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Friday, December 30, 2011


Travel Diaries: The Sanctuary of Zeus-Naios at Dodona
November, 2000

View of the temenos: Ruins of the Temple of Zeus-Naios and sacred oaks on the site

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Dodona is a religious sanctuary associated with the Dorian Greeks, situated in a valley in the northern Greek province of Epirus, south of Joannina. As is the case in many other Greek religious sites, there is a superimposition of cults in this sanctuary. Originally it was the site of an oracle devoted to a Mother Goddess, Rhea or Gaia, but called Dione in Epirus. Eventually, no doubt after the coming of the Dorians, it became a shrine to Zeus, here called Zeus Naios (Zeus of the Spring of Naiads). At this sanctuary, or temenos, the ancient Greeks built a temple to Zeus-Naios, a Stadion, a great theatre and various smaller temples. The great theatre of Pyrrhus, built in the third century BCE, has been reconstructed and the remains of the temple of Zeus-Naios and other ruins of the ancient temenos, or sacred site, are visible. Even some of the oaks of the sacred grove are standing.

Map showing the location of Dodona (Source: Wikipedia)

Photo of the valley of Mt. Tomaros taken in the 1920's. (Hanns Holdt)

Dodona is located just south-west of the city of Ioannina, in the valley of Mount Tomaros in Epirus, Northern Greece.

The Sanctuary

Map of the Sanctuary (Baedeker)

Until 650 BCE, Dodona was a religious and oracular centre mainly for northern tribes, which were variously known as Pelasgians, Thesprotians and Moulossians. It is only after 650 BCE that it became significant to the southern tribes, most likely because of its conquest by the Dorians who descended from the Balkans into Greece through the valleys of Epirus.
The site was identified in 1873 by Constantinos Karapanos, who discovered a number of bronze objects now in the Archaeological Museum in Athens. More scientific excavations have been undertaken by the Greek Archaelogical Service since 1952, and there has been some restoration, particularly of the Theater of Pyrrhus.

View of the temenos in Dodona

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Views of the temenos and surrounding areas

The Great Theater at Dodona.

Approach to the Theater of Pyrrhus

The Hellenistic Revival: The Theater of Pyrrhus.

The Great Theater of Pyrrhus as it was in the 1920's (Hanns Holdt)

The Great Theater of Pyrrhus today.

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"Wintry Dodona" (Iliad, 16: 234)

Bust of Pyrrhus, or Pyrros, King of Epirus (319/318 BCE–272 BCE)

In c. 290 BCE, King Pyrrhus of Epirus (“Another such victory over the Romans and we’re undone!”), made Dodona the religious capital of his domain and beautified it by implementing a series of fantastic construction projects, including the great Temple of Zeus and the great theater, designed to enact festivals of athletic and musical competition. A wall was built around the oracle itself and the holy tree, as well as temples to Herakles and Dione.

The temple and theater were burned in 219 BCE by the invading Aetolians and the site abandoned. But there was reconstruction in the late 200’s BCE by King Philip V of Macedonia. Destroyed by the Romans under Aemilius Paulus once again, the sanctuary at Dodona was later rebuilt by the Emperor Augustus in 31 BCE, after his victory over Anthony and Cleopatra at Actium that same year, but he turned the theater into an arena. In 362 A.D., the Emperor Julian consulted the oracle prior to his military adventure against the Persians, where he lost his life. When the Christian Emperor Theodosius closed all pagan temples in 391-92 A.D., it is said that he cut down one of the last remaining oaks.

The theater of Pyrrhus was unearthed in the 1950’s and restored in 1960-63.

The temenos

Aristotle believed that the region around Dodona was the place where the Hellenes originated (Meteorologica at 1.14), but this is to take the Dorians as the original Hellenes, which is dubious.

The custom of interpreting the rustling of the leaves of the oak or beech trees probably antedates the Dorian invasion, but the Dorian priesthood became famous thereafter in its competition with the Delphic oracle.

At Dodona, Zeus was worshipped as "Zeus Naios" or "Naos" (god of the spring, or of the Naiads — there was a spring below the oak in the temenos or sanctuary. Originally an oracle of the Mother Goddess, the oracle was shared by Dione (whose name, like "Zeus," simply means "deity") and Zeus. Many dedicatory inscriptions recovered from the site mention both "Dione" and "Zeus Naios".

In the Iliad, Achilles prays to "High Zeus, Lord of Dodona, Pelasgian.” There is no mention of the temple or the theater in Homer, but there is mention of the high priests of the sanctuary, the Selloi.

“High Zeus, Lord of Dodona, Pelasgian, living afar off,
Brooding over wintry Dodona, your prophets about you
Living, the Selloi who sleep on the ground with feet unwashed. Hear me!”
(Richard Lattimore translation, 16: 233-235).

The oracle is also mentioned in Odysseus's fictive yarn about himself told to the swineherd Eumaeus: (Odyssey, 14.327-14.328). Odysseus, he tells Eumaeus, has been seen among the Thesprotians, having gone to inquire of the oracle at Dodona whether he should return to Ithaca openly or in secret (as the disguised Odysseus is actually doing).

“The man himself had gone up to Dodona
To ask the spelling leaves of the old oak
The will of God: how to return, that is,
To the rich realm of Ithaka, after so long
An absence – openly, or by stealth.” (14: 327-31)

Odysseus later repeats the same tale to Penelope, who may not yet have seen through his disguise. (Homer. Odyssey, 19: 299-303) His words reveal a familiarity with Dodona, a realization of its importance, and an understanding that it was normal to consult Zeus there.

