Riemenschneider in Rothenburg: Sacred Space and Civic Identity in the Late Medieval City 9780271090016

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Riemenschneider in Rothenburg: Sacred Space and Civic Identity in the Late Medieval City

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Riemenschneider in Rothenburg

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Katherine M. Boivin

Riemenschneider in Rothenburg Sacred Space and Civic Identity in the Late Medieval City

The Pennsylvania State University Press | University Park, Pennsylvania

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Unless otherwise noted, all photographs are by the author. Frontispiece: Detail from the Holy Blood Altarpiece showing Judas and Jesus. Photo: author. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Boivin, Katherine M. (Katherine Morris), 1984– author. Title: Riemenschneider in Rothenburg : sacred space and civic identity in the late medieval city / Katherine M. Boivin. Description: University Park, Pennsylvania : The Pennsylvania State University Press, [2021] | Includes bibliographical references and index. Summary: “Investigates how medieval urban planning and artistic programming worked together to form dynamic environments, demonstrating the agency of objects, styles, and spaces in mapping the late medieval city”—Provided by publisher. Identifiers: LCCN 2020051776 | ISBN 9780271087788 (cloth) Subjects: LCSH: Riemenschneider, Tilman, approximately 1460–1531. | Art—Commissioning—Germany— Rothenburg ob der Tauber—History—16th century. | Altarpieces—Germany—Rothenburg ob der Tauber—History—16th century. | Sacred space—Germany—Rothenburg ob der Tauber—History—16th century. | City planning—Germany—Rothenburg ob der Tauber—History—16th century. Classification: LCC N5205.7.G3 B65 2021 | DDC 726.5/29109433—dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2020051776 Copyright © 2021 Katherine M. Boivin All rights reserved Printed in Lithuania Published by The Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park, PA 16802–1003 The Pennsylvania State University Press is a member of the Association of University Presses. It is the policy of The Pennsylvania State University Press to use acid-free paper. Publications on uncoated stock satisfy the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Material, ansi z39.48–1992.

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For Benoit, Brielle, and Kellan

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List of Illustrations | ix Acknowledgments | xi List of Abbreviations | xv

Introduction | 1 1. The City as Patron | 15 2. A Pilgrimage Environment | 43 3. The Urban Complex | 87 4. Remapping the City | 129 Epilogue: The Modern Medieval City | 175

Notes | 183 Bibliography | 207 Index | 225

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1. Holy Blood Altarpiece within the western chapel of St. Jakob in Rothenburg | xvi 2. Map of Rothenburg by Johann Ludwig Schäffer, 1729 |8 3. View of Rothenburg by Hans Meichsner, 1615 | 9 4. Plan of St. Jakob and the urban complex in Rothenburg | 17 5. Exterior of the east choir of St. Jakob | 23 6. Vaults of the Deutschhauskirche in Würzburg | 25 7. Vaults of the choir of St. Jakob | 25 8. Interior of St. Jakob toward the east | 32 9. Nave of St. Jakob toward the west | 33 10. East choir of St. Sebald in Nuremberg | 34 11. Choir and nave vaulting of St. Jakob | 35 12. View of St. Jakob from the south | 37 13. Map of Rothenburg | 39 14. West end of St. Jakob, with the Klingengasse passageway | 44 15. Cross reliquary with the Holy Blood relic | 46 16. North doorway of the Holy Blood Chapel in Rothenburg | 55 17. South doorway of the Holy Blood Chapel | 55 18. Longitudinal section of St. Jakob by Leonhard Häffner, 1899 | 56 19. Klingengasse passageway and paired portals of the Heiltumskammer | 56 20. Interior of St. Jakob toward the west, 1968 | 58 21. Klingengasse passageway from the southwest | 60 22. Monolithic window tracery at the west end of St. Jakob | 62 23 Interior of the Heiltumskammer from the west | 63 24. Deutschhauskirche in Würzburg from the south | 64 25. Wernerkapelle in Oberwesel from the northeast | 65 26. Street passageway of the Wernerkapelle from the southeast | 66 27. Cross and longitudinal sections of the Church of the Holy Savior in Passau | 67 28. Interior of the upper story of the Church of the Holy Savior | 68 29. Crest of the Holy Blood Altarpiece | 71 30. Predella of the Holy Blood Altarpiece | 72 31. Central shrine and wings of the Holy Blood Altarpiece | 73 32. Detail from the Holy Blood Altarpiece showing Judas and Jesus | 74

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33. Detail of the Rankenwerk canopy from the Holy Blood Altarpiece | 76 34. Back of the Holy Blood Altarpiece | 77 35. Detail of pointing apostle from the Holy Blood Altarpiece | 78 36. Detail of the Holy Blood Altarpiece showing the Entry into Jerusalem | 78 37. Vaults of the Holy Blood Chapel | 81 38. Plan of St. Jakob at the gallery level | 82 39. Chapel and Altarpiece of the Holy Blood seen from the northeast | 83 40. View of the Holy Blood Altarpiece from the north stairway of the west end | 84 41. Compilation of images showing the parochial complex of Rothenburg | 89 42. Lower ossuary of the charnel-house chapel in Oppenheim | 94 43. Engraving of the Kirchplatz in Rothenburg by Johann Friedrich Schmidt, 1762 | 95 44. Charnel-House Chapel of St. Kilian in Wertheim | 97 45. Charnel-House Chapel of St. Michael in Ochsenfurt | 98 46. Plan of the urban complex in Kiedrich | 99 47. Charnel-House Chapel of St. Michael in Kiedrich | 99 48. Drawing of St. Michael by Johann Ludwig Schäffer, 1729 | 101 49. Interior of the lower ossuary of St. Michael in Kiedrich | 103 50. Holy Cross Altarpiece by Tilman Riemenschneider now in Detwang | 106 51. Reconstruction of the Holy Cross Altarpiece | 106 52. Detail of mourning group from the Holy Cross Altarpiece | 108 53. Detail of Christ on the cross from the Holy Cross Altarpiece | 109 54. Detail of sleeping apostles from the Holy Cross Altarpiece | 110 55. Resurrection scene from the Holy Cross Altarpiece | 111 56. Surviving wall of the Charnel-House Chapel of St. Michael in Rothenburg | 112 57. Aerial view of the location of St. Michael in Rothenburg | 112 58. Drawing of the Dominican convent church in Rothenburg by Johann Ludwig Schäffer, 1738 | 112

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59. Surviving convent building with doors to the destroyed Dominican convent church | 112 60. Mount of Olives scene from the Holy Blood Altarpiece | 114 61. Mount of Olives scene from the Holy Cross Altarpiece | 114 62. High altar and sacrament niche in the east choir of St. Jakob | 116 63. Detail of south stained-glass window in the east choir of St. Jakob | 117 64. Bottom register of stained-glass window in the east choir of St. Jakob | 119 65. Man of Sorrows group on east choir of St. Jakob | 121 66. Original Man of Sorrows figure | 122 67. Sculptural groups on the exterior of St. Jakob | 124 68. Original Christ in Majesty figure | 125 69. Figure of Saint Michael slaying the dragon in St. Jakob | 126 70. St. Wolfgang Altarpiece by Tilman Riemenschneider and Wilhelm Ziegler in the Chapel of St. Wolfgang in Rothenburg | 128 71. Marian Assumption Altarpiece by Tilman Riemenschneider now in Creglingen | 134 72. Back of the Marian Assumption Altarpiece | 136 73. Detail from painting of the interior of St. Jakob toward the east, ca. 1670 | 137 74. Detail of Mary from the Marian Assumption Altarpiece | 138 75. Detail of the Rankenwerk and crest of the Marian Assumption Altarpiece | 139 76. Coronation of the Virgin from the Marian Assumption Altarpiece | 140 77. Compilation of surviving fragments from the Crucifixion Altarpiece by Tilman Riemenschneider and Martin Schwarz | 141 78. Figural group from the Crucifixion Altarpiece now in Munich | 142 79. Figural group from the Crucifixion Altarpiece now in Munich | 142 80. Detail of figural groups from the Holy Cross Altarpiece | 143 81. Mount of Olives scene from the Crucifixion Altarpiece now in Berchtesgaden | 144 82. Resurrection scene from the Crucifixion Altarpiece now in Berchtesgaden | 145 83. Nave and rood screen of the Franciscan church in Rothenburg | 146


84. St. Francis Altarpiece by Tilman Riemenschneider and Martin Schwarz in the Franciscan church in Rothenburg | 147 85. Detail of the sleeping companion from the St. Francis Altarpiece | 148 86. Central-shrine figure of the St. Ludwig of Toulouse Altarpiece now in St. Jakob | 149 87. Drawing of the Marian chapel on the Milchmarkt by Johann Ludwig Schäffer, 1745 | 155 88. Chapel of St. Wolfgang in Rothenburg | 156 89. Longitudinal section and plan of St. Wolfgang | 156 90. Interior of St. Wolfgang toward the east | 158 91. St. Wolfgang Altarpiece by Tilman Riemenschneider and Wilhelm Ziegler, 1515 | 160 92. Detail of the central shrine figure of the St. Wolfgang Altarpiece | 161 93. Paired portals of the St. Wolfgang Chapel from the south | 162 94. Interior of the Marian chapel of Kobolzell toward the west | 163 95. Marian chapel of Kobolzell from the southwest | 164 96. Rathaus in Rothenburg, with its old and new wings | 177 97. Aerial view of the southeast corner of the Marktplatz in Rothenburg | 180


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It is fitting that a book about the sustained and

will recognize its passages distributed throughout

collaborative artistic programs of the Middle Ages

this book’s two central chapters. The feedback of

begin with an acknowledgment of the many people

two anonymous reviewers and of the editorial team

who contributed to the current project. Some of

headed by Nina Athanassoglou-Kallmyer was vital

their contributions are visible in the notes, figures,

in shaping this core, on which Riemenschneider in

and captions, but many are invisible, despite the

Rothenburg expands. While researching this study,

tremendous impact they had on this book. They

I also prepared two articles on subjects tangen-

are the modern-day equivalents of the unsung

tially related to the current text: one, on chancel

masons, glaziers, carpenters, and donors without

passageways, appeared in 2015 in the British

whom the medieval city would never have existed.

Archaeological Association’s volume on Norwich;

the other, on two-story charnel houses, is forth-

The support and advocacy of my editor Eleanor

Goodman—charming, sharp, and ever dressed

coming in an edited volume titled Picturing Death,

to the nines—and her team at the Pennsylvania

1200–1600. I am grateful to the organizers and

State University Press have been invaluable in

editors of these publications for the opportunity to

transforming the following pages into a beautiful

publish my work.

book. I am grateful, too, for the close and insight-

ful feedback of two anonymous reviewers who

volume presents was possible only with the

strengthened the flow of my manuscript.

assistance of countless archivists, church adminis-

trators, librarians, and museum staff, who literally

The publication of this book was supported

The archival and on-site research that this

by generous grants from Bard College. At various

and figuratively opened doors for me. They are

stages I received support for my research from

too numerous to name here, though they have

the National Endowment for the Humanities, the

my gratitude nonetheless. Among them, special

International Center of Medieval Art, the Samuel

thanks is due to the Rother family, who, on several

H. Kress Foundation, the Fulbright Program, the

occasions, provided me access to their home,

German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), and

which incorporates the one surviving wall of the

Bard College. Particularly at this time of cutbacks

Chapel of St. Michael in Rothenburg. For images,

in humanities and research funding, the support

I am particularly indebted to Matthias Weniger at

of these organizations and of the many individu-

the Bayerisches National Museum, whose beautiful

als who contribute to their funds, serve on their

photography appears more than once in this book.

boards, or otherwise support their mission makes

Hellmuth Möhring, director of the Rothenburg-

the work of academics possible.

Museum, too, provided valuable photographs and

Those who have read my June 2017 Art Bulletin

permissions for which I am grateful.

article, “Holy Blood, Holy Cross: Dynamic Inter-

actions in the Parochial Complex of Rothenburg,”

research in Rothenburg over the years. Oliver

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Two people in particular supported my

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Gußmann, Lutheran pastor in the Parish of St.

the fabric of this book. Their engagement with my

Jakob and a scholar himself, made many things

work at a formative moment did much to boost my

possible—like candlelight viewings of the Holy

confidence. Nancy Wu, too, has been a long-term

Blood Altarpiece and off-season visits to the

mentor and inspiration since my days working as a

Chapel of St. Wolfgang, the Franciscan church,

guide at the Cloisters Museum.

and the Church Sts. Peter and Paul in Detwang.

Jérôme Zahn, master mason in charge of the most

friends at conferences over the years have been

recent restoration of the Church of St. Jakob and

influential as I worked on this extended project.

now director of the Dombauhütte Passau, took

In particular, Joseph Ackley, Robert Bork, Shirin

me under his wing when I first arrived to conduct

Fozi, Eliza Garrison, Sarah Guérin, and Jennifer

research in Rothenburg. I thank him from the

Kingsley must be mentioned here, though there are

bottom of my heart for the incalculable wealth of

many, many others. A special note of thanks also

resources, photography, historic documentation,

to Sonja Drimmer, Chris Fletcher, Lyle Dechant,

and expertise that he shared with me. He was my

and an anonymous reader for weighing in on the

quick-footed guide up the scaffolding, my advo-

transcription and translation of particularly tricky

cate in matters of access, my Gesprächspartner as I

lines of medieval German and Latin in this book.

developed my ideas. He, his wife, Nicole, and their

two sons, Lukas and Philipp, also became my dear

conference, Riemenschneider in Situ, in Franco-

friends and my family away from home.

nia with Gregory Bryda. His energy, enthusiasm,

and quick wit but also his engagement with my

Of course, this book owes a deep debt to many

Conversations with many other scholars and

In June 2017, I co-organized an international

scholars with whom I have had the great privilege

work were a great encouragement as I finished this

to work over the years. I hope that my Doktorvater,

manuscript. The conference itself proved a wonder-

Stephen Murray, will find in its pages traces of his

ful opportunity to test my ideas in front of many

own interests and scholarly preoccupations that

colleagues, and I want to thank all the participants

early on inspired my research. His eloquence, both

for the lively and productive discussions both in

on the page and in the classroom, will forever echo

sessions and on-site. In particular, I well remember

in my ears and set a high bar for emulation. The

conversations with Julien Chapuis, Hanns Hubach,

initial contours of the project owe much to him

Volker Schaible, and Tim Juckes that changed the

and to the many rich conversations I had with

way I looked at certain works.

Holger Klein at Columbia. Together, these two

scholars formed a dynamic duo on whose steadfast

list as well. His scholarship, like Jacqueline Jung’s,

mentorship I have gratefully relied.

forms a critical point of departure for my own

work; his eloquence as a writer is one to which I

Beginning during my time at Columbia but

Mitchell Merback certainly belongs on this

also in the years since, I have benefited from the

aspire. Michele Marincola was our guiding star

generous mentorship of other esteemed colleagues

throughout the organization of the 2017 confer-

as well. Foremost among these are Norbert Nuss-

ence and long after. I owe an untold debt to her

baum and Jacqueline Jung. Their critical feedback,

generosity and mentorship, not to mention to her

as well as their scholarship, is deeply woven into

work, as I do to my first advisor in medieval art


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history, Madeline Caviness, who instilled in me

a deep interest in the social dynamics of Gothic

chapter over the years as well as the full manuscript


from start to finish before it went out for peer

review. Every page bears the imprint of her brilliant

The work of numerous local experts and his-

One colleague read innumerable drafts of each

torians provided an important foundation for my

editing and critical feedback. As committed a

work in Germany. I am grateful to Eike and Karin

friend as a reader, Jessamyn Conrad has seen this

Oellermann for sharing with me the unpublished

project develop from infancy into maturity; I owe

text of a lecture that treats the relationship between

an incalculable debt to her as a reader, a traveling

Tilman Riemenschneider and Martin Schwarz, as

companion, and a dear friend. She, Thomas Patter-

well as for many conversations on-site. Though I

son, and Katherine Kasdorf all braved many planes

have never met them in person, this book is deeply

and trains to join me in Rothenburg at one point

indebted to the scholarship and archival work of

or another during my research. Their friendship,

Ludwig Schnurrer and Karl Borchardt. Together,

as well as that of my wonderful colleagues from

their publications form an exceptional resource on

graduate school, Anne Hunnell Chen, Anna Ratner

medieval Rothenburg.

Hetherington, Jeffrey Miller, and Anna Seastrand,

is something I will always cherish.

I would also like to acknowledge the many

colleagues at Bard who have supported me over the

past years through their friendship and collegial-

fortunate in my troop of personal supporters, who

Beyond my colleagues in the field, I have been

ity. In art history, Susan Aberth, Laurie Dahlberg,

have kept in touch over the years and whose pur-

Patricia Karetzky, Alex Kitnick, Susan Merriam,

suit of their own passions has inspired mine. This

Julia Rosenbaum, Olga Touloumi, and Tom Wolf

includes former teachers and mentors, like Tom

are a dynamic bunch whom I consider not only

Armbruster, Marilyn Colyar, and Sol Gittleman,

excellent colleagues but also good friends. Special

as well as family friends, like Alison Parker, David

thanks, too, to our department administrator, Jea-

Burhenn, and Kenneth Hoffman. Thanks, too, to

nette McDonald, whose good spirits and amazing

my aunt and uncle, Theresia and Herbert Lauer, for

efficiency are a constant boon. Colleagues from

the many site visits, to my sister, Rebecca Morris,

other departments, too, have been staunch support-

for the rich conversations about methodology,

ers: Maria Cecire, Omar Cheta, Christian Crouch,

and to my brother Tobias Morris for the use of his

Lauren Curtis, Odile Chilton, Marisa Libbon, Rufus

camera, not to mention to all my extended family

Müller, Erika Switzer, Karen Sullivan, Éric Trudel,

for their love and support.

Marina van Zuylen, and Thomas Wild, among

others, embody the rich and productive interdis-

Little did I know then how often I would return

ciplinarity that makes the faculty at Bard such a

and how great a pull it would continue to have on

vibrant community. In particular, I cannot thank

me. For this and countless other formative experi-

enough the formidable scholars in my writing

ences, I thank my parents, Christine and Stephen

group, Maria Sonevytsky and Olga Touloumi. Their

Morris. Their all-encompassing practical, intellec-

insights did much to polish my text but also to

tual, and emotional support has seen me through

shape the critical framework of this book.

this process. Even as I write these lines, they are

I first visited Rothenburg when I was sixteen.


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entertaining their grandchildren with so many fun activities that I am hardly missed.

I have been incredibly lucky, most of all in my

family. To Brielle, whose fierce independence and love of art are infectious; to Kellan, whose smiles and hugs melt my heart; and to Benoit, whose love, patience, and caring (not to mention brilliant cooking) have sustained me through it all, thank you!



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fl = guilder (florenus, unless otherwise stated, this refers to Rhenish guilders) lb = pound (librum) ß = shilling (solidus) d = penny (denarius) h = heller rh = rhenish A note on monetary values: According to Borchardt, “Münz- und Geldgeschichte,” under Emperor Charles IV (r. 1346–78), 1 guilder (fl) = 1 lb heller (lb h) = 240 pennies (d). In 1396, in comparison, 1 fl = 4 lb = 120 d and, by 1470, 1 fl = 8 lb 12 d = 252 d. The daily wage for a stone mason in 1464 was around 20 d.

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In early April 1501 the sculptor Tilman Riemen-

the east choir and the nave in Rothenburg’s only

schneider was summoned to the hilltop city of

parish church, just a few blocks away.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber by the city’s gov-

erning council. It was not his first trip to the

in spring 1501 in order to sign a contract for what

medium-sized Franconian city. His friend and

would prove to be one of his most salient artistic

sometime collaborator, the friar Martin Schwarz

commissions: an altarpiece to display the city’s

(Frater Martinus Schwarz), was the guardian—a

miracle-working blood relic within an elaborate

position equivalent to abbot—of the Franciscan

new pilgrimage environment (fig. 1). Between 1453

monastery there and had first brought Riemen-

and 1471 the city had added to the Parish Church

schneider to Rothenburg more than a decade

of St. Jakob an elegant western apse with an

earlier, around 1485, to carve an altarpiece for the

elevated chapel dedicated to the Holy Blood, and

high altar of his monastery’s church. Schwarz

it was in this chapel that the grand new altarpiece

himself had given this grand Crucifixion retable

was to stand—a pendant to Riemenschneider’s

its final polychrome finish, for he was a reputable

Marian altarpiece already in place in the nave of

painter of sculpture as well as panels. Since 1485

the same church. The pilgrimage function of the

Riemenschneider and his workshop had produced

chapel and its unique position bridging a major

two other altarpieces for Rothenburg: one, a

street demanded an equally striking centerpiece

retable showing Saint Francis receiving the stig-

and one that responded to the local context.

mata, that stood in front of the rood screen in the

Riemenschneider was thus tasked with creating

Franciscan church; the other, a Marian altarpiece

the figures for an altarpiece that would crown the

that adorned the lay altar at the junction between

dynamic pilgrimage environment at the heart of


Riemenschneider made his visit to Rothenburg

Fig. 1  Holy Blood Altarpiece within the western chapel of St. Jakob in Rothenburg.

