Thursday, May 07, 2009

Catholic Bamberg: Banz Abbey

In our series on Catholic Bamberg, we now leave for a moment the city of Bamberg itself to visit the old Benedictine monastery of Banz, about half an hour North of Bamberg in the in the upper valley of the River Main.

It was founded in ca. 1070, and remained a Benedictine abbey until the secularisation (1803). After the destructions of the Thirty Years' War, it was rebuilt in its present Baroque form in the beginning of the 18th century (first plans in 1695) by the brothers Leonhard and Johann Dientzenhofer, whose work was completed with the magnficent courtyard by Balthasar Neumann. The interior of the abbey church is one of the most important and exceptional creations of the German Baroque.

Driving up the road (as alway, click on the pictures to see large versions):

From a little farther up the ridge:

Neumann's courtyard:

And now we enter the abbey church of Saints Peter and Dionysius (prepare to be overwhelmed):

Lets first have a look at the marvelous ceiling frescoes by Melchior Steidl (1716). Leading from the entrance to the high altar, they follow the mystical way to the contemplation of God of St. Teresa of Avila. The fresco of the first bay (which can only partly be seen in the next picture) shows the via purgativa (way of purification) with the Conversion of St. Paul. The frescoe of the main cupola shows the via illuminativa (way of enlightenment) with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. And the fescoe above the high altar shows the Last Supper illsutrating the via unitiva (way of union).

The fresco of the main cupola in greater detail:

Looking down again, our gaze is drawn to the high altar (by Balthasar Esterbauer after a design of Johann Dientzenhofer):

What you were perhaps unable so far to discern from the photographs (which would be exactly the effect desired by Dientzenhofer) is the circumstance that the altar painting which you can see (showing the martyrium of St. Dionysius by the Bamberg court painter Sebastian Reinhard from 1714) is not actually on the high altar. Rather, at the centre of the high altar is an opening which gives a free view of the altar painting of the choir altar of the monks' choir behind the high altar - a unique solution, creating an exceptional and singular experience of space, and making it possible to reconcile the necessity of the elongate choir with the desired impression of a central-plan builidng. I hope this becomes clearer from the following two pictures (which are not very sharp, for which I apologise).

In the intercolumnia of the high altar are statues of Saints Peter and Paul, while above the opening to the choir we see the glorification of St. Benedict, which you can see in greater detail in the following image. In the glass shrines upon the altar are the relics of the holy Martyrs Valerius and Vincentius.

Now for some side altars. First the side altar of the left choir pillar, the altar of the three Magi, with an altar painting by Scheubel the Older flanked by statues of Saints Barbara and Catharine. In the glass case to the left of the altar is one of the most beautiful rococo Madonnas of Franconia, which was carried in procession by the confraternity of the Rosary. Above the altar is the first of a series of six statues of Saints connected to the Benedictine Order (interestingly, and presumably to stress this connection, they all wear the black Benedictine habit, even under the Mass vestments): my patron Saint, St. Gregory the Great.

The side altar of the right choir pillar is the altar of the Fourteen Holy Helpers (the famous Shrine of the Fourteen Holy Helpers - Vierzehnheiligen - is on the opposite Banz on the other side of the Main valley, can actually be seen from Banz and will be the subject of a subsequent instalment of this series) flanked by statues of Saints Dorothee and Margaret. Above it is St. Otto of Bamberg, about whom we have already spoken a lot. He holds a model of the abbey church of Banz, since he himself consecrated the first church in 1114. Beside is an image of Our Lady of Good Counsel, which is still very much venerated, as evidenced by the candles.

This is the altar of the aforementioned confraternity of the Rosary, with the painting showing St. Dominic receiving the Rosary from Our Lady in order to pray for the poor souls. The altar is surrounded by fiftenn medaillons with the mysteries of the Rosary.

The pulpit, crowned by Faith, Hope and Charity, above it St. Boniface.

Two more of the Benedictine Saints. St. Ildefonsus of Toledo:

And St. Kilian of Würzburg:

The organ:

And to conclude this post, one of the beautiful rococo confessionals:

Previous entries of the Bamberg series:

A Piece of Heaven on Earth: Bamberg

The Church of St. Getreu

House Shrines, Wayside Crosses and Easter Wells

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: