Almost nine months ago, I left Germany… and my nostalgia is reaching the point where I want to relive some of my time there by making at least one of the posts I never got around to.
By now, all of the mundane anxieties about reading maps and meeting trains have faded into the deep mist of the German forest* and all that’s left is golden, rosy memories of quaint medieval towns like…
*NOTE: I didn’t find German forests particularly misty; it’s just that I’ve been gone from Germany for so long now that when I try and picture it all I can see are Caspar David Friedrich paintings.
Remains of settlements on this site date to the Stone Age, but it was the Celts (in the Bronze Age) who gave it the name “Radasbona.” The Romans built a fort here — on the northernmost curve of the river Danube — in 90 A.D. and a larger one in 179, and named it “Castra Regina.” The Romans had left the city by 476, and the “Bajuwari” or Bavarians who came into the area sometime in the 5th or 6th centuries established “Reganespurc” c.650 as their capital under their new ruling family, the Agilolfings. After the Agilolfings fell under the sway of the Carolingians (ie. Charlemagne) in the 8th century, Regensburg became the royal seat of Louis the German (Charlemagne’s grandson) in 817. After a confusing succession of other rulers came Henry the Lion (who founded Munich), and finally the Wittelsbachs, the ruling family of Bavaria from 1180-1918.
Here in the center is the Römerturm or “Roman tower,” so named because it is Romanesque, not Roman — or possibly because the stones on the very bottom layer, erected by Louis the German in the 9th century, are reused from the ruins of the Roman fort. View it in large size and you can clearly see the different layers: the large dark rectangular Roman stones on the bottom, rebuilt in the 9th century; the next, more speckled, layer dating from the 13th century; and the upper floors made of 14th century rubble. The bridge connects the tower to that yellow building which is the restored Herzogshof or “duke’s court.” This was the palace of the dukes. Behind the tower, you can glimpse the spires of the Regensburg Dom, or cathedral…
The Regensburg Dom (or Cathedral of St. Peter) is a fantastic example of German Gothic. This building was begun in 1273 and took another few hundred years to complete. After I give you a little history of the cathedral and the diocese, we’ll take a very leisurely look around… at the time, this was my first high Gothic church (since I couldn’t go inside the Frauenkirche in Esslingen).
Christianity would have spread among the soldiers and Romano-Germans living at Castra Regina during the first few centuries after Christ. Like other French and German cities in the late Roman period, it may have had a bishop in residence — but at the very least the people received visits from itinerant bishops Emmeram, Rupert, and Erhard, who were active in southern Germany during the late 7th century. Erhard founded a religious house of women — the church now known as Niedermünster — in a time when monastic foundations doubled as episcopal bases. One or all of these men are credited in hagiographical sources with “founding” the bishopric, but Regensburg wasn’t officially made a diocese until St. Boniface came through preaching, baptizing, administering the sacraments, and generally corralling the existing Christian community into conformity with the canons of the Church.
Although the first bishop’s church seems to have been built at the site of the Niedermünster (where St. Erhard is buried) around 700, Boniface moved it slightly southwest to the site of the Porta Praetoria (the north gate of the old Roman fort, which still stands) in 739. Through several incarnations, this cathedral remains the seat of the bishop.
