Thursday, June 10, 2010

Zwiefalten Abbey

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the former Imperial Abbey of Zwiefalten in the Southwest of Germany. Founded in 1089, it was only in 1750 - merely half a century before the end of the Holy Roman Empire - that it was able to attain Imperial immediacy (Reichsunmittelbarkeit), after a period of an awkward arrangement with the dukes of Württemberg as advocates (Vögte) who had become Protestants at the Reformation. The 18th c. was thus a last flowering for the abbey, and it was then that the abbey church was completely rebuilt under abbots Augustin Stegmüller and Benedikt Mauz. The result is one of the most stunnig creations of the late baroque, and among my personal favourites. The main artists contributing were Johann Michael Fischer (architect), Franz Joseph Spiegler (frescoes), Johann Michael Feichtmayr (stucco), Johann Joseph Christian (sculpture).

The main façade (click images for larger versions):

General view of the nave:

In the last picture, you can already see the main fresco of the ceiling. There are no transverse arches in the nave and its four yokes have been united to a single surface, on which is painted the "Pilgrimage to Mary" by Franz Joseph Spiegler. There is little blue of the sky to be seen, which seperates the masses of the pilgrims on earth around the borders of the fresco from the golden glory of heaven where Mary and the Saints are, which dominates the fresco and determines the tonality of the entire church. The rays of grace emanating from the Most Holy Trinity pass from the Blessed Virgin through her image venerated at the Roman church of S. Benedict in Piscinula to St. Benedict, who receives them with open arms. From him the descends as tongues of fire - referencing the miracle of Pentecost - onto Saints of the Benedictine Order. Around the border famous Marian shrines are depicted (Genazzano, Zwiefalten, Fourvière, Pannonhalma, Altötting, Einsiedeln):

The fresco of the cupola shows Our Lady as the Regina Sanctorum Omnium:

Under the cupola at the entrance to the choir is the altar of the Cross (or altar of grace), where the goal of the pilgrimage, the image of Our Lady of Zwiefalten from 1430 is preserved:

Some side altars of the transept. Altar of St. John Nepoumcene (the angel to the right indicating the reason for his martyrdom):

Altar of St. Martin (the beggar with the half of the mantle to the right, being an embodiment of Christ, is highlighted by being coloured rather than white):

Detail of another altar - St. Gertrude - especially fitting on the eve of the Feast of the Sacred Heart:

Detail of the ceiling stucco in the transept:

Before the transept and the cupola, there is the pulpit on the epistle side. It forms an esemble with a scuplture of the Prophet Ezechiel in the same place on the gosepl side with a very rich theological programme, and which is considered one of the most accomplished creations of the Southern German Rococo sculpture. The pulpit:

The Prophet Ezechiel:

Looking back from the altar of the Cross, you can see the transept to the left, then the puplit, and then the side chapels of the nave:

Some impressions from the side chapels:

One of the consecration crosses with the corresponding sconce (in German called Apostelleuchter, this being the one of St. Philipp):

One of the two unusual confessionals at the back of the church, in the grotto style beloved by the late baroque (elements of it are also noticeable in the pulpit-Ezechiel-group):

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