Tuesday, March 02, 2010

St. Lawrence, Nuremberg

One of the jewels of the southern German late gothic is the church of St. Lawrence in Nuremberg, which I recently visited and took some pictures.

The church, south of the River Pegnitz, is one of the original two parish churches of Nuremberg, together with St. Sebaldus north of it. The rivalry between these two parishes has greatly contributed to the exceptional development of these churches, which resemble cathedrals rather than mere parish churches.

After a smaller Romanesque basilica, the present church was begun as a three nave basilica around 1250 and concluded around 1390. This is the western façade with its twin towers, and the decorative wall with its tiered tympanum and its multilayered tracery rose window, which was finished by 1353 as evidenced by the alliance coat of arms of Emperor Charles IV and his third wife Anne of Schweidnitz and Jauer (click photographs to enlarge).

By the time the church was completed, St. Sebaldus had already been extended with a magnificent hall choir. In this picture, where St. Lawrence is to the right and the only surviving gothic tower house of Nuremberg to the left, in the background, in front of Nuremberg's dominating Imperial Castle, you can see the steep roof of St.Sebaldus's hall choir:

In 1425, the parish church of St.Sebaldus had greatly augmented its importance by finally obtaining from Rome the formal canonisation of its patron, St. Sebaldus. St. Lawrence could obviously not do the same, the relics of its patron being in Rome, but they now remembered that in 1316 they had been given by Emperor Louis the Bavarian the relics of St. Deocarus, Abbot, court chaplain and confessor to St. Charlesmagne. His relics were now exposed in a silver shrine on a new altar (the shrine, like all the other furnishings of St. Lawrence's, survived the reformation, given the conservative attitude of Nuremberg's patricians, whose ancestors had erected these monuments; it was, however, sold for the pure metal worth and molten down after the Free Imperial City of Nuremberg had passed to the kingdom of Bavaria in 1806):

Around this altar of St. Deocarus, a new hall choir was begun in 1439 and finished in 1477. The architects retained the statues of the Apostles from the preceding building, and their continuous array masterfully joins nave and new choir. This is the view thorugh the nave towards the choir:

Here you can see a detail of the nave and some of the Apsotle statues, with the grand bronze chandelier by Peter Vischer from 1489:

Some other items from the nave of particular note. A lignum virtæ, a Tree of Life Crucifix, from ca. 1430:

The oldest monumental sculpture of Nuremberg, the Madonna of the adoration (ca. 1285):

Now before entering the choir, originally you would have seen this altar of St. John from ca. 1520, which contains an older Last Supper (ca. 1420), indicating its function as a Speisealtar, the altar where Holy Communion was distributed. It was removed to its present location in the ambulatory in 1823:

And now we enter the choir. First some impressions of this amazing space from the ambulatory and of the very intricate vaulting:

Looking back from the east into the nave:

In this last picture, you have already seen from behind one of the two most important works of art of St. Lawrence's: the Angelic Salutation by Veit Stoß, one of the most important sculptors of the Late Gothic period, of 1517/1518. It is a medaillon freely hanging in the room, showing the Annunciation with the Rosary as a frame. The chandelier belongs to it and was also made by Veit Stoß. Approaching it form the main nave:

The other work of art, of which we have also had glimpses in the photographs above, is the Sakramentshaus, sacrament house, a particular form of freestanding tabernacle, which developed in German gothic architecture from the late 14th/early 15th century onwards. This Sakramentshaus by Adam Kraft from 1493/96 is exceptional both for its sculptural quality and figurative richness, as well as its impressive height of over 20 m (65 ft).

The elevated walkway and its balustrade surrounding the tabernacle proper are carried by three figures representing the three ages of man. Adulthood is represented by the sculptor himself:

Around the balustrade are figures of Saints related to the church, Nuremberg and the donors:

Here is a detail showing the patrons of this church and its rival, St. Lawrence (right) and St. Sebaldus (left):

In the field above the tabernacle proper is depicted the Last Supper on the front side and (barely visible) the Garden of Gethsemane on the left:

On the right, the Lord taking leave from his Mother before the Passion, a scene although not recounted in the Gospel, specifically requested by the donor. On the next level, to the right the Flagellation, and on the front side, the Ecce homo:

On the left side, Pilate washing his hands (and below that, a better view of the Garden of Gethsemane):

On the next level is Christ on the Cross, and on the top level, the Resurrection:

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