And Socrates says to Phaedrus: "They used to say, my friend, that the words of the oak in the holy place of Zeus at Dodona were the first prophetic utterances. The people of that time, not being so wise as you young folks, were content in their simplicity to hear an oak or a rock, provided only it spoke the truth." [Plato, Phaedrus 275b (trans. Fowler)]


Hesiod, Catalogues of Women: Fragment 97 (from the Scholiast on Sophocles Trachinae 1167) (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or 7th B.C.):

"There is a land Hellopia with much glebe and rich meadows, and rich in flocks and shambling kine. There dwell men who have many sheep and many oxen, and they are in number past telling, tribes of mortal men. And there upon its border is built a city, Dodona; and Zeus loved it and appointed it to be his oracle, reverenced by men . . . And they [the doves] lived in the hollow of an oak (phêgou). From them men of earth carry away all kinds of prophecy,--whosoever fares to that spot and questions the deathless god, and comes bringing gifts with good omens."


Fictitious portrait of Herodotus (490-425 BCE)

Herodotus (Histories 2:54–57) was told by priests at Egyptian Thebes in the 5th century BCE "that two priestesses had been carried away from Thebes by the Phoenicians; one, they said they had heard was taken away and sold in Libya, the other in Hellas; these women, they said, were the first founders of places of divination in the aforesaid countries."

Herodotus follows with what he was told by the prophetesses, called peleiades ("doves") at Dodona:

"...that two black doves had come flying from Thebes in Egypt, one to Libya and one to Dodona; the latter settled on an oak tree, and there uttered human speech, declaring that a place of divination from Zeus must be made there; the people of Dodona understood that the message was divine, and therefore established the oracular shrine. The dove which came to Libya told the Libyans (they say) to make an oracle of Ammon; this also is sacred to Zeus. Such was the story told by the Dodonaean priestesses, the eldest of whom was Promeneia and the next Timarete and the youngest Nicandra; and the rest of the servants of the temple at Dodona similarly held it true."

"But my own belief about it is this. If the Phoenicians did in fact carry away the sacred women and sell one in Libya and one in Hellas, then, in my opinion, the place where this woman was sold was in what is now Hellas, but was formerly called Pelasgia, and later Thesprotia; and then, being a slave there, she established a shrine of Zeus under an oak that was growing there; for it was reasonable that, as she had been a handmaid of the temple of Zeus at Thebes, she would remember that temple in the land to which she had come. After this, as soon as she understood the Greek language, she taught divination; and she said that her sister had been sold in Libya by the same Phoenicians who sold her."

"I expect that these women were called 'doves' by the people of Dodona because they spoke a strange language, and the people thought it like the cries of birds; then the woman spoke what they could understand, and that is why they say that the dove uttered human speech; as long as she spoke in a foreign tongue, they thought her voice was like the voice of a bird. For how could a dove utter the speech of men? The tale that the dove was black signifies that the woman was Egyptian."

(Histories at 2: 54–57)

View of the temenos and the sacred oak at Dodona, with Mount Tomaros in the background.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Works from the David M. Robinson Collection

The David M. Robinson Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities at the University of Mississippi Museum of Art is one of the finest collections of its kind in the United States. Covering the period from 1500 BCE to 300 AD, the collection contains Greek and Roman sculpture, Greek decorated pottery, architectural fragments, small artifacts in terracotta and bronze, and Greek and Roman coins.

The images shown below are photographs I took at the University of Mississippi Museum of Art in July, 2011, a few examples of black-figure and red-figure Attic pottery which are works of Athenian craftsmen from the sixth and fifth centuries BCE and part of the permanent collection there. There are only a few pieces depicted in the blog, but they reveal the main characteristics of each style. As well, I show a few oil lamps, and the painting on a kylix which reveals an unusual method of depilation by means of the oil lamp.

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Pallas Athena holding a helmet over an altar.
Amphora, Attic red-figure style, 500-490 BCE.

The Greek and Roman Antiquities Collection at the University of Mississippi Museum of Art is named after its donor, David M. Robinson, who was Professor of Classics at the University prior to his death in 1958.

David M. Robinson was born in Auburn, New York, in 1880. He received his A.B. degree in 1898 and his Ph.D. in 1904 from the University of Chicago. After serving as head of the Classics Department at Illinois College in Urbana from 1904-05, Robinson spent the majority of his career at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Considered an influential figure in Mississippi Archaeology, Robinson conducted artifact excavations in Corinth, Greece (1902-1903) and in Sardis, also in Greece in 1910. In 1924, he directed the excavation of Pisidian Antioch and Sizma for the University of Michigan. His greatest archaeological achievement was the discovery and excavation of the ancient city of Olynthus from 1928 through 1938. Throughout his career, Robinson was widely published in Archaeology as well as Greek and Roman literature, history and linguistics.

In 1947, he retired from Johns Hopkins and accepted a position as Professor of Classical Archaeology at the University of Mississippi where he taught for ten years. Robinson passed away in 1958, leaving behind a wealth of published research and a unique collection of Greek and Roman antiquities, which was donated to the University of Mississippi Museum of Art. (Source: Museum notes)
Satyr, visible in the portrait of David Robinson, is a marble Greek bust from Pergamon, dated ca. 200 BCE, part of Robinson's private collection.

Attic Black-Figure Ceramics

Attic black-figure style emerged from the Proto-Attic style, towards the beginning of the seventh century BCE. It is a reflection of the Archaic or Lyric Art of the Greeks, primarily the style of the sixth century BCE. (See my blog of October 31, 2010: "Tragic Art: The Treasure House of the Siphnians.") A new method of outline drawing developed, with extensive use of white and an occasional but inconsistent admixture of incisions. Human figures are presented on a large scale, etched against a white or red background, or against the background of the warm brown of the clay. The figures are always shown frontally or in profile and in rigid pose. The representations are one-dimensional, formalized and stiff, in the form of religious imaging. Towards the year 630 BCE, the discipline of the Corinthian school begins to be emulated and a fully developed Archaic art of ceramics becomes prevalent in the Attic peninsula until the end of the sixth century BCE, when it is displaced by red-figure style (discussed below). Around 530 BCE, the inadequacy of the black-figure method of silhouette and incision will lead to the introduction of red-figure outline drawing. Yet the black-figure style did not die off immediately and works in this style are still being made in the fifth century. Due to the conservatism of the priestly classes and the ruling elites, the black-figure style was required on the amphoras presented full of oil to the victors in the Panathenaic Games.

