The Romanesque Road in Germany

The St. Cyriacus Chruch in Gernrode. Photo: TES.

The “Romanesque Road” in the region between the Harz Mountains and the River Elbe in Saxon-Anhalt was once one of the most important political and cultural centres of Germany. It was the land of the early kings and emperors, who emerged in the course of the tenth century. Magnificent cathedrals, small country churches, cloisters, abbeys, castles and cities, they all bear witness to the importance and prosperity of the region.

Saxony-Anhalt is blessed with an abundance of architectural monuments from the early part of Romanesque architecture and arts from this period. Some of them are well known, e.g. the “Stiftskirche” (collegiate church) in Quedlinburg, which towers over the old town with its 1200 half-timbered houses. Others are more difficult to discover, like the small village churches and red-brick buildings in the Altmark, the late Romanesque wall paintings in the church of St. Thomas in Petzien or the gardens of the monastery in Drübeck.

The “Romanesque Road” offers a glimpse into medieval life and the magnificence of courtly and ecclesiastical life. The cathedral St. Johannes and St. Laurentius and the castle and chapter house in Merseburg are well kept buildings and the Merseburg Incantations are one of the oldest written examples of the German language. One of the highlights in the newly restored chapter house is the legendary robe of Otto the Great. The Merseburg cathedral treasury, as well as the diocesan archives and library are also located in the chapter house. An astounding copy of the famous “Merseburg Incantations” is also on display.The cathedral St. Peter und Paul zu Naumburg shows romanesque works of art in the Naumburg cathedral treasury vault, one of the largest Romanesque vaults in central Germany. The Cathedral St. Stephanus und St. Sixtus in Halberstadt harbours the largest collection of medieval art that remains to German churches. The cathedral treasury’s extensive 300 piece textile collection is impressive, including Europe’s oldest preserved tapestry, the Abraham-Angel Tapestry. Precious reliquaries, altar furnishings and ivory carvings attest to the great skill of Islamic and Byzantinian craftsmen.

The Collegiate Church of St.Servatius in Quedlinburg shows where German kingship began. Henry I, elected king of the East Frankish kingdom in 919 AD, turned Quedlinburg into its most important palatinate. The comb of Henry I is one of the cathedral treasury’s most beautiful pieces. Made of ivory in the 7th-8th century, it comes from Syria. It may have been brought to the king before the coronation. An especially striking treasure in the collection is the world-renowned Samuel Gospel. The manuscript is from the 9th century. The over 1000 years old Church of St. Cyriacus in Gernrode is one of the oldest churches of Northern Europe. The monastery was built in the 10th century and considered to be one of the most important monuments of German Romanesque. It is almost unchanged structure from Ottonian times. She holds the oldest crypt and a unique stucco room in the southern aisle, the oldest replica of the tomb of Christ in Germany.

The St. Mauritius Dom in Magdeburg is a Gothic building, but with Romanesque roots. Otto I founded the church of St. Mauritius in 937 and upgraded the renovated church to cathedral in 968. Many treasures from antiquity and Byzantium were collected by Otto and his successors. The Romanesque cathedral was destroyed by fire in 1204 and was rebuilt and inaugurated as Gothic church in 1362. The Romanesque cloister of Our Lady and the Johannes Church are other Romanesque highlights (Text and further information: www.sachsen-anhalt-tourismus.de)