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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.