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German Romanesque - Influences

( Originally Published 1921 )



I. Geographical.—Germany was through many centuries a conglomeration, first of various tribes fighting amongst themselves, and then of various independent states, principalities, and powers occupying the great central district of Europe. This country north of the Alps was not geographically so generally accessible to Roman influence as was Gaul, with her sea-ports and great trade routes, but here the Rhine played the same part in civilisation as the Rhone did in Gaul, and Roman civilization spread north-west along the fertile Rhineland and into Saxony, and here Roman cities had been founded, while the region to the north and east was untouched by Roman civilisation. The " Peutinger Tabula," a Mediaeval copy of a Roman map, now at Vienna, shows the principal Roman towns on the Rhine, with their thermae and other public buildings.

II. Geological.—Stone from the mountains along the Rhine Valley was the material used for buildings in this district, and the churches were rendered more permanent and fireproof by the early introduction of vaulting. Along the Baltic shores and in central and southern Germany there was an ample supply of timber. As there was no stone or timber in the plains of the north-west, brick was there employed, and the style consequently differs from that of other districts.

III. Climatic.—The average temperature of central Germany is much the same as in southern England, but the heat in summer is ten degrees higher and in winter correspondingly lower, a variation which is still indicated in Berlin by the conversion of carriages into sledges for winter use. Roman influence on architecture of this period was so insistent that even the northern climate did not exert its full influence in building, nevertheless there was a distinct tendency to large windows, suitable for the north, and to steep roofs to throw off snow.

IV. Religious.—Christianity naturally followed along much the same lines as Roman civilisation, and under the influence of Rome it took root in southern Germany and in the Rhineland, while the rest of the country remained pagan. As early as the sixth century the bishops of Treves and Cologne were conspicuous in promoting church building, of which evidences can still be traced. Charlemagne, in furtherance of his desire to extend the Christian religion, forced the people of Saxony to embrace Christianity, and this resulted in the erection of a number of circular baptisteries, as the conversion of the tribes made a great demand for the baptismal rite.

V. Social.—The social development of these central districts was much the same as in Europe generally : a few strong kings emerged from among weak ones, while feudal lords were constantly intolerant of kingly authority and oppressive towards the people, who became freemen or fell back as serfs, according as kings and cities prevailed against feudal tyranny, and at this period churches were only churches of monks and not of the common people. Germany, united under Charlemagne, after-wards split up into small principalities, and these conditions naturally fostered differences in architectural style. The feudal system made great strides, as it appealed to the desire of the feudal lords to become dukes of independent states, who could defy the authority of the king and tyrannise over freemen. Cities, which first grew strong in the Rhineland, found more consideration from kings than from feudal lords, so that the country was distracted by constant strife, till in A.D. 919 Henry the Fowler made himself king of a united Germany and there was peace in his time, during which many towns sprang up and freemen found it possible to carry on their industries.

VI. Historical.—Charlemagne (A.D. 768–814), the first Frankish king who became Roman Emperor, was crowned in A.D. 800 at Rome by the Pope, and ruled over the land of the Franks, which included central Germany and northern Gaul, and he also established the Frankish dominion over southern Gaul and northern Italy (p. 252). He restored civilisation in a great measure to Western Europe, and was a patron of architecture and the allied arts. On Charlemagne's death in A.D. 814, his empire crumbled to pieces and the German princes demanded the right to elect their own sovereign, and Conrad I (A.D. 911–919) reigned as King of Germany. Henry the Fowler (A.D. 919–936) drove the Magyars out of Saxony, subjugated Bohemia and the tribes between the Elbe and the Oder, thus again establishing a united Germany. Otto the Great (A.D. 936–973) was crowned King at Aix-la-Chapelle, and his wars, including his conquest of Lombardy (A.D. 951), made him the greatest sovereign in Europe, and in A.D. 961 he received the Imperial crown at Rome ; but for two centuries after his death the royal authority remained weak. His power is reflected not only in the extent of his empire, but also in the number of important buildings erected in his dominions. When Conrad II in A.D. 1024 became King of Germany, Denmark, under Canute the Great, threatened his power on the north, and Poland and Hungary on the east, but he inaugurated the great Imperial age, by restricting the power of both secular and ecclesiastical princes. After wars between rival claimants, Conrad III in A.D. 1138 became the first of the Hohenstaufen dynasty and was followed by Frederick Barbarossa (A.D. 1152-90), who was also crowned Emperor at Rome. He reduced Denmark and Poland, secured the alliance of Hungary and negotiated with France and England, but his interference in papal schisms brought disaster, till Emperor and Pope were reconciled under Gregory VIII. The position of Germany was again reasserted in Europe by the brilliant Frederick II (A.D. 1218—50), who united in himself the crowns of the Holy Roman Empire, Germany, Sicily, Lombardy, Burgundy, and Jerusalem. The political connections of the Hohenstaufen (or Swabian) Emperors (A.D. 1138—1273) with Lombardy is evidenced in the similarity of the architecture of the two countries during the Romanesque period.



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