I photographed only two examples of the black-figure style from the David Robinson Collection. The first is the neck-amphora of 530-515 BCE showing a warrior and two youths.
Neck-amphora. Attic Black-Figure Style, 530-515 BCE.

Note that the warrior and the two youths are depicted in profile and entirely in silhouette, in one-dimensional fashion, rigidly and formally facing one another. Their eyes are in profile and the eyeballs in the center of the eye, as was the formal tradition of this style. The garments, as well as the pose, are formally stylized; the line etchings are fine and crisp.

The oldest piece portrayed here is an Attic black figure Skyphos in the Boeotian style from the Fifth century BCE, which satirizes Circe and Odysseus. The figures depict a comic satire in the form of caricatures designed for comedic purpose. Circe stands above Odysseus who is receiving a gift from her.

Attic Red-Figure ceramics

The Attic red-figure style appeared rather suddenly in Athens around the year 530 BCE. It shows a tendency towards the naturalistic which is made possible by changes in technique. The figures are outlined, and the inner details are shown by thin lines of paint. This is similar to contemporary painted panels, but the black background and the lack of any other colors must have been the vase painters' own idea. As well, major lines are emphasized by the use of a thicker and more viscous solution on the black paint so that they stand out in relief. The overall effect is one of greater naturalism and grace.

Neck amphora in Attic Red-Figure style, 470 BCE, shows Triptolemos on a winged chariot.

In the red-figure style, figures are drawn in rather than engraved. Red-figure painting made it possible for the artist to convey a more naturalistic picture of human anatomy. In the last ten years of the sixth century BCE, vase painters working in red-figure style abandoned the ancient tradition of composing figures in strictly profile or frontal views. This was followed by a new anatomical system which placed this style within the tradition that has come to be known as Classical, characterized by anatomical verisimilitude, naturalistic expressions and movements, and flowing drapery and garments that hang naturally on the body of the human figures. The eye, for example, until almost the end of the sixth century, had always been shown frontally, with the eyeball in the center (see the Athena holding a helmet, below), even if the face was in profile. In red-figure style, the eyeball moves forward and the eye begins to open in front and is shortened to a correct profile view. As well, the drapery changes from a decorative to a more natural system of folds. Scenes of human life become more common, especially the convivial and the athletic, but even in such scenes, vigorous activity becomes less common than it was in the earlier black-figure style.

Amphora in Attic red-figure style, 500-490 BCE: Athena holding a helmet over an altar

Ease of movement and grace in action are evident in the representation of a Dyonisiac Maenad holding a thyrsos, the staff made of giant fennel stalks carried by the Bacchiadae, and a snake on her right arm, below:

Kylix. Attic red-figure 490-80 BCE: Maenad with thyrsos and snake.

Note that the eyeball of the maenad has moved forward in this representation, compared to the Athena directly above. As well, the garment flows more naturally and hangs gracefully from the outline of the thigh and left knee.

Kylix. Attic red-figure 490-80 BCE: Maenad with thyrsos and snake.

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The more naturalistic representation of the eye and eyeball in Attic red-figure style is evident in the figure of the bride below, both upon her receipt of a gift and as she looks at herself in the mirror, in the Lebes Gamikos of 450-440 BCE.

Lebes Gamikos. Attic red-figure 450-440 BCE: Bride seated receiving gifts and shown on the reverse side with attendants and a mirror.

The Lebes Gamikos, literally meaning “nuptial vase” (plural - lebetes gamikoi) is a form of ancient Greek Pottery used primarily in marriage ceremonies, probably in the ritual sprinkling of the bride with water before the wedding. In form, it has a large bowl-like body and a stand that can be long or short. Painted scenes are placed on either the body of the vessel or the stand. Below are two images of the stand of the vase depicted above. It shows the hero Perseus pursuing the nymph Thetis. The classical style is evident in the representation of the eye, the graceful depiction of the movement of the limbs and the naturalness of the draped garment.

Lebes Gamikos. Attic red-figure 450-440 BCE: Perseus pursuing Thetis (detail on stem)

Oil Lamps

Oil Lamps were not only used for light but also served as votive offerings in sanctuaries and also as tomb furniture. Lamp forms are highly varied, ranging from simple to elaborate. Lamps used in ancient Greece could sit on stands or be suspended from cords or chains. Olive oil was a popular fuel and a wick would be placed in the lamp and out the nozzle to ensure even burning. Lamps from Athens changed around the VIIth. century BCE, with more shallow lamps and longer nozzles being made in molds. This popular form was the standard for thousands of years. Larger and more decorative lamps were specialty items and usually denote ceremonial status. (Source: Museum notes)

Kylix depicting a woman removing her pubic hair by burning it with an oil lamp.

Oil lamps were also used for personal hygiene. On this Kylix (drinking cup), a woman is shown holding an oil lamp near her pubic region just close enough to singe the hair as she squats over a water basin with a sponge in her right hand as a precautionary measure. This practice was common for pubic depilation in Greece and its depiction on Grecian art is extremely rare. (Source: Museum notes).

