Thursday, August 21, 2014

Bamberg and Its Cathedral

From Nuremberg, Peter Meyer, Louisa, Bill Paulsen and myself took a day trip to Bamberg.  Bamberg is one of the few German medieval cities that survives largely intact.  In 1945, the city surrendered to the advancing American army before any shots could be fired sparing it the destruction suffered by Nuremberg.
In the early middle ages, the city was briefly the capital of the Holy Roman Empire with close ties to the Pope in Rome.  The city is still Catholic, and it sits on 7 hills just like Rome.  Bamberg is the reason why Nuremberg is not a cathedral city.  Nuremberg is part of the Bamberg diocese which was established in the 11th century.

A street in the old city center of Bamberg; the distant spire belongs to the ancient Michaelsberg monastery with buildings from the 12th century.
I tried the city's famous "smoked" beer and noticed that not many of the locals were drinking it.

The old Rathaus straddling the Regnitz river

Some very Baroque detailing on the old Rathaus

Sitting on the highest hill in the city and dominating the surrounding countryside is the Cathedral of Bamberg, founded in the 11th century by the sainted Holy Roman Emperor Henry II and his sainted Empress Cunigunde.  Both of them are buried in the cathedral.  The bulk of the building that we see today was built in the 12th century with substantial additions in the 13th century.
It is the smallest of the major imperial cathedrals of Germany, and like its larger kin, it has 2 apses, one on each end.  The west apse or westwerk was dedicated to Saint George and was for the Emperor.  The east apse (seen here) once held the high altar and was dedicated to Saint Peter and the Pope.
The Cathedral is celebrated for the quality and originality of its medieval sculpture, and for  its later sculpture from the Renaissance to the 19th century Gothic revival.

Inside Bamberg Cathedral facing west; somewhere along the line, the high altar was moved to the west apse for reasons unknown to me.

The east apse that once was the high altar with an undercroft chapel for the shrine of Saints Henry II and Cunigunde.  On the wall to the left is the most famous sculpture in the Cathedral, the Knight of Bamberg.  The apse fresco is from the 20th century.

The 13th century vaults on top of the 12th century walls; the small blotches on the ceiling turn out to be a big surprise on close inspection.

They are little grotesque faces painted there by the builders, maybe as a joke, more likely as apotropaic figures; faces meant to frighten away evil spirits from the church.  Medieval churches are full of preChristian survivals like this.
I would have never seen these if Peter Meyer had not pointed them out to me.

Another small grotesque face on the vaulting;  looking at this detail reminds me that some of the worst excesses of the witch hysteria of the early 17th century happened in Bamberg and claimed the lives of over a thousand people.

Here is the Archbishop of Bamberg, Ludwig Schick, taking children on a tour of the Cathedral.

The choir sings vespers in the eastern apse.

The undercroft chapel under the eastern apse that once contained the shrines of the sainted monarchs;  the little structure in the right foreground is a well, the Cathedral had its own water supply.

The Bishop's throne and the current high altar in the western apse with a gilded bronze 17th century crucifixion group;  Peter Meyer, a Lutheran pastor, pointed out the authoritarianism of this throne.  Perched above the remains of his predecessors, his throne given to him by the successor to Saint Peter, before the tomb of the only Pope buried in Germany (Clement II), and upon the sainted bones of a Holy Roman Emperor and Empress, the Archbishop of Bamberg rests his claim to authority upon a thousand years of history in this spot.

The enshrined heads of Henry II and Cunigunde on display; usually they are kept in another chapel under the western apse.

A new chapel made out of an archaeological excavation under the west apse that revealed remains of the original 11th century church.  This was remade as a burial place for bishops and as a shrine for the heads of Henry II and Cunigunde.

The most famous sculpture in the Cathedral and one of the most famous medieval sculptures in Germany, the 13th century Bamberg Knight.  No one knows exactly who he is.  Current scholarly consensus seems to think that this may be Henry II's brother-in-law, King Stephen I of Hungary.  Whoever he is, though he is in military dress, he is unarmed.