I wrote my senior thesis on St. Boniface, so hopefully I can be forgiven for quoting from his letters describing his time in Bavaria. Here is Pope Gregory III writing to Boniface in October 739:
The teacher of all nations, the eminent Apostle Paul spoke, saying: ‘All things work together for good to them that love God.’ When we learned from your report that God in His mercy had deigned to set free so many in Germany from the power of the heathen and had brought as many as a hundred thousand souls into the bosom of Mother Church through your efforts and those of Charles [Martel] prince of the Franks, and when we heard what you had accomplished in Bavaria, we lifted up our hands to heaven in thanks to the Lord our God, giver of all good, who opened the gates of mercy and loving-kindness in those western lands…
You inform us you visited the Bavarian people and found that they were not living in accordance with the prescriptions of the Church, that there was but one bishop in that province… [you have] ordained three other bishops. You have also divided the province into four districts, so that each bishop may have his own diocese. In all this you have acted well and wisely, my brother…
You are not at liberty, my brother, to linger in one place when your work there is done; but strengthen the hearts of the brethren and of all the faithful throughout those regions of the West, and wherever God shall open to you a way to save souls, carry on your preaching. Wherever you you may find places in need of bishops, ordain them in our stead according to the canonical rule and teach them to observe the apostolic and canonical tradition. For so you will prepare great rewards for yourself, because you will gain for our God Almighty a well-instructed and devout people. Shrink not, beloved brother, from hard and long journeys, that the Christian faith may be spread far and wide through your exertions; for it is written: ‘Strait and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life.’ Carry on, therefore, my brother, the good work you have begun, so that in the day of Christ our God you can speak in the assembly of the saints about to be judged saying: ‘Lo, here am I and the children thou hast given me; I have not lost a single one of them.’
Boniface’s good work lasted, and Regensburg remained the seat of the bishop even throughout the Reformation, when the town council declared the city Lutheran, and the minority of citizens that remained Catholic were denied civic rights until about 1800. Meanwhile, the bishopric and three prominent abbeys remained — as independent states under the Holy Roman Empire, they were not subject to the dictates of the Imperial city (a separate state). So the Reformation literally split Regensburg down the middle, as it divided all the German-speaking lands.
Here is the beautiful central west portal.
The twelve apostles are carved around that central pillar.
Looking up from (I think) the south-west portal. God hands Moses the tablets of the Law. There are a lot of empty statue-niches, I’m not sure why.
The tympanum on the central west portal.
Some of the statues have been restored.
Here we have a sweet and very popular medieval motif: the Visitation. Anytime you see pregnant ladies hugging and kissing, you can know it’s Mary and Elizabeth.
There is such variety of shape, movement, and symbolic meaning across the entire face of this building. And now to have a closer look at some of the statuary around the exterior:
This is the tympanum over the southern portal. The top section is self-explanatory. Below, we have St Paul (L) and St Peter (R). I can mostly tell just by their hairstyles (for some reason, Peter and Paul have the most recognizable hair in all of Christian iconography, next to Jesus), but Paul is also carrying his attributes of a book and sword. Peter’s hands appear to have fallen off, so you have to imagine his keys.
This fellow’s been here a long time.
I’m not sure what this is… maybe Jonah, sleeping under the vine plant? Or maybe not a biblical image at all.
This is definitely a bishop, in his mitre, holding a book and giving a blessing, but I’m not sure who it is.
This gargoyle has quite a tail.
Here’s somebody riding a lion – why not??
A lady and a donkey and a dog… I don’t know. Courtney suggested it might be a unicorn — it does sort of look like it’s laying its head in her lap, as unicorns are reputed to do when they meet up with a virgin.
Here is another weird one, but I know the story behind it. This is a sow with three guys nursing on her teats. It is a “Judensau,” an anti-Semitic image that had a bit of truck throughout the German-speaking world up through the Reformation. This statue faced in the direction of the synagogue in the Jewish quarter of town, which I will touch more on later.
Worshipping the golden calf.
A king seated on some kind of beast.
Here an angel busts Peter out of prison while the guards sleep.
Let’s go inside…
When I sat down to make this post, I’d forgotten whether the Regensburg Dom was now Evangelisch (Protestant) or still Catholic. I knew I hadn’t been to Mass there, and I vaguely remembered that the city had been Reformed. So I thought to myself, “do you remember how dark it was?” And I did remember: it was very dark. Ergo, it must be Catholic.
The stained glass dates from the 14th century.
It was April, probably about exactly a year ago, and just after Easter.
Early 20th century altarpiece; St. Wolfgang in the middle (I think), and then, L to R: Sts. Rupert, Boniface, Emmeram, and Erhard. These are the wandering bishop-monks who Christianized (or reChristianized) southern Germany. Rupert went on to found Salzburg, Boniface I talked about above, and you might remember… if you are Courtney… that I saw the place where Emmeram was martyred. His burial place is at St. Emmeram’s Abbey in Regensburg, which we’ll look at soon.