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


April-May, 2011

Castle Hill in Quedlinburg

I owe many thanks to Margrid Raitzammer, Librarian of the Quedlinburg Abbey and Curator of the Abbey’s Museum, for her gracious and learned assistance in making various documentary sources pertaining to the Kranichfeld Abbesses available to me during my visit to the Quedlinburg Schloßberg on April 30, 2011, as well as to Frank Sperling, who made my visit there possible.

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The river Bode flows through the city of Quedlinburg

To step today into the narrow streets of the small town of Quedlinburg in the Harz region of Germany is to step into the Ottonian Middle Ages of the German so-called Holy Roman Empire. As early as the beginning of the tenth century, the Central European Empire created by Charlemagne was ruled by Saxon kings. The first one of the line of rulers which have come to be known as the Ottonian Emperors, related to one another by blood, was Henry I (876-936 A.D.), Duke of Saxony since 912 and German King from 919. He was called ‘the Fowler’ (der Finkler, or der Vogler), presumably because of his interest in falcons and other hunting birds of prey, for I do not think he had ornithological interests in particular. This Saxon Henry is the founder of the Abbey of Quedlinburg, a convent for unmarried nuns of noble families, that governed that small town until the nineteenth century.

Henry the Fowler and his Queen Mathilda

When Henry was elected King of the Germans in 919 A.D., the old fortress built on the hill in Quedlinburg, as well as the surrounding area, were converted into an imperial stronghold. After his death in 936, Henry was buried in a small chapel palatine which is below the Collegiate Church. His widow, the queen dowager Mathilde, founded the Abbey, and King Otto I, her son, endorsed the Foundation document that same year. The first Church of St. Servetius began to be built above the palatine chapel shortly thereafter, but even before the death of the Abbess Mathilde, who died in 999, the building of the present Collegiate Church of St. Servetius was begun, in full and splendid Ottonian Romanesque style.

The Gothic Choir and Portal on the eastern side of the Church were completed in 1320, under the sponsorship and direction of my ancestress, Abbess Jutta von Kranichfeld. The interior of this new Gothic ‘wing’ was tampered with by the Nazis in the 1940’s, but the exterior of the apse retains its Gothic character. Previously, during the late nineteenth century (1863-1882), a general renovation and reconstruction of a “Romanesque” west front took place, but otherwise the Collegiate Church remains one of the most outstanding original Romanesque structures in all of Germany.

The Church is surrounded by various residences, once monastic, and by a castle, built during the sixteenth century, which together constitute the Castle Hill (Schloßberg) above the town of Quedlinburg. The Abbey was dissolved in 1803 and, together with the other buildings on the hill, became a museum in 1928.

The Castle at Quedlinburg

The foundation of the Abbey was almost entirely the work of Henry the Fowler’s wife, Mathilde, who was reputed to be an extremely religious woman. The 936 Foundation granted the Abbey independent election of an Abbess and such legal immunities as made it independent of both the temporal jurisdiction of the local Lords and Saxon chieftains as well as of the clerical authority of the Bishop of Halberstadt, the local spiritual suzerain. The Abbess was therefore subject only to the Emperor and the Pope.

The Foundation of 936 decreed that the protection of the Abbey’s sovereignty was entrusted to the imperial family for as long as it was to exist. It was a school for the daughters of the high nobility. If these girls remained unmarried they could stay in the Abbey for ever.

Medieval Nuns

Queen Mathilde managed the Abbey for thirty years after the death of Henry the Fowler. In 966, her granddaughter Mathilde, daughter of King Otto I, was consecrated as the first Abbess, at the age of eleven. Thereafter, the Abbesses had the status of princesses of the realm. The Abbey played an important role in the affairs of the Empire and was hence visited by sixteen emperors and kings, over 69 times, before the end of the twelfth century.  The lands of the Foundation were administered and exploited by the Reeve of the Abbey, and that office became the source of momentous and revolutionary developments in the German lands, which affected the Abbey.

The office of Reeve (in German, Vogt), was the Emperor’s representative and advocate for a property of the Empire, or any imperial estate, which was known as the Vogtei. This office ceased to be the property of the imperial family after the Saxon dynasty of Holy Roman Emperors ceased to exist, and it was increasingly granted or sold as a sinecure to various ducal families in Germany. The Abbey of Quedlinburg was such an imperial estate, and these developments marked a decline in the grandeur and prestige of the Foundation. Tension between the Abbey and the Reeve mirrored the civil wars caused by the Investiture struggle (Investiturstreit) of the twelfth century, as well as the struggle between the Emperor and the territorial sovereigns during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Nevertheless the Abbey continued to be a refuge for religious women of the nobility until the time of the Reformation.

Quedlinburg has remained a medieval town to this day, dominated by the Castle Hill upon which the old monastery and its Abbey Church of St. Servetius were originally built. The town boasts the greatest variety of Fachwerk (half-timbered framed) buildings in all of Germany.

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Fachwerk in Quedlinburg

The architecture of the Collegiate Church and of the Abbey of Quedlinburg, with one significant exception, - significant to my story in particular -, is in the style of the Ottonian Romanesque. The museum on the Castle Hill exhibits Ottonian capitals, jewelry and other small sculptures, also in the Ottonian style, as well as a fantastic tapestry, or rather fragments of a tapestry, of knit wool, that was knitted and woven over many years by the nuns of the convent. This kind of laborious textile work was as distinguishing of the endeavors of aristocratic women in the Middle Ages as was weaving for the aristocratic women of Ancient Greece. Like Penelope in Ithaka, these women would labor over tapestries and other weavings and knittings over the long and dark afternoons of Quedlinburg, for centuries on end. The Quedlinburg Knüpfteppich (knotted carpet) is a great work of art that resulted from such labor. It is fully discussed and illustrated below.