The Bamberg Knight is famous for being a striking and dramatic embodiment of knightly virtue; courage, determination, dedication, and just a hint of anxiety.

Another detail of the Bamberg Knight;  the Nazis tried to use the Knight as an image of the Aryan Race on the march and spread the story that he faces east toward the promised lebensraum.  In fact, he does no such thing.  He is unarmed and unarmored, his horse faces south and he faces west.

Another view of the Knight with the second most famous sculpture in the Cathedral holding him up, the Green Man of Bamberg.

Here is the Green Man of Bamberg forming a console holding up the Knight.  He is almost certainly another preChristian survival, some kind of forest spirit or vegetation spirit there to protect a holy place from evil influences.  Of the many striking faces in the Cathedral's sculptures, his is among the most memorable.

The rest of Henry II and Cunigunde lie buried in this marble shrine in the east apse from 1499 to 1513, a masterpiece of the sculptor Tilman Riemenschneider.

Tourists admiring Riemenschneider's work with a guide giving what must have been an excellent talk about it.  Too bad my German is almost non-existent.
Tilman Riemenschneider, Veit Stoss, Adam Kraft, Hans Multscher, Nikolaus Gerhaert are all names known only to specialists in the USA.  In Germany I was surprised to discover that those same names were common knowledge.

Cunigunde and Emperor Henry II rest in marmoreal peace thanks to Riemenschneider.

On the sides of the shrine are 3 scenes each from the lives of Henry and Cunigunde.  So much of the pious legend surrounding them I find unattractive.  According to tradition, they had what the Germans call a "Mary and Joseph marriage," a sexless marriage in which they both remained chaste and she remained a virgin.  In this scene, Cunigunde goes through a trial by ordeal as she holds a red hot metal plate to prove her chastity to a crowd that doubts her.

Riemenschneider's very solemn and earnest looking figures enact the drama.

A very serious Cunigunde and her ladies in waiting

Along the base of the shrine are all these little reminders of the ephemerality of the flesh; critters associated with death and decay like this frog and snail.

And here a large worm appears to crawl across the base of the shrine.

A big surprise for me was this large and major altarpiece by Veit Stoss,  a new discovery for me, though it turns up in a lot of survey books of Northern Renaissance sculpture.  This was supposedly Stoss' last major altarpiece.  He was 78 years old when he completed it in 1523.
Stoss was in and out of trouble with the law in Nuremberg.  One conviction for forging a signature and seal got him branded on both cheeks.  It didn't help that when Nuremberg decided to become Lutheran, Stoss remained Catholic.

Stoss' very original and very strange Nativity scene in the center panel; it has all the drama, billowing drapery, virtuoso carving, and imaginative conception that we still value in Stoss' work.  This is a Nativity full of foreboding and menace.  Right above the tiny Christ child is a tall column supporting nothing; a premonition of the Flagellation and the Cross.  The figures camped out in the background landscape are soldiers together with the shepherds.  Peter Meyer and I couldn't figure out if the large figure appearing to exit on the left is Joseph or a prophet.

A magnificent figure from the 13th century traditionally identified as Saint Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, from a Visitation group.  A head of magnificent seriousness perches on top of a cascade of drapery.

This harsh stern monumental figure is worthy of Donatello's late work

As always, lots of smiles in Gothic art.

The very strange figure of the Virgin Mary from the 13th century that was always thought to be the other half of a Visitation group that included Saint Elizabeth above.  I wonder.  Mary is bigger than Elizabeth here, and does not seem to acknowledge her presence just around the corner.
She stands in a very exaggerated S curve pose invented in late 13th century France and here given a strange expressionist quality.

Her face has none of the refined grace of her French models, but seems much more serious in purpose here.

Arguing prophets from the old choir screen

Arguing Apostles turn their backs on us on the other side of the choir screen

The Synagogue, an embodiment of medieval antisemitism that was common on churches in central Europe.

Abraham gathers up the souls of the Blessed in his bosom.


Anonymous said...

As always, I so admire how you walk us through your trip with such lovely photos. I will never get there, but these make me feel like I have been there. Thank you, Doug!

Leonard said...

Yes, thank you, Doug.