Monday, October 13, 2008

The Treasure of Halberstadt I

When last week I wrote about the Lettner of Halberstadt Cathedral, I mentioned that the Cathedral and its Treasure would well be worth a post of their own. But that perhaps does not do justice to the singular significance of that Treasure, which - especially interesting for NLM readers - includes one of the most important collections of extant medieval liturgical vestments, in addition to Romanesque tapestries and invaluable relics. Therefore I have decided to write a little series of articles about the most striking items of the Halberstadt Cathedral Treasure, this being the introdcutory post.

The fact that this Treaure survived at the place to which it was attached is due to the rather unique circumstance that even after the Reformation there were Catholic canons in the Cathedral Chapter of Halberstadt who jealously guarded the relics, vestments and other items of the Treasure, and partly continued to use them. To very briefly outline the post-Reformation history, the first Protestant bishop of Halberstadt was installed in 1566. But even then, not all of the canons converted to the "New Doctrine". Fascinatingly, however, all the canons continued to pray (a slightly modified form of) the Divine Office together, and in a report of the 1570s from the archives of the Roman Congregation of the Propaganda Fide, we find that at the Protestant Cummunion service on Sundays in the High Choir of the Cathedral, one of the Catholic canons (who otherwise celebrated Mass for the remaining Catholics in two of the chapels of the Cathedral) assisted in the sacred vestments of a deacon. This situation lasted while Halberstadt remained a prince-bishopric until the Peace of Westphalia, when it (after having been again administrated, in the Thirty Years' War, by a Catholic bishop, the rather fascinating Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria, commander-in-chief of the Imperial Army in the Thirty Years' War, governor of the Netherlands and collector of art) was secularised and, as a secular principality, was given to the House of Brandenburg. However, the Cathedral chapter remained even then, and its composition was now fixed in the proportion it had at the conclusion of the Peace of Münster and Osnabrück in 1648: 16 Protestant and 4 Catholic canons. The mixed chapter continued to exist even after the general secularisation in the old German Empire in 1803, only being dissolved by the Napoleonic kingdom of Westphalia in 1810.

The first item I would like to share with you is a rather interesting paratus which belonged to, and bears the arms of, the Elector Archbishop of Mainz, Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg (of John Tetzel fame), who also was administrator of Halberstadt (1513 to 1545). I do not have any detailed information on this set as it is not contained in the book about the Treasure I have, but I would like to note some points of interest. First of all the blue colour; I don't know whether it was especially made for Marian feasts, or used more generally, but the spectacular embroidered cross of the chasuble (Kaselkreuz) with its central coronation of the BVM and the scene from the life of the Virgin below (the Visitation, I believe) strongly suggests the former. Then the rather interesting pattern of stole and maniple. Regarding the stole, it should be noted that all the stoles, from the earliest vestments on, are much narrower than what we know today. While we may have read this before, it is still quite striking to actually see it. Lastly note the fringes on the hems of the vestments, a quite frequent feature in those days. Click on the image to see a larger version, and excuse the less than ideal quality; as you can imagine, it is quite dark in this room to protect the delicate material, so pictures had to be taken either from somewhat unfortunate angles as here, or in other cases from my hands causing them to be slightly blurred.