And now here comes something awesome:
This is one of a famous pair of statues, the “Smiling Angel,” part of an Annunciation group by the Master of St. Erminold. It’s mostly well known because the angel (Gabriel) is laughing…. see Mary here and a better picture of Gabriel here. They were sculpted in 1280.
Down in the crypt, excavations in the 80s recovered a couple of carved capitals and the skeletons of 257 people who once lay beneath the atrium of the Romanesque cathedral (11-13th centuries).
There is also a plaque with a list of all the bishops of Regensburg, most or all of whom are buried here.
And a burial stone for a priest of the cathedral, Johann Maier, who entreated the citizens to surrender without a fight as the Allies closed in on the city in April 1945. He was arrested and hung almost on the spot — Wikipedia notes that the bishop, Michael Buchberger, “was frightened into silence and hid himself in a cellar.”
Here we have something interesting! I apologize for the terrible photo (and I would apologize for the design of that ugly reliquary), but these are the bones of Bertold of Regensburg, a very popular 13th century preacher. His sermons survive in written form and are a fine specimen of Middle High German prose. You can actually listen to a recording of one of Bertold’s sermons here.
Something carved in the wall in the north transept, but I can’t make it out. It could be “HERE LIES [so and so],” but in Latin it should read “HIC IACET” and in German “HIER LIEGT,” and while the first letters seem to suggest it… I don’t know.
The Domschatzmuseum, or Cathedral Treasure Museum, holds some of the cathedrals’ liturgical treasures from earlier centuries. This was formerly the bishop’s private chapel; the vaults are Gothic and the paintings (symbols of the four Evangelists) from the 16th century.
None of my pictures really turned out… but this is the Ottokarkreuze, a 13th century crucifix of Austrian-Bohemian make.
And some pretty chasubles (vestments that priests wear at Mass).
Here is a reliquary (a box to hold relics) from the early 14th century. Made in Regensburg, it seems to have belonged to a Frater Wenceslaus, who from 1306-1318 was guardian of the Franciscans in Regensburg. If you look closely, you can see his tiny figure kneeling in supplication beneath the figures of Mary and Jesus.
Okay, let’s break from churches and see the rest of the old town!
Gelato… my first cup.
The famous Stone Bridge, the oldest stone bridge in Europe still standing. It was built from 1135-46 and was the only bridge crossing the Danube in Regensburg for more than 800 years. Bridges were very important for medieval trade and economy, and controlling them could make cities (or kings, or bishops) powerful and rich.
Looking across the bridge away from the old town.
… and back toward the old town and the cathedral.
West of the bridge, you can see the Golden Tower (toward the middle), which was built by a wealthy patrician family in a kind of competition to see who could have the tallest house, and on the right, the clocktower of the Rathaus (town hall).
It was a beautiful sunny day.
Although some dark clouds came in and rained on me for half an hour or so.
So I went up in the old guard tower above the bridge and took in some nice views.
I went and found the remains of the Roman fort and city walls.
The Porta Praetoria, the northern gate, was right nearby, but for some reason I didn’t take a picture. I passed through the gateway’s arch (still standing, you go Romans) to enter the Domhof, or the cathedral courtyard.
We’re looking at the north side of the cathedral, and that tall stone tower is in fact the remnant of the Romanesque cathedral. It’s called the “Donkey Tower” because there’s a dirt ramp all the way up the inside, so the donkeys could carry stone for the new Gothic cathedral all the way to the top. I found a post written by someone who was allowed to go up it (art history students studying stained glass, BAH HUMBUG). Go check it out!
St Ulrich, built on the back side of the Römerturm, just behind the Dom, houses the diocesan museum. Unfortunately it was being renovated during my visit, and the museum was closed.
Finally: the Niedermünster, probable location of the first church in Regensburg.
Inside it’s a relative sedate Baroque, maybe some touches of rococo.
St. Erhand, among others, is buried here. This is his 19th c. reliquary.