Ottonian Romanesque capitals in the Quedlinburg Abbey Museum

Romanesque Pieta, at the Quedlinburg Abbey Museum

Romanesque reliquaries, at the Quedlinburg Abbey Museum


The Kranichfeld Abbesses of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, whose scant histories, culled from contemporary records of the Foundation, are recorded below, were ancestress of mine. The connection is, to be sure, rather tenuous. For a chronicle of how the family’s genealogical line evolved over time, and its peregrinations from Germany to Argentina and to the United States, I refer the reader to my blog posts of October 25 and 26, 2010.

It requires an effort of the mind today to envision these powerful women who ruled autocratically over the old convent, given the scarcity of factual information we have about them. But for a few facts and figures, and the bare abstraction of their physical images in their official seals, the outlines of a caricature, we would know nothing about them at all. Yet they existed, and they did so in the deeply religious element that was, until recent times, the matrix of all European history. I have no way here to make them come alive, although the personality of Jutta von Kranichfeld, a fighting Abbess, comes through somewhat in the documents that attest to her feverish efforts at raising money.

Kunigundis von Kranichfeld

Seal of Cunigundis von Kranichfeld

The official Seal of Kunigundis, or Cunigundis, von Kranichfeld reads as follows: CON-GUNDIS – DEI - GRA- IN- QUEDELINGEBURH – ABBATISSA (Cunidgundis, by the Grace of God, in Quedlinburg, Abbess).

Kunigundis von Kranichfeld, the fourteenth Abbess (Äbtissin) of Quedlinburg, ruled the Abbey briefly (1230 to 1231) during the reign of the Emperor Frederick II (Stupor Mundi), Holy Roman Emperor between 1220 and 1250. She was the sister of Meinhard I von Kranichfeld, Bishop of Halberstadt (1245-1259).

In 1222, Kunigundis was already Canoness at the Abbey. (Anton Ulrich von Erath, Codex Diplomaticus Quedlinburgensis, S, 140). During the reign of her predecessor, Bertradis I von Krosigk (1226-1230), when the position of Provost of the Abbey, previously held by Bertradis, became vacant, Kunigundis was appointed as her successor, on April 20, 1227. (K. von Krosigk, Urkundenbuch der Familie von Krosigk, III, 3, S.311). She became Abbess thereafter, upon the death of Bertradis in 1230. (cf. Anton Ulrich von Erath, op.cit. Codex Diplomaticus Quedlinburgensis, S, 140-151). Yet despite her accomplished ascent within the bureaucracy of the Abbey, she was not to last for very long as Abbess. There is only one record issued during her reign with the official Seal, early in 1231. She died later in the same year and nothing further is known about her.

Jutta von Kranichfeld

Seal of Jutta von Kranichfeld

The official Seal of Jutta von Kranichfeld reads as follows: SIGIL - IUTTE - DI - GRA - IN - QUIDELINGEBURCH - ABBATISSE (Seal of the Abbess Jutta, By the Grace of God, in Quedlinburg). She called herself (in medieval German) “Jutta, von der Ghenade Goddes Ebdesche oppe der Borch des Goddeshuses to Quedelingeborch.” (Jutta, by the Grace of God, Abbess of the Town of God’s House in Quedlinburg).

Jutta von Kranichfeld (Jutta, or Jitta, is an abbreviation of Brigitta) was the eighteenth Abbess of Quedlinburg (Äbtissin) whose rule over the Abbey extended from 1308 to 1346, during the reign of the Emperor Louis IV, the Bavarian (1314-1347). She died in 1347.

The Abbey documents record the following: Jutta was descended from the Thuringian family of the Counts of Kranichfeld, which had already provided the Abbey with one previous Abbess, Kunigundis von Kranichfeld (see above). Her father was Count Volrad VIII von Kranichfeld, and her mother was named Bia. In 1290 she was already a resident of the Abbey and by 1303, five years before the death of Abbess Bertradis II von Barby, she was already being addressed as Abbess (cf. Anton Ulrich von Erath, Codex Diplomaticus Quedlinburgensis, op. cit. S. 338). She had probably been thus designated by the aging Bertradis herself, who had ruled over the Abbey for thirty three years. On January 22, 1309, Jutta was certainly the ruling Abbess in the convent.

Jutta von Kranichfeld received her Imperial Confirmation from the Emperor Ludwig of Bavaria in 1323. (Boehmer-Ficker, Reg. Imperii, VII, 615. Erath, op.cit. S. 398). Until then, the imperial confirmation as Abbess was obtained personally from the Emperor at his court, but in Jutta’s case it was done by letter because Jutta was referred to in the document as “tanta debilitate corporis pergravata” (very seriously debilitated in body) and the Emperor wished to spare her the journey to his court.

During the course of her rule of the Abbey, Jutta promoted, financed and carried out the building of a Gothic style extension to the Church of St. Servetius, which is otherwise entirely in the Ottonian Romanesque style. This was an early experiment in the adaptation of the French Gothic style in Germany. The new Gothic wing, completed in 1320, was built over the Crypt and the Eastern Choir, in the mid-section of the Collegiate Church, parts of which were by then close to collapse. Carved above the Portal are the following words: ANNO DM/M.CCCXX OPIBUS.IUTTA ABBA DE/KRANEKEFELD/EDIFICATU EST. (Roughly translated it means: On the Year of our Lord 1320, built with the help of Iutta of Kranichfeld, Abbess).

Gothic addition to the Collegiate Abbey Church at Quedlinburg

By 1320, she had financed and directed the building of the new Choir and apse above the Romanesque crypt of the Collegiate Church, underneath which she now lies buried. In order to pay for the construction she was forced to alienate various assets of the Abbey and to obtain loans on other properties as collateral. The documentary sources list many of the estates that were sold for this purpose, although several properties were also purchased during Jutta’s reign. Many of these transactions involved the designation or revocation of advocacies (Vogtei), the official position of reeves of the estates, which were the crucial component of late medieval politics. These tenures were valuable assets of any estate and were bargained for as property.