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the city and act as a visible nucleus of Rothen-

optimistically specified that the sculptor should

burg’s civic identity.

deliver the figures for the Holy Blood Altarpiece

by Christmas that year. In reality, it took Riemen-

Despite the modern tendency to identify it as

“Riemenschneider’s Altarpiece of the Holy Blood,”

schneider almost four years, until 1505, to complete

the commissioned altarpiece had multiple authors.

the contracted work. In March 1502 Harschner

Like most medieval projects, this one required

traveled to Würzburg to visit Riemenschneider’s

the collaboration of several artists and artisans,

workshop and discuss the final details of their

including Martin Schwarz, who served as artistic

collaboration. Two months later Harschner was

counselor to the municipal government of Rothen-

ready to deliver his contribution, complete with

burg and presumably came up with the overall

its elaborate superstructure of twisting spires and

program of the altarpiece; Erhart Harschner, a local

nodding arches. This casing was promptly installed

joiner commissioned with building the armature of

in its intended location on the central altar of the

the retable and executing its elaborate framework

elevated western Chapel of the Holy Blood. In

of interweaving vines; Riemenschneider and his

the same month, the newly gilded cross reliquary

assistants, who carved the figural components; and

containing the titular blood relic was set up within

teams of drivers and metalworkers charged with

the upper crest of the altarpiece, where it served

delivering and installing the retable. The repre-

as the devotional focus of the established local pil-

sentatives of the city had drawn up a plan for the

grimage. It was not until two months later, in July

altarpiece, and Harschner was already at work on

1502, that the first figures for the altarpiece arrived

the framework by the time Riemenschneider was

from Riemenschneider’s Würzburg workshop, with

summoned to Rothenburg. The exact specifications

further installments delivered in 1504 and 1505.3

of Riemenschneider’s contribution—the figures’

Despite what might be considered the unfinished

scale, iconography, and position—were set down in

state of the altarpiece, then, it served as a visual

a contract signed on April 15, 1501, during Riemen-

focus for services and pilgrimage, one that was

schneider’s sojourn. The municipal committee

augmented periodically over the course of more

retained the final say on whether the altarpiece was

than two years. In fact, even once all the compo-

to be finished in a monochrome wood stain—a

nents had been installed, the potential remained

technique that Riemenschneider had employed

for the monochrome, or holzsichtige (literally

before but that was still rare—or would be brightly

“wood-visible”), altarpiece one day to be dis-

painted following the time-honored practice cur-

mounted, painted, and reerected within the chapel.

rent across medieval Europe.

the Holy Blood Altarpiece, Riemenschneider and



The creation of the altarpiece was consequently

In the decades following the installation of

protracted. Over the course of several years, it

his workshop produced several more retables for

stood in various states of “completeness,” during

Rothenburg. Indeed, by the 1520s nine altarpieces

which time it nevertheless functioned as a visual

by Riemenschneider’s workshop likely dotted

focus for services and devotion within the west-

the city’s religious spaces. These varied in scale

ern chapel of the parish church. The contract

and program, yet together they created a visual

of 1501 between the city and Riemenschneider

network—strengthened by Riemenschneider’s

Riemenschneider in Rothenburg

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characteristic style and underscored by repetitions

ensembles, which frequently involved teams of

in iconography and composition—that stretched

artisans and designers, overseers and patrons. Like

throughout the city. Though they depicted uni-

the Altarpiece of the Holy Blood in Rothenburg,

versal biblical themes found in medieval churches

medieval artworks were complicated objects. From

throughout Europe, the altarpieces together

their design to their interpretation, they remained

formed a unique local program that aesthetically

fundamentally multifaceted, participating in

remapped the urban space of medieval Rothenburg

dynamic environments, alongside other objects

and contributed to its identity as a prosperous and

and human activity. This book builds on recent

significant center.

scholarship that problematizes media-based studies

Riemenschneider’s altarpieces are one choice

by considering a variety of artistic media within the

sample from the rich array of art objects and archi-

spatial, ritual, and sociopolitical contexts in which

tectural projects that constituted the late medieval

they functioned.4

city of Rothenburg. In this book they form the

teleological thread to an exploration of urban

tecture were both produced and experienced in

planning in the late medieval city. Through a con-

complex environments has led some scholars to

textualized study of the environments for which

question our ability to reconstruct an idea of the

Riemenschneider’s altarpieces were commissioned,

integrated Gothic church; in Willibald Sauer-

this book investigates processes of medieval artistic

länder’s words, “there is no way back to the real

programming, arguing that—despite the many

Gothic cathedral.”5 The notion of order, which

hands involved, the variety of contributing media,

suggests a unitary conception of medieval church

the protracted periods of construction, and the

space, has remained one of the primary critiques of

absence of any single prescriptive intent—the art

the Gothic cathedral as Gesamtkunstwerk (liter-

and architecture of a medieval church or city often

ally “total work of art”) and of what Paul Crossley

displayed a meaningful coherence. This coherence

has termed “holism.”6 There is in the concept of

was an active force that drove later additions and

the Gothic cathedral the implied idea of a single

adjustments. It thus served as a tool of urban plan-

intent, of a sequence of things, of a comprehen-

ning. The result was a network of dynamic spaces

sive tidiness, that does not hold true to medieval

that were instrumental in shaping a particular

construction processes. Yet at the same time, the

identity of place.

repetition of themes, the choice of placement,

The recognition that art objects and archi-

or the correspondences between different works found within a Gothic church seem to suggest a

Medieval Programs and the Agency of Artworks

guiding logic to the ensemble.

This raises two fundamental questions of this

The modern division of art history by artistic

book: To what extent were medieval environments

media—reflected in museum collections, curric-

programmed? Who (or what) had agency in

ula, and academic training—is true neither to the

assembling such environments?

experience of medieval art by its contemporaries

nor to the construction processes of artworks and

line Jung’s concept of the “spatial environment,”

Throughout this book I build upon Jacque-


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which suggests that though we cannot compre-

saw old ones depart. We can never know the intri-

hensively reconstruct a specific medieval program

cate webs of public and private motivations that

or experience, we can investigate the resonances

guided the elected councilmen’s decisions. Instead,

between various media within flexibly defined

we must consider medieval artistic programming

spaces. Such resonances have been invoked by

as a protracted process, the integrity of which

other scholars as well: Paul Crossley has described

relied on its authors’ and audiences’ sensitivity

“subtle and self-conscious coordinations between

to preexisting visual and social environments.

simple ingredients—altars, relics, images, and

Especially in considering ensembles like the urban

liturgies”; and Paul Binski has traced “‘webs of

complex (discussed in chapter 3), which integrated


significance,’ human, ideological (or mythological)

multiple environments and artistic media into a

and artistic,” that made up the medieval church.

spatial-thematic program, it is important to keep

These approaches are cautious to avoid the idea of

this flexible and dynamic process in mind.

a preconceived plan or unified order guiding the

design of medieval church programs across media,

Buildings, one of the seminal volumes on medieval

yet they return to the fundamental observation that

artistic programming, reframes this programming

medieval art objects were experienced as part of

as a process of “integration.” Although the essays

wider visual and cultural fields.

included in this multiauthor work interpret “inte-

gration” differently, several notable contributions




Important for my discussion of medieval

The title of Artistic Integration in Gothic

artistic programming is the question of design. As

suggest that an internal logic led to the formation

chapter 1 shows, authorities often applied for indul-

of intelligible artistic programs. Arnold Klukas,

gences, secured rights to conduct specific rituals,

for instance, proposes that Gothic churches were

and raised money for anticipated projects long

constructed “according to a schedule of essentials”

before the laying of a cornerstone or the signing

and that a community could retain an implicit or

of a contract. This forethought, however, did not

even explicit “consensus of symbolic language over

mean that patrons developed or followed a master

generations in time.”10 Similarly, Peter Draper sug-

plan. Indeed, medieval artistic programming, like

gests that a sense of decorum, or appropriateness,

medieval urban planning, was rarely governed

guided additions to church space. Draper posits

by an imperative blueprint. Various individuals

that medieval viewers were aware of the coherence

as well as institutions actively contributed pieces,

of a building’s program—in other words, that they

stipulated the iconography of major commissions,

were sensitive to correspondences between what

or oversaw choices for architectural projects. How,

may seem to the modern viewer to be disparate

then, can we think about structured program-

elements of an ensemble.11

ming or approach the apparent logic of a medieval

ensemble without coming to a holistic view of the

sense in light of what Paul Binski has demonstrated

Gothic church as a Gesamtkunstwerk?

for Canterbury, Madeline Caviness for Braine, and

In late medieval Rothenburg the city council

Gerhardt Weilandt for the Church of St. Sebald

served as the leading institutional patron of art. Yet

in Nuremberg: that correspondences between

each year brought new members to the council and

different media contributed to a spatial-thematic

These ideas of decorum and coherence make

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environment for viewers to experience, even

though they were not the “coherent product of

provide a useful framework in dealing with the

Anthropology and the history of science

a single intelligence.”12 Spatially structured reso-

power of objects to interact with human agents.

nances between architecture, stained glass, and

Recent work on actor-network theory and assem-

ritual, in particular, have been a focus of scholar-

blages allows programmatic coherence to be

ship on the question of artistic programming in

theorized without the hazardous assumption of a

the Gothic church because of the often proximate

single or unified creative impulse. Bruno Latour’s

inception of architectural and glazing programs.

actor-network theory holds that nonhuman as well

But such relationships could characterize, materi-

as human bodies are actants, capable of exerting

ally and chronologically, a much broader ensemble

agency and participating in networks.17 Therefore,

of elements. It makes sense to think of medieval

art objects, as well as patrons, artists, and view-

programming not as a “sustained programmatic

ers, may actively partake in complex systems of

intention” but as an ongoing and ever-changing


process of configuration, which could follow the

guiding agendas of multiple patrons while cohering

that “an actant never really acts alone. Its efficacy

to an overall sense of decorum.

or agency always depends on the collaboration,

cooperation, or interactive interference of many



The studies of such programming have to

Building on Latour, Jane Bennett has observed

date confined their inquiries to single churches.

bodies and forces.” The power of such a collabora-

Only rarely has medieval artistic programming

tive ensemble is what Bennett terms “the agency

been considered across the space of the medieval

of assemblages.” Thus, in addition to the power of

city, and then usually only through one artistic

individual bodies (human and nonhuman alike),

medium, most commonly architecture.15 Tradition-

Bennett proposes a distributive agency exerted by

ally, the medieval city has been seen as a product

ad hoc assemblages, an agency distinct from the

of “organic growth,” developed as a haphazard

constituent bodies.18 In other words, the power of

consequence of unguided change.16 This book,

an ensemble is more than the sum of its individual

instead, argues that both the medieval church


and the medieval city were guided by similar and

interrelated processes. In considering artistic

of artistic programming during the Middle Ages.

programming not as the result of the intentions of

First, it follows that art objects—architecture,

a single designer but rather as a configured system

altarpieces, stained-glass windows, reliquaries, and

of meaningful correspondences, we can approach

so forth—possessed agency and thus could guide

the medieval city as a purposeful yet ever-changing

future commissions. The dedication of an altar to

ensemble. This ensemble depended less on a stable

the Holy Blood, for instance, helped inspire the

end concept than on flexible ideas of appropri-

design of the architecture built to house it, and

ateness. Moreover, the city was, at least in part,

that architecture, in turn, affected the design of

a product of the environments themselves, since

the altarpiece later commissioned to stand within

established spaces affected the choices of patrons

the space (chapter 2). Even if we cannot recon-

and artists making new contributions.

struct the intent behind a new commission, we can

This has important implications for the study


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investigate the conditions and objects that may

intent. Instead, artistic programming was a process

have guided its design.

by which various flexible systems of relation or

correspondence manifested themselves across and

Second, multiple pieces could function together

as ensembles. They formed environments with

through space.

their own distinct agency and acted within net-

works alongside humans. Two elevated chapels

different from that of design, intent, or reception

with complementary altarpieces by the same artist’s

considered alone. Rather than reconstruct the

workshop, therefore, could define a meaningful

Gothic Cathedral, we can investigate the complex

spatial system and relate themes of protection and

dynamics of medieval spatial environments and the

salvation across a multimedia artistic program

“dialectic between possible intention and evident

(chapter 3).

result.”20 This dialectic not only exists for histori-

Finally, assemblages remained malleable,

What I propose, then, is a kind of unity

ans today but also played a fundamental role in

“open-ended collective[s].” As flexible groupings

the aggregation of these environments during the

of constituent components that could simulta-

medieval period. Coherence depended not on a

neously participate in multiple networks, artistic

fixed, complete, or authentic program but rather

programs need not have been the product of a

on the interactions between individual entities

preconceived or uniform intent. Rather, they could

and environments and between extant materials

result from the relationships between multiple

and the open potential for adjustment. Networks

objects and actors established over long stretches

of patrons, artists, objects, and spaces worked

of time. Medieval spatial environments were never

together to establish flexible ideas of decorum,

truly “complete” but rather carried the constant

and medieval artistic ensembles were the prod-

potential for expansion and change: individual as

uct of a collaborative and sustained process of

well as institutional patrons continually commis-

configuration. Artworks, both individually and

sioned new pieces, and monumental additions, like

as ensembles, acted on their environments by

altarpieces, could be installed in stages or with a

adjusting foci, elaborating established themes, and

monochrome finish and then painted years later.

redirecting liturgical and devotional practices. The

As a result, the medieval experience of artistic

effects of this agency extended beyond the confines

programs—like their production—was character-

of a single church structure and contributed to the

ized by intermittent aggregation and adjustment

remapping of the medieval city.


(chapter 4).

Medieval artistic programming was therefore

an ongoing and dynamic process that depended

Case Study: Rothenburg ob der Tauber

on human and nonhuman actors, one that was not


straightforward but rather multifaceted and com-

Rothenburg ob der Tauber is an ideal place to

plex. In this way, its effects were remote from the

study medieval artistic programming because it

idea of a guiding master plan or from the totalizing

offers historians an opportunity at least partially to

model of the Gesamtkunstwerk, in which every

reconstruct several artistic environments of vary-

element must necessarily fit a single program or

ing scale. Many German sites, which have received

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little attention in English-language scholarship,

considerable in size. During the fourteenth and

preserve more of their original church furnishings

fifteenth centuries, its total population numbered

than comparable sites in England or France, thus

between 5,000 and 7,000 individuals, living in

making them valuable case studies for the interac-

about seven hundred houses (fig. 2).22 By compar-

tions between multiple artistic media. Rothenburg,

ison, most of the roughly three thousand medieval

which during the Middle Ages was an imperial

cities that lay within the borders of modern-day

city and today is one of Europe’s top “medieval”

Germany had total populations of fewer than 1,000

tourist destinations, is interesting for its preserved

individuals.23 Rothenburg was thus one of the fifty

evidence of discrete artistic environments but also

largest cities in Germany by population, leaving

of the processes that helped configure multiple

aside its four hundred square kilometers of territory,

ensembles into citywide networks. The excellent

which was more extensive than every other Ger-

survival rate of both its material fabric and its

man-speaking city except Strasbourg and Ulm.24

archival sources attests with nuance to the com-

plex dynamics at work in late medieval artistic

region of Franconia fifty kilometers (thirty miles)


south of Würzburg and sixty-five kilometers (forty

Although some known artists resided in

Rothenburg lies in a hilly, wine-producing

miles) west of Nuremberg. In the Middle Ages

Rothenburg intermittently, the city never devel-

the Duchy of Franconia extended further north

oped into a center for artistic production on par

and west than the region of that name does today,

with Würzburg or Nuremberg. Rothenburg, there-

and it included an important stretch of the Rhine

fore, was forced to import most of its art objects

River north and south of Mainz. The Tauber River

and architectural styles. This practice of importing

meanders through a narrow valley and forms a

art makes Rothenburg distinct from capital cities,

tributary of the Main River northwest of Rothen-

such as Paris or Prague, economic powerhouses,

burg at Wertheim. Although never navigable, the

like Florence or Bruges, or major pilgrimage des-

Tauber once marked an important trade route with

tinations, like Rome or Jerusalem, which tended

numerous medieval cities built along its course.

to develop their own resident workshops. Rothen-

burg’s success at distinguishing itself artistically

the Tauber River, Rothenburg commands a view

during the late Middle Ages ultimately stemmed

of the surrounding area. Although the land rises

from its collection and configuration of artistic

gradually from the east (the direction from which

imports. With its single parish church, its local

most modern visitors arrive in Rothenburg), most

communities of Franciscans, Dominicans, Teutonic

medieval travelers approached the city from the

Order priests, and Knights Hospitaller, its munic-

Tauber valley, to the west. From here, the city

ipal government of elected patrician-class men,

appears to crown the steep hill, its walls following

and its practice of importing art, Rothenburg thus

the natural formations of the land. It is this view of

models features common among a large number of

the fortified hilltop city that dominates “portraits”

late medieval cities.

of Rothenburg from the sixteenth century on and

that the medieval city government went to great


Although today Rothenburg seems a tiny town

at 10,000 inhabitants, by medieval standards it was

From its position about fifty meters above

lengths to construct (fig. 3).


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Fig. 2  Map of Rothenburg by Johann Ludwig Schäffer, 1729. © Stadtarchiv Rothenburg ob der Tauber.


Beginning in the twelfth century, Rothenburg

defensive wall.26 In 1274 it was granted the status of

developed from a small castrum or oppidium into

Reichsstadt, or free imperial city, under the direct

a prosperous civitas. In 1142 the Stauffer king

protection of the Holy Roman emperor and free

Conrad III erected a castle on the steep prom-

of fealty to a local lord. Rothenburg successfully

ontory in a bend of the Tauber River—the roter

retained this standing over the next centuries,

Burg, literally “red castle,” above (ob) the Tauber,

making it one of sixty-five free imperial cities

which ultimately gave the site its name.25 Sup-

around 1500 and an important player in regional

ported by a nearby Wirtschaftshof and a small


stone church, this settlement—situated at the west

end of the current city—grew into an active urban

tion on an international trade route that ran along

center with market privileges and an encircling

the base of the Tauber valley and once connected

Medieval Rothenburg benefited from its posi-

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Fig. 3  View of Rothenburg by Hans Meichsner, 1615. © RothenburgMuseum.

Italy with Augsburg, Würzburg, and the Rhineland.

nobility and championing the rights of free impe-

In 1340 an imperial privilege permitted the city to

rial cities. In 1378 Rothenburg joined the powerful

redirect this route from its path along the Tauber

Swabian association of towns and municipalities

River, over a double-tiered bridge and into Rothen-

known as the Schwäbische Städtebund, through

burg, thus stimulating additional business within

which it engaged in regional politics alongside

the city walls. In turn, the city’s primary export,

cities like Nuremberg, Regensburg, and Augsburg.

Rothenburg wool, left the city along this route to

It also made “brotherhood” pacts with individual

be traded as far away as Como, Italy, during the

cities, such as Schwäbisch Hall.29 These alliances

fifteenth century.28 Rothenburg also produced wine

helped Rothenburg eschew pledges to local lords,

for local consumption from the vineyards planted

who were keen to benefit from the city’s prosperity.

along its sunny southern slope, and taxes on this

Although it never acquired the level of imperial

popular beverage helped line the city’s coffers.

favor garnered by Nuremberg, its powerful neigh-

bor to the east, Rothenburg maintained ties to the

Throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth

centuries, Rothenburg allied itself with other free

imperial court: receiving the emperor in the city on

imperial cities in opposing the interests of regional

several occasions, hosting a Reichstag in May 1377,


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and corresponding with the court based in Prague

1440s, which prompted the city council to raise

during the late fourteenth and early fifteenth cen-

taxes, particularly on wine, the city’s middle class

turies. The existence of a Rothenburg Landgericht,

rebelled.34 On the night of Sunday, July 11, 1451, the

or regional court, also gave it legal jurisdiction

leaders of the revolt—carefully chosen to represent

over an area otherwise controlled by the bishop of

the major trades of the city—forced their way into


the houses of several members of the inner city

council and took these men prisoner.35 Locked in


Rothenburg thus successfully established itself

as an independent player within the region. On

city hall, the councilmen were tried. By the time a

occasion, however, its politics landed the city in

delegation of representatives from the concerned

some difficulty. In 1405, for example, a dispute

cities of Augsburg, Ulm, Nördlingen, Schwäbisch

between the city council of Rothenburg and

Hall, Dinkelsbühl, and Windsheim arrived at the

Burgrave John III of Nuremberg led King Rupert

locked gates of Rothenburg to negotiate the release

of Germany (r. 1400–1410) to call the knights of

of the city councilmen, the leaders of the rebellion

Franconia together in a war against the hilltop city.

had drafted a new constitution aimed at gaining

Heinrich Toppler, the mayor of Rothenburg at the

representation for the major trades on the inner

time, attempted to enlist the help of the deposed

city council.

king Wenceslaus IV (r. 1376–1400), a maneuver

that cost him the alliance of some of his fellow

agitators and captive councilmen had agreed to

councilmen and ultimately his life. In the end,

a compromise, which added twelve new mem-

Rothenburg was left to its own defenses before an

bers to the inner city council. Eleven of the new

army of more than ten thousand men. However,

councilmen were to represent the leading guilds

the city’s fortuitous position and excellent defense

of the city, but the last was to be chosen from

system held off all attacks, and by October 1407 the

the patrician families. Although the twelve new

burgrave of Nuremberg and the bishop of Würz-

members were intended as a balance to the twelve

burg, who were leading the attack, ran out of fiscal

old ones, in practice the majority rested with the

means to sustain the war.32

old conservative patriciate. This established faction

quickly voted to restore complete power to the

A few decades later Rothenburg was once again

involved in a conflict with regional nobility, this

old government.36 In 1455, therefore, the original

time taking the side of Nuremberg against the

constitution was reinstated with an added clause

markgrave Albrecht Achillies. The dispute, which

that forbade guilds to play a political role in the

lasted from 1440 to 1450, led to an elevated clash of

city henceforward.37

forces in 1449. The cost to Rothenburg was high: in

a single year twenty towns on territory belonging

Rothenburg during the late Middle Ages, then,

to the city burned, and the surrounding farmland

were the city council of Rothenburg and the

was left devastated.

various resident religious institutions, particularly

the Teutonic Order commandery, the Francis-



This new constitution was short-lived. The

Such conflicts placed a burden on the residents

The primary organized political entities within

of Rothenburg and at times led to internal con-

can monastery, and the Dominican convent.

flicts. For instance, after the costly conflicts of the

These organizations had each negotiated special

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privileges within the city and, early in Rothen-

the order maintain at least ten priests within the

burg’s history, had contributed substantially to the

city to meet its clerical needs.39 Many of the order’s

material urban fabric. But over the course of the

members belonged to prominent patrician families

fourteenth century, they ceded more and more

of the city, so that familial ties likely played a role

authority to the municipal government.

in city-order politics.40

The position of the Teutonic Order in Rothen-

Of course, Rothenburg continued to hold close

burg, in particular, deserves further note here

ties to Würzburg even after the local commandery

because of its critical role in administering the

of the Teutonic Order assumed responsibilities for

parish church and chapels of the city. Rothen-

staffing the parish. It was the bishops of Würz-

burg lay within the Diocese of Würzburg, with its

burg who, after the presentation of priests by the

advowson—the right to appoint clergy—originally

order, held the rights to their investiture.41 The

held by the Collegiate Church of Neumünster in

bishops also conducted consecration ceremonies

Würzburg. In 1258, however, Neumünster suf-

in Rothenburg, approved pilgrimages, and issued

fered a period of economic crisis, and the bishop

indulgences. Yet the oversight of the parish staffing

of Würzburg signed over the clerical staffing of

by the Teutonic Order offered the city council an

Rothenburg’s parish to the Teutonic Order. Rather

opportunity to position itself as the principal insti-

than incorporate Rothenburg into the nearest com-

tutional patron of church space in the city.

mandery of the order, in Mergentheim, the bishop

placed the city under the Teutonic commandery

regional and local politics succeeded in increasing

of Würzburg. This oversight by the Würzburg

the city’s prestige, autonomy, and territorial control

commandery, although short-lived, proved for-

until the end of the Middle Ages; it also provided

mative for the architectural design of the choir of

the impetus and funding for many of the city’s

Rothenburg’s parish church in the first half of the

architectural and artistic projects. The episode that

fourteenth century.

forms a natural end point to the narrative of this

book erupted in the 1520s from chronic discontent


By 1286 the Teutonic Order had established

Overall, Rothenburg’s strategic maneuvering in

enough of a presence in Rothenburg to warrant

among the farming class stirred up by the agita-

its own commandery. A military order founded

tion of Protestant reformers. On March 24, 1525,

in Acre in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the order

forty-two Rothenburg townsmen took over the city

had gained a strong footing in Franconia during

regiment.42 This self-appointed commission did not

the first quarter of the thirteenth century and by

abolish the city council but investigated its deal-

1225 had established seven commanderies within

ings, with a particular eye to its financial conduct.

the region. Even after the fall of the Kingdom of

Rothenburg’s officials were accused of conducting

Jerusalem, it continued to flourish, in large part

the affairs of the city for their own benefit as well

because of the patronage of the German kings

as stubbornly holding on to the old religion—two

and the opportunities for political advancement

things closely related to the long and successful

offered its members. In Rothenburg, donations first

history of the city’s leading class.43

document the order’s presence around 1226, and

by 1398 the city was in a position to stipulate that

decapitated a crucifix that stood near the newest

The same day, March 24, frustrated burghers


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religious structure of Rothenburg, the Chapel to

Riemenschneider’s sculpture belong to—and

the Pure Virgin Mary (Kapelle zur Reinen Maria),

indeed help shape—what nowadays resemble

and destroyed the furnishings of the Marian chapel

pilgrimage routes through Franconia. Despite

of Kobolzell. As the city’s parish church, St. Jakob

the twofold interest that draws modern visitors

also became the site for several acts of protest: indi-

to Rothenburg, however, these two stories—of

viduals repeatedly interrupted Mass by throwing

the medieval city and of Riemenschneider—have

books from the altar and disturbed a sermon by

never been told together. This book attempts just

upsetting lamps. By May the city council, fearing

that. Throughout its pages, Riemenschneider’s

for the safety of the many liturgical accoutrements

works serve as main protagonist, though they often

of its churches and chapels, gathered these items in

enter late, as crowning elements added to older

city hall for safekeeping and inventory.