Excavations were made under the floor of the church in the early 60s. German speakers can watch a short documentary about it here, and I’ll summarize it. There’s an excavation site under the church that contains remains of:
- a late Roman (4th c.) residential villa, or barracks, built after the fort had ceased its military function;
- a 7th century church built out of late Roman stones (says a book I have — the docu calls it Carolingian but if my book is correct it would be late Merovingian) and its cemetery;
- and a 9th (10th?) century Carolingian cloister or monastic building, the original Niedermünster. The earlier church was removed and a new church for the nuns was built.
The cementery seems to have gone down the length of the nave, and would have been mostly comprised of local saints and members of the ruling family. Next to the remains of St. Erhard (whose sarcophagus they show at 2:44) probably lies the Agilolfing duke Theodo II, who died in 717, just two years after Erhard’s sarcophagus was buried there. It’s thought that the Agilolfings had their first palace in this area of the old Roman camp, and if so, it is likely that the church would have been a kind of royal chapel.
Gravestone of a member of the cloister who died in 1594.
Just next door is this separate entrance to the “crypt of St. Erhard,” dating from the 11th century. I couldn’t go in.
Then I walked south to the Historical Museum, partly housed in a former Franciscan cloister. The museum’s collection spans the entirety of Regensburg history, from prehistoric times to the Romans to the middle ages and even exhibits on home decor of the 16th-19th century.
A Roman gravestone.
Some intriguing late medieval statuary…
And a charming Romanesque face of some guy or another. This was how people smiled for pictures in the 11th century.
All housed in the former cloisters.
Now here’s something interesting. This is a model of the earliest church building that would have been constructed prior to about 800, depending on the place. This is why the only evidence we usually have of late Roman or pre-Carolingian churches are graveyards. The wood decays until all we have left are post holes.
And here is a model of an early stone church — perhaps like the one built underneath the Niedermünster church. It’s surrounded by stone-lined graves and complete with a tiny apse. This is not far off from some of the tiny village churches I visited in Munich, though they were built a few hundred years later.
Now my favorite part: the former cloister church, now deconsecrated and used more like a giant gallery of original late Gothic art.
I came at just the right time, when the light was coming through the windows of the apse. The effect was incredible; my pictures don’t do it justice. It was like the sanctuary was glowing.
This was the only picture that captured the color of the light.
It felt surreal to walk blithely up into the sanctuary and poke my camera wherever I wanted to. Catholic churches make deliberate use of a sense of sacred space: only the priest and those assisting in the liturgy are really supposed to go up to and behind the altar. I kept having to remind myself it wasn’t a church anymore.
I would’ve loved to go up on a ladder and inspect these frescoes more closely… they are definitely the best preserved examples that I saw in Germany.
St. Francis, on the left, has a date below his feet: 1490. Intriguingly, there appear to be names attached to these paintings — were they friars? Patrons?
St. Peter and St. Bernard. Peter caught my eye because he’s not depicted with his usual attribute, a giant key. Instead he holds a sword and a whip. The sword could be referring to Peter cutting off the ear of the high priest’s servant in the Garden of Gethsemane as Jesus was arrested, but the only connection I can google between Peter and a whip is this rather obscure story about Laurence of Canterbury, who had a dream in which Peter came and whipped him. Or it could be a generic symbol of martyrdom, which the sword signifies, as well (there are two prophetic statements about martyrdom involving Peter in the New Testament — the one about getting old, and “those who live by the sword shall die by it.”)
This must be a late Gothic depiction of Veronica’s veil.
Although my penchant is for Romanesque, there’s something about late Gothic sacred art that is so compelling. It’s still iconographic (unlike the more naturalistic bent of the Italian Renaissance), but so sensitive to human emotion and expression.
He is not dead, but sleeping… awaiting the resurrection with half-closed eyes.
I love this one.
Light breaks where no sun shines;
Where no sea runs, the waters of the heart
Push in their tides;
And, broken ghosts with glow-worms in their heads,
The things of light
File through the flesh where no flesh decks the bones.
