I’ve put this off for too long! I’ve decided to post it and just not bother with making perfect commentary.
The castle chapel at Schloss Blutenburg!
Here’s the outside (viewed from inside the castle walls). The onion dome towers like this one that you see in Bavaria are not medieval, but Baroque. Aside from minor exceptions like that, however, this is a beautifully preserved late Gothic chapel. When I walked in (probably three or four weeks ago, now) I could tell right away how old it was and I was dumbstruck. I’d love almost any old or beautiful church, but to walk into one that is so obviously medieval is a really cool feeling.
Alright, here’s the entrance. To the left of the door is Adam and Eve under the Tree, an image of the Sündenfall or Fall of Man. On the right is an image of St. Onuphrius, a 4th or 5th century hermit. Onuphrius seems like an odd choice for this chapel, but Duke Sigismund — remember Sigismund? who resigned the dukedom to his brother and retreated here to Blutenburg? — might have identified with the saintly hermit. As you can see in that first Wiki link, Sigismund was a serious patron of the arts and of the Church, and he is also responsible for commissioning the Frauenkirche (now the Dom, or Cathedral) in 1468. The same architect who built the Frauenkirche, the Altes Rathaus, and the Kreuzkirche, Jörg von Halsbach, probably also designed this chapel, in 1488. Around the same time Sigismund (and Halsbach) also founded St Wolfgang in Pipping, another local medieval church that I just visited recently.
Back to the friezes – the one right on top of the door depicts God the Father holding the body of Christ and sitting on the “Mercy Seat.”
I like how the tracery on the windows is copied above – but that isn’t stone-carving, it’s just painting made to look like it.
Here’s the interior. All three of the altarpieces were painted by Jan Polack, a Münchner, in 1490-1.
You can’t see the rope going across the aisle, about two pews from the front, but it was there to keep people away from all the artwork. Full disclosure: I tried to go past it into the sanctuary to get better pictures of the altar and the stained glass windows and the wall statues. It was like a scene from a movie: I looked all around me and out the door, making sure no one was coming, and stepped caaarefully over the rope and took a couple of steps toward the altar. I felt kind of foolish being so sneaky when nobody was there to see me, and I was about to start moving fast, get in and get out — but then A SUPER LOUD ALARM WENT OFF. I quickly went back behind the rope and tried to think of an excuse. Something like, “I dropped my camera case on the other side of the pew!” Except the alarm wasn’t triggered until I got up past the side altars, so there’s no way that would have been believable… so I just tried to look innocent.
But nobody came anyway. So I didn’t have to lie in a church.
Now I realize that they would have talked to me in German, and I could’ve played dumb American tourist… but I still think they would have gotten on my case for going past the rope, because how obvious is that. I think there was even a sign. And I don’t like getting scolded in German. Twice already some old men have yelled at me for riding my bike on the sidewalk. (I mostly felt proud that I could understand them…)
Check out the ceiling of the nave. All that late Gothic “net” rib vaulting.
Let’s start in the back. Here, on the rear wall, below the gallery, you can see what I think is a consecration cross (the picture of Jesus). They are all around on the walls, and are there to mark where the church is blessed with chrism when it is consecrated. Usually there’s a place for a candle-holder below them. I’d never seen this in a church in the US, so now whenever I see them in churches here I get all excited.
Here’s the little gallery with the organ (unfortunately I couldn’t get up there).
On the walls of the nave, in between the stained glass windows, are statues of the Apostles. These are Bartholomew and James the Less. Yeah, I had to look them up.
More mysteriously, there were these nearly faded remains of wall paintings. I can’t figure out what it is. I think the guide said they depicted the Passion narrative. The bluish-green color you can see here, together with the consecration crosses and some faint green traces left on the windows behind the altar, give an idea of the original colors inside. The chapel was already here before Sigismund updated it in the late Gothic style.
The left side altar shows Christ, holding the world in his hands, with all kinds of people behind him, including St Peter, the Virgin Mary, and John the Baptist. More interestingly, the “predella” below shows the Fourteen Holy Helpers, a group of saints who were supposed to be particularly helpful against the bubonic plague. This devotion originated in the Rhineland (the Rhine is further west of Bavaria), but the cool thing is that it was a customizable devotion. So these are local Bavarian saints, with St Wolfgang in the front.
The right side altar has a much more famous iconographic motif:
The Annunciation. Mary is shown in a city-dweller’s house. You can see that she’s praying when Gabriel shows up — you can even see her personal prayer book, or Book of Hours, behind her on the desk. Books of hours were more and more commonly owned by laypeople (especially devout women) by the end of the middle ages. The words written on the ribbon in Gabriel’s hand read, in Latin: Ave gracia plena, dominus tecum (“Hail full of grace, the Lord is with you”). But the words on the edge of his robe read, in German: Maria pit Got fur uns und fur [alles?]. If “pit” is really “bitte,” as in modern German (the Hail Mary says bitte für uns Sünder), and I think it must be, then it says, “Mary, pray to God for us and for all.” (The modern German bitten, to ask, to plead, is related to the Old English biddan, which comes to us in modern English as “to bid”– the “tell someone, ask someone to do something” kind, not the “make a bet” kind, although obviously those two meanings are related as well.)
It’s so fun just learning a language and getting to find all these connections, but using it to decode old paintings is EVEN COOLER.
And I haven’t even pointed out yet one of the most amusing things about some of these late medieval and early Renaissance paintings of the Annunciation — how, if you look above Mary’s head, you see a dove (the Holy Spirit) hovering there, ready to “overshadow” her and conceive Christ, and if you look above that you can just see a miniature Jesus, complete with Cross, zooming in with gold streaks around him, reading to enter her womb.
And below, Mary seated with Jesus in her lap, surrounded by her ENTIRE EXTENDED FAMILY. Christian tradition really only has names for Mary’s parents, but hold on, this gets awesome. Apparently this is called the Holy Kinship, and was popular in some parts of Germany and the Low Countries in the 15th-16th centuries — and it imagines that St. Anne (Mary’s mother) was not only the grandmother of Jesus, but also of John the Evangelist, both Jameses, Simon, and Jude. Not to mention that this idea is based off of the charmingly ingenious idea that St. Anne was the mother of ALL of the “three Marys” in the Gospels. So all five of those disciples, plus John the Baptist, were Jesus’s cousins. I guess they are shown here at their annual Thanksgiving bash.
And now the high altar…
Here is another depiction of the “Mercy Seat.” This image is very rich in meaning and is a logical one to place above the high altar, where Christ’s sacrifice is mystically re-presented during Mass. Below, the four evangelists write their gospels with their respective winged symbols nestled in their laps. I couldn’t get good pictures of the side panels, but they show Christ’s baptism, and Mary being crowned in Heaven by three identical-looking Jesuses (a way of depicting the Trinity).
To the left of the altar is the tabernacle — a really impressive late Gothic one. My pictures of it suck (and I couldn’t get any closer… you remember why) but here’s one of just the lower part:
The tabernacle light (that red candle) is always lit if the Eucharist is stored inside the tabernacle. I kept thinking how, with a few gaps due to renovations or other interruptions, a candle has been burning here for over five hundred years. (And probably longer, since there has been a chapel here since at least the 12th century.)
And that’s the last I have of the Schlosskapelle…