Although the conservative municipal govern-

To date, the oeuvre of Tilman Riemenschnei-

ment regained control and initially clung even

der has predominantly been studied with regard

more closely to the old religious traditions, it was

to questions of style, date, and workshop practice;

only a question of time until Lutheranism became

only rarely have the local contexts of individual

the official religion of the city. The disruptions of

pieces been considered.47 The altarpieces with

1525 thus represent a moment when the identity of

figures by Riemenschneider, commissioned for

the city was in crisis and artistic programming—

the city between circa 1485 and 1514, are relatively

which for more than two centuries had been a

well documented: in terms of their survival rate,

primary means of establishing the city’s late medi-

their archival record, and their spaces of original

eval identity—experienced dramatic opposition.

installation. Rothenburg thus provides a unique

Over the next centuries, Rothenburg gradually fell

opportunity to study the relationship between

into poverty, only to be rediscovered by artists,

a city’s patronage and the late Gothic artistic

politicians, and tourists in the nineteenth century.

workshop that it favored. It is my contention that

It is thanks to this general impoverishment, the

Riemenschneider’s altarpieces were more closely

city’s antiquarian rediscovery, and the rebuilding

tied to the long histories (sociopolitical and con-

campaigns of the last century that Rothenburg

struction histories in particular) of the spaces in

preserves so much of its medieval character today.

which they stood than has heretofore been recog-


nized. Much of this book, therefore, concentrates on establishing the context for these late additions

Urban Programs

by considering the aggregation of their political, architectural, and devotional settings over the


Today approximately 2.5 million tourists visit

preceding two hundred years. Only by tracing this

Rothenburg ob der Tauber every year. They come

intricate context can we appreciate what meaning

to see the quintessential medieval city and the

Riemenschneider’s work held for Rothenburg, one

art of Tilman Riemenschneider, now recognized

of the artist’s greatest patrons.

as one of the greatest late medieval and early

For Riemenschneider scholarship specifi-

Renaissance artists. Both the medieval town and

cally, Rothenburg offers the chance to consider

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the choices made by the artist and his workshop

texts. I point to several thematic ideas, such as Holy

within a well-documented context, an approach

Blood, that were particularly pronounced through-

that adds important contributions to ongoing

out Rothenburg, examining processes that helped

discussions: about the impetus behind the deci-

define legible programs. Of course, the artistic

sion to finish selective works with a monochrome

programs of Rothenburg were not comprehensive:

stain around 1500, about the frequent repetition

they did not encompass all art within an environ-

of motifs within the oeuvre of a single workshop,

ment, nor would they have been equally legible to

and about the relationship between patrons and

all audiences. They did, however, help structure the

artists in the design process of altarpieces and

experience of visitors through systems of spaces,

other commissions. The many repeat commissions

and they allowed the civic council to push its

for Rothenburg in Riemenschneider’s distinctive

agenda of community formation and city beautifi-

style crafted a visual aesthetic that echoed through

cation over the course of two centuries.

the city’s religious spaces. The interconnections

between Riemenschneider’s pieces in Rothenburg

institutional control that were central to artistic

would have been striking to his contemporaries,

programming in Rothenburg. In particular, it

just as his style remains recognizable today. Yet the

traces the construction of the choir and nave of

networks in which Riemenschneider’s altarpieces

Rothenburg’s Parish Church of St. Jakob within

participated were not new to the city, nor were they

the context of a contemporary shift in the admin-

created in a vacuum. Rather, they responded to

istrative oversight of the parish fabrica ecclesiae. I

and built upon an aesthetic spatial system that had

demonstrate how architectural citation functioned

been aggregated within the city over the previous

during and after this shift and argue that church

two centuries.

spaces became important sites for the formation of

civic community within the late medieval city.

The following chapters, therefore, focus on a

Chapter 1 examines structures of patronage and

time from the early fourteenth through the early

Chapter 2 investigates the motivations and pro-

sixteenth century, when the municipal govern-

cesses that guided the addition of a new west end

ment of Rothenburg ob der Tauber oversaw the

to the Church of St. Jakob. Building on Jacqueline

building and furnishing of church space within

Jung’s idea of the “spatial environment,” it considers

the city. Since the best surviving evidence of the

pieces created in a variety of artistic media within

nature of medieval programming is the resulting

the dynamic context of their intended display. In

built environment and its documented uses, this

particular, it examines how the compositions by

book explores several spaces of late medieval

architects Niclaus Eseler Sr. and Jr. and the artists

Rothenburg in order to elucidate the intricate

Tilman Riemenschneider and Erhart Harschner

correspondences between architecture, ritual,

responded to an established pilgrimage to empha-

and figural art that justify their treatment as a

size the power and identity of the particular place.

programmed system. My primary sources are the

buildings and artworks themselves, though I also

boundaries of a single architectural structure,

draw on a wide range of textual material from

examining, through the examples of Rothenburg’s

financial accounts to political records and liturgical

Parish Church of St. Jakob, urban cemetery, and

Chapter 3 extends the inquiry beyond the


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two-story Charnel House of St. Michael, how

distinct environments could form a tight spa-

on Rothenburg’s modern identity as Germany’s

tial-thematic system I call the “urban complex.” I

exemplary late medieval city. It closes the study by

show that interactions within Rothenburg’s parish

considering the clash of temporalities encountered

urban complex were not only fostered by patrons

by tourists to the modern “medieval” city.

and builders and experienced by visitors but could

be stimulated by the spaces themselves.

val city of moderate size yet high ambitions, shaped

its aesthetic landscape through combinations of

Chapter 4 considers the wider urban fabric,

The epilogue of this book, finally, reflects

Ultimately, studying how Rothenburg, a medie-

arguing that the medieval city was planned—not

imported art and architectural ideas, can help us

prescriptively according to a blueprint or fixed

better understand common processes of medieval

system of streets—but flexibly as a network of

artistic programming. It is my contention that art

interconnected environments that could be

and architecture played a critical role in shaping

continually remapped by new commissions and

the civic structures of the late medieval city. Just as

orchestrated performances. In particular, I consider

urban space could participate in governing cities

the network of altarpieces, with figures by Tilman

and public pictures could control public behav-

Riemenschneider, that stretched throughout

iors,48 the artistic environments aggregated over

Rothenburg. Stylistic, iconographic, and aesthetic

nearly two centuries in Rothenburg ob der Tauber

repetitions within this oeuvre played an important

helped build the social and material medieval city.

role in reshaping the visual identity of Rothenburg and thus constituted a significant intervention in the material and social fabric of the city.


Riemenschneider in Rothenburg

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The City as Patron


Chapter 1

n 1436 the abbot of the Cistercian monastery at

of our fellow citizens and other pious Christian people,

Heilsbronn, Germany, visited the nearby city of

as is the custom in the land. This document sealed on

Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Following his visit, he

the reverse with the seal of our aforementioned city, but

wrote a letter to the governing council of Rothen-

through us, our city, our community, without harm.

burg, marveling at the city’s magnificent parish

Dated the Friday after the Feast of St. Ulrich [July 6] in

church and inquiring into the funding sources for

the year 1436.1

this expensive project. Though the abbot’s letter has been lost, a transcription of the council’s reply

For the history of medieval Rothenburg, it is no


small matter that the abbot of Heilsbronn recognized the city’s elected municipal council as

We, the mayor and municipal council of the city of

the appropriate authority to which to address his

Rothenburg ob der Tauber, make known with this letter

inquiry. A century earlier such a query related

publicly, before all people: when the honorable, spiritual

to the Church of St. Jakob might still have been

sir, Mr. Ulrich, abbot of the monastery of Heilsbronn

directed to the Teutonic commandery in Rothen-

of the Order of Cister, which lies in the Bishopric of

burg, which was responsible for services in the

Eichstätt, made his honorable request that we give him

church. But by 1436 even a powerful man of the

the truth and evidence regarding the gifts, money, and

cloth in charge of his own community of monks

help with which this same parish church was improved,

found it fitting to address the civic council of

we avow, as far as we are informed and know, that our

Rothenburg as the recognized patron of the

same parish church was built and improved, without any

church. What had changed in the hilltop city over

fraud, with the gifts, counsel and help, and common alms

the course of a century was not just a system of

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administration but also the self-identification of an

institutions, government, and social order con-

urban community.

tributed to its magnificence; and third, the piety

and wealth of its resident community reflected

The city council’s reply of 1436 hints at several

fundamental factors in the new self-identifica-

its virtue.2 The councilmen of Rothenburg thus

tion of Rothenburg. First, it indicates that by

seized on the opportunity of the abbot’s inquiry

the fifteenth century the mayor and municipal

to promote their city as harmonious, prosperous,

government of Rothenburg felt confident in speak-

and beautiful—and this at a time that was rife with

ing “publicly, before all people,” as uncontested

political turmoil and internal tensions.3

representatives of the local community and its

parish church. Although the church continued to

timony to the awe Rothenburg’s parish church

serve the dual role of collegiate and parish church

inspired in medieval visitors to the city, but it

throughout the Middle Ages, by 1436 St. Jakob was

has rarely been considered critically.4 In fact, the

thought of first and foremost as the city’s church

abbot’s wonder is particularly fascinating given that

and not the church of the religious order.

the Church of St. Jakob was unfinished in 1436:

at the time of the abbot’s visit, the east choir and

Second, the city presented itself not only

Abbot Ulrich’s lost letter is oft cited as tes-

as administrator of the church but also as its

seven-bay nave stood completed, but the west end,

principal patron. “Our fellow citizens” built the

with its pilgrimage chapel dedicated to the Holy

church through their donations (gabe) and by

Blood—arguably the most elegant and striking

their counsel (rath). Although the Teutonic Order

feature of the church—had not yet been built, and

priests had overseen the design and completion of

another half century would pass before the entire

the first major building campaign of St. Jakob, the

church was ready to be consecrated (fig. 4).

council’s letter makes no reference to the order or

their contribution. Instead, it is the city, compris-

Was it the scale and articulation of the architectural

ing of its pious citizens, that built the church. This

composition? Was it curiosity about the financial

claim both rewrites the tension-ridden history of

resources at the city’s disposal? Or was it, perhaps,

the church’s construction and insists on the civic

a recognition that the construction of this church

community as a collective patron of church space.

at the heart of Rothenburg was serving as a locus

for a new and developing sense of local identity?

Finally, the city’s correspondence links the

What was it that inspired the abbot’s wonder?

material fabric of its parish church to ideas of civic

Though his precise motivations will in all like-

community. The community’s ability and willing-

lihood never be known, the abbot’s wonder was

ness to construct St. Jakob demonstrate its wealth,

clearly not impeded by notions of “completeness”

piety, and good sense. These ideals of civic commu-

or “wholeness” in considering the ongoing archi-

nity were commonly valued throughout medieval

tectural project. In fact, its incomplete status made

Europe. Indeed, cities were thought to be beautiful

St. Jakob a highly malleable, effective, and therefore

according to three principal factors, all of which

desirable site for the construction of communal

are invoked in the council’s letter: first, a city’s

identity in the late Middle Ages.

architectural structures, such as walls, churches,

and towers, made it beautiful to behold; second, its

tecture could be employed, precisely at times of

This chapter investigates how art and archi-

Riemenschneider in Rothenburg

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Fig. 4  Plan of St. Jakob and the urban complex in Rothenburg. © Büro Bergmann GmbH, colored and edited by author.

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instability or transition, to project social stability

administrative agencies that regulated the quotid-

and construct collective identity. In what follows, I

ian affairs of a city, and they were fought over by

interweave two closely related stories: the construc-

religious and lay powers alike in what Paul Binski

tion history of the choir and nave of the Church

has termed the “politics of space.”6

of St. Jakob over the course of a century and the

contemporaneous rise to power of Rothenburg’s

organizations that controlled church space in cities

civic council, particularly in its guise as parish

began relinquishing their rights to rising municipal

administrator and patron of the arts. This council

governments.7 Rothenburg, whose council was in

established itself as executor for the wider com-

place by 1269, was no exception, following a chrono-

munity by imposing its regulatory oversight on

logical trajectory in line with that of the majority

previously independent religious institutions.

of southern German towns, which established civic

Church architecture, in particular, functioned as an

governing bodies somewhat later than in the north,

instrument of civic control in the council’s bid for

starting around 1250.8 Around the middle of the

power. The result was a new collective conscious-

thirteenth century, communities of Teutonic Order

ness that forever changed the city’s approach to

priests, Dominican nuns, and Knights Hospitaller

artistic programming.

(also known as the Order of St. John) established

In the thirteenth century, the many religious

themselves in Rothenburg and began competing for the income from donations and services, and in 1281

Secular Authorities and Church Space

Franciscan friars joined in.9 The inner city council assumed a degree of control over all these institu-

Churches served several important functions

tions in what has been termed a period of active

during the Middle Ages: they measured time,

Kirchenpolitik, or church politics.10

provided a space for public gatherings, promul-

gated the dominant Christian religion, and were

conflict between religious and lay institutions, with

vehicles of social order that stratified medieval

the laity gradually gaining the upper hand over the

society into religious and lay communities, Chris-

course of the late Middle Ages. Klaus Jan Philipp

tians and unbelievers, the wealthy and the poor.

has gone so far as to suggest “that it was the goal of

The parish church, in particular, was a core public

every medieval city, and in particular every impe-

space in the medieval town, for it was here that

rial city (Reichsstadt), to achieve independence” in

Christian people from all stations of life gathered

church administration. Moreover, he argues, the

most frequently as a community. Although these

building of churches played an important part in a

same people crossed paths in the city’s narrow

civic government’s control over clergy.11 While the

streets and lively marketplace, it was in the parish

struggle over the staffing, financing, and property

church that collections, festivals, and organized

of religious institutions played out in quotidian

ceremonies—like baptisms, marriages, and

disputes that often pitted religious versus secular

funerals—could best foster a sense of communal

authorities, these disputes do not entail that the

responsibility and belonging. These fundamen-

larger motivations or trend simply reflect a secu-

tal roles made churches desirable platforms for

larization of authority.12 As the case of Rothenburg



Such politics have often been represented as a

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demonstrates, the social movement that brought

councils of elected citizens to administer church

ple, the city actively spied on the convent, reporting

space also represented a localization of power.

with feigned dismay the comings and goings of

The influence of individual lords—often absentee

various laymen. This provided the justification for

masters of large territories—was replaced by that

a number of aggressive actions, ranging from a

of patrician officials whose eligibility lay precisely

restriction on the amount of wine consumed at the

in their possession of a house or land within the

convent to written correspondence with church

immediate municipal district. Religious institutions

officials, including the bishop of Würzburg and

were pawns in this game, for they could hold priv-

the reformer Raimund von Capua, about the nuns’

ileges exempting them from civic regulations and

loose behavior.13 The solution advocated by the

often maintained ties with regional nobles.

city was invariably to increase supervision of the

convent by civic authorities.

The Dominican convent in Rothenburg

From December 1394 to March 1395, for exam-

presents an excellent case in point. Until 1371 this

community of nuns, drawn primarily from noble

but thinly veiled and met with little direct credu-

families in the region around Rothenburg, stood

lity from the church officials, the city’s persistence

under the protection of the noble Nordenberg

eventually paid off, leading the Master of the

family. Beginning in the 1370s, however, the city

Dominican Order in Nuremberg to acknowledge

government maneuvered to gain control over the

the city of Rothenburg as guardian and administra-

convent and thereby eliminate one of the primary

tor of the convent. In a decree of 1397, he accepted

institutions through which the Nordenbergs and

that the city should act as sponsor (read: overseer)

other noble families continued to exert influence

of the convent’s business, buildings, walls, houses,

within the city.

and other relevant things, according to a list of

ordinances. First among these ordinances was an

The details of this story demonstrate just how

Though Rothenburg’s campaign of slander was

tangled a shift in institutional power structures

arrangement whereby the Beichtvater, the male

could be. From 1371 on, the city of Rothenburg, and

confessor, of the convent was obliged to report

not the Nordenbergs, served as the official protec-

the convent’s financial accounts annually to two

tor of the convent by decree of Emperor Charles

representatives appointed by the city council.

IV, but the precise implications of this protection

Several articles that followed aimed at restricting

took several decades to sort out. The nuns fiercely

the movement and business of the convent sisters.

resisted the advances of the municipal government

For example, the number and frequency of guests

into their affairs, and their powerful connections

each nun was allowed to receive was stipulated:

as members of noble families presented a signif-

she could receive her father, mother, sisters, and

icant challenge to the council’s desire to enfold

brothers twice a year, but no more than two to

the convent within its jurisdiction. Met with this

three people at a time, not counting children under

opposition, the city resorted to using the convent’s

ten years old.14 Although nominally motivated by a

status as a community of female religious within a

desire to ensure propriety, this regulation effec-

system dominated by men as a means of achieving

tively restricted contact between the nuns and their

its aims.

noble families.

The City as Patron

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Perhaps the most concrete indication of the

nobility within the city through this venue.

in the decree of 1397 that referred to the locking of

the convent. It stipulated that the doors connecting

political maneuvers and in the localization of power

the convent to the public space of the city should

within late medieval Rothenburg. According to the

be barred with two locks, one on the inside and

late fourteenth-century agreements between the

one on the outside. Named are the “common” gate,

city and the Dominican Order, for instance, any

the outside door of the granary, the door from the

alterations to the church or convent buildings were

cloister to the lower church, the upper-church door

subject to the approval of the municipal council.

in the choir, the door between the cellars and the

The parts of the convent church that were accessible

kalterhuse (the building with the wine press), and

from the city were off limits to the nuns, except on

the wooden window in the kitchen wall. The keys

the occasion of the funeral of a convent sister and

to these locks would be kept respectively by a nun

then only after the laypeople had been locked out.

appointed by the prioress and by the convent’s male

The nuns in their “upper choir,” the western gallery,

confessor, who would lock the women in from

had little space and direct access to only one of the

outside. This confessor, as well as all other employ-

church’s five altars. Even their view of the high altar

ees of the convent, had to swear an oath and report

was controlled by a shuttered window, mentioned

to the city government. The decree also specified

in 1468, that was kept closed except during ven-

that no additional doors to the outer world could

eration of the exposed sacrament.18 The church,

be added to the convent and that nuns who left the

particularly the nave, thus became a public space

convent without explicit written permission from

of the city. Its participation in a public network of

the order’s master would be punished with a prison

church spaces within Rothenburg was ultimately

sentence of at least one year.

underscored by the commission of an altarpiece by

Tilman Riemenschneider.



successfully restricting the influence of the regional

attempt to isolate the nuns was the multipart clause

Despite the harshness of these restrictions and

Church space played an important role in such

the severe punishment threatened for their breach,

the city continued to have difficulty with enforce-

Europe, it is predominantly the great cathedral

In English-language scholarship on northern

ment. At the height of the conflict, in 1398, the

cities that have featured in accounts interweaving

city imprisoned and blinded a convent servant for

political and religious construction histories. Cities

his “misdeed” (missetat) against the council, and

such as Reims and Beauvais, where well-known

the prioress along with nine nuns fled the city.16

instances of political tension led to outright rebel-

Katharina Trüb, the replacement prioress, was the

lions or halts in construction, have demonstrated

first nonnoble to hold the position in Rothenburg,

the sometimes turbulent relationship between

and she quickly accepted provisions favorable to

power structures and material fabric.19 Although

the city.17 Although the political situation between

such conflicts could result in breaks in the pro-

the convent and the city remained troubled over

gression of a project, urban religious spaces also

the following years, subsequent ordinances in 1405

frequently experienced a boost in artistic patronage

and 1406 confirmed and even extended the city’s

precisely as secular councils sought to consolidate

oversight over the affairs of the convent, thereby

their power. Parish churches, in particular, became

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an arena in which elected civic authorities not

verus fundator, arose as one of the most powerful

only enacted their newfound power but also gave

forces to shape late medieval urban fabric.22 Within

it enduring visual form, and it is here that much

the complex and dynamic milieu of late medieval

remains to be explored to better our understanding

political and economic pressures, art and archi-

of late medieval artistic programming.

tecture emerged as principal tools of this identity



I suggest that the change in the relationship

between the civic government and religious insti-

tutions of late medieval Rothenburg represented a

of these developments, preserved both in its mate-

shift in the self-identification of the leading citizen

rial fabric and in its archival sources. The fact that

class, one that relied heavily on church space to

Rothenburg only ever had one parish—whereas

construct an imagined civic collective. Though

some medieval cities grew to incorporate several

met with some resistance from individual religious

parishes—meant that St. Jakob remained the most

institutions, the shift in oversight that placed in

significant sacred space of the city, a status that also

the hands of the city council the right to appoint

made it a primary focus of shifting political powers

caretakers of church space ultimately incorporated

in Rothenburg. The civic council’s desire to control

these institutions into an administrative system

the affairs of the parish church comes into particu-

with a pronounced control over communal space.

lar focus through a pair of surviving contracts that

Of course, city and church were never independent

outline in detail the administrative oversight of

entities during the Middle Ages, as Enno Bünz and

the church. Especially when considered alongside

others have pointed out, but the civic control of

the construction campaigns and donations that

religious space in late medieval Rothenburg proved

“built and renewed” the church, as the city’s letter

crucial for the city’s artistic program. The involve-

of 1436 put it, these contracts reveal the central role

ment of the local government in the articulation

religious architecture could play in a civic coun-

and networking of church space prompted Rothen-

cil’s bid for power. The striking correspondence in

burg to develop an artistic assemblage unique to

date between the Rothenburg contracts and the

the particular place. Although they never ceased

building campaigns of the choir and nave of St.

to compete for income, individual churches under

Jakob suggests that control over the parish church

the administrative umbrella of the city government

was seen as particularly important during times of

became sites for the development and promulga-

transition.While under construction, the material

tion of a visible identity of the “beautiful city” of

fabric of the church could be harnessed to convey


the ideological priorities and the projected identity

of its principal institutional patrons.