Now this is fascinating. It’s a gravestone of a priest (shown offering Mass), and the altar is shown in some detail from above — the candlesticks, the missal, the chalice and Host. The Instruments of the Passion are shown around the edges of the scene, and Christ Himself stands behind the altar. The usual thing would be to show him on the cross — like the crucifix that stands in the center behind the altar in a church. But he isn’t on the cross; his arms are in an odd position, with one hand on his side (maybe pointing to his wounds) and the other lifted up — in a gesture of blessing? Displaying the nail wound in his hand? I don’t know. Either way, Christ’s presence is more imposing here than in the typical iconography, and it’s very striking.
Jesus prays in the Garden while his disciples fall asleep.
I think here we have Christ displaying his wounds to the disciples in the upper room. This makes me more certain that, in the gravestone above, Jesus is showing his wounds, since it’s the same gesture here.
Nothin’ fancy, just an angel.
Moving on — some ruins in a field beside a parking lot?
The Alte Kapelle or Old Chapel. According to legend, it was built by the early dukes and was certainly mentioned by Louis the German, who rebuilt it as his palace chapel. The current exterior is Romanesque with Gothic updates, but the inside is crraaazy rococo:
Here’s a picture facing the other way, so you can see the organ. Apparently Pope (Emeritus) Benedict XVI blessed the organ (which had just been built) when he visited in 2006, which, the website tells me, makes this instrument “the only organ which has ever been blessed by the Pope in person”!! Wowzers! (Also, it will tell you a little bit about Germany that pipe organs like that are still being made.)
Just outside the Alte Kapelle, some kind of excavation work was going on. I would love to have that guy’s job.
Now we come to a very interesting part of the city with a violent and tragic past.
(not my photo.) This shows the Neupfarrkirche or New Parish Church, the first Protestant church in Regensburg, regarded as the starting-point for the spreading of the Reformation from the north into the countries of south-eastern Europe and the Balkans. It was built on this site, the site of the medieval Jewish ghetto, after pogroms drove the Jews out in 1519. Unfortunately they were renovating it while I was there, so I couldn’t go in. I would love to see what the interior of a new Protestant church looked like in mid-16th century Germany.
The monument in the foreground with all the white stone is a memorial to the Jewish synagogue, which was built from 1210-1227 and stood here until 1519. After the outburst of violence and arson that destroyed the synagogue, the people of Regensburg built a small chapel to Mary Queen of Heaven on the site to celebrate their success.
In the course of time Regensburg Jews were able to build another synagogue, and then replace it with a new one in 1912, but it was destroyed during Kristallnacht in 1938.
Here stood the synagogue, the house of God of the Jewish community of Regensburg. Built 1912, destroyed on November 9, 1938 by the Nazis.
On November 10, 1938 the Jewish citizens were driven through the city in an unprecedented “March of Shame.”
On April 2, 1942, here on the site of the burned synagogue, 106 Jewish citizens were gathered and deported to concentration camps. On July 15 and September 23, 1942 further victims were deported in the ordeal of millions of Jews because of their faith and suffered and died in the last days of the war.
Awkward translation is my own.
The synagogue in 1915.
From an online source:
On the night of November 9, Sebastian Platzer, head of the NSKK [Nazi Motor Corps] driver training school in Regensburg, was ordered by his superior, Wilhelm Müller-Seyfferth, to set fire to the local synagogue together with the NSKK men under his command. In characteristic fashion, the NSKK, the SA, and the SS fought over who would get to carry out the arson attack.
Arrests of Jewish families began directly thereafter, and the next morning – under the supervision of Müller-Seyfferth – the SA and the NSKK forced the Jewish men to do degrading drills. Finally, all of the Jewish men in Regensburg were led to the train station on a “march of shame” [Schandmarsch] under a poster that read “Exodus of Jews” [Auszug der Juden]. Some were deported to the Dachau concentration camp; others were taken to the Regensburg prison. A total of 224 Jewish men from the entire administrative district of Lower Bavaria and Upper Palatinate were sent to Dachau. The Nazis’ use of the phrase “Exodus of Jews” was particularly cynical since it alluded to the exodus of Jews from Egypt, a central liberation theme in Jewish tradition. This phrase was used in later waves of persecution and killings.