An example of such a transaction is provided by an official letter, or record, written by Jutta on January 2, 1320, which describes in detail the alienation of lands and advocacies of the Quedlinburg Foundation, involving both the Counts of Brandenburg and the Dukes of Saxony as sureties for various loans. (Lehnbrief über die Schutzvoigtei des Stifts vom 1.2.1320):

“Von Gottes Gnaden Wir Jutta &c. Kranichfeld Abbatissin zu Quedlinburg etc. bekennen und bezeugen in diesem unsern offenen Brieffe, daß wir den Achtbahren Fürsten, Herzogen Rudolphen von Sachsen und seinen rechten Erben haben geliehen und leihen zu einem rechten Lehne die Voigtey zu Quedlinburgk mit allen Rechten, als die Achtbahren Fürsten von Brandenburg etc. etc. von uns zu rechte hatten und haben sollen. . . . .”
[By the Grace of God, We, Jutta etc. Abbess of Quedlinburg etc. do avow and give witness in this, our open Letter, that we have granted as security on a loan the Reeve of Quedlinburg with all Rights thereunto attached, to the Worthy Duke Rudolph of Saxony and his rightful Heirs, as the Worthy Prince of Brandenburg etc. etc. from us had it and should have it. . . . ]

Jutta’s manorial estate politics involved her in various feuds and quarrels with local magnates, both spiritual and temporal lords, such as the Ascanian dynasty of Anhalt and the Dukes of Saxony. But though the costs of re-building the Abbey forced Jutta to sell vast properties belonging to the Foundation, she continued as well to increase its estates during her reign, and the Gothic addition to the Church still stands. For a woman that is repeatedly described in the documents as having been devotedly pious, she seems to have also been a very clever politician.

Gothic addition to the Collegiate Abbey Church at Quedlinburg

The last documentary record issued by Jutta von Kranichfeld is dated November 11, 1346, and there is one last mention of her for April 30, 1347. She died on November 5, 1347, and was succeeded by the Abbess Luitgard von Stolberg on February 4, 1348. It is from her time that the documentary records of the Abbey begin to be composed and recorded in the archaic German language of the Middle Ages.

In the nineteenth century, Julius Wolff wrote a novel, 'Der Raubgraf” (The Robber Count: A Story of the Hartz Country, 1884), purporting to depict an episode in the life of Jutta von Kranichfeld. In this fictionalized account, the Abbess Jutta is portrayed as having fallen in love with a local magnate, the “Robber Count” Albrecht II von Regenstein. This representation of a love relationship between the two is purely the creation of Julius Wolff, who does not very much respect his subject’s chronology in the novel. The book was translated into English by W. Henry Winslow and Elizabeth R. Winslow, and published in New York by Thomas Crowell & Co. in 1890. I have not yet read it.


Nazi youth on Castle Hill at Quedlinburg
(Source: publication of the Abbey Museum Quedlinburg)

In 1936, Heinrich Himmler, chief of the SS, decided to adopt Henry the Fowler as a forerunner of the Nazi regime and turn the Collegiate Church and the Castle of Quedlinburg into a shrine for the Nazi regime. The Nazi ideology regarded the early Middle Ages as a glorious epoch of Germanic culture that was appropriately free of any foreign influence. On the anniversary of the death of the Emperor Henry, the SS Reichsführer Himmler celebrated the occasion at the Abbey Church with delegations of SS troops and Nazi youth corps. The tomb of the Emperor was opened to reveal the remains therein, but as the bones were rather small (“kleinen Knöchelchen”) for the aspirational expectations of the Nazis, doubts were ventilated as to whether the remains were those of the Emperor himself.

Heinrich Himmler at the celebration of the 1000 year anniversary of Henry the Fowler's death, in 1936, at the Quedlinburg Abbey crypt

In 1938 the SS took over the Collegiate Church for the purposes of restoring it in its entirety to the Romanesque style, which the Nazis considered to be the true authentic style of the Germans (“arteigene deutsch-germanishe Stil”). Accordingly, the interior of Jutta von Kranichfeld’s Gothic apse was demolished and re-built as a Romanesque apse (see photo below).

The Nazis' "Romanesque" reconstruction of the interior of the Gothic Apse at the Collegiate Church in Quedlinburg

A gigantic golden eagle (Reichsadler) was installed and framed above the apse. After the war, in an effort to disguise the damage to the interior, the apse windows were walled-up in 1945 to preserve the integrity of the exterior Gothic structure. The broken remains of the Nazi eagle are exhibited in the Museum (below).

The Church was closed from 1938 and throughout the war. Liberation in 1945 brought back the Protestant bishop and the church bells, and the Nazi style eagle was taken down.


Phronesis (Reason) prepares her daughter Philologia for the wedding with Mercury: Detail from the Quedlinburg Tapestry

During the reign of the Abbess Agnes II von Meissen (1139-1203), a magnificent work of Ottonian Romanesque art was commissioned and undertaken by the nuns of the Quedlinburg Abbey, shortly before the appearance in the convent of my ancestress, Kunigundis. This masterpiece, strangely attributed to Agnes herself, was a knitted, or knotted, carpet now hanging as a tapestry, which represents the marriage of the god Mercury to an allegorical representation of the humanistic discipline of Philology. It is the best preserved work of Romanesque textile still extant, and I imagine my ancestress probably participated in the labor of knitting it. Only five fragments remain from the original ‘knotted carpet’ (Knüpfteppich) that was originally used as a rug on the floor of the Collegiate Church.

