfort I prefer the story of a woman donor, learned and peaceful, than some crude crusader, most likely robbing some church of a very culturally advanced city. Was killing, destroying and  robing Constantinople erased from collective memory in Belgium? The legend mentions crusade to Jerusalem, as the counts of Flanders were participants. Sometimes is amazing how easy the collective memory erases important facts. Like How easy was for Belgium to erase the memory of atrocities committed in their colony in Africa, which is not too ancient history after all.(Will spare you the gory details). Those things need to be said, as Europe had not only burning the heretics and witches but also had crusades. I come from one of the countries, which like Occitania during the Albigenesian Crusade suffered the presence of crusading armies. I mentioned this in another post.

 The memory of crusades are often white washed  and idealized, all good and mysterious Templars, etc. Keep in mind the the surge in Templars popularity came also during XIX c. when many families were proud to have crusaders among their grand grand grands, and bragging about it was a fashion. We still probably feel the shadow of this fashion still.

 Behind the iron gate at the chapel in Gothic style, there is reddish Baroque altar, you see the cross on the top, visible above the gate. This is altar of holy blood relic.  Usually the places which held blood relics were famous on its own right, by the fact of keeping the relic. How telling that wikipedia doesn't even list it among the sites, even though the fact who gave the relics is better documented than in the case of Bruges, famous place with a legend of crusaders. If UNESCO wouldn't list Reichenau among world heritage sites, Reichenau would be even more obscure, the memory of its vibrant culture and its previous fame would be preserved only among some scholars and serious history and art history buffs.

 St Mary's and Marcus church pictures by Heidi Fuchs.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Reichenau: the Lost Glory and the Holy Blood Relic

Once Richenau was a monastic island, one big and famous monastery with over twenty chapels and churches, monks dormitories, gardens and scriptoria. Not much is left form its former glory, but still worth a trip. During my visit at the Lake of Constance several years ago in June, Reichenau Island was warm and full of nature's riches. Sweet cherries sold at the roads close to farms were sweet and warm form the sun, and gardens were greening with salads and other vegetarian delights. My photos don't do justice. The farms are small, island itself is small, and everything seems simply charmingly rustic. In the reeds I could hear birds. I went to what is  today UNESCO heritage site, Sankt Georg church, Oberzell, to see what is left from the former glory of Reichenau Abbbey. The monastic island once had 20 monasteries, 25 churches and chapels, and seven hundred monks were dedicated to cultural work. Today only three churches are left.

Columban (or Colomba in Latin)  the famous monk of Ireland came to the area in 610, but was not successufl in converting the Allemain pagans to new religion, went back to the Island Iona, today Scotland.Iona was a monastic island, well known today for the Book of Kells. Hundred years later, Pirin with whom is bound the simmilar legend like with St Patrick- expulsion of all snakes for the island-was the founder of the abbey  in 720,  just shortly after St Gallen was founded.

 Reichenau once was a monastic island, like Iona, had Benedictine Abbey, big and influential.It had the biggest library in the West. In its scriptorium many illuminated books were created, during the X and XI century it was a largest and most influential center of manuscripts creation, possessing huge library, very famous than, and school of painting. Renowned scholars of the day (among them Strabo) and men of great talent worked and lived there. The style of the manuscripts written and illuminated in the abbey is called Reichenau style. It is characterized by simplicity of design and soft, pastel-like colors.

 Click on the link to see an example of illuminated manuscript from Reichenau.
And another example, this time full codex, you can see every single page, in the collection of Walters Art Museum, Reichenau Gospel

And here is the splendid crozier from Reichenau, today at Victoria and Albert Museum in London.The first crown of German emperor was also made here.

And here is Sankt Georg church.  Often is seen on pictures surrounded by field of salad or sunflowers, I didn't have such luck.

Reichenau Abbey, Sankt Georg church,  Oberzell, Reichenau Island, Germany

Reichenau, Oberzell, St Georg basilica, Ottonian murals

The name Riechenau means in old German Rich Island, and it was really fitting. In addition precious relics were donated, important thing during those days, among them a crucifix containing blood of Christ, as was there, also the pitcher form wedding of Cana. Any blood relics were  very important. Still today in the treasury of St Mary and Marcus church,  there are some objects which are preserved, not as much of them as in the times of glory. Pitcher of Can is there, blood relic is in a preserved in the church of Mary, and it is presented in procession Monday after  Trinity Sunday ( don't know the day).

Reichenau, Sankt Georg church, interior with Ottonian murals, by Heidi Fuchs

Sankt Georg church, murals dating from the times of the Ottonian Renaissance. I apologize for the quality, but the light conditions are not favorable for photography. Could't use flash, by principle, and hate when people do, not good for the ancient paintings.

  Carolingian Renaissance was time of great learning, development of scholarship and arts. One of the renaissances predating Italian Renaissance, more famous and influential. What happened to this once famous abbey, center of learning spreading its culture wide? Bishops of Constance mismanaged it when he was in charge of it, starting during XVI c. also the fame of competing St Gallen not too far from the area was a downfall, in addition the forced secularization (XVIII c. finished beginning XIX c.) was a final blow: monks needed to leave, the library of precious manuscripts was send to museums. Over twenty churches and chapels were demolished with dynamite. And act of iconoclasm for sure, this time the secular one.

Here are some grave stones from the  St Georg church.

The glory of Reichenau abbey is lost, but what we have left is beautiful anyway!

 And in the garden of St Mary and Mrcus church is the plate which honors poet and scholar Walahfrid Strabo, (lived during the first half of the IX c.) mentioning that he wrote the first book about gardening in Germany describing 440 plants for healing and for cooking

And what about Ottonian renaissance? It was fueled by closer contact with Byzantium, where the traditions of Antiquity were still alive.And the schism between the Orthodox Christianity and the Latin one was not there, the church was still united. This came because emperor Otto had a Byzantine wife, Theophanu, learned and literate. (He himself was illiterate). Theophanu was an intelligent ruler who brought progressive Byzantine ideas, used diplomatic skills and learned in Byzantium strategies to make her place in history. There were also other learned and influential women of those days, princess Theophanu was the first one. From the family of the emperor there were also women who greatly supported art and learning.

Click here to go to UNESCO's description of Reichenau as the world heritage Site

There is another side in Reichenau: holy blood relic. About it tomorrow.