Thursday, May 21, 2009

Neuzelle Abbey

As an entr'acte, if you will, to our series about Catholic Bamberg - which will definitely be continued - today we visit another treasure of Catholic Germany closer to my home Berlin, which I visited last Sunday: the former Cistercian Abbey of Neuzelle ("New Cell") in the state of Brandenburg. The Abbey was founded in 1268 by Henry the Illustrious, Margrave of Meissen and Lusatia (Neuzelle is situated in Lower Lusatia) for the benefit of the soul of his deceased wife Agnes. Since Lusatia subsequently came to the crown of Bohemia and thus the Habsburgs, and the religious life of the abbey was exemplary, Neuzelle survived the Reformation, and could even continue when it fell to Saxony as a consequence of the Thirty Years' War, since the Emperor reserved certain rights to Himself, and closely attached the abbey ecclesiastically to Prague. Thus the abbey even survived the secularisation of 1803. However, after the territory was annexed by Prussia in 1815 as a result of the Congress of Vienna, the abbey was dissolved in 1817 (even though the Prussian King had promised to maintain all spiritual foundations). The abbey church became the Catholic parish church.

The abbey church was probably consecrated in 1309. It was built as a Gothic hall church. To this basic structure, which can still be discerned as you will see in the pictures, baroque stucco work and a new (mock) vaulting to create room for the ceiling frescoes immediately after the Thirty Years' War (1655). The new side altars - so characteristic for this church -, as well as a new choir and high altar were added by Bohemian artists under Abbot Martinus Graff (1727-1741). The works were crowned in the consecration of the new high altar by Bishop Andreas Zaluski of Kulm, Grand Chancellor of the Crown of Poland in 1741, three days before the death of Abbot Martinus.

This is the overwhelming view that presents itself to you upon entering the abbey church (as always, click for larger images):

Here it is during the May devotion in the afternoon:

Now a closer look at some of the ten pillar altars which so define the interior of the church. The first altar (from the entrance) on the epistle side is the altar of St. Anthony of Padua, whose painting is flanked by statues of Saints Bruno of Cologne and Celestine V:

The statue of St. Bruno was particularly beautifully lit:

The next altar on the epistle side is the altar of priests, dedicated to St. John Nepomucene, whose incorrupt tongue in a reliquary is shown in the upper painting (I don't know the technical term in English for this part of the altar; in German it is the "Auszug"), flanked by Saints Anselm of Canterbury and Thomas a Becket.

A detail of St. Anselm:

The row of side altars has a larger pair at its center. On the Gospel side, there is actually no altar, but in its stead the pulpit, a genuine masterpiece. The four Evangelists sit around the base:

The sounding-board is crowned by the three theological virtues, and the Good Shepherd:

On the door to the stairway leading up to the pulpit, Jacob's ladder is depicted:

Opposite the pulpit on the epistle side is the altar of the Baptism: The Baptism of the Lord is surrounded by the four Western Fathers. On the cornices are seven virtues and seven Archangels, while in the central line, the Holy Ghost descend from the Father upon the Son.

To the right of the altar of the Baptism is the chapel of St. Joseph which was added to the church in 1735:

The next pair of altars is dedicated to the Holy Cross (Gospel side) and the Pietà (epistle side, flanked by Saints Mary Magdalen and Apollonia):

The last pair of pillar altars is dedicated to the Divine Infant (Gospel side) and Our Lady (epistle side). These altars are accompanied by statues of four Archangels. A detail of St. Raphael from the altar of the Divine Infant:

And the altar of Our Lady. The image, which is very much venerated, is from 1470. In the "auszug" is an image very dear to the 18th century, and especially so in Spain - Our Lady as the Divine Shepherdess ("Divina Pastora"):

The major side altars, which terminate the aisles, are dedicated to the two Fathers of the Cistercian Order, St. Benedict (Gospel side) and St. Bernard (epistle side). On the altar of St. Benedict the Saint is depicted dying, to his left and right statues of his disciples Saints Placidus and Maurus, and to the far left and right St. Benno of Meissen and St. Martin of Tours. On the middle cornice, St. Benedict seeing in a vision the extension of his order is flanked by Saints Odilo of Cluny and Robert of Molesmes, the founder of Cîteaux.

The altar of St. Bernard shows the famous vision in which the Crucified bends down from the Cross to embrace St. Bernard. The painting is flanked by statues of the two successors of St. Robert as abbots of Cîteaux, Saints Alberic and Stephen Harding (who looks enraptured at the scene of the altar painting). They in turn are flanked, as on the altar of St. Benedict, by two holy bishops, Saints Denis (the putto is holding his head) and Augustine (holding aloft his burning heart). On the middle cornice, again parallel to the altar of St. Benedict, St. Bernard receives the abbatial insignia from Our Lady. Here he is flanked by two holy nuns and mystics, St. Lutgardis of Tongeren (a Cistercian) and St. Juliana of Liège with the monstrance.

A detail of the cornice:

Finally, we come to the high altar, dedicated, as in all Cistercian churches, to the Assumption of Our Lady:

A unique element here is the tabernacle. It is a group of three larger-than-life statues showing Our Lord breaking the Bread of the Holy Eucharist to the Disciples at Emmaus; the table at which this scene takes place is the tabernacle proper:

Two more details of the high altar. The "auszug" with the Holy Trinity awaiting Our Lady in the heavenly glory:

And a statue of my Patron Saint:

Two conclude this post, some exterior images:

Here you can well discern the later addition of the chapel of St. Joseph:

The Abbey garden has been beautifully restored:

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