Mercury turns to the Cardinal Virtues for help: Detail from the Quedlinburg Tapestry

The work was intended to be a gift for Pope Innocent III, but it was never sent to him. Documents in the Library of the Abbey indicate that the tapestry was unfinished at the time of Abbess Agnes’ death in 1203.

Seal of Abbess Agnes of Meissen
(Source: Wikipedia)

A listing of the Abbey’s treasures dating from the year 1600 has made it possible to reconstruct the size of the carpet and place the remaining fragments in context (below). The size of the original carpet has been estimated to have been 7.4 x 5.9 meters.

Although the scenes are organized as for a hanging tapestry, it is evident from surviving documentary sources that as late as the sixteenth century it was being used as a floor rug in the Choir of the Collegiate Church. In the course of the following centuries the value of the carpet began to be recognized and it was thereafter willfully cut into pieces, many of which were removed from the Abbey, including a portion of the edge border which ended up in Vienna. The only remaining fragments today are the five that are exhibited in the Abbey’s Museum.

The technique of producing knotted carpets had reached a high level of skill at the Abbey workshops over the course of many centuries. In this type of textile, the threads of linen yarn that constitute the warp course vertically and interlace with the woolen knots that make up the figures on the tapestry. The knots of colored wool enclose, in these figures, one, and in the surrounding backgrounds two, interlocking threads of linen yarn. Behind each row of woolen knots, there threads one very strong linen weft yarn, to provide the necessary tightness and strength.

The allegory which provides the narrative of the tapestry is that of the marriage of Mercury (Hermes, the Greek god of commerce and communication) to Philology, De Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii, or, in other words, of the spread of language. The source was the Encyclopaedia of Martianus Capella, a book that was beloved of the nuns in the Quedlinburg Abbey during the Middle Ages, and which had been written after the fall of Rome to the Gothic chieftain Alaric in the year 410 A.D. Martianus had settled in Carthage, where he worked as a solicitor, and he wrote this book shortly before the conquest of northern Africa by the Vandals in 429. In that brief interlude of peace and culture, between continuous barbarian induced catastrophes, the work was written as an intended pedagogy, an encyclopedia of the still surviving liberal culture, written in a mixture of prose and verse and dedicated to his son Marianius.

The god Mercury has grown weary of celibacy, but has been refused by Wisdom, Divination and the Soul. Apollo speaks favorably of a charming and wise young maiden named Philologia. The gods give their consent to this union provided that the girl is immortalized by being made divine. Philologia agrees to this. Her mother, Reflection or Reason, as well as the Muses, the cardinal virtues, and the three graces, surround her and dress her for the nuptials. Philologia drinks the cup of ambrosia which makes her immortal and she is then introduced to the gods. The wedding gifts are examined. Phoebe offers in her husband's name, a number of young women who will be Philologia's slaves. These women are the seven liberal arts: Grammar, Dialectics, Rhetoric, Geometry, Arithmetic, Astronomy and Harmony. The first and second books of De Nuptiis contain this allegory.

Sophia (Wisdom) and Psyche: Detail from the Quedlinburg Tapestry

The allegory of Marcianus Capella is well-known to have had a large body of admirers among the humanists of the north and to have been very beloved in the religious houses. It is a sign of the incipient Renaissance that, originating in Italy, would conquer the intellectual centers of northern Europe prior to the Reformation. It is therefore well worth while to note the details of the allegory and to analyze their representation in the art work of the nuns of Quedlinburg.

In the tapestry at Quedlinburg, the frieze represents the story of the wedding of Mercury and Philologia in a series of abbreviated allegorizations and personifications of which, as stated above, only five fragments remain. The frieze on the tapestry condenses the narrative: Mercury, after selecting Philologia as his bride, requests the Counsel of the Gods as to whether he can bring Philologia into the ranks of the immortals. Mercury requests this of the gods so that he can marry the mortal woman. She is decked out in jewels by her mother Phronesis and is invited into Olympus and immortality by the Muses. The analogy of the adornment of Philology by Reason refers to the contributions of Reason to the study of Philology, and the invitation, the inducements, of the Muses, represents the creative inspiration that attends the work of the philologist. As Athanasia provides Philologia with the drink of immortality, Philologia opens up a whole new library of the sciences. An interpretation of this scene would suggest that the draught of immortality, the divinization of this science, has acted to inspire Philology to open up new chambers of the human mind. Finally, Apollo leads the married couple to the wedding and Harmonia leads the newlyweds finally to the bridal chamber. Why does Harmony lead the way to the consummation of the union between Hermes, the god of commerce and communications, and Philologia, the now "goddess" of language? One might suggest that the social harmony universally enforced by peaceful communication through language is the humanistic ideal which is being promoted in this classical allegorical work.

[The following is my own liberal translation from Deutsche Romanische Bildteppiche aus den Domschätzen zu Halberstadt und Quedlinburg, (Herausgegeben von Heinrich L. Nickel, Insel-Verlag, Leipzig), 1976, on which this section generally relies]

Fragment 1

Fragment 1 fills the extreme top left corner of the tapestry as it is chronologically the beginning of the narrative frieze. The edge-border and the one standing figure on the left, with the inscription Fortitudo (Fortitude), are disfigured by a broad band of discoloration. To the right of the fragment stands Prudentia (Prudence) in a green cloak, holding a snake and pointing to it with her right hand. The snake in the grass has surprised many a human being by its covert and unexpected attack, including Eve in the Garden of Eve, and is a representation of the inducements to Sin. Prudence counsels us to beware of the snake.

In the border edge design, we notice, with difficulty, the torso of a bejeweled figure with a head-kerchief and green cloak, and the inscription Pudicicia (Latin, Pudicitia: ‘modesty’ or ‘sexual virtue’).

Prudence (Prvdencia) holding a snake

Fragment 2

In Fragment 2, the meaning of the narrative is made quite clear. In the middle stand the entwined female images of Pietas (Piety) and Justitia (Justice), and on either side of them the seated images of Imperium, the Empire (IP, IV) or Temporal Lordship, and of Sacerdotius, or Spiritual Lordship. The civil and spiritual authorities are guarantors of piety and justice in the land. On the far right of this Fragment stands the pacing figure of a woman drinking from a jug of water. The inscription Tempanti (temperance) indicates that she is the personification of Virtue.

Fragment 3

In Fragment 3 there is a row of seven figures, starting on the left with the author of the allegory, Martianus Capella. Next to him is Mercury, with a light cloak over his left shoulder, turning towards the three figures on his left for help. The one directly next to him is Manticen, the Seer (from the Greek ‘mantis’ which means prophet), and she holds a banner with an inscription, barely visible, that reads verba ipfecta relinqv(o), “I renounce all unrealized Words.” This directly pertains to the allegory of Philology, which is to be Mercury’s bride, as the prophetess promises to relinquish all words that have failed to achieve the fulfillment of their promise, in short, false words.

The figure next to the prophetess is Psyche (Sichem), who holds in her hand a banner with the inscription constanter iv (vo), meaning “I help steadfastly.” Next to her, in turn, stands Sophia (Wisdom), whose banner is no longer decipherable. Finally, Mercury and Philologia are joined together in wedlock on the extreme right section of the Fragment.

Martianus Capella: Detail from Fragment 3 of the Quedlinburg Tapestry

Philologia prepares for her nuptials: Detail from Fragment 3 of the Quedlinburg Tapestry

Fragment 4

Here, Philologia is being dressed and bejeweled by her mother, Pronesis (Reason) in preparation for the nuptials. Next to them stands Genius with a quill in his hand, ready, as the scribe of Jupiter (Scriba Jovis) to memorialize the nuptial contract. Castus Amor, the personification of chaste love, stands to the right of the scribe and directs our attention to the nuptial bed with his right hand.

Fronesis (Reason) prepares her daughter Philologia for her nuptials: Detail from Fragment 4 of the Quedlinburg Tapestry

Castus Amor (Chaste Love) directs our attention to the nuptial bed: Detail from Fragment 4 of the Quedlinburg Tapestry

Fragment 5

Fragment 5 shows the conclusion of the allegory. The god Mercury encounters the chariot of Apollo on his way to Heaven (Olympus). Apollo is not only the god of poetry and music, instructor of the Muses, but is identified with Helios, the Sun, whose carriage he drives daily into earth-circling Oceanus. In the center of the fragmentary scene, Venus (Cipris), the goddess of love, holds the wheel of Apollo’s carriage, which is in turn held up by the boy Amor (Cupid). To the left, the god of spring (ver) blasts his horn. To his left, the god of fall and on the extreme right a Naiad, constitute the marginal figures that round out the scene. Apollo has made sure that the newlyweds will be carried by Venus to the location of their bridal night.

Venus at the Wheel: Detail from Fragment 5 of the Quedlinburg Tapestry

The God of Spring blasts his horn to announce the wedding of Mercury and Philologia: Detail from Fragment 5 of the Quedlinburg Tapestry

The Quedlinburg tapestry was knitted over many decades, which explains the stylistic differences between the first three fragments and the latter two. The earlier fragments are more Byzantine in their treatment. The color scheme is richer. The yellow stars on the blue background are reminiscent of Byzantine mosaics, although also of Frankish miniatures. On the other hand, the figures in the later fragments are not grounded in the same classical models and the color schemes are not as deeply contrasted. The earlier fragments appear to be of aesthetically superior quality. The end of the twelfth century is a transitional period in the intellectual and artistic climate of Europe, as the dawn of southern humanism comes in contact with the spread of the Gothic style in the north. The art of the late Middle Ages thus shows a certain confusion of styles caused by new winds of change blowing from elsewhere. In the case of the Quedlinburg tapestry, these influences blow onto the rich soil of the late Romanesque style, and within the cloistered environment of a religious house.


Crypt of the Ottonian Romanesque Church of St. Wiperti

The Quedlinburg castle complex founded by King Henry the Fowler and later and built up by his son, Otto I, in 936, was an imperial palatinate of the Saxon emperors. Instead of remaining near the person of the king, some of the counts palatine were sent to various parts of the empire to act as judges and governors, and the districts ruled by them were called palatinates.

In medieval Quedlinburg, the palatinate was in the valley below the Castle Hill. It included a convent for male monks, deliberately far removed from the nuns on the Castle Hill. There were also quarters for visiting court officials in the palatinate. However, only the church of St. Wiperti survives today in that location from the earlier complex of medieval buildings.

Ottonian capital in the Crypt of the Church of St. Wiperti

In 961, the Canon's monastery was established with the Church of St. Wiperti, to the south of the Castle Hill. It was abandoned in the 16th century, and at one time the church, which boasts a magnificent Romanesque crypt from the 10th century, was even used as a barn and a pigsty before being restored in the 1950s.

Emperor Otto I (Source: Wikipedia)

Theophanou of Byzantium, daughter-in-law of Otto I

In 973, shortly before the death of emperor Otto I, a Reichstag, as the Imperial Convention was known, was held at the imperial court in Quedlinburg. Here were present Mieszko, the Duke of Poland, and Boleslav, duke of Bohemia, as well as numerous other nobles from as far away as the kingdom of the Bulgars and the Byzantine Empire, gathered to pay homage to the German emperor. In this occasion, Otto the Great introduced his new daughter-in-law Theophanou, a Byzantine princess whose marriage to Otto II brought hope for recognition and continued peace between the rulers of the Eastern and Western empires. All this occurred in the unprepossessing location of the little church of St. Wiperti, a church without a tower.