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The Cathedral Of Treves

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

The ancient capital of the Treveri has the privilege of being known by two modern names, native and foreign, each of which preserves a letter of the ancient name which is lost in its rival. Treveris is by its own people contracted into Trier, while by its neighbours it is cut short into Treves. But one who looks out from the amphitheatre beyond its walls on the city which boasts itself to have stood for thirteen hundred years longer than Rome, will be inclined to hold that the beauty of its position and the interest of its long history cannot lose their charm under any name. It was not without reason that the mythical Trebetas, son of Ninus, after wandering through all lands, pitched on the spot by the Mosel as the loveliest and richest site that he could find for the foundation of the first city which arose on European soil...

Trier holds, north of the Alps, a position which is in some respects analogous to the position of Ravenna south of the Alps. The points both of likeness and unlikeness between the two cities may be instructively compared. In physical position no two cities can well be more opposite. No two spots can be more unlike than Trier, with its hills, its river, and its bridge, and Ravenna, forsaken by the sea, left in its marshy flat, with its streets, which were once canals like those of Venice, now canals no longer. In their history the two cities have thus much in common, that each was a seat of the Imperial power of Rome in the days of its decline. Each too is remarkable for its rich store of buildings handed on from the days of its greatness, buildings which stamp upon each city an unique character of its own. But, when we more minutely compare either the history or the surviving antiquities of the two cities, when we compare the circumstances under which each city rose to greatness, we shall find on the whole less of likeness than of unlikeness. The difference may be summed up when we say that Trier is the city of Constantine, that Ravenna is the city of Honorius...

Ravenna has nothing of any consequence belonging either to heathen Roman or to mediaeval times; its monuments belong to the days of Honorius and Placidia, to the days of the Gothic kingdom, to the very first days of the restored Imperial rule. To these, except one or two of the churches of Rome, there is nothing in the West to answer. The monuments of Trier are spread over a far wider space of time. They stretch from the first days of Roman occupation to an advanced stage of the Middle Ages. The mighty pile of the Black Gate, the Porta Nigra or Porta Martis, a pile to which Ravenna, and Rome herself, can supply no rival, is a work which it is hard to believe can belong to any days but those when the city was the dwelling-place of Emperors. Yet scholars are not lacking who argue that it really dates from the early days of the Roman only, from a date earlier than that which some other scholars assign to the first foundations of the colony, from the days of Claudius. The amphitheatre is said to date from the reign of Trajan. The basilica, so strangely changed into a Protestant church by the late King of Prussia, can hardly fail to be the work of Constantine. But, after all, the building at Trier which will most reward careful study is the metropolitan church. At the first glimpse it seems less unique than the Porta Nigra; its distinct outline is massive and picturesque, but it is an outline with which every one who has seen many of the great churches of Germany must be thoroughly familiar. Or, if it has a special character of its own, it seems to come from the blending of the four towers of the main buildings with a fifth, the massive tower of the Liebfrauenkirche, which, in the general view, none would fancy to be one of the most perfect and graceful specimens of the early German Gothic of the Thirteenth Century. It is only gradually that the unique character of the building dawns on the inquirer. What at first sight seemed to be a church of the type of Mainz, Worms, and Speyer, and inferior to them in lacking the central tower or cupola, turns out to be something which has no parallel north of the Alps, nor, we may add, south of them either. It is a Roman building of the Sixth Century-none the less Roman for being built under a Frankish king - preserving large portions of a yet earlier building of the Fourth. The capitals of its mighty columns peep out from amid the later work, and fragments of the pillars lie about in the cloister and before the western door, as the like fragments do in the Forum of Trajan. Repaired and enlarged in the Eleventh Century in remarkably close imitation of the original design, the church has gone through a series of additions and recastings, in order to change it into the likeness of an ordinary mediaeval German church. Had St. Vital at Ravenna, had St. Sophia itself, stood where the Dorn of Trier stands, the same misapplied labour would most likely have been bestowed upon them. But, well pleased as we should have been to have had such a building as this kept to us in its original form, there is no denying that those who enjoy spelling out the changes which a great building has gone through, comparing the statements of the local chroniclers with the evidence of the building itself -a process which, like every other process of discovery, is not without its charm - will find no more attractive problem of the kind than is supplied by the venerable minster of Trier.

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