Monday, October 06, 2008

The Pulpitum of Halberstadt Cathedral

Last week, Fra Lawrence had a fascinating post on the rood screen in general and in particular that at St Birinus, Dorchester-on-Thames (England), causing many readers to express great interest in the rood screen.

As you may know, in cathedrals and larger churches, instead of the the rood screen there was the more massive pulpitum, which like the rood loft was used for for the reading of the Epistle or Gospel, certain lections, the pastorals of bishops, the Acts of councils, and other like purposes, while large monastic churches often had both a rood screen and a pulpitum (the terms are often also used interchangeably, while in German there is only one word, Lettner, probably derived from Latin lectionarium; for more information see this article of the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia).

A magnificent (very) late Gothic example of such a pulpitum (Lettner) is still to be found in the spectacular Cathedral of Halberstadt, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany, which, together with the other treasures of that marvelous city (82 percent of which was tragically destroyed by allied bombing in the last days of the war) would be well worth a post of its own; perhaps at another time.

Here it is (all pictures taken by yours truly without a tripod, so please excuse if they are not all perfectly sharp; click on the pictures to see larger versions):

The Lettner was finished between 1505 and 1510; the sculptures beside the doors are the Cathedral's Patrons, Saints Sixtus and Stephanus, in the centre, flanked by Our Lady and St. Catharine of Alexandria.

Above the Lettner is the Rood itself, which is as you can see much older. It is in fact the oldest part of the entire Cathedral, coming from the previous Ottonian Cathedral and dating from 1210/20. This late Romanesque Rood (and the accompanying statues of Our Lady and St. John as well as two Cherubim on wheels of fire) belongs to the most important extant works of plastic art of this period in Germany. The rood and the other scupltures are mounted on a beam, which in English is mostly called the rood beam, while in German its usual designation is Apostelbalken (Apostles' beam), because, as also here, it shows images of the Twelve Apostles.

The back side of the Lettner, where you can see the winding stair to ascend it:

The pulpitum seen from the entrance of the Cathedral:

You can see a professional image of the Lettner at this link (pdf file).

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