So as I was saying… it was All Saints Day and I was printed off a bus schedule and given money and directions and urged to visit Esslingen by my gracious hosts.
Esslingen am Neckar, to be precise, is a town which had its first permanent settlement around 3000 years ago, in the Stone Age. The Romans were around by the first century. The first written record of “Ezelinga” is in 777, which is also when the Stadtkirche (city church) was bequeathed to the famous monastery Saint-Denis in Paris by the almost as famous Abbot Fulrad (who was the abbot of Saint-Denis and personal chaplain to Pippin and Charlemagne). Why did an abbot have personal church property that he could leave to his abbey in his will? That would be a much longer explanation, so I don’t know why I asked.
Then Esslingen became a market town and built a bridge and prospered on the trade route between Italy, Switzerland, and Northern Germany. It was a Free Imperial City until 1803, when it was joined to Württemberg. In World War II, the city suffered little damage, so it still retains its older buildings, mostly intact. It’s a stop on the sightseers’ Timber-Frame Road.
Look closely. Yes, the mermaid has invaded even here.
The center is surrounded by a ring of little streets like this. Then out further in the city it gets boring and modern.
This tower (1286) stood along the old city wall.
You can see where it used to connect.
The hills around the city. This is the very cool thing about Stuttgart — so many hills! In comparison, Munich is very flat. But not only are there hills, but hills with vineyards. This is rare in Germany, and so for centuries Stuttgart was one of the most important places for wine production.
Heading into the center, you see Stadtkirche St. Dionys.
Heading into the Marktplatz you can also see the castle wall. Yes, there is a castle on the hill. And you thought the old houses were enough!
The streets around the church are completely charming…
But okay, let’s get down to business and look at the exterior.
The south tower. Well, you can see that it’s Gothic. It was completed in 1440.
The north tower is a bit earlier, from1330, but the foundation was built in 1200.
Speaking of when this church was built — well, there was a small “private church,” owned by a noble family, built here in the middle of a graveyard around the year 700. The church was given to Abbot Fulrad in 760, who made it a “cell,” or a small monastic foundation — and sometime after that, he had the relics of St Vitalis, an early martyr, sent to the church, causing it to become a place of pilgrimage. This probably led to Esslingen becoming a market town in 800. Sometime after 850, a new church with a crypt was built, dedicated to St Vitalis. Excavations in the early 1960s revealed the remains of both these churches, and they are open to visitors in the museum under the foundations of the church… but it was CLOSED on the day I was there. 😦 😦 😦 😦 So I am reduced to looking at brochures.
But you can look, too. This is an 8th century gravestone, which reads “In nomine Domini / Nordman” or “In the name of the Lord / Northman.” It’s the oldest grave inscription in south Germany (not counting the Romans).
Well eventually (in 1213) this church, now St Dionys and not St Vitalis, was given to the cathedral chapter of Speyer. Then came a Romanesque chancel (1220), an early Gothic nave (1260), the towers, and the present Gothic chancel (1350), using in part the windows from the older chancel. To hold the two towers together, two bridges were added to span the gap in the late 16th century, but only one remains.
In 1531 the citizens pressured the town council to embrace the Reformation – which they were reluctant to agree to, because as a free imperial city they relied on (Catholic) Emperor Charles V. But the city eventually banded together with a group of other Protestant cities and princes to increase their power. Reformer Ambrosius Blarer was brought in to do his thing: he abolished the Mass, removed the icons and images of the saints, and closed the monasteries.
Curiously enough, apparently there is a memorial plaque on the wall (I didn’t see it while I was there) in honor of Johann Eck (d. 1524) who grew up relatively near. He was one of the biggest Catholic apologists during the Reformation, and famously interrogated Luther at Worms. I’m not sure when the plaque was made or put up, since I didn’t see it.
The door on the north side (1270)… the branching trees on the tympanum represent the Tree of Life.
In memory of fallen soldiers…
Inside the nave. The ceiling would have been painted in the middle ages, but that was lost over time, and the roof was covered with a wooden ceiling. The walls above the arcading columns were also articulated, but are no longer thanks to a “restoration” around the turn of the century. But there are some really cool and rare features, such as:
A rood screen! (Or in German, Lettner.) It divides the chancel (for priests) from the nave (for the congregation). After the reforms of the Council of Trent (the Catholic reforms after the Reformation), they became obsolete in Catholic architecture, so ironically they are more likely to survive in Anglican churches — and apparently this Lutheran one. It’s still rare though – and Lutherans, when they retained the rood screen, put it to different uses: as a platform for preaching or for the choir or organ. I think this is a rich visual when thinking about how “word and song” took the place of sacramentality in Protestant worship!
Looking over the altar back into the choir.
Speaking of sacramentality, it was also quite rare for Lutheran churches to have a high altarpiece like this one! But the town council of Esslingen commissioned one in 1604. This one is only a replica (the side panels, at any rate). The stained glass windows you can see are original medieval panes — also rare! I couldn’t really get good pictures of them from down below.
The ceiling in the chancel was better preserved!
Here we have the choir… These choir stalls were made in 1518 for the approximately 40 secular (non-monk) priests serving in the city at that time. I don’t know how big Esslingen was in the early 16th century, but it doesn’t really matter because that number would dwarf almost any modern equivalent. 40 priests, not counting monks and friars! I suppose if you included all the Christian-affiliated pastors in your city and brought them together into one church building to worship, you might get the idea. Some of them would have embraced the Reformation and gone on into careers as Lutheran churchmen. I always wonder what happened to the rest of them – they probably fled to Catholic territories if they were able to.
A quote from a well-known (at the time) humanist – but all of my pictures are too blurry for me to read the writing. Bummer.
Carvings of the Four Latin Doctors at the ends of the stalls. This is Jerome. I pretty much always take pictures of Jerome because he is the most obvious and (I think) the most amusing. There are more pictures here of the strange little carvings on the armrests of the stalls.
This little guy is truly odd. We have a Romanesque (late 1100s) carving of a face on a column – and this column was probably taken down or found during the building of the new choir in the 1320-30s. It was then recycled and used as a piscina. Bear with me now. This was a little drain or sink at the side of the chancel where the priest could perform his ritual ablutions and wash the altar vessels etc, but then the water, which had come into contact with the consecrated objects, could be drained down into the consecrated ground beneath the church. So that in itself might sound odd. But this weird column-recycling is the REALLY odd thing! As in, unprecedented. And now you know.
Still up in the choir, we have the late Gothic (1486) tabernacle… which is, of course, empty. I don’t know if some Lutherans use(d) tabernacles or if they did in Germany or how this survived.
But on the bottom you can see that the figurative art bore the brunt of some iconoclastic destruction…
Back into the nave, there are some very nice carvings on the capitals. This one has lots of different animals playing with humans; the theme is the bond between animals, humans, and heaven.
In this picture, on the right side, you can just barely see some medieval wall paintings (1420) between the windows. They depict the life of (legendary) St Leonhard.
A surviving side altar. In the middle ages the church had ten (!) of them.
And with that I conclude the first part of my tour! Phew.