Such shifts in power during the late Middle

Rothenburg is unusual for the excellent record

Ages had both a practical administrative side and an idealized representative side. It was the particular combination of these two elements and their

The Contract of 1336 and the Choir of St. Jakob

self-supporting relationship that allowed late medieval cities to become a class of patron in their own

The year 1336 proved eventful in Rothenburg’s

right. The communal identity of city-as-patron, or

history. The city had just absolved itself of fiscal

The City as Patron

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obligations to the nobles Ludwig and Gottfried von

(fig. 5).25 An indulgence issued in 1311 “for repairs”

Hohenlohe, and the Holy Roman emperor, Ludwig

(pro reparation) suggests that construction of the

IV, had granted Rothenburg seven years free of

choir was probably under way by this point.26 The

imperial taxes.23 Internally, too, change was in the

administrative structure of the project was not

air. For more than half a century after the forma-

unusual: the lay community bore much of the

tion of the city council in Rothenburg, tradesmen,

expense of the project, both directly through dona-

no matter how wealthy, had been excluded from

tions made to the campaign and indirectly through

serving on the council. By 1336, however, the

other monies paid to the church and order; the

pressures of shifting social structures finally forced

religious order served as institutional patron, over-

an amendment to the category of electable citizen,

seeing the design and iconographic program and

whereby select tradesmen in possession of a house

contributing substantial funds as well; and skilled

could become burghers and therefore eligible to

artisans, responsible for the project’s execution,

serve on the council. After 1336 the city council of

managed the day-to-day undertakings.27

Rothenburg consisted of a small elite inner circle

of twelve men—who wielded the real power and

was ripe for change. Already in 1303 the gift that

were, in practice, still largely elected from the city’s

literally as well as figuratively cleared the way for

patrician families—and a larger, forty-member

the construction of the new choir made palpable a

outer council, which more regularly included

rising tension between the city authorities and the


Teutonic Order priests. This donation by Heinricus

and Irmgard Zenner specified that, in addition to


Whether as a direct result of the new compo-

Yet Rothenburg in the early fourteenth century

sition of the municipal government or simply in

a Teutonic Order priest, one lay citizen should be

parallel with its restructuring, the newly expanded

appointed by the city council to administer the

council in 1336 immediately got to work estab-

deed so as to ensure that the priests carried out

lishing its authority, not only over the secular

their duties as stipulated. Moreover, future city

affairs of the city, but precisely over the space and

councilmen were to swear an oath to ensure that

administration of the city’s main church. Before the

the provisions of the donation continued to be met

end of the year, it drew up an important contract

in the years to come.28 The Zenner donation was

with the Teutonic Order over the administration

thus one of the earliest gifts to a church in Rothen-

of St. Jakob, heralding the city’s most intense

burg to stipulate a civic caretaker. Over the course

period of church politics. Simply put, the goal of

of the thirteenth century, this practice became the

these politics was for the civic government to gain


administrative oversight over the affairs of Rothen-

burg’s religious institutions, particularly over urban

to settle a heated dispute between the Teutonic

church space. In large part the city succeeded in

Order and the city council of Rothenburg.29 At

this goal over the course of the next century.

stake was control over the fabrica ecclesiae, the

Late in the year 1336 an arbitral court convened

A generation before the changes of 1336, work

had begun on a new choir for the Church of St. Jakob under the supervision of the Teutonic Order


Fig. 5  Exterior of the east choir of St. Jakob in Rothenburg.

Riemenschneider in Rothenburg

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administration that oversaw the building (buwe)

occasion of the usual feast days as well as during

of the parish church, its finances, eternal lights,

the burial of one of their members. Only during

and the so-called Twelve Helpers candle. Money

times of danger could the city withhold this priv-

and power lay at the heart of the tension between

ilege. For their part, the mayor and city council

city officials and Teutonic Order priests, which

were to continue to pay the usual annual donation

had been escalating in the preceding years. In the

of at least 1 lb h per person, and no one should

open clash of 1336, the city accused the Teutonic

knowingly give false money during collections for

Order of neglecting to maintain eternal lights

the dead or on any other occasion.31

as stipulated in donation records. The order, in

turn, faulted the city councilmen and mayor for

1336, attempted to balance control over the church

failing to pay their pledged annual donations to

between the religious institution and the municipal

the church. The city, the order charged, was also

authority. Yet seen historically, this balance was

attempting to dictate the occasions on which the

a blow to the theretofore dominant power of the

large bell of the church could be rung, and the

Teutonic Order. As time would tell, the contract of

priests protested that this was an infringement on

1336 was just the first step in an aggressive takeover

their long-standing dominion over the church.

by the municipal government of religious affairs in

Moreover, the Teutonic Order complained, people

the city.

were intentionally throwing false money, such

as pieces of lead, into the offertory box during

construction of the east choir of St. Jakob was


already under way, and it is clear that despite the

administrative shift, the design and execution of



The judges did their best to moderate between

In this way, the contract, signed on December 3,

At the time of the described arbitration,

the two sides, and their ruling balanced admin-

the project was guided by the Teutonic Order. This

istrative control over the church between the two

is made clear by the relationship between the choir

parties. The first step was to get both sides to agree

of St. Jakob in Rothenburg and its closest model,

to follow the decisions of the three-member court

the so-called Deutschhauskirche in Würzburg. As

for the issues currently under dispute as well as

its name suggests, the Deutschhauskirche was the

for any unresolved or future arguments. Then,

church of the Teutonic Order (also known as the

most importantly, the court decreed that a team of

German Order), and this particular Deutschhaus-

two caretakers, one named by the Teutonic Order

kirche was located in Rothenburg’s powerful

and one appointed by the city, should oversee the

northern neighbor, the episcopal city of Würzburg.

fabrica and all of its resources. In this, it followed

the structure of the Zenner donation and others

St. Jakob and the Deutschhauskirche in Würzburg

like it. Certain details as to the care of the church

is strong: though the proportions and specific

were sorted during the arbitration as well: two

tenor of details differ, the general organization of

eternal lights—and a third if the caretakers paid

the architecture is similar. To those few who visit

the Teutonic Order an additional 10 lb h—were to

churches with a tape measure in hand, the corre-

be maintained by the order. The order also retained

sponding bay lengths of the choir of St. Jakob and

the right to ring the large bell of the church on the

the Deutschhauskirche clearly demonstrate the

The formal relationship between the choir of

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Fig. 6 (left)  Vaults of the Deutschhauskirche in Würzburg. Fig. 7 (above)  Vaults of the choir of St. Jakob in Rothenburg. Courtesy of Bauhütte St. Jakob Rothenburg, evang. Gesamtkirchengemeinde. Photo by Jérôme Zahn.

close relationship between the two buildings.32 The

sculpted wall corbels, these large bosses encrust the

volumes of the two spaces, however, are different,

upper zones of both churches with a dense overlay

since the choir of St. Jakob is about two meters

of ornament (figs. 6 and 7). Although the depicted

wider and nine meters taller than the Deutschhaus-

subjects of the sculpted details differ in the two

kirche. More perceptible than the related bay

churches, the overall impression is similar.

lengths, therefore, are similarities in the articu-

lation of the two spaces. For example, a strong

in details yet shares similar overall forms. In both

resemblance characterizes the division of wall

model and copy, for instance, the polygonal termi-

zones and the sculptural treatment of ceiling bosses

nus is distinguished by a pair of thick wall responds

and corbel stops. As in the Deutschhauskirche in

that stretch all the way from the ground to the

Würzburg, the choir of St. Jakob includes sculpted

ceiling. West of these, the responds that ultimately

bosses, not only at the crossing point of the diago-

spring as ribs begin much higher and rise from

nal ribs of the quadripartite vaulting, but also at the

sculpted corbels. Although in the Deutschhau-

peak of the transverse ribs. Combined with deeply

skirche in Würzburg the rib forms are convex and

The conception of wall surfaces, too, differs

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crowned by capitals, while in St. Jakob in Rothen-

together, these conditions suggest that the affinities

burg they are concave and without capitals, the

between the Rothenburg choir and its Würzburg

principles of organization remain the same.

model would have been familiar to the local popu-

lation in Rothenburg.

By medieval standards, the relationship

between these two buildings was unmistakable. As

Richard Krautheimer argues in his foundational

copy communicated to various visitors is more

article on medieval architectural copies, a corre-

difficult to establish. Whether the design for the

spondence in basic elements—such as a centralized

Rothenburg choir represented the Teutonic Order’s

plan or the same number of piers—was enough to

power in defiance of the imminent threat from

recall a distant original.33 For buildings as closely

civic authorities or began as a simple expression

related in design, institution, and geography as St.

of affiliation and later took on new meaning, the

Jakob in Rothenburg and the Deutschhauskirche in

close ties of the architecture to its recognizable

Würzburg, the close formal connection must have

model would have made a powerful statement in

been apparent to medieval contemporaries.

the period around 1336: this was the space of the

Teutonic Order. As the order’s hegemony over the

Of course, not all audiences would necessarily

What the connection between model and

have been positioned to recognize these connec-

space weakened, however, the projected meaning

tions. The majority of Rothenburg’s citizens would

of the architecture must have changed. By the

have found themselves in the city of Würzburg at

1390s new furnishings in the space would allow lay

some point in their lives, if not to visit family or

donors to reconceive of the choir as part of a wider

do business, then to attend celebrations in their

artistic program. The reception of the architecture

bishopric’s cathedral on important feast days.

thus shifted along with its historical context.

Whether they would have been familiar with the

Deutschhauskirche on the bank of the Main River

of St. Jakob in the aftermath of the 1336 contract

opposite the cathedral and marketplace is less

is also telling for the waning reign of the Teutonic

certain. However, for the primary users of the east

Order over the parish. Donations for Masses and

end of St. Jakob—the members of the Teutonic

eternal lights in the parish church made in 1336,

Order in Rothenburg—the architectural affinity to

1344, 1346, 1348, and 1360 named the city as adminis-

the order’s church in Würzburg would have been

trator of the endowments.36 Thereafter this provision

legible, expressing associations with the Würzburg

became increasingly common, making the city the

commandery. Not only did the commandery in

official executor of most significant donations to

Rothenburg originate as an affiliated chapter of the

religious institutions throughout the city.

order in Würzburg in the thirteenth century, but

its ties to this major episcopal city also remained

following the 1336 contract, as well as the tendency

strong throughout the following centuries.34 In

to appoint a civic administrator, suggests that more

turn, the Teutonic Order priests in Rothenburg, as

citizens felt comfortable leaving large donations

the principal “interlocutors” of the Church of St.

to the church once the city council had a firm and

Jakob, might have pointed out to a wider public

institutionalized role in the administration of the

the building’s program and associations.35 Taken

parish fabrica. Of course, the donations captured

A flurry of documented donations to the Church

The substantial uptick in donations to St. Jakob

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in these records are simply the tip of the iceberg of

that shift. Rothenburg’s municipal government had

gifts made to the church, for only those contribu-

already gained a footing in church administration

tions associated with major land or money grants

by the time its most famous member entered the

were written down. Countless others were taken

scene. Heinrich Toppler was first elected to the

with gratitude but without the expenditure and for-

inner council of Rothenburg in 1373.38 Toppler

mality associated with written documentation. The

came from a family of farmers who had made a

city, more than the order, likely recognized that the

small fortune in Rothenburg trading in livestock.

process of recording donations could be a pow-

His father had served on Rothenburg’s govern-

erful tool in the service of urban church politics;

ing council between 1352 and 1358 and had likely

indeed, such records provided a means of holding

first acquired the family crest, which his son had

to account the Teutonic Order priests, and thus of

reconfirmed in a letter of 1382.39 As yet unmarried,

exercising the council’s hard-fought authority over

the young Toppler was ambitious, and his first spell

church affairs.

in government was followed by several further

appointments. Indeed, Heinrich Toppler would

By about 1350 the eastern choir of St. Jakob was

complete—a date confirmed both by dendrochro-

significantly reshape Rothenburg, politically and

nological examinations of beams in the preserved

territorially, over the next thirty-five years.

medieval roof and by art-historical investigation of

the glazing program of the central choir window.37

Toppler counted among the wealthiest men in

By the time an indulgence was issued in 1356 “pro

Rothenburg, paying more taxes than all but sixteen

structura et ornamentis,” major work was presum-

other men in the city. By 1377 only eleven others

ably complete, and new income would have gone

paid more in taxes than Toppler, and by 1407

toward furnishings or the next major building

Toppler paid the staggering sum of 310 guilders

campaign of the church: the nave.

in taxes, making him the richest man in Rothen-

burg, with a fortune worth about 31,000 guilders.

The associations of the east choir arguably came

Already during his first mandate as mayor,

to hold even more meaning once it was juxtaposed

By contrast, about 50 percent of Rothenburg’s

with this new nave, for the city did not rest with

taxpayers owed taxes between 1 and 10 lb h during

its gains in the 1336 contract but rather sought to

this period.40 Both as an individual citizen and as a

increase further its oversight of the Parish Church

leader of the civic government over the next three

of St. Jakob. It did so both through restructuring

decades, Toppler proved to be one of the greatest

the administration of the fabrica and through

patrons of Rothenburg’s parish church and one

choosing a new look for the church itself.

who actively sought to strengthen the city’s role in church affairs.

Individual Patrons and the Contract of 1398

Historians have long considered Toppler’s

tenure in government to have been Rothenburg’s “golden age.” Certainly it was a time of active

Patronage structures drove and supported the

territorial expansion, construction, and general

definitive shift in the administration of the parish

prosperity. But Toppler’s time was also riddled by

fabrica even before a second contract confirmed

turmoil, and his daring political maneuvers were

The City as Patron

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not uniformly appreciated by his fellow citizens

were designed in consultation with the respective

and councilmen. While Toppler’s story has been

sponsoring families, as differences in the window

retold many times, it is valuable here insofar as it

tracery between the two chapels suggest.42 Only

demonstrates how Rothenburg used its material

later, as construction on the nave was nearing

fabric, precisely during periods of turmoil or tran-

completion, were two further chapels (the south-

sition, to project a unified civic identity.

west and northwest chapels) added, a change to the

initial plan that increased the number of private

The correspondences in date between Heinrich

Toppler’s biography and the construction of the

chapels in the parish church from two to four.

Church of St. Jakob are striking, as is the increase

in historical documentation during his long stint in

old church to make way for the new nave of St.

Rothenburg’s civic government. Toppler estab-

Jakob came from the bishop of Würzburg in 1388,

lished himself as a principal patron of the parish

though the actual demolition may have begun

church: as an individual donor, as the head of an

earlier.43 In the same year, Toppler was particu-

important family, and as a prominent member of

larly active as a patron. On January 7, 1388, he and

the city council that oversaw the parish fabrica.

his wife, Barbara, donated an eternal Mass and

During 1373—the same year as Toppler’s first

associated chaplaincy for the altar of the Twelve

election to the inner city council of Rothenburg—

Apostles, Saint Vitus, and Saint Leonhard, which

work began on the nave of St. Jakob. The event was

stood in the south (now southeast) chapel of the

festively celebrated with an inscribed plaque placed

nave. It is significant that this donation established

in the eastern buttress on the south side of the

the first position for a secular priest within the

rising structure. Here it faced the back of city hall,

city, a challenge to the dominance of the Teutonic

across a public street that skirted the churchyard

Order over the parish, which was later repeated by

on its way to the marketplace, a block away. The

other donations following the same model.44 The

plaque was therefore visible at the heart of the city

chaplain supported by the Toppler endowment was

and reminded passersby of a particular moment in

to say Mass daily, beginning when the host was ele-

the church’s history. Indeed, the recording in stone

vated during another regular Mass celebrated at the

of the construction date 1373 indicates again how

St. Catherine altar, and at least four times a week,

the city government had begun to wield written

barring illness or other important matters (redlich

records to shape historical memory and to redefine

sache).45 Toppler’s donation was recorded in great

Rothenburg’s civic identity.

detail, listing the responsibilities of the chaplain as

well as the property supporting the donation.46



It was not far from this spot, though in the

Official permission for the destruction of the

interior of the church, that Toppler himself made

Three days after Toppler’s donation of the eter-

a highly visible mark on the Church of St. Jakob.

nal mass in 1388, his name appears on two further

The initial plan for the nave included two private

donations to the Church of St. Jakob. The first,

chapels, one on the north side of the church, the

made again in company with his wife, Barbara,

other on the south side, facing the city center.

was for an annual evening vigil and morning Mass

From the start, Toppler seems to have claimed the

to be said at the same St. Leonhard altar on the

prominent south chapel as his own. Both chapels

Feast Day of St. Bartholomew (August 24). These

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services were to be sung for their own and their

ancestors’ souls in the company of a minimum of

only important gifts made by individuals to St.

four members of the Teutonic Order. The sacristan

Jakob during the construction of its nave, although

was to place four large candles and a silk cloth over

they were among the most generous and conse-

the donors’ graves, and the couple’s names were to

quently most prestigious. To these can be added a

be added to the list of souls read from the pulpit on

wider swath of donors, whose testaments from the

Sundays. To encourage attendance, the congrega-

period left money of varying amounts specifically

tion was to be reminded of the yearly Mass on the

for the “building” (buwe, baw, or bau) of St. Jakob.

preceding Monday.

Three donations, in 1394, 1395, and 1397, would have

been timely for final work on the nave.49 Between


The second, more expensive donation was of

Naturally the Toppler donations were not the

an endowed Mass to be sung on the Marian altar

1402 and 1415 at least twelve further testaments

in the central aisle of the church, at the junction

left money for the parish church. The amount

between the nave and the choir. For this donation,

bequeathed varied between 2 lb and 10 fl, with

in honor of the Virgin Mary, the couple was joined

one woman leaving her best dress to the church

by Heinrich Toppler’s brother, Hans, and his sister-

instead of a sum of money.50 These donations, as

in-law, Kathrin. It was for this same altar, almost

well as one chronological outlier made in 1431,

exactly a century later, that the city commissioned

were used for the “building” of St. Jakob, which

a Marian altarpiece from Tilman Riemenschneider.

must be read as synonymous with the buwe that

The Marian altar was one of the most important

two churchwardens were appointed to oversee in

public sites in the parish church, since it served as

the 1336 contract. In other words, they contributed

the lay altar, the primary location of services for

to the operation of the parish fabrica, including its

the wider local community. The endowed Mass,

maintenance of the material fabric of the church:

established by the Toppler quartet, was to be sung

its architectural construction, furnishings, and

weekly on Saturday evenings after Compline as


well as on the eve of all Marian feast days. The

beginning of the Mass was signaled by two strokes

represented a class of citizen-patrons, whose highly

from the “fire bell.” The foundation document also

visible gifts expressed religious piety while at the

stipulated that the schoolmaster, along with a min-

same time broadcasting elite social status and

imum of ten schoolboys, would sing the antiphon

individual wealth.51 The success of such demonstra-

“Salve Regina,” including the sequence “Salve mater

tive donations for the memoria of the individual is

Salvatoris.” This beginning was to be followed by

attested by the fact that historical records preserve

the sung Offertory “Recordare Virgo Mater” and

the names of these donors. As a class, they were

readings by the chaplain of versikel and collecten.

thus separate from the many unnamed donors who

Following “the local custom,” the Mass closed

threw small sums into the offertory box or gave

with the ringing of bells and an Ave Maria. The

raw goods in place of money to support the church.

location, frequency, occasion, performance, and

At the same time, the administration of these

attendance of this Mass were thereby calculated to

substantial donations bolstered the collective entity

draw maximum attention.

of city-as-patron, for in naming the city as executor


Together, this group of individual patrons

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of the donations, elite individual donors solidified

Even the value of money is set down (12 h = 1 ß, 20

the civic government’s administrative footing in the

ß = 1 lb, 1 lb = 1 fl), and it is stipulated that the same

church. Corine Schleif has demonstrated how such

coinage should be used as that current among the

donations involved reciprocal benefits between

citizens of the town.54 Specified also are the tithes

the donor and the community of faithful as well

due on numerous products of husbandry as well

as between the donor and God.52 Thus, as a group,

as a limit to the number of livestock the Teutonic

the Rothenburg donations not only ensured the

Order was permitted to keep in the city: seventy

memory of individuals but also helped create the

sheep, forty pigs, and twenty-four cows. The com-

social-political entity of the city.

pensation and duties carried by various positions,

such as the schoolmaster and the sacristan, are also

The cluster of donations made at the end

of the fourteenth century and beginning of the


fifteenth relates not only to progress in the con-

struction of the nave—which received its roof

related to the administration of the church itself.

around 1400, according to dendrochronological

For instance, the contract stipulates that the Teu-

examinations—but also to the shifting sociopo-

tonic Order was to maintain at least ten priests to

litical structure of the parish. As noted above, the

celebrate Masses in the established tradition. One

contract of 1336 divided responsibility over St.

priest was to say Mass in the chapel of Kobolzell,

Jakob evenly between the Teutonic Order and the

and this, as well as other items, demonstrates that

city government by allowing each to appoint one

the contract addressed the administration of the

churchwarden. Whether due to the ambitions of

full parish and not just of the Church of St. Jakob.

Heinrich Toppler himself, to pressure from the

Most important, the city council of Rothenburg

wider population of lay citizens, or, as is most

is named the guardian of the Church of St. Jakob

likely, to a combination of both, a new contract was

and of the chapels of Kobolzell and St. Nicholas,

signed in 1398 that definitively placed the church

including all of their ornaments—namely, liturgical

and the wider parish firmly in the hands of munici-

vestments, missals, chalices, altar cloths, and other

pal authorities.

furnishings.56 The city also gained control over all

The reason behind the official contract of

donations to the church, whether they consisted of

1398 was again a volatile disagreement, this time

raw materials (listed are wax, silk, and flax) given

much more intense than that six decades earlier.

in or before the church or money placed in the

Listed in the opening passage of the contract are

offertory box or given “in any other manner.” The

a range of conflicts that the document was meant

council was also appointed to oversee the income

to settle: war, blows, breach, insults, abatement,

and expenses of all church assets, being required

offensiveness, disagreement, and even murder!

only to provide the priests with candles for prayer

The contract of 1398 is also more detailed in its

and Mass.57

provisions than its earlier counterpart, in particular

concerning matters of money and property. For

responsibilities extended beyond the physical

instance, a price is set for a calf (4 h), a lamb (1 h),

Church of St. Jakob to include the named chapels

and a beehive (4 h) sold to the city by the order.

of Kobolzell and St. Nicholas, but over the course



Most important for my purposes are items

At the time of the contract signing, these

Riemenschneider in Rothenburg

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of the following century, several other chapels

represent their needs than the religious organiza-

were added to this list. By the time the Reforma-

tion. The self-identification of these leading citizens

tion reached Rothenburg, the fabrica ecclesiae

as a collective community under the auspices of the

of St. Jakob, administered by the churchwardens

city council was thus reflected in the administrative

appointed by the municipal council, oversaw

reorganization of the parish fabrica. It also took

eight separate churches and chapels: St. Jakob, St.

visible form in the material fabric of the parish

Michael, St. Mary in Kobolzell, St. Nicholas, St.


Wolfgang, St. Blasius, the Marian chapel on the Milchmarkt, and the chapel dedicated to the “Pure” Virgin Mary (Kapelle zur Reinen Maria). The

The Nave of St. Jakob

contract of 1398 caused all new holdings and projects of the parish henceforward to fall under the

As there is no fixed one-to-one relationship

auspices of the city council and not the Teutonic

between architectural form and meaning, no stable


iconography of architecture, in particular because

of its nonrepresentational nature, the consequences

The Teutonic Order’s acceptance of the 1398

contract, despite its clear bent in favor of the

of the administrative shift for the built material of

city, suggests that in the period between 1336 and

the Church of St. Jakob are difficult to determine.

1398, the city had made steady advances into the

Yet at the same time, they seem easy to see, for the

administration of the church beyond the provisions

nave, built during the ultimate push for complete

of the first contract. In 1398 the representatives

civic control over the parish, looks strikingly

of the order apparently made no attempt to insist

different from the Teutonic Order’s choir. Whereas

on the same, more balanced terms of the earlier

the choir was built from carefully finished ashlar

agreement. Instead, they seemed fully resigned to

blocks of golden sandstone, the core of the nave

the administrative takeover by the council, fighting

was constructed of irregularly sized, rough-hewn

simply to ensure the order’s subsistence in Rothen-

pieces of gray limestone. While the choir consists

burg rather than to regain any political power.

of a single, unified space, the transeptless nave

Given the wave of donations to the church fabrica

incorporates a seven-bay central aisle, two side

just after this second contract, as well as the tenor

aisles, and four paired side chapels that break the

of donations made during the construction of St.

regularity of its outer walls. The nave space is artic-

Jakob’s nave, it seems likely that pressure exerted by

ulated by undulating compound piers, curvilinear

the class of individual donors was instrumental in

tracery windows, and quadripartite rib vaulting

affirming the city as ultimate patron of the church.

(figs. 8 and 9).