Walking around German cities is like this; you get pulled into the otherworldly, enchanted vision of life in the premodern world, with its beautiful variety and sincerity and delight in the spiritual world, and then turn the corner and are faced with these reminders of a brutality that boggles the imagination. The Jews of Regensburg suffered a massacre in the First Crusade (1096), although they were generally protected by the city and the Emperor. The Jewish quarter of Regensburg is the first mentioned Jewish settlement in Germany (11th c.), but the tide started to turn against them in the 15th century.
I love the tendency of medieval people to paint and carve pictures on almost any surface of their city.
Martin Luther, what are you doing here?? This must have been near a Protestant church, but I can’t remember now.
Here is Albertus Magnus. He sits outside the Dominican church, which I think was locked.
My pictures aren’t all that great, but this is one of the most interesting churches in the city. It’s the Schottenkirche, or the Scottish church (or St. James), so-called because it was a monastery full of Irish and Scottish monks — part of a mission effort that had been going on for centuries. Built from 1175-1180, it’s an example of high Romanesque architecture and particularly Romanesque statuary: lots of animals, weird symbols, and highly stylized figures.
In 1816 it looked like this. Now the whole portal area is enclosed in a protective glass atrium, which is weird and made it really hard to take pictures.
Wild men, lions, eagles, crocodiles, pigs, vultures… whatever, guys.
This is more comprehensible at least: Jesus with James and John.
A perfect example of a Romanesque nave. It’s quite narrow because the vaulting (here covered by a wooden ceiling) is barrel vaulting, which can’t bear much weight. The arcading is tall but thick and heavy, with round arches. The clerestory is 80% wall and 20% windows (in stark comparison to the Gothic Dom).
The statues that form the crucifixion scene are from the late 12th century. They originally stood on the altar, but were repainted and set in position here in the late 19th century. The apse itself was decorated in the mid-19th century by Bavarian and Austrian artists in a Romanesque revival style. I didn’t get to poke around his as much as I would’ve liked.
This is where the door used to be barred. That little guy was obviously the doorkeeper.
I’m almost done: just one more church and then some more sights around town.
Here we have the former abbey church of the former abbey of St. Emmeram. Founded in 739, the cloister buildings were granted to the German princely family of Thurn and Taxis in 1812, who turned the abbey into their residence. The church remains, the Basilica of St Emmeram.
A Gothic facade, the entry into what were once the grounds of the monastery.
Part of the graveyard of the church.
Over the entry portal, a Romanesque carving of Christ that is the oldest of its type in Germany, dating from 1052.
The church has been rebuilt many times, and now it is an exuberant rococo.
I love these painted wooden ceilings.
This depicts St. Benedict.
All kinds of notable people are buried here. This is St. Emmeram or St. Wolfgang.
And this is whichever one that one isn’t. I can’t remember anymore, sadly.
I’d been running around the whole day from one part of the old town to the other. I finally settled down to eat dinner at an Italian place that was built inside an old building of some kind or another.
They had cute Regensburg-themed pizzas. I think I had the Karl, der Größe (Charlemagne), but, you know. It’s been a year.
By the time I was finished, it was that time of the evening when everything is beautiful and settling down… I walked back toward the bridge, passing a street performer who was singing “Country Road” on his guitar… James Taylor in Germany, so weird.
Gelato, in a cone this time. This was a pretty popular picture on Facebook, back when I posted it. Lesson learned: people like ice cream.
So now you’ve seen a little of Regensburg. There was honestly so much more to see, and as I left, I promised myself that I would come back at least once before I left Germany. It’s only an hour and a half on the train from Munich. But I never ended up having the time… so maybe in the future I’ll get back and finish my tour.
I also remember this as one of the first days I got sunburned. In April!
Finally, before getting back on the train, I wandered over to the Niedermünster just in time for Mass. That’s the church with all the excavations underneath, where St. Erhard is buried. And as I think about it, it reminds me of how much I miss Mass in German. Der Herr sei mit euch! Hopefully I’ll be able to visit again soon.