The city’s new, uncontested control over parish

affairs in turn boosted donations. The collective

struction between the choir and the nave, but

identity of city-as-patron, then, confirmed in offi-

the juxtaposition of these two spaces also makes

cial administrative structures, was contingent on

their differences meaningful beyond a change in

a shift in the thinking of individual patrons, who

architectural fashions. This is especially clear in

began to see the city as an entity better suited to

light of the choices of architectural models made

Stylistic differences betray the gap in con-

The City as Patron

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Boivin, Riemenschneider_PRINT.indd 32

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Fig. 8 (opposite)  Interior of St. Jakob in Rothenburg toward the east. Fig. 9 (above)  Nave of St. Jakob in Rothenburg toward the west, showing the western gallery.

Boivin, Riemenschneider_PRINT.indd 33

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rise beneath the arcade seem to continue straight upward and disappear into the wall, while the arcade arches branch off from these—a typical late Gothic conceit termed continuous or disappearing moldings.

In their composition, the piers of St. Jakob are

clearly akin to the western pair of piers in the east choir of St. Sebald in Nuremberg (begun 1361; fig. 10).58 The oblong core of the pier pair in Nuremberg, however, is repeated for all the supports of the Rothenburg nave. The designers of the Rothenburg nave distinguished the eastern piers from the others, including around each four symmetrically arranged, en-delit shafts that support corbels and baldachin-crowned figures. In both Rothenburg and Nuremberg the transition from the pier to the vaulting system is smooth: the continuous moldings gradually emerge from the pier and spring as ribs without the interruption of capitals.

In Rothenburg, the smooth flowing forms of

the lower zones (especially the nave piers and rising Fig. 10  East choir of St. Sebald in Nuremberg.

wall shafts) set up a contrast with the linear composition of the thin keeled ribs of the vault. Like the choir, the nave boasts deeply carved ceiling bosses,

by their respective patrons. While the east end of

though here less densely distributed: whereas in the

St. Jakob follows the single, dominant model of the

choir the transverse arches as well as the diagonal

Deutschhauskirche in Würzburg, the nave has no

ribs peak in bosses, the transverse arches of the

single prototype. Instead, the nave design seems

nave do not (fig. 11). The sole exception to this is

to align itself with a group of related buildings.

the transverse arch between the second and third

Foremost among these are the Parish Churches of

nave bays, which includes a large ring boss at its

St. Sebald and St. Lorenz in Nuremberg.

peak.59 The effect of this composition is that the


Distantly akin to the piliers cantonnés of several

nave remains spatially and stylistically distinct from

High Gothic cathedrals, the coursed piers of the

the choir, yet it appears related through its system of

nave of St. Jakob in Rothenburg have four rounded

quadripartite ribbed vaults.

shafts arranged around an oblong polygonal core.

The north and south shafts rise up uninterrupted

a host of other features that draw upon a wider

to branch into the keeled ribs of the quadripar-

range of regional models: while the window tracery

tite vaulting system. The east and west shafts that

of the southwest nave chapel and the paired towers

Alongside these elements from Nuremberg are

Riemenschneider in Rothenburg

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of St. Jakob in Rothenburg were clearly modeled on the Church of St. Lorenz in Nuremberg, the triangular flat-sided bases of the wall responds in Rothenburg relate to those of the east end of the Cathedral of Augsburg; the seven-bay, transeptless Rothenburg nave, with its lower side aisles and central clerestory, is similar to the nave of the fourteenth-century Parish Church of St. Andreas in Ochsenfurt; the original pair of small side chapels that projects beyond the outer envelope of the nave in Rothenburg also appears in Ochsenfurt, as it does in Schwäbisch Gmünd. There are, however, few contemporary churches comparable for the combination of elements found in Rothenburg. The pier form, which St. Jakob in Rothenburg takes over from St. Sebald in Nuremberg, for instance, features almost exclusively in hall churches—in which clerestory windows are omitted in favor of raising the height of the side aisles—whereas the Rothenburg nave follows the spatial plan and elevation of a basilica.

Masons’ marks indicate possible connections

Fig. 11  Choir and nave vaulting of St. Jakob in Rothenburg.

to other sites, as well, including the eastern parts of the Minster in Ulm (1377–1420), the octagon and openwork spire of the Minster in Strasbourg

project in Rothenburg did not follow the highly

(1399–1439), and the nave of Regensburg Cathedral

fashionable hall-church model but instead chose a

(1320–1442). A project headed by Jérôme Zahn,

more traditional basilican elevation for the nave of

director of the Staatliche Dombauhütte of Passau

St. Jakob.62 The long-held theory that the German

Cathedral, is currently tracing overlaps in mason’s

hall church represented the power and identity of

marks between Rothenburg, Nuremberg, Ingol-

burghers in opposition to the basilican church, the

stadt, and Passau, among others. If these indicate

traditional form of the clergy, has been debunked;

an overlap of stonemasons between the various

the wide brush of the theory does not stand up to

sites, then Rothenburg was indeed abreast of the

the incredible variety and local nuance of the built

most recent stylistic developments of the time.

reality.63 Despite this, the choice in Rothenburg is

notable, given that the builders of the nave of St.



Given these connections to a wide range of

prestigious building projects throughout the region,

Jakob were clearly familiar with contemporary hall

architectural historians have expressed surprise

churches and might have differentiated their nave

that the patrons and architects of the ambitious

from the choir by using this design.

The City as Patron

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I posit that the decision to build a basilican

probably played a part in exciting the wonder of

important opportunity that allowed the city of

the abbot of Heilsbronn during his visit in 1436.

Rothenburg to demonstrate a prestige arguably

equal to that of contemporary hall churches: the

fourteenth-century Germany, where the new fash-

chance to include flying buttresses. As is typical in

ion was to build hall churches. They were, however,

Gothic church architecture, the interior divisions

one of the most expensive parts of a church struc-

of the nave of St. Jakob in Rothenburg are made

ture because they were difficult to build, and it is

visible on the exterior by means of buttresses.

likely that their inclusion in Rothenburg was meant

These buttresses support flyers, arches that rise

as a sign of prestige as much as they were a struc-

from the upper projecting culée of the buttress to

tural necessity.65 Though in reality Rothenburg did

support the central vessel of the nave at the height

not have unlimited resources to devote to the con-

of the clerestory windows. Buttresses with and

struction of its parish church, the fabrica ecclesiae

without flyers served both functional and aesthetic

carefully directed money to where it was calculated

purposes. On the one hand, they steadied the outer

to have the greatest visual effect: the administration

walls of the church and countered the thrust of

decided to save on the core building material, using

its heavy stone vaults; on the other, they provided

rough-hewn limestone instead of more expensive

a site for rich architectural ornament that could

sandstone ashlar blocks—after all, the exterior sur-

include elaborate moldings, blind-tracery friezes,

face could be painted over, and indeed was, with a

pinnacles, or even sculpted figures. In Rothen-

concealing program of false coursing lines to make

burg, the flying buttresses that line the south

it look like ashlar—but at the same time to include

side of the nave of St. Jakob increase in height

expensive flying buttresses along the full length of

and complexity from east to west following the

the nave.

sequence of their construction (fig. 12). They are

also more ornate on the south side, which faces the

single model, then, the ensemble is far from a hap-

city center, than on the north. The two southwest-

hazard collection of architectural ideas. Together,

ern buttresses, for instance, form an elegant pair.

the elements work to convey a set of multivalent

A simple molding divides the upper culée from


the shaft below. Against the angled surfaces of the

culée stand three-quarter life-size figures, two on

the east end and nave of St. Jakob clearly distinguish

each buttress, supported by foliate consoles and

not only two construction campaigns and spatial

crowned by baldachins. The articulation of these

concepts but also, through their juxtaposition, two

buttresses clearly demonstrates that the south side

very different messages of affiliation. Whereas the

of the church was conceived of as a show facade

patrons of the choir referenced a specific regional

akin to that of the lavish double-ended Church of

model, the Church of the Teutonic Order in the

St. Catherine in Oppenheim (1317–60, west end

episcopal city of Würzburg, the builders of the

1415–39). The inclusion of flyers, in particular,

nave drew widely from a range of architectural

however, also makes a highly visible statement of

possibilities, mixing regional fashions with gestures



wealth. Indeed, the flying buttresses in Rothenburg

nave with clerestory windows came with an

Flying buttresses were relatively uncommon in

Though the nave of St. Jakob does not follow a

The detailed forms as well as the general plans of

Riemenschneider in Rothenburg

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Fig. 12  View of St. Jakob in Rothenburg from the south.

that carried international prestige. The resultant

The Citywide Takeover of Church Space

composition was unique to Rothenburg, yet by citing churches in Rothenburg’s peer imperial cities,

St. Jakob was not the only church in Rothenburg

such as Nuremberg and Schwäbisch Gmünd, it also

on which the city council set its sights during the

articulated a new filial outlook that had prompted

late medieval period. At the same time as it was

Rothenburg to join the Schwäbische Städtebund in

embroiled with the Teutonic Order over control of

1378 and engage in regional politics.66

the parish fabrica and with the nuns of the Domin-

ican convent in a similar fashion, the council

In Rothenburg it was, above all, the striking

contrast between the choir and nave of St. Jakob,

also entered negotiations with the other religious

joined under the even roofline and vista of ribbed

institutions of the city. Indeed, the systematic

vaults, that made visible “change.” The close cor-

maneuvering of Rothenburg’s city council in urban

respondence between these campaigns, and the

spiritual affairs formed a concerted campaign to

shifting administrative structure of the parish fab-

extend the power of the municipal government

rica, leave little doubt that the material fabric of the

into church space, thereby setting the stage for the

parish church not only reflected but also projected

city-sponsored artistic commissions of the fifteenth

the new power of the municipal council.


The City as Patron

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The earliest great successes of the council were

its lower middle class) throughout the fourteenth

the Franciscan monastery. Since the council’s

and fifteenth centuries: recorded donations for the

advances were met with little resistance in these

Franciscan monastery exceed forty in the four-

two cases, the archival record remains scant.

teenth century and eighty in the fifteenth century.70

Nevertheless, it is sufficient to indicate that the

In fact, donations to the Franciscan monastery

council succeeded in a complete takeover of the

were more numerous even than those made to the

Spital by the mid-fourteenth century: in the 1340s,

Parish Church of St. Jakob, a statistic that betrays

Emperor Ludwig the Bavarian issued an antedated

the success of the Franciscans in integrating them-

diploma that placed the Spital under the protec-

selves into the sociopolitical identity of the city.

tion of the city of Rothenburg, and by 1355 the city

council was in a position to appoint its candidate

in 1384 reveals another aspect of the city’s sense

as Spitalmeister, or director of the hospital. Once

of ownership over the Franciscan church. Across

the council had firmly established itself as admin-

the region that year, Jews came under attack,

istrator and patron of this out-of-town site, it made

particularly from the middle classes of trades and

the relationship palpable in the material fabric of

craftsmen who stood in their debt.71 The case was

the city around 1376–78 by extending the encir-

particularly bad in Nördlingen, Rothenburg’s close

cling defensive walls of Rothenburg to enclose the

neighbor to the south and a fellow member of the

Spital. Rothenburg thus received its panhandle,

Schwäbische Städtebund.72 Rothenburg itself was

a long narrow strip, barely two blocks across, that

not immune to the general anti-Semitic sentiment,

extended the defensive walls, built in the first half

and the city council, fearing an outbreak of vio-

of the fourteenth century, 250 meters south to the

lence, decided to take decisive action to protect the

site of the Spital (fig. 13).

resident Jewish community. Accordingly, the entire

city was summoned to the grand Kaisersaal in city




upper and middle classes (including, unusually,

in its relationship with the Holy Ghost Spital and

The city council of Rothenburg also seems to

A tense situation that erupted in Rothenburg

have maintained an amicable and close relation-

hall, where it was forced to swear an oath not to

ship with the Franciscan monastery. Sometime

take action against Rothenburg’s Jewish population.

between 1361 and 1363 it obtained the official power

One dissident reportedly attempted to avoid the

to appoint caretakers to the monastery, though

oath by hiding behind a pier, and another muttered

members of the inner council seem to have served

nonsensical words, but they were both exposed by

in this administrative role already earlier.69 By

others in the assembly. The dissidents were then

1386 the city council was in charge of the Fran-

forced to swear the oath anew, this time in the Fran-

ciscan monastery’s business to such an extent

ciscan church.73 To witness this second oath, the

that it guarded many of the monastery’s papers

large crowd must have walked from city hall, down

in its own archive. Although construction of the

the Herrengasse—the main east–west street of the

Franciscan monastery’s church was finished by

city, lined with some of its grandest houses—to the

about 1309, the furnishings of the church and its

Franciscan church. This public display and the role

many significant documented donations attest to

of the city’s population as so many witnesses to the

an active and enthusiastic patronage by the city’s

oath would have carried weight. Yet despite this

Riemenschneider in Rothenburg

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Fig. 13  Rothenburg. Map by Lauren Matrka.

Boivin, Riemenschneider_PRINT.indd 39

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community-wide oath, the penalties associated with

administered by a secular priest. The administra-

its breach, and the public humiliation of the dissi-

tion of the chapel was subsumed under the parish

dents, about a dozen men were thrown in prison in


the following weeks for “üppige redden” (evil talk)

against the Jewish community and were ultimately

Order of the Knights of St. John, also known as

expelled from the city.74

the Order of Malta or the Knights Hospitaller, first

ceded the order’s independent status in Rothen-

Circumstances such as these demonstrate that

the dominion of the city council was far-reaching,

burg in 1383, following some personal legal trouble

as was its attempt to construct a unified communal

(he stood accused of complicity in two separate

identity. Church space was important for this con-

murder cases). For a period of five years, he agreed

struction. Indeed, there was an important sense of

that the members of the local commandery of St.

fluidity between the public space of the street and

John would be subject to the same laws and taxes

that of the nave of the Franciscan church. Not only

as the lay citizens of Rothenburg—laws and taxes

the Parish Church of St. Jakob, then, but also other

from which the members of religious orders were

church spaces within the city served the political

usually exempt. Although the period of this first

ambitions of and civic order imposed by the local

subjugation to civic rule was brief and the order


managed subsequently to reclaim its privileges, in

the following decade it nevertheless permanently

In addition to the conflict with the Dominican

nuns, outlined above, patronage of the Chapel of

relinquished certain administrative roles to the

St. Blasius, situated in the old castle of Rothenburg,

city. Reminiscent of the provisions of the city’s 1398

demonstrates how the city pushed out regional

contract with the Teutonic Order, the council man-

nobility through its active church politics. The

aged in the same year to take over control of the

chapel, which had been damaged in an earthquake

Hospitaller’s church fabrica, appointing two civic

in 1356, had long belonged to the noble families

caretakers to oversee its church and furnishings.77

descended from the Schultheis (the emperor’s

While the commanderies of both the Teutonic

administrative official in the region). Between 1378

Order and the Order of St. John in Rothenburg

and 1383, however, the city bought out the noble

thus maintained a certain independence for their

families’ shares to this chapel, and by 1397 even

respective communities, the churches in which

the German king Wenceslaus IV (r. 1378–1419)

they celebrated services and which served as their

in Prague—who wrote to encourage the city to

most public spaces came under the aegis of the city.

restore the chapel, which, along with its altar, was so

run-down (zufallen) that it had long been impos-

more striking given that the Order of St. John’s

sible to celebrate Mass within—recognized the city

church was under construction when its fabrica fell

as the new patron of the chapel.75 The St. Blasius

to the city. The standing church is a product of the

Chapel thus entered firmly into the possession of

last decade of the fourteenth century and the first

the city, which funded a restoration that included a

decade of the fifteenth century. Again, the wording

lavish new painting cycle. In 1400 the chapel was

in an archival document from 1393 confirms that a

newly consecrated and endowed with a chaplaincy

shift in thinking about church space accompanied,



Finally, the commander of the Rothenburg

The city’s takeover of church space is all the

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and even slightly preceded, the official shift in

social groups into an idealized entity. Surely, “our

administrative oversight: the council and burghers

fellow citizens” responsible for the Church of St.

of Rothenburg were said to support the church’s

Jakob were not primarily the poor, those unfortu-

construction through taxes and charitable gifts so

nates whose financial insignificance left them off

that the general population (“daz gemein volk”)

tax rolls and population counts and who are known

would more eagerly visit the church.78 Through this

primarily through the provisions left in wills for

expressed desire that more of the city’s residents

food handouts and alms. The pennies thrown into

would visit the church, the city asserted its claim to

an offertory box, totaled and recorded as an anon-

the space, redefining the identity of the church as

ymous line item in church balance books, might

a civic entity. This sense of ownership extended to

represent a year’s wage of a poor man. In fact, just

the material furnishings of the church as well: the

over 1,000 individuals out of the total population

same document of 1393 acknowledges that the city

estimated between 5,000 and 7,000 “inhabitants”

hung the church’s bells “in its city tower” (in ir stat

(Einwohner) had enough income and land to be

turen).79 Although the Knights Hospitaller claimed

counted in the city’s fourteenth-century tax rolls as

the right to apply for the bells to be moved, any

“citizens” (Bürger).80

subsequent relocation was conditional on permis-

sion from the municipal government.

levels between Rothenburg’s upper, middle, and

lower-middle classes, the late Middle Ages saw

By the late fourteenth century, then, it was not

Despite the significant differences in income

just over the parish church and the resident Teu-

an increase across all these classes in both the

tonic Order but also over the churches of the other

amounts and the number of individual contri-

religious orders in Rothenburg that the municipal

butions to church funding. The proliferation of

government exercised authority. The council’s

donors reinforced the need for the municipal

reach extended from its seat in city hall to the

government to take charge of sacred matters in

Parish Church of St. Jakob and to the churches of

the city and formed a pressing reason to project a

the Franciscans, the Knights of St. John, and even

unified civic identity.81 Together, the many smaller

the “troublesome” Dominican nuns.

donations contributed substantially to construction projects throughout the city, making the middle class a large constituent, though not the primary


engineer, of the collective city.

It was the wealthy individuals, named in ben-

The city council’s response to the abbot of Heils-

efices and chantries, that formed the elite class of

bronn in 1436 differentiated between an indigenous

citizen donors who most actively shaped church

community of primary patrons (“our fellow

space throughout Rothenburg. The structural

citizens”) and the wider community of Christian

reality of the city government meant that it was

benefactors (“other pious Christian people”). As is

these same citizens who also curated the entity of

true of any city, the residents of Rothenburg were a

“city-as-patron.” Their claim to represent a wider,

motley group, and the sense of unified community

idealized civic community contributed to their

projected by the city council subsumed various

power. The visual, ritual, and documentary traces

The City as Patron

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left by individual citizens, like Heinrich Toppler,

within the southeast nave chapel, which he had so

added to the growing wealth of signs that claimed

richly endowed. His carved tombstone, display-

the city as a unified entity beautified by its material

ing the recognizable Toppler coat of arms with a

fabric, administrative order, and pious community

pair of dice, thus found a prominent place within

of citizens.

the church that had been such a focus of the local

government under his leadership. Although this

This image of unity is all the more striking in

light of the underlying political conflict and tension

may seem paradoxical given his fall from political

in late medieval Rothenburg. A striking example

favor, it demonstrates the attempt of the municipal

is the story of Toppler’s demise, which left the

government to project in the material fabric of

civic government of Rothenburg on an unsteady

its parish church a sense of stability. By the early

footing even as its architectural and administrative

fifteenth century the Church of St. Jakob was not

jurisdiction over urban church space continued to

only Rothenburg’s sole parish church, it was also a

project an image of powerful control.

true Stadt- or Bürgerkirche, claiming to represent

As work on the nave of St. Jakob was draw-

the city and its citizens. It had become a powerful

ing to a close—the main vessel had received its

instrument of the city council and a locus for the

roof, and all that remained to add were the upper

development of a communal identity.

levels of the towers and the western pair of nave

chapels—Toppler’s reign came to a dramatic end.

over the course of the fourteenth century estab-

After supporting the deposed king Wenceslaus in

lished it as the guardian of the parish community,

a risky political maneuver, Toppler was impris-

the steward of urban church space, and the proper

oned in February 1408 by his fellow councilmen.

recipient for Abbot Ulrich’s letter. Henceforward,

He was thrown in a jail cell in Rothenburg’s city

art and architecture played a prominent role in the

hall, where he died two months later without the

government’s maneuvers. In addition to express-

city recording an official execution or cause of

ing in general terms the virtues of the medieval

death—a fact that has led historians to speculate

city, Rothenburg’s church space was also carefully

about a dubious end.82

programmed to insist on a unique and particular

identity of place.

Despite the troubled circumstances that led

The city council’s successful grab for power

to his death, however, Toppler was buried with all honors in the Church of St. Jakob, specifically


Riemenschneider in Rothenburg

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A Pilgrimage Environment


Chapter 2

ow Rothenburg, a city with no notable

1440s when the local population was beginning to

pilgrimage traffic during the fourteenth cen-

grumble about its government. What better way

tury, attempted to position itself on the pilgrimage

of reenergizing potential patrons and reunit-

map in the fifteenth is a story that demonstrates the

ing the wider community than telling dramatic

integral role of artistic programming in attempts

stories: of young boys with deadly brain injuries

at civic self-construction. The efforts of the city

miraculously cured; of sick pilgrims attaining

council to attract pilgrims led to the creation of

relief only upon their arrival in Rothenburg; of

one of the most impressive spatial environments of

women and men moved by the healing power

Rothenburg: the west end of the Parish Church of

of the blood relic to donate to the church! The

St. Jakob, built from 1453 to 1471 and outfitted from

promotion of Rothenburg’s blood relic, however,

1499 to 1505 with a grand altarpiece by the Würz-

was not simply based on a desire to raise funds.

burg sculptor Tilman Riemenschneider and the

Rather, it aimed to stimulate established medieval

local joiner Erhart Harschner (figs. 1, 14).

practices of gift giving and memoria that relied on

an economy of reciprocity.1 It was these prac-

For the poster child of their campaign, the

governing authorities in Rothenburg settled on

tices that helped cement a bond among the local

an old blood relic that had been in the church’s

community and establish the importance of the

possession for two centuries. It is no coincidence

specific place.

that this relic, barely mentioned in the sources up

to that point, began actively effecting miracles just

“spatial environment,” introduced by Jacqueline

as the council began to seek funding for a new

Jung in her book The Gothic Screen, objects created

chapel in its honor, and this at a time during the

in a range of different media as well as elements

Boivin, Riemenschneider_PRINT.indd 43

According to the concept of the medieval

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added to an ensemble over the course of several

contiguous with the urban fabric and rooted to the

generations should be considered together.2 Pieces

precise spot.

commissioned at different times and executed in

various materials worked together to convey more

crest of the Altarpiece of the Holy Blood, func-

in their interconnections than in any one piece.

tioned twofold: on the one hand, it was a visual

In this sense, they formed what we might call a

reminder of the Church’s general promise of

multimedia program, in which architecture, altar-

salvation through the Eucharist; on the other, it

pieces, metal objects, and textiles worked together

offered protection to the particular place and its

to support liturgical rituals, devotional practices,

inhabitants (fig. 15). In doing so, it also implicitly

and individual experiences. This chapter argues

extolled a set of desired behaviors in the local com-

that the idea of the spatial environment, in addi-

munity. The people who filtered through the spaces

tion to allowing us to think through hypothetical

of the west end were encouraged to be the pious

experiences of space, pushes us to consider artistic

and generous citizens described in the Heilsbronn

ensembles as active forces in the creation of new

abbot’s letter of 1436 (referenced at the beginning

works. The spirit of a place assured the coherence

of the last chapter). Such a focus tended to veil the

of pieces contributed by different patrons and

political struggles of the time and to substitute a

artists over time.

constructed narrative of long-standing pilgrim-

age and divine favor, which restructured the ways

This chapter, therefore, considers how estab-

The focal blood relic, newly set in the upper

lished yet ever-developing spatial environments

in which the town’s inhabitants related to their

guided artists as they fashioned pieces. At the turn


of the sixteenth century the city council of Rothen-

burg commissioned a collaborative work, the

served as critical tools in attempts to foster local

Altarpiece of the Holy Blood, from Riemenschnei-

pride and civic responsibility. This was achieved

der and Harschner, stipulating its iconographic

through the creation of complex spatial environ-

program and scale. In addition to following the

ments, with programs composed from a variety of

prescripts laid out in their contracts with the city,

artistic media. Though the efforts of the municipal

however, the artists’ design also responded to the

council to attract pilgrims met with only moder-

intended spatial and devotional setting. As a result,

ate success during the Middle Ages—the sources

once installed, the Altarpiece of the Holy Blood

indicate that visitors came mainly from the region

participated in a dynamic mise-en-scène that

immediately around Rothenburg—the spatial envi-

drew on architecture, iconography, and devotional

ronment of the west end of St. Jakob could claim

practices to stage the miracle-working relic of the

universally recognized virtues for its city while at

Holy Blood. Although the relic itself was small and

the same time demonstrating these to be special to

portable, its architectural frame was emphatically

this place. In promoting the blood relic and its new

In Rothenburg, then, art and architecture

spatial environment, the city council managed both to rewrite the past identity of the Parish Church of Fig. 14  West end of St. Jakob in Rothenburg, with the Klingengasse passageway, seen from the south.

St. Jakob and to project a locally rooted identity for Rothenburg.

A Pilgrimage Environment

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Promoting the Relic of the Holy Blood

the blood of Jesus Christ—“three drops of blood spilt on the corporal, and traces appear”—and

Rothenburg’s relic of the Holy Blood was much

it must have produced a second-order miracle.7

older than the city’s push for pilgrimage. It entered

The sacramental stain was cut out, preserved, and

the historical record during the thirteenth century,

venerated as a relic of the Holy Blood. The sur-

at a time when most of Europe was still occu-

viving sources emphasize that the drops of blood

pied with the relics of saints, though many places

were preserved on a corporal cloth, a cloth used on

were adding blood to their inventories of sacred

the altar during the celebration of Mass, making

materials. Although valued locally and housed in

its sacramental origin clear, but they are silent as

its own chapel by 1266, the Rothenburg blood relic

to the nature of the second-order miracle that was

only came into its own as an active focus for civic

needed to transform consecrated wine into a relic

identity in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth

worthy of pilgrimage.

centuries, once Rothenburg’s city council had con-

cretized its control over the parish fabrica. From

most productive signifying feature. It conjoined in

then on, it formed the core of an elaborate thematic

one material object the universal symbolism of the

program that peppered the art and rituals of the

Eucharist with a moment in the local history of cel-

city with references to Holy Blood. This theme had

ebrating the Mass. As a so-called Dauerwunder—a

a special concentration within the Parish Church of

miraculous transformation that was permanent—it

St. Jakob, where it related the general promises of

was not just wine transformed into Eucharistic

Christian doctrine to specific local experiences.

blood but also specific miracle-working blood

as relic.8 It was this complex identity, articulated



Rothenburg’s blood relic was sacramental,

Its sacramental nature proved to be the relic’s

blood from the consecrated wine of the Mass

through an elaborate spatial and artistic program,

rather than from the historic body of Christ

that the municipal council of Rothenburg used to

brought back from the Holy Land. Although

affirm an importance of place during the fifteenth

the relic lacks an explicit origin story, its thir-


teenth-century cross reliquary and later references

to a chapel consecrated in 1266 to “the glorious

attached to the city’s principal church and conse-

body and blood of Jesus Christ,” possibly in the

crated in honor of the body and blood of Christ

same location as the fifteenth-century Holy Blood

provided a specific place for veneration of the

Chapel, suggest an inception in the mid-thirteenth

blood relic.9 The titular dedication of the chapel

century. A likely scenario is that around this time,

also demonstrates an early tendency in Rothen-

a priest celebrating Mass in the city spilled a few

burg to emphasize blood alongside Christ’s body

drops of consecrated wine on a corporal cloth.

in a manner evocative of the dual materials of the

Since the transformative ritual had already been

Eucharist. This theme won favor in art commis-

performed, the spilled liquid was considered to be

sioned for the city’s parish church in the last decade



Already in 1266 the dedication of the chapel

of the fourteenth century. Fig. 15  Cross reliquary with the Holy Blood relic within the crest of the Holy Blood Altarpiece in Rothenburg.

The moment of the new promotion of Rothen-

burg’s blood relic is significant in the history of

A Pilgrimage Environment

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both the region and the city itself. While devotion

to Holy Blood became popular throughout Europe

and visited blood-pilgrimage destination in Ger-

in the late Middle Ages, fifteenth-century Germany

man-speaking lands, it was joined by many smaller

experienced what has been described as an intense

blood-pilgrimage sites. These local pilgrimages,

“frenzy” over blood. Though people were hardly

too, often involved miraculous bleeding hosts, like

running about in a state of feverish agitation over

the one in Gottsbüren, or they told of host dese-

blood, as this term suggests, pilgrims from far and

crations, as did the pilgrimage in Büren.15 One of

wide, including most famously Margery Kempe,11

the closest pilgrimages in kind and geography to

did make their way to Holy Blood destinations in

Rothenburg’s was that of the Holy Blood in Wall-

Germany, and many German cities claimed to own

dürn, about eighty kilometers to the northwest of

blood relics in the hopes of attracting these visitors.

Rothenburg. The Walldürn legend held that around

1330 consecrated Mass wine spilled on a corporal


The most important blood pilgrimage in Ger-

many centered on three bleeding hosts in Wilsnack

cloth left a stain in the image of Christ’s face, which

(now Bad Wilsnack) and flourished from the 1380s

worked numerous second-order miracles.16

to the mid-sixteenth century. The story behind the

Wilsnack pilgrimage concerned three hosts that

than those of Wilsnack or Walldürn and signifi-

miraculously survived a fire in 1383. When they

cantly predated the fifteenth-century apogee of

were discovered days later, each host had a drop of

blood devotion, the Franconian city attempted to

blood at its center. Secondary miracles abounded,

benefit from the trend that was reshaping pilgrim-

including multiple resurrections of the dead,

age itineraries and bringing in income throughout

demonstrating the significant power of the blood-

the Holy Roman Empire during the late Middle

stained hosts.12 What is striking about the Wilsnack

Ages.17 Rothenburg began to reinvent its relic,

pilgrimage, as Caroline Walker Bynum has pointed

precisely at the time when debates about Holy

out, is the centrality of blood. Almost immediately

Blood were escalating. The fact that the relic was

after the discovery of the bleeding hosts, Wilsnack

described in the 1440s as “three drops of blood”

became not only a center for blood pilgrimage but

may well have been aimed at evoking the three

also a subject of theological debates about Holy

bleeding hosts of Wilsnack.18 Indeed, one of the

While Rothenburg’s blood relic was much older

Blood, which involved theologians from Erfurt to

Rothenburg relic’s second-order miracles, recorded

Prague and peaked in intensity from 1443 to 1453.

shortly after 1442, illustrates the competitive

Clergy, scholars, and popes weighed in on whether

nature of the city’s campaign by making a direct

Christ’s blood could remain on earth after the Res-

reference to Wilsnack: the account tells of a young

urrection and questioned whether blood was even

girl from Würzburg who had been blind for more

visible on the Wilsnack hosts. Despite the objec-

than a year and had traveled to numerous sites,

tions raised by church authorities—who feared

including Wilsnack, without success before visiting

“the idea that blood was a more immediate means

the Chapel of the Holy Blood in Rothenburg,

of access to salvation than any sacrament of the

where her prayers miraculously brought about the

church”—pilgrims continued to flock to Wilsnack

restoration of her vision.19 This account, therefore,

and brought great wealth to the city.14

daringly claimed that the Rothenburg blood relic



While Wilsnack remained the most important

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was even more effective that its famous counter-

Rothenburg’s blood relic as a local phenomenon

parts in Wilsnack.

that bestowed special benefits on the city and its


The story of the blind girl was recorded as part

of a campaign launched by the city of Rothenburg

to actively promote its blood relic. As noted in

pendium begins, captures in its organizational

the previous chapter, changes in internal politics

structure a move toward emphasizing the local

in Rothenburg during the fourteenth century had

character of its listed relics. At the beginning,

consolidated institutional power, especially over-

the more than 350 relics of St. Jakob are itemized

sight of church space, in the hands of the inner city

alphabetically in Latin through the letter N. At

council, and this group of wealthy burghers now

this point the inventory system shifts to group

sought to place Rothenburg on the map. Since the

relics under the reliquaries in which they were

dramatic fall from power and subsequent death of

displayed.21 The precious containers are distin-

Heinrich Toppler in the early years of the fifteenth

guished by size, material, shape, and sometimes

century, the city had also changed the focus of its

use or location. The first one is accordingly a “large

political energy to concentrate on internal city

monstrance that is carried at the celebration of

affairs. Its efforts to construct a blood pilgrimage

high feasts,” another is described as “the large silver

in the middle of the century, therefore, could be

cross,” and the reliquary cross of the Holy Blood is

considered a key aspect of the new centripetal

“the copper cross that belongs upon the Chapel of

approach of the city government.

the Holy Blood [do gehort uf die cappeln des hei-

ligen plutes].”22 These titles are written in German,

In 1442 Johann von Ellringen, a priest and

The inventory, with which Ellringen’s com-

member of the Teutonic Order, began recording

while the listed relics themselves follow in Latin.

the miracles related to the first Chapel of the Holy

Blood in Rothenburg. It is likely he did so at the

the beginning of the list refers to their association

behest of the city authorities, for by this time the

with bygone saints or biblical stories, the descrip-

chapel and its titular relic had fallen firmly under

tors of the reliquaries reference the containers’

the auspices of the city-appointed caretakers of the

material substance, appearance, or specific use.

parish fabrica. Ellringen’s surviving compendium

As a result, they concentrate on the unique object

contains three sections that are all of interest here:

that was particular to the city. It was the special,

first, an inventory of relics belonging to St. Jakob;

local vessel that visually presented the relics to the

second, a collection of miracle accounts (mostly

public, and partway through recording the church’s

miraculous healings) related the Chapel of the

relics, the scribe seems to have recognized the

Holy Blood and its relic; and finally, a list of indul-

value of adopting this experience-based system for

gences given for the Chapel of the Body and Blood

his inventory. Moreover, it is noteworthy that the

of Christ, the Church of St. Jakob, and the Teutonic

only reliquary in the inventory that is connected

Order of Rothenburg before 1442. Together, these

to a particular location within Rothenburg is the

sections reveal how the city set about actively

cross reliquary containing the relic of the Holy

raising money for the new west end that was to

Blood, which “belongs upon the Chapel of the

house the blood relic. They also helped reinvent

Holy Blood.” This suggests that the named chapel,


While the notation of the individual relics at

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in particular, was considered an important place

winged symbols of the Evangelists.25 At its center, a

within the city.

large oval piece of rock crystal marks and mag-

The choice of language, too, confirms that the

nifies the venerated blood relic (fig. 15). This rock

notational shift in the inventory was motivated by a

crystal was added in May 1491, when the financial

desire to connect the relics to the local community.

records of the parish fabrica record two payments

The vernacular German, used for the reliquary

“for the beryl in the cross.”26 In 1502 the copper was

titles, roots the objects in the here and now. This is

gilded, and the identifying inscription in Latin was

juxtaposed with the Latin lists of contained relics,

added beneath the rock crystal:

which employ the international language of the Church to emphasize the historic and sacred nature

A drop of Christ’s blood

of the holy materials.

on a corporal

Saint Andrew the Apostle

listed in Ellringen’s catalog as belonging to the

Saints Peter and Paul

Church of St. Jakob (as opposed to the Teutonic

Of the stone on which the cross

Order). The relics housed within this reliquary are

of Christ was erected.

given as follows:

Of the cross of Saint Andrew

The Holy Blood reliquary is the last container

Of the body and skin Three drops of blood spilt on the corporal and traces

and hair of Saint Elizabeth


Of the crown of thorns.

Saint Andrew the Apostle

Of the stone in which the cross of Christ was set

Anno Domini one thousand

Five hundred and two

Saint Augustine

Of the body, skin, and flesh of Saint Elizabeth

This cross again

Of the cross of Saint Andrew

is gilt and

Saints Peter and Paul Apostles

newly set up before

Of the crown of thorns of Our Lord.24

the body of Christ.27



Saint Augustine

Not only does the Holy Blood take pride of place as

Again, the “drop of Christ’s blood” (here one

the first item in the list, but it also receives the most

instead of three) appears at the top of the venerable

thorough description. Though it is difficult to dis-

list; the few items whose order has changed fall in

cern the ordering principle behind the subsequent

the middle—Saints Peter and Paul have moved up,

list, it seems relevant that the last item, a piece of

Saint Augustine down; and the last relic mentioned

the crown of thorns, relates again to Christ. This

is the crown of thorns. The most significant change

inventory entry is almost identical to the list of

is the addition of a second paragraph, which notes

relics included in the inscription preserved within

that the containing cross reliquary was “newly set

the reliquary. The cross, commissioned to display

up before the body of Christ.” This “body of Christ”

the miracle-working blood relic about 1270, has

refers to a consecrated Eucharistic wafer that was

termini with representations of the traditional

displayed in a monstrance on the altar of the Holy

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Blood.28 In this way, the start and finish of the

over a period of at least five years. This process can

inscription neatly underscore the dual materiality

help explain the addition of new paper pages, the

of the Eucharist: blood and body. This duality,

change in script, and the shift in the nature of the

already captured in the thirteenth-century chapel

miracle accounts between the two groups.

dedication, was foundational for the creation of the

spatial environment of the new west end as well

first group mentions Rothenburg’s blood relic.

as for the elaborate visual program of the parish

Only three entries from this group explain in some

church agglomerated over the subsequent centu-

detail how the recorded miracle occurred. Entry 7

ries. Moreover, the parchment list included in the

tells of a woman from Rothenburg who was unable

cross reliquary went even further than Ellringen’s

to speak for half a year; then “she drank from the

list in linking the specific reliquary to its contem-

chalice [kilche] before the altar and was cured.”33

porary location and display context.

Entry 20 tells of a similar incident: a maid sitting

happily over her dinner on the Feast Day of St.

The second part of Ellringen’s compendium

Strikingly, none of the miracle accounts in the

consists of a catalog of miracles that likewise

Martin suddenly lost her ability to speak for three

captures an important shift in approach. The sev-

days until she “drank from the chalice in the same

enty-four miracle accounts can be divided into two

chapel and began speaking.”34 While the chalice

groups. The first thirty are written on parchment

in question may not have contained consecrated

in the same polished hand. The few dated miracles

wine—which, by this time, had largely been

occurred between 1300 and 1319, with one outlier

withdrawn from the laity—it would have offered a

dated 1380. A second, hastier hand continued

substitute that referenced the liquid of the Eucha-

the accounts on paper with miracles thirty-one

rist.35 In Rothenburg, especially within the chapel

through seventy-four. This second group again

dedicated to the body and blood of Christ that

includes several dated entries, this time falling

housed the sacramental blood stain, it is possible

between 1434 and 1447.

this would have recalled the local relic, but the

connection is not made explicit in the text.




The differences between these two groups

reveal further motivations driving Ellringen’s

The third miraculous occurrence that stands out

record. Ludwig Schnurrer has suggested that the

from group one, entry 13, is the only entry in this

second group may be by the same scribe as the

group to mention a specific relic. It tells how two

first, though recorded at a later date and in a more

women were saved (erloßt), one “by the nail/thorn

informal, cursory script.32 The dated miracles

[nagel] in the cross in the chapel.”36 It is tempting to

of the first group all occurred in the fourteenth

identify the mentioned reliquary cross as the gilded

century, long before 1442. In other words, they

copper cross that contains the relic of the Holy

were recorded retrospectively, either from now-lost

Blood, especially if nagel is translated as “thorn.”37

sources or from local oral tradition. The second

It is notable that the specific relic mentioned in

group, in contrast, appears to be a contemporary

this miracle account is not that of the Holy Blood.

account of miracles from the scribe’s lifetime. The

Clearly, the pre-1442 miracles are related to the

fact that many of these miracles postdate the docu-

chapel, as the heading of the section indicates, but

ment’s 1442 date indicates that the list was updated

not specifically to the relic of the Holy Blood.

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This is not true of the second group of mira-

placeholder in this manner, each name must have

the entries of the first group simply recount that

been familiar enough to the scribe that it could

the miracles occurred “in this chapel” or “before

stand in for a longer story. Other miracle accounts

the altar,” the entries of the second group insist on

in this group identify the afflicted as a “burgher of

the blood relic, either by direct reference (“prayed”

Rothenburg” (burger zu Rothenburg) or indicate

or “commended herself [gelobt sich] to the Holy

that the incident occurred “here in the city” (hie

Blood”) or indirectly by naming the chapel (“in the

in der stat).41 As a result, the miracles of group two

Chapel of the Holy Blood”).38 As in the first group

are connected to specific known individuals and

of miracle accounts, each of the many entries that

grounded in a particular time and place.

mention the chapel in the second group takes on

a demonstrative adjective. The miracles are said to

of miracles in Ellringen’s compendium deserves

occur in either “this” or “the same” chapel. Neither

attention. Only one entry in the first group men-

the chalice nor the nail is mentioned in the second

tions a donation: entry 5 reports that the abbots of

group; indeed, only one source for miracles is given

the Cistercian monasteries of Kaisheim bei Donau-

in this group: those afflicted invariably are said to

wörth, Heilsbronn bei Ansbach, and Langheim bei

pray to the Holy Blood and then be healed.

Lichtenfels “came and brought their candles; in the

same [chapel] they became well.”42 This solitary

This change highlights a moment in the history

One further difference between the two groups

of a relic’s identity. Indeed, it seems to signal

example listed in group one of the miracle accounts

precisely the reinvention of the Rothenburg blood

is overmatched by eleven entries that mention

relic. In a short time, the Rothenburg Holy Blood

donations in group two of the miracle accounts.

went from one among many relics to one priori-

Seven of these simply mention that the miracle’s

tized over others by virtue of its healing powers.

beneficiary promised (verhieß or gelobt) the chapel

The inclusion of specific named beneficiaries and

a donation (opffer).43 A further account mentions

the explicit link drawn to its titular chapel tied the

that the parents of a child “made it indebted”

relic to the local place and specific community.

(machten es zynshaftig) to the chapel, indicating

a commitment to a repeated, possibly annual,

The focus on the local population becomes

clear from the emphasis on proper names in the

donation.44 Similarly, another entry mentions a

second group of miracles when compared to the

woman who committed to paying half a pound of

preponderance of unnamed women, men, and

wax, probably annually.45 Finally, two additional

boys in the first. Indeed, only one man is actually

entries mention donations of wax—a relatively

named in the first group, while the more complete

stable-priced commodity in the Middle Ages that

miracle accounts of the second group often include

functioned as a common consumptive currency for

the full names of the afflicted persons as well as

donations to a church.46 In one of these miracles,

where they came from and occasionally their

a woman, identified as poor (ein arme), gave two

professions. Two entries of the second group list a

pounds of wax and one cloth (schleyr), and in the

name and nothing more. They seem to be an aide

final account, miracle 74, Peter Zelter gave thirty

de mémoire for a later, more complete, but, as far as

pounds of wax to the chapel.47




we know, never-realized edition. To function as a

cles, recorded over the next five years. Whereas

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This emphasis on donations points to one

read publicly. His miracle accounts thus powerfully

means of supporting the miracle-working relic of

demonstrated the efficacy of the holy relic and its

the Holy Blood. The economic underpinnings of

chapel, complete with a cleverly couched appeal for

pilgrimage were clearly of import for the purchase

donations; the list of neighbors and friends who

of candles and other furnishings. But donations

had given to and benefited from the relic enforced

related to the Holy Blood relic produced income

a sense of local community united around the

far beyond what was needed to purchase such

healing blood relic.

items. In the late fourteenth and early fifteenth

centuries, the surviving financial accounts of the

was given in part three of Ellringen’s compen-

Rothenburg parish fabrica attest to a substantial

dium, which lists the numerous indulgences

income from a donation box in the Chapel of the

associated with the main church and Holy Blood

Holy Blood: of the average of 400 fl that the fabrica

Chapel. These are organized into categories by

ecclesiae raised annually from donations, over half

type: indulgences issued by the pope; indulgences

(an average of 280 fl) came from donations made

related to the Feast of Corpus Christi and the

in this chapel.

following eight days, called an octave; indulgences

for the Chapel of the Holy Blood, here referred to


Written at a time between the construction of

Further incentive for pilgrimage to the relic

the nave and the building of the new west end of

by its old name as the Chapel of Corpus Christi

St. Jakob, the miracle accounts added to Ellrin-

(“Indulgentiae Cappellae corporis Christi”); and

gen’s compendium after 1442 thus standardized a

indulgences of the Teutonic Order.49 It is note-

narrative formula while at the same time lending

worthy that Corpus Christi is the only feast day

it greater specificity. By specifying the source of

distinguished by its own category. Beneath this

the miracles and insisting on their local nature,

category heading is a list of thirteen feast days

these accounts maintained that the healings they

when visitors could earn time off of their sen-

recorded related to the Holy Blood Chapel and

tences in purgatory by visiting the west end of

relic. The names of contemporary beneficiaries lent

St. Jakob.50 Not only could pilgrims to the relic of

the accounts validity while pointing to locals as

the Holy Blood benefit immediately from healing

the primary recipients and witnesses. Rather than

miracles, then, but they could also benefit in the

century-old, with nameless characters, the stories

long run from visits to the chapel. The granting of

were contemporary and linked to known individu-

indulgences by venerable church officials, includ-

als. Together, these miracle accounts read not only

ing the pope, validated the blood relic as genuine

as a historic chronicle but also as a prescriptive

and effective and also endorsed the potency of the

model for the local population. The reader was not

relic for the souls of the faithful dead.

only led to recognize the value of the venerable

chapel, with its miracle-working relic, but also to

common practice. It formed a primary means

understand the importance of contributions to it.

of promoting pilgrimage and of advertising the

Although Ellringen’s list was never published and

reciprocal economy on which the medieval prac-

circulated as an incunable, it served as an official

tice of donating to the Church relied.51 Evidence

record for the church and city and may have been

of this can be found in the many cases of host or

Of course, indulgencing pilgrimages was a

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blood pilgrimages, including those of Wilsnack,

the changing identity of Rothenburg’s blood relic.

Walldürn, Bruges, and Westminster.52 For the case

In addition to creating a perceived need that helped

of Rothenburg, the procurement of numerous

fund the new chapel, Ellringen’s compendium

indulgences leading up to the construction of the

established the west end of the parish church as a

west end of St. Jakob demonstrates that Ellringen’s

center for civic pride, one that provided behavioral

compendium formed part of a concerted effort

models for the local community. The power of the

stretching over several decades to raise funds for

old chapel was subtly transferred to the portable

the intended project.

relic of the Holy Blood, which could be translated

Indeed, the city had begun collecting indul-

to the new chapel once it was complete. There, it

gences in support of the new chapel at least by 1412.

formed a devotional focus that continued to nur-

In this year an indulgence from Rome issued by six

ture civic engagement and a sense of community.

cardinals for the Church of St. Jakob and its subsidiary chapels also granted a commutation of one hundred days off of purgatorial sentences to those

The West End of St. Jakob

present “when a ceremonial procession [took] place at the Corpus Christi chapel in the parish

The city’s fundraising campaign was a success.

church and a Mass [was] sung there.” This at a

With additional indulgences for the Chapel of

time when the old chapel had been torn down and

the Holy Blood issued in 1446, 1455, and 1459, the

construction of the new chapel would not begin for

parish fabrica raised enough to begin construc-

another forty years! Another indulgence, issued by

tion of the new west end of St. Jakob. Work on the

the Würzburg bishop Gottfried IV in 1446, refers to

chapel was “begun [angefangen] [in] 1453” and

“the newly built Holy Blood chapel in Rothenburg”

“finished [volbracht] [in] 1471,” according to two

seven years before the cornerstone was laid for the

inscriptions painted respectively on its north and

new structure. Clearly these indulgences attest

south walls (figs. 16 and 17). Surviving written

to the active promotion of the intended project by

sources—financial ledgers, donation records, and

the city of Rothenburg, which sought, through the

chronicles—confirm this tight time frame. Roughly

acquisition of indulgences, to fill the coffers that

eighty years thus separated the destruction of the

would support construction.

old chapel and the completion of its replacement,

but once begun, the towering west end rose from





Together, the three parts of Ellringen’s com-

pendium formed a cogent argument for the

the ground in a mere two decades.

importance of the Chapel of the Holy Blood as a

place of pilgrimage. The inventory of relics demon-

of St. Jakob contains a complex spatial program

strated the precious contents of the site, the list of

that establishes a unique relationship between the

miracles proved the efficacy of the chapel and its

church and its urban surroundings. The unusual

titular relic, and the record of indulgences docu-

composition is divided into a series of stacked

mented the official conferral by Church authorities

spaces: the main chapel sits above a tunnel-vaulted

of postmortem benefits for visiting the site. The

passageway and a neighboring polygonal room,

compendium also captures a unique snapshot of

the so-called Heiltumskammer, or relic chamber,

Within its polygonal envelope, the west end

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Fig. 16  North doorway of the Holy Blood Chapel in Rothenburg, with the starting-date inscription. Fig. 17  South doorway of the Holy Blood Chapel in Rothenburg, with the ending-date inscription.

both accessible only from outside the church and

the outside, the roofline of the church extends

closely related to each other (figs. 4 and 18). The

uniformly from the east choir to the west end, a

passageway permits a major urban thoroughfare

uniformity once also supported by a regularizing

of Rothenburg, the Klingengasse, to pass beneath

program of painted masonry coursing that covered

the church, funneling traffic beneath the elevated

the exterior walls of the entire church.57 In the inte-

chapel. Two doors in the west wall of the passage-

rior, before the installation of the modern organ,

way feed into the Heiltumskammer in a design

the Chapel of the Holy Blood was visible from the

aimed at accommodating circulation through this

nave and east choir of the church (fig. 20). Indeed,

space from the street (fig. 19).

the chapel projects into the two western bays of the

nave as a gallery, at the center of which protrudes


The upper chapel is integrated into the main

church building of St. Jakob both in exterior

a corbeled platform three sides of an octagon in

appearance and in interior spatiality. Seen from

plan (fig. 9). Access to the upper chapel is provided

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Fig. 18  Longitudinal section of St. Jakob in Rothenburg by Leonhard Häffner, 1899. Courtesy of Bauhütte St. Jakob Rothenburg, evang. Gesamtkirchengemeinde. Fig. 19  Klingengasse passageway and paired portals of the Heiltumskammer of St. Jakob in Rothenburg from the southeast.

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from the nave: two flanking staircases mount from

was supported by further donations made in 1467

inside the main portals in the westernmost nave

and 1484.60 Hornburg’s chantry document stipu-

bay, proceed steeply upward beneath complex

lates that every Thursday a priest, assisted by two

lierne vaults, and open onto the chapel through

cocelebrants, would make his way from the east

angled and richly profiled doorways. This pathway

choir of St. Jakob to the elevated chapel in the west

to the lofty Chapel of the Holy Blood was designed

end in order to sing a Mass. This small weekly pro-

for the steady flow of pilgrims who came to visit

cession ritually connected the east and west ends of

the miracle-working blood relic displayed beneath

the church, not least because the instruments of the

the elegant star vaults of the chapel space. Thus,

Mass were carried from the sacrament niche in the

while the chapel was spatially distinct, requiring

east choir to the altar of the Holy Blood in the west

a visitor to mount a steep staircase to approach its

end.61 As part of the weekly service in the west end,

titular relic, it was visually integrated into the main

a host was displayed in a monstrance on the altar


table for all to see. This practice was reflected in

the contract signed with Riemenschneider in 1501,

The unique form of the west end both facili-

tated and shaped the devotion of pilgrims and the

which designated the open predella of the com-

experience of visitors to the church. The emphasis

missioned altarpiece as “the Sarg below, next to the

on the movement of the faithful through space


and toward a destination proved a powerful tool

for reinforcing a developing set of ideas associated

has been called visual or ocular Communion,

with Rothenburg’s civic identity. As Cynthia Hahn

because it gave attending laymen the benefits of

has remarked, in the late medieval period in par-

the Eucharistic sacrament without giving them

ticular, movement—both the physical ushering of

physical access to it. Sight was offered as a sub-

bodies through space and the abstract course fol-

stitute for both touch and consumption, a trend

lowed by the thinking mind—became a key aspect

not only pertinent in Rothenburg but current

of architectural reception. Within the west end of

throughout much of Christian Europe at the time.63

St. Jakob, such movement enacted a complex set of

Miraculous host shrines, in particular, like those

relationships and values that were projected over

of Hillentrup and Blomberg, often displayed a host

the surrounding city.

in a monstrance for ocular Communion.64 Initially

banned—at the Council of Mainz in 1451 and again


Scattered sources substantiate that the elevated

The practice of displaying a consecrated host

Chapel of the Holy Blood served several functions

at the Council of Cologne in 1452—the practice

in the late Middle Ages. In addition to being a

of offering ocular Communion was reinstated in

pilgrimage destination, the chapel was the location

Rothenburg in 1459 by special permission of Pope

for a weekly Mass and ocular Communion, a site

Pius II. Indeed, the city of Rothenburg seems to

for handouts to the poor, and a stage for dramatic

have invested considerable energy in procuring the

liturgical performances. Already in 1467, a few

right to provide ocular Communion and also in

years before the completion of work on the west

blocking rival cities in the region from obtaining

end, Elisabeth Hornburg established a Mass and

the same privilege. Following the pope’s decision,

chaplaincy on the altar of the Holy Blood, which

the bishop of Würzburg granted an indulgence to


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any person who stayed at the service in the west

western extension to the Church of St. Jakob seems

end of St. Jakob in Rothenburg from beginning to

to have existed for a span of several generations

end or who donated money to the church.

and was passed down from one team of caretak-

ers to the next, one board of councilmen to their


Rothenburg’s interest in securing rights to

ocular Communion was likely linked to the

successors. This is supported by documentary as

importance of the sacramental blood relic to the

well as material evidence and suggests that even in

community. The motivation for the display of a

the Middle Ages urban planning in any particular

host may have been, in part, insurance, as Caro-

instance commenced long before the on-site pres-

line Walker Bynum has proposed for other sites:

ence of an architect, the signing of a contract, or

whatever was spiritually present in the blood relic,

the laying of a cornerstone. A general awareness of

the faithful at least had the full presence of Christ

an intended project often long predated the more

in the consecrated host to make their pilgrimage

concrete realizations of its form and belonged to

worthwhile. But in Rothenburg it is probable

the processes that helped shape medieval ensem-

that the intent behind the display went beyond

bles as coherent programs.

this specifically to link the sacramental relic of

the Holy Blood to Christ’s body in the form of the

Jakob in Rothenburg was not designed or built until

host: permission for ocular Communion to be

the 1450s, it was a project familiar to the local com-

held in the elevated western chapel of St. Jakob was

munity much earlier. Already in 1402, for example,

granted shortly after construction began on this

Konrad Kolb bequeathed money to the altar of the

space and long before it was serviceable; moreover,

Holy Blood in Rothenburg for “when one breaks

the display of a consecrated host on the altar table

ground to build it” (wann man den anhebt zu

directly beneath the miracle-working blood relic

bawen).67 Physical evidence in the final, western

in its cross reliquary created an installation that

bays of the nave, too, indicates a committed plan

foregrounded both the bread and the wine of the

to add the later chapel. A base molding, preserved

Eucharist. Rothenburg’s blood relic was, after all, of

in the east wall of the Klingengasse passage, clearly

Eucharistic origin, and the display of a host on the

marks a break between the construction campaign

altar of the Holy Blood linked the titular relic to the

of the nave and that of the west end. It visibly

sacrament of the Mass while also emphasizing its

divides the wall into two levels: the lower zone is

miraculous nature as a relic.

built of rough-hewn limestone consistent with the

construction technique and materials employed


Both Ellringen’s compendium and the city’s

In this manner, although the west end of St.

efforts to obtain the right to offer ocular Commu-

for the nave; the upper wall continues with closely

nion belonged to an assertive strategy leading up to

fitted sandstone ashlar blocks that sit on top of

the laying of the cornerstone of the new west-end

this earlier work and clearly belong to the building

chapel in 1453. Indeed, a general plan to add a

campaign of the west end (fig. 21). Other visible signs in the built church—such as inconsistencies in

Fig. 20  Interior of St. Jakob in Rothenburg toward the west, before the installation of the current organ, 1968. © Bayerisches Landesamt für Denkmalpflege.

the westernmost nave bay at the clerestory level and nail holes still visible in the original medieval roof above the transverse rib between the last two bays

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Fig. 21  Klingengasse passageway of St. Jakob in Rothenburg from the southwest.

of the nave—indicate that a temporary wall was put

Dendrochronological examinations of wood in the

in place until the new west end could be joined to

roof over the west end uniformly return the felling

the nave.

date 1469, so that additional payments recorded

in 1470 for the “vaulting stone” (gewelbstein) and


Once construction on the west end finally

began, it proceeded apace. In his chronicle on

roof of the “new building” (newen bau) correspond

Rothenburg, Gottfried Rösch recorded the laying

perfectly with the scientific evidence.71

of the cornerstone for the west end on the Monday

after Sunday cantata (April 30), 1453. By 1467 the

further payments indicate the termination of

west end was far enough along that a chantry was

major construction on the chapel. On June 23 the

established in the new chapel at the altar of the

caretakers in charge of the accounts paid a certain

Holy Blood. The following year the city accounts

Schilingsfrist “his wages for hewing the crossing

registered a payment of 3 lb “for wood for the

arch,” and on July 14 he received the final install-

construction of the scaffolding” (umb holtz zum

ment for his work.72 These payments related to the


baw zum krust), presumably to provide access to

removal of the temporary west wall of St. Jakob

the higher zones of the walls and vaulting system.



In 1471, the inscribed year of completion,

and the joining of the newly built west end to the

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interior space of the nave. The accounts note that

received in Rothenburg.78 The Rothenburg parish

Hans Müllner—who served as the Kirchenbau-

accounts also mention Master Niclaus and his son

meister (master of church building) from June

in 1468 and 1469 and Master Niclaus (without son)

1472 until his death in 1496—oversaw this project,

in 1470.79 This record strongly suggests that the

which once and for all connected “the Church of

father-and-son team was responsible for the build-

St. Jakob with the Corpus Christi Chapel under

ing design, possibly supervising the most difficult

one vault and roof.” On October 6, 1471, the

work in Rothenburg, though they did not oversee


parish fabrica generously afforded the journeymen

day-to-day activities on-site.

4 lb to celebrate the completion of their work.

The towering west end, the most striking

is not biography or stylistic attribution of the west

and unusual part of the Church of St. Jakob, was

end of St. Jakob in Rothenburg to the Eselers, let it

designed by a father-and-son team of master

suffice to point out briefly that several architectural

masons. Niclaus Eseler Sr. and Jr. are mentioned

details of the composition have been ascribed to

in Rothenburg sources related to work on the

the individual style of the Eseler workshop. For

church during the third quarter of the fifteenth

example, Werner Helmberger has identified the

century. The Eseler family seems originally to have

membrane-like web construction found in the

come from the Rhineland town of Alzey, where

Holy Blood Chapel in Rothenburg as characteris-

Peter Eseler (the father of Niclaus Eseler Sr.) is

tic of the Eseler style. This feature is also found in

mentioned in 1438. Beginning around 1440 Peter

the Church of St. Georg in Dinkelsbühl—known

is mentioned as master mason of the Cathedral

to have been constructed entirely under the

of Mainz, but a source from 1453 still refers to

direction of the father-and-son team—and in the

Niclaus Eseler Sr. as “the honorable master Niclaus

Lauingerkappelle in the Church of St. Georg in

Eseler, the stone mason from Alzey.” Given the

Nördlingen.80 Likely signs of the Eseler workshop,

various projects on which they worked, the Niclaus

too, are the delicate profiling of the portals and

Eselers were presumably well traveled in the region

windows of the upper chapel in Rothenburg. In a

between Mainz and Rothenburg and were, as a

virtuosic technical feat, the entire tracery of each

family of stonemasons, familiar with its major

window head was carved from a monolithic piece

architectural projects.

of stone, instead of being constructed from multi-

ple small pieces (fig. 22).



Niclaus Eseler Sr. may have visited Rothenburg

Since the primary concern of the current study

already in 1449, just two years after the last dated

miracle of Ellringen’s compendium. In 1454 the

to the west end of St. Jakob is arguably its unusual

city council of Rothenburg recommended him to

spatial design, though few scholars have focused

their counterparts in Nuremberg, suggesting that

on this aspect of the composition.81 The envelope

he had already earned a reputation in Rothenburg,

of the west end resembles an architectural choir,

perhaps by drawing up designs for the new west

with straight bays ending in a polygonal terminus.

end of St. Jakob. At latest by January 2, 1463,

The internal divisions between its vertically stacked

Niclaus Eseler Sr. was again in Rothenburg, for he

spaces, however, establish relations that are uncom-

wrote a receipt for his income from Nördlingen

mon in Gothic architectural choirs.82



The most important contribution of the Eselers

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Fig. 22  Monolithic window tracery at the west end of St. Jakob in Rothenburg seen from scaffolding.


Though very different in disposition, the two

to turn from each other; these unusual shapes are

ground-level spaces that lie beneath the elevated

framed in turn by larger half-round arches. This

pilgrimage chapel—the Heiltumskammer and

extraordinary composition suggests that the visual

the vaulted street passageway—relate closely to

appearance of these portals was important as seen

each other, the street passage providing the only

from within the Heiltumskammer as well as from

access to the Heiltumskammer. This room, with

without. We can imagine processions entering

its small, high windows, may have functioned as

through one door to visit displayed treasures and

an ostensorium, a place for the occasional display

then exiting through the other.84 Although no

of relics.83 The two side-by-side portals that feed

surviving direct textual evidence indicates the

into the single polygonal space are richly profiled,

medieval use of this space, the architectural design

both on their exterior and interior faces (figs. 19

provides clues to its practical and even its ideologi-

and 23). Seen from within, the portals have three

cal functions.

nested forms: the pointed-arch door openings are

framed by quarter-round arches, whose rounded

mer is also unusual in Gothic church architecture,

shoulders rise away from center so that they appear

though it finds a few revealing parallels scattered

The passageway alongside the Heiltumskam-

Riemenschneider in Rothenburg

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Fig. 23  Interior of the Heiltumskammer of St. Jakob in Rothenburg from the west.

throughout Europe. The terminology used for

Jakob towers above the Klingengasse, dwarfing the

similar openings beneath medieval churches varies

surrounding buildings and those who pass beneath

considerably. In German Stollenkrypta, Pilger-

it on their way from city gate to marketplace (fig.

gang, Kavate, Durchgang, Schwibbogen and even

14). Depending on the identity of a viewer, an

just Krypta are used without much specificity or

encounter with this imposing structure could have

uniformity to describe the surviving examples.

had either an exhilarating or a menacing effect.

In English, the term “undercroft” is sometimes

used, though I prefer the term “passageway” for a

tial of the architecture and spatial composition

tunnellike opening that runs perpendicular to the

of the west end of St. Jakob, it is worth digressing

east–west axis of the church above and includes an

here to consider a few comparable sites. The one

arch at either end.

example traditionally mentioned in scholarship in

connection with the Rothenburg passageway is the


Surprisingly, little has been written about these

To better understand the communicative poten-

passageways, despite the striking and pregnant

Deutschhauskirche in Würzburg, a building that

relationship they set up between the religious mon-

served as a model for the east choir of St. Jakob in

ument and its urban context. The west end of St.

Rothenburg more than a century earlier. The west


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Fig. 24  Deutschhauskirche in Würzburg from the south.


tower of the Deutschhauskirche, which sheltered

a door off the street passageway and thus from

a small pilgrimage chapel on its second floor, was

outside the church. The only connection between

incorporated into the exterior envelope of the

the interior of the church and the tower is through

main church through the bridging of an existing

a small door in the western gallery that opens into

street, and it is this feature that most closely models

an upper room of the tower, a floor above the small

the situation in Rothenburg (fig. 24). The spatial

chapel. Considered architecturally, then, the pas-

relationship between this tower chapel and the

sageways in Rothenburg and Würzburg are similar

interior of the church, however, differs significantly

primarily in their exterior scale and disposition but

from the comparable relationship at St. Jakob in

otherwise marked by significant differences in their

Rothenburg. In Würzburg the older chapel is not

spatial and functional concepts.

connected directly to the church interior. Instead,

access to the chapel is provided primarily through

ways of the Deutschhauskirche in Würzburg and

In drawing a parallel between the passage-

Riemenschneider in Rothenburg

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the west end of St. Jakob in Rothenburg, previous scholarship has sought to justify the design in Rothenburg as a practical solution to spatial constraints. I argue against this interpretation. Contrary to the case in Würzburg, where practical necessity compelled an architectural form, in Rothenburg a desire to stage the local blood pilgrimage in its particular relationship to the surrounding city prompted an expensive and creative architectural design.

For the Deutschhauskirche in Würzburg,

indeed, strong evidence from political, economic, and material records suggests that the street passage resulted from a forced compromise to the intended church design. A pause in construction, visible in differences in the cornice moldings, buttresses, and window tracery of the church’s western two bays, corresponds to a decade-long conflict beginning in the 1280s between the Teutonic Order of Würzburg (supported by the bishop and King Rudolf of Hapsburg) and the city’s government (supported by the mendicant orders). Summar-

Fig. 25  Wernerkapelle in Oberwesel from the northeast.

ily put, the order wanted to reroute a street so as to join its new church with its monastic buildings, while the city and mendicants opposed this

that of thirteenth-century Würzburg. At latest after

change.87 After years of gridlock, Bishop Mangold

the contract of 1398, the financial and administra-

of Würzburg finally announced a compromise in

tive power over Rothenburg’s parish church lay in

1296: the church and monastic buildings of the

the hands of the city council, which also oversaw

order would be joined over an arch so as not to

streets and roads in the city. All evidence sug-

disturb the preexisting street. It was stipulated that

gests the city enthusiastically led the campaign to

the church be built in a manner that allowed one

finance and build the new west end and that it did

“to ride, drive, and walk beneath it.”

so unopposed.


The decade-long debate in Würzburg, which

The fourteenth-century Wernerkapelle in

accounts for the architectural form of the passage-

Oberwesel presents a closer and more informa-

way beneath the Deutschhauskirche’s irregular

tive subject for comparison with the west end of

western nave bay, has no parallel in Rothenburg.

St. Jakob in Rothenburg (figs. 25, 26). Here, too, a

Indeed, the political situation in Rothenburg in

street passage runs alongside an enclosed base-

the mid-fifteenth century was quite different from

ment-story chamber, and an upper chapel crowns

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Fig. 26  Street passageway of the Wernerkapelle in Oberwesel from the southeast.

the ensemble. Important for the comparison with

buildings in the west. Beneath the chapel runs a

the Rothenburg spatial system is the fact that the

passageway that is divided into two groin-vaulted

Wernerkapelle’s decisive construction as a pilgrim-

bays. Two doors in the west wall of the passageway

age chapel was intended to locate material evidence

feed into a system of small basement-story rooms,

of an event in a particular place.

now aggressively altered by later interventions. It

was in this system of small rooms, supposedly once

At first glance, the story of the Wernerkapelle

seems to share little in common with that of the

belonging to a Jewish house, that the legend local-

west end of St. Jakob in Rothenburg. In 1287 a

ized Werner’s death.90 The pair of doors off of the

shocking account spread across the Rhineland

passageway allowed visiting pilgrims to circulate

of a young boy, Werner von Wormrath, who,

through this space.91

after working at the house of a Jew, was allegedly

tortured and killed by his employer. The tale led

1689, during the Palatinate War of Succession

to a series of violent pogroms directed against the

(Pfälzischer Erbfolgekrieg), and the western bays

Jewish communities of the area and ultimately to

were subsequently rebuilt, both textual sources and

a new pilgrimage to the site of the boy’s murder

the surviving medieval fabric attest to the intended

in Oberwesel. By 1305 a hospital stood beside the

pilgrimage function of the complex architectural

site, with its associated chapel set directly over


the supposed location of the murder, a kind of


the murder, pilgrims mounted a now-lost staircase

to enter the elevated chapel, where relics of the



The chapel marking the crime site does share

Although the chapel was damaged in

In addition to visiting the ground-level site of

striking similarities with the west end in Rothen-

quasi martyrdom were on display.93 The original

burg, particularly in its spatial design. The elevated

entrance to the upper chapel was likely by means

Wernerkapelle in Oberwesel is buttressed by the

of an outdoor stairway in the west. Whatever form

city’s fortification walls in the east and the hospital

this staircase took, it not only led into the chapel but

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Fig. 27  Cross and longitudinal sections of the Church of the Holy Savior in Passau. © Bayerisches Landesamt für Denkmalpflege. Photo by Georg Loesti.

also to an outdoor footpath around it. The walls of

indeed, it is quite possible that the Eselers relied on

the elevated chapel are set back from those of the

the Wernerkapelle in Oberwesel as a spatial model

basement story, creating a path that passes through

for St. Jakob in Rothenburg.

pointed arched openings in the buttresses, a design

akin to that of the later two-story Charnel-House

spaces in Rothenburg and Oberwesel also relate to

Chapel of St. Kilian in Wertheim (begun 1472),

a wider group of chapels constructed to mark the

which also served a pilgrimage function.94

“find-spot” of allegedly desecrated hosts. Mitch-

ell Merback has drawn a connection between

The parallels between the spatial composi-

The form and disposition of the ground-story

tions of both St. Jakob and the Wernerkapelle in

the Rothenburg Heiltumskammer and the lower

Oberwesel are thus striking. At both sites, a large

story of the Church of the Holy Savior in Passau

passageway could accommodate traffic—even

(founded in 1479).97 The three-storied building in

large carts and riders on horseback; in both, two

Passau presents itself from the outside as a central-

pointed-arch portals led from the passageway into

ized structure, though it actually consists of two

an enclosed basement-story space; at both, the

straight bays and a polygonal terminus five sides of

architectural space served as a pilgrimage destina-

an octagon in plan (fig. 27). The lowest, crypt story,

tion; and at both, provision was made for the flow

is accessible only from outside the church, a feature

of traffic around or through the elevated chapel

it shares with the Heiltumskammer in Rothenburg.

space. With his connections to Mainz and the

The upper chapel includes an elegantly vaulted

family’s presumable origin in Alzey, Niclaus Eseler

upper gallery level that completely encircles the

Sr. probably knew the chapel in Oberwesel. And

space, creating a kind of elevated ambulatory



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Fig. 28  Interior of the upper story of the Church of the Holy Savior in Passau toward the east.

around the sanctuary, what may be seen as an

links the Passau site to the west end of St. Jakob

interior version of the exterior buttress passage in

in Rothenburg, where the upper chapel served to

Oberwesel (fig. 28). The quasi-centralized form

display its titular blood relic.

and complex spatial composition, as well as the

building’s setting directly against the steep rocky

west end of St. Jakob in Rothenburg and sites asso-

hillside, make the Church of the Holy Savior in

ciated with violence allegedly perpetrated by Jews, it

Passau appear “anchored to its site.”

is worth noting that in Rothenburg the reinvention

of the blood relic and the construction of the west



The architectural emphasis on the site in Passau

was originally also supported by the church’s

end of St. Jakob occurred at a time of pronounced

furnishings. Among these were once three relics

anti-Semitism. In 1397 King Wenzel “gave” the

related to a legend of host desecration.

property of the Jewish community in Rothen-



back notes that a key aspect of the visual culture

burg, including the synagogue and the so-called

of host-miracle shrines was “the cultic display of

Judentanzhaus, to the city. The associated forced

relics,” with the architecture serving as a monu-

relocation of the Jewish community to the northern

mental reliquary. This, too, is something that

part of the city was nominally compensated with



Given the close spatial parallels between the

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the sum of 772 lb h, issued in seven installments

Rothenburg and churches like the Holy Savior in

between August 1406 and March 1407. Of course,

Passau and the Wernerkapelle in Oberwesel place

this compensation was a pittance compared to the

the Rothenburg chapel in a distinctive network

sum the city made on the deal, for the Judentanz-

of sites. In addition to pointing outward, how-

haus and old synagogue—centrally located on

ever, the architecture also had a localizing effect.

the Milchmarkt square—were soon sold to Peter

Mitchell Merback has explained how blood relics

Kreglinger for 2000 fl! Kreglinger had the old syn-

were “capable of planting their immanence in

agogue torn down and a Marian chapel built in its

the ground, a process by which a portable sanc-

place, following a pattern common in late medieval

tity gives way to its opposite, sanctity rooted at a

cities.102 This Marian chapel on the Milchmarkt was

particular place, a locus sanctus.”103 Merback’s argu-

administered by the fabrica of St. Jakob and there-

ment focuses on the agency of the legend motif

fore overseen by city appointees.

in achieving this rootedness. Despite the absence

of such a legend motif for Rothenburg, however,

Between their forced relocation in the first

decade of the fifteenth century and their ulti-

I would suggest that the architecture of the Holy

mate expulsion from the city in 1520, the Jews of

Blood Chapel may have had a similar effect. By

Rothenburg lived to the north of St. Jakob, where a

incorporating a ground-level chamber alongside

street still bears the name Judengasse today. From

a passageway, the architects of the west end in

this location the Jewish residents could reach the

Rothenburg copied the architectural expression

marketplace and commercial center of town by

of rootedness achieved at other miraculous host,

two main paths: either by passing to the east of St.

desecration, or blood pilgrimage sites to claim

Jakob or by passing through the tunnel passageway

similar rooted sanctity for its own pilgrimage. The

beneath the church’s west end (fig. 13). In other

towering spatial composition of the west end of St.

words, one of the primary routes for the Jewish

Jakob not only drew pilgrims on a journey up and

community was forcibly alongside the Heiltums-

through an elevated pilgrimage chapel—an assent

kammer and beneath the Chapel of the Holy

that carried powerful symbolic implications of its

Blood, with its powerful Eucharistic blood relic.

own—but also tied the relic to the particular city.

In its lofty position, then, the relic extended its

The fact that so much anti-Semitic violence at

the time and in the region was connected to myths

power not only to those who entered the elevated

of bleeding hosts may well have given the imposing

chapel but also over those who passed beneath,

architectural structure of the west end of St. Jakob

through the Klingengasse passageway, creating a

additional, threatening significance. Although no

pregnant relationship between church and city that

legend survives connecting the Rothenburg blood

carried with it symbolic meaning.

relic explicitly with desecration or violence, its very nature as miraculous Holy Blood placed it in a wider cultural climate of cultic anti-Semitism.

The Altarpiece of the Holy Blood

The architecture itself seems emphatic in

fostering this connection. The parallels in spatial

To understand the pressures that informed the

composition between the west end of St. Jakob in

program of furnishings for the west end of St.

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Jakob, which included Rothenburg’s most famous

Arma Christi, the instruments of Christ’s Passion,

altarpiece, requires some knowledge of the efforts

including the whipping post and cross. Like the

and strategies, ideas and ideals, that helped craft

architectural elements by which they kneel, these

this chapel into a pilgrimage destination. At the

angels appear firmly grounded yet enlivened by the

beginning of the sixteenth century, the city council

torsion conveyed in their billowing trains, turned

of Rothenburg commissioned the grand altar-

postures, and tilted heads. Here, as elsewhere, the

piece to display the local relic of Holy Blood in

faces of Riemenschneider’s figures seem caught in

its newly restored reliquary, a centerpiece for the

contemplation, the brows slightly drawn, the eyes

spatial environment of the west end (figs. 1 and

angled, the corners of the mouth turned down.

29). The council’s first call was to a local virtuo-

sic joiner, Erhart Harschner, who began work on

the open predella, whose arches conjoin slender

the armature of the winged altarpiece in 1499.

architectural ribs and stylized foliate vines with

For the figural groups and reliefs, the council in

more naturalistic vegetal motifs. Rendered as

1501 turned to one of the best-known sculptors of

pruned and trellised grapevines with lateral buds

the day, Tilman Riemenschneider, whose pro-

and leafy tendrils, the naturalistic vegetal elements

lific workshop was based in Würzburg. Each of

frame the narrow central arch of the predella

these artists earned 50 guilders for his work, with

between the two angels. This central space, outfit-

Riemenschneider receiving an extra 10 guilders

ted with its own articulated pedestal, today houses

in tip.

Together, they composed the Altarpiece

an image of Christ on the cross, but it once served

of the Holy Blood to respond to and enhance the

as a tabernacle to display the monstrance contain-

dramatic ensemble of Rothenburg’s parish church.

ing a consecrated host that was offered for ocular



A careful synergy characterizes the play

The solid yet energized base gives stability to

between armature and figural carvings through-

Above the predella sits the central, winged

out the altarpiece. Precisely fitted to the width of

shrine of the altarpiece (fig. 31). The wings—both

the altar mensa, the tall openwork predella rises

the posterior fixed set and the anterior moveable

in three arches from complex architectonic bases

pair—extend beyond the width of the predella and

(fig. 30). The massive outer supports develop in

are supported by corbeled extensions articulated

a series of pyramidal steps from circular plinths

with a network of carved rib vaults. By contrast to

to polygonal arched bases, to intersecting stilted

the lower predella and the towering superstructure

squares with a stellate plan. The slender inner

of the altarpiece—in which carved elements stand

supports repeat some of these same conceits before

out against predominantly open space—the central

transitioning into more sinuous vertical elements.

section is dominated by wood, pierced only in the

Familiar from late medieval architectural drawings,

central shrine by a set of glazed Gothic windows.

this play in overlapping geometric designs gives the

These windows let in light from the back of the

altarpiece a solid yet intricate footing that seems at

shrine and contribute to the dramatic lighting

times to buttress, at others to disguise, the principal supports of the upper shrine. The two outer arches of the predella frame angels bearing the


Fig. 29  Crest of the Holy Blood Altarpiece in Rothenburg, with the Holy Blood reliquary.

Riemenschneider in Rothenburg

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Fig. 30  Predella of the Holy Blood Altarpiece in Rothenburg.

effects, first studied by Baxandall, which animate

the central position generally occupied by Jesus is

the central scene with contrasting shadows and

remarkable as one of the most idiosyncratic, and

highlights over the course of the day. The deeply

clearly meaningful, choices in the composition of

carved shrine appears particularly dramatic in the

the piece.

morning and late afternoon, when more direct

light—first from the large southern windows and

the shrine a feigned depth far exceeding its real

ultimately from the windows behind the shrine—

measurement. Judas stands in front of the table,

produces high contrasts and shadows within the

spatially isolated between the two benches occu-

central scene.

pied by his peers. His right foot angles out toward

the viewer while the corresponding arm lifts a



A representation of the Last Supper forms the

Formally, the positions of Jesus and Judas give

core of the altarpiece, with the apostles clustered

fold of his garment to create a flow in the opposite

into two groups around a long, narrow table.

direction, into the depicted scene. This introduces

Centered between the two groups is Judas, who,

an ambiguity as to whether Judas is coming or

clutching his money bag, strides toward Jesus (off

going, but it also generates a spatial interval at the

center to the viewer’s left). This ceding to Judas of

center of the composition that propels the viewer

Riemenschneider in Rothenburg

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Fig. 31  Central shrine and wings of the Holy Blood Altarpiece in Rothenburg.

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forward into the scene. The subtle twist with which

vaulted with delicate curvilinear tracery ribs, that

Riemenschneider renders the figure of Judas thus

recedes into the depicted scene.

adds a depth of movement to the primary per-

ception of him striding across the scene from the

ated by the construction of the encasement of the

viewer’s right to left.

central shrine, which at its back projects in three

corbeled oriels (fig. 34). On the exterior, these

Judas’s raised left arm, torso, and gaze not only

The impression of recessed depth is accentu-

address Jesus but also incline toward him, adding

oriels are articulated by slender ribs and responds

to the intensity of the drama enacted between the

and capped by nodding openwork ogives with

two figures (fig. 32). Jesus, in turn, sits behind the

elongated pinnacles. As a result of this unusual

table and appears to lean away from Judas, though

shrine construction, the miniature glazed Gothic

his head tilts back toward him as he holds out the

windows that pierce the back of the central scene

sop, the piece of bread dipped in wine described

angle back to form recessed spaces, which, though

in the Gospel of John.

shallow, feign a spacious architectural setting.


The apostles to Jesus’s

right (viewer’s left) turn toward Jesus, their faces

and postures forming a tight crescent that directs

nation of the architectural frame and principal

attention back to the center of the scene.

figures, is one of the most striking and significant

achievements of the altarpiece, and one that proves

The sense of the central scene’s profundity is

The depth of field, achieved by this combi-

supported by other elements of the composition

important for the relationship of the altarpiece

as well. The deeply carved clothing folds, turned

to the real space of the chapel in which it stands.

bodies, and variety of directed gazes give individ-

Although the scene of the Last Supper is predom-

ual apostles space in which to move. Barely visible

inantly horizontal, with the apostles arranged

are the dishes laid out on the table and the apos-

around a long table, the central shrine of the Holy

tle Thomas, who lays his head in Jesus’s lap. The

Blood Altarpiece also suggests a space extending

momentary glimpse afforded the viewer of such

behind that is reminiscent of a church interior. In

hidden details suggests a greater space just out of

fact, given the flexibility of medieval architectural

view. Above the apostles’ heads, the microarchitec-

copies, Harschner and Riemenschneider likely

ture transforms into vegetal motifs that interlace

intended the setting for the Last Super to refer-

and flower, filling the stepped upper zone of the

ence the chapel in which the altarpiece stands. For

altarpiece’s central case in an imaginative mélange

instance, the late Gothic windows of the central

of slender spires and leafy tendrils (fig. 33). This

shrine, with their carved wood tracery and circular

densely woven Rankenwerk forms three distinct

crown-glass panes, mimic in miniature the large

canopies over the Last Supper scene that appear to

windows of the Holy Blood Chapel. The ribbed

project forward into the viewer’s space. At the same

vaults of the central scene and the corbels that

time, they serve as the arched facade of a space,

support the altarpiece wings echo the elegant lierne vaults of the larger architectural setting. The fact that Judas strides across but also turns into this

Fig. 32  Detail of the central shrine of the Holy Blood Altarpiece in Rothenburg showing Judas and Jesus.

space, which is given profundity by the windows, vaulting, Rankenwerk, and lighting effects, creates

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Fig. 33  Detail of the Rankenwerk canopy in the central shrine of the Holy Blood Altarpiece in Rothenburg.


what might be called an imagined space, a space

apostle turns toward the viewer (figs. 32, 35). His

that projects from the viewer’s own into a devised

gaze is cast down, and with his right hand he

field of Handlung (action, story, and interaction).

points to the altar mensa. For visitors to the space,

The configuration of this imagined space within

this gesturing apostle is one of the key points of

the chapel environment creates a sense of possibil-

entry into the scene. While the other apostles are

ity, of latent activity that contributes to the spiritual

either pictured in conversation or shown gazing

drama of the altarpiece.

off in quiet concern, this apostle seems to address

the viewer. His quiet gesture and composed face

In addition to the spatial-architectural

references to the Holy Blood Chapel, both Rie-

direct viewers back out into the space of their own

menschneider and Harschner include elements

world: to the altar table on which the retable stands

that make explicit the relationship between the

and to the central arch of the predella, in which a

depicted scene and the medieval visitor’s expe-

host-bearing monstrance was once displayed. The

rience. Directly in front of Jesus, a clean-shaven

represented space of the central shrine, therefore,

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Fig. 34  Back of the Holy Blood Altarpiece in Rothenburg.

does not just imitate the Holy Blood Chapel but

In each vertical wing the central figure of Jesus is

also forms an extension of it, one that opens a spa-

formally isolated from other figures. Despite the

tial-temporal zone between biblical time and the

clear narrative content, there is a sense of contem-

viewer’s specific here and now.

plative calm that matches the tone of the central

shrine. The Entry into Jerusalem, for example,

Within the altarpiece the scene of the Last

Supper is supported by both a horizontal narrative

conveys the sense that once inside the gate, things

sequence of biblical scenes and a vertical atem-

will become noisy and crowded, but here, at the

poral axis. To either side of the central shrine, the

threshold of the holy city, it is somehow peaceful.

moveable wings of the altarpiece depict in shallow

The deep folds of the cloak laid out at the donkey’s

relief the Entry into Jerusalem (viewer’s left) and

feet seem to cushion his steps (fig. 36), and in

Jesus Praying on the Mount of Olives (viewer’s

their closed postures the huddled apostles seem to

right), also called the Agony in the Garden (fig. 31).

whisper and give Jesus space to breath. In the scene

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Fig. 35 (left)  Detail of the pointing apostle from the central shrine of the Holy Blood Altarpiece in Rothenburg. Fig. 36  Detail of the left wing of the Holy Blood Altarpiece in Rothenburg showing the Entry into Jerusalem.

of the Mount of Olives, movement is restricted to

blood, trickling down upon the ground,” also

the background, where a solider climbs the fence

resonated with the origin story of the blood relic

that separates the arriving armed crowd—iden-

displayed in the altarpiece’s crest.108

tified in Riemenschneider’s contract as “the Jews’

arrival” (der juden zukunft)—from the space of

axis is the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

Jesus and his sleeping followers.107 The real focus of

Above the central triptych of the altarpiece rises

the scene is Jesus’s gaze toward a now-lost vision of

a tall superstructure composed of thin pinnacles,

God the Father that once hovered at the upper left

twisted columns, and interlaced ogival arches

of the panel. Here, the description from the Gospel

(fig. 29). In this soaring crest stand the figures

of Luke that compares Jesus’s sweat to “drops of

of the Annunciation, two angels holding the

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The thematic focus of the altarpiece’s vertical

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thirteenth-century reliquary cross containing the

individual components of the altarpiece but also in

relic of the Holy Blood, and a Man of Sorrows

the relation of these components to one another.

(the image of Christ resurrected displaying his

For example, the angel Gabriel and the Virgin

wounds). These figures all look out into the chapel

Mary appear as outward-facing witnesses attesting

space, their postures complementing the curvi-

to the real presence of Christ in the blood relic

linear forms of the late Gothic cresting. Backlit by

in between. The invisible words of the angel that

the large Gothic windows of the chapel, the figures

marked the moment of the Incarnation occupy the

of the superstructure appear to hover within their

same space in the crest as two reminders of Christ’s

filigree framework. In the early hours of the day,

sacrifice and death: the cruciform reliquary and

before the afternoon light through the west win-

its sacramental blood relic. In the shrine below,

dows obscures details of the crest, the fine detailing

the pointing apostle beside Judas gestures down

of Harschner’s work here is visible from below. The

toward the altar mensa, in this way identifying the

microarchitectural motifs of steep plinths, crock-

materials of the Mass as those of the Last Supper

eted pyramidal pinnacles, and twisted finials seem

(fig. 35).109 These conceits visually support the con-

to improvise imaginatively on forms from the Holy

flation of biblical and present time effected by the

Blood Chapel. The elegant supports of the central

liturgical ritual.

canopy, which frames the cruciform reliquary of

the Holy Blood, are composed of paired inter-

schneider’s Last Supper included both Eucharistic

twined elements, one architectural, one vegetal (fig.

species, bread and wine, and that Harschner’s

15). Here again are the knotted grapevines of the

armature emphasized viticulture. The dual mate-

central predella arch and the elaborate Rankenwerk

riality of the Eucharist present in the combined

of the central shrine.

display of a consecrated host and the sacramental

blood relic was particular to the site. Though imag-

Together, Harschner and Riemenschneider

It was fitting for the local context that Riemen-

succeeded in creating a magnificent program of

ery related to the sacrifice of Christ and the origin

interrelated elements. Set on the altar and elevated

of the Eucharistic feast appeared in many church

by the celebrating priest, the two species of the

programs, the emphasis on Eucharistic wine

Eucharist were framed by the figures of the Annun-

in Rothenburg’s Holy Blood Altarpiece carried

ciation (a reminder of the Incarnation, when God

special relevance to the local blood pilgrimage.110

took human form), scenes of Christ’s Passion (the

Gregory Bryda has argued that together with the

Entry into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, the Mount

monochrome treatment of the entire altarpiece—

of Olives), the Arma Christi and the cross (the

which covers the surface in a translucent glaze

symbol of Christ’s sacrifice), and an elaborate

rather than the typical coat of colorful paint—the

weave of grapevines (a reference to the Mass and

fantastic vegetation that fills the armature of the

Eucharistic wine). Temporally, a link was drawn

altarpiece may be considered “an artistic maneu-

from the origin of the Mass at the Last Supper to

ver to assert wood, in its own right, as a carrier

the Dauerwunder, or permanent miracle, of the

of sacred significance.”111 As noted above, lithe

Holy Blood relic, to the regularly sung Masses

vegetation fills the predella and the upper crest of

of the chapel. This content is communicated in

the altarpiece, at times playfully interacting with

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structural elements. Bryda has demonstrated how,

in addition to symbolizing “Christ as vine,” these

support the current location of the altarpiece as

elaborate vegetal motifs make reference to local

original. First, other contemporary sites demon-

agricultural practices and the thriving Franco-

strate that priests could celebrate Mass while

nian wine industry by “transfigur[ing] wine from

facing west, particularly in western architectural

an elusive liturgical agent to the familiar, newly

choirs—the Church of St. Sebald in Nuremberg,

mass-produced and mass-consumed beverage.”

for instance, had an altar in its west choir that was

Details, such as pruned ends and vines tamed to

positioned against the wall and therefore required

trellises, which clearly depict horticultural inter-

a west-facing celebration.115 Second, the architec-

ventions, thus emphasized “the very local origins

tural composition of the polygonal chapel in the

of the retable’s miraculous namesake.” Like the

west end of St. Jakob both generally and specif-

architecture of the west end, the altarpiece sought

ically makes more likely the current placement.

to localize the relic, to relate Rothenburg’s Holy

That the city and fabrica would have gone to such

Blood to the particular place and to the visiting

efforts and expense to construct an ashlar masonry

community of pilgrims.

polygonal west end for the parish church just to

serve as a conduit for traffic to an altar positioned



Some have questioned whether the Holy Blood

Three points counter this suggestion and

Altarpiece originally stood on the precise spot it

in the western gallery of the earlier nave seems

does today. With the arrival of the Reformation

highly unlikely. Moreover, as built, the chapel’s

in Rothenburg came significant changes that

architecture emphasizes the position in which the

affected the interior furnishings of St. Jakob. In

altar currently stands as a focal point. The complex

1575 the Altarpiece of the Holy Blood was moved

ribbed vaults that span the chapel distinguish a

from the elevated western chapel to the lay altar

central focus directly over the current location of

at the junction between the nave and the east

the altar of the Holy Blood in the polygonal termi-

choir. During the restoration and purification

nus (fig. 37). A second convergence of ribs occurs

efforts of Karl Alex von Heideloff in the 1850s, the

just to the east of the facing entryways, over the

altarpiece was moved to the east wall of the south

primary pathway from one door to the other and

side aisle, where it stood until it was moved to its

in a position directly over the lower street passage-

current location after its 1962–63 restoration.

way. In this manner, both the current location of


Thierry Grueb has argued that the altarpiece

the Holy Blood altar and the space intended for the

originally stood, not in the polygonal west end of

traffic of visitors were given particular emphasis.

the Holy Blood Chapel, but instead at the center

Directly in front of the altar, the vault configuration

of the western gallery of St. Jakob and thus in the

also includes a diamond-shaped Himmelloch, liter-

second-to-last of its nave bays. Grueb’s argument

ally “heaven hole,” of the type used in the staging

is based largely on the observation that the current

of certain feast days of the liturgical calendar. Such

arrangement of the Holy Blood altar, with its large

openings were often associated with a nearby altar,

altarpiece, would have prevented the celebration of

most often through a position in front of the altar

Mass facing east. Instead, the celebrant would have

as seen from the standpoint of the general public.116

had to face west.114

Third, the angled doors that feed into the chapel

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Fig. 37  Vaults of the Holy Blood Chapel in the west end of St. Jakob in Rothenburg.

focus attention on the current altar location (as

altar, dedicated to Saint Nicholas. The description

discussed further below). This preponderance of

of this altar, in the 1474 donation of an eternal Mass

material evidence, then, suggests strongly that the

by Stephan Scheu the Elder, as standing “at the Teu-

current location is, indeed, true to the original.

tonic Order’s winding staircase” (an der teutschen

herren schnecke) indicates that it likely stood near

Two other altars once joined the Holy Blood

altar in the elevated west end of St. Jakob, though

the surviving spiral staircase leading from the west-

these two likely stood on the gallery within the

ern gallery up to the roof.119 The spiral staircase in

nave. In 1478 a chaplaincy was established at an

question opens through a low door in the west wall

altar dedicated to Saint Jodocus. Textual sources

of the gallery over the south side aisle and continues

mention the altar as located “upon the Holy Blood”

as a visible polygonal shaft on the exterior of the

but in proximity to a “balustrade.” It thus stood in

church at the clerestory level. Seen from the exte-

the gallery extension of the chapel, most likely in

rior, the staircase shaft marks the division between

a position over the northern side aisle of the nave

the nave and the west end and is crowned by a

(fig. 38). Already before the chantry established on

male half-figure holding a banderole whose text

the St. Jodocus altar, the records speak of another

has unfortunately been lost.120 The St. Jodocus and



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Fig. 38  Plan of St. Jakob in Rothenburg at the gallery level, showing the most likely arrangement of the church’s twelve altars. Courtesy of Bauhütte St. Jakob Rothenburg, evang. Gesamtkirchengemeinde. Plan by Leonhard Häffner, altered by author.

St. Nicholas altars thus formed a balancing pair on

environment. As Iris Kalden-Rosenfeld has sug-

the gallery, with the Holy Blood Altarpiece taking

gested, pilgrims generally entered the elevated space

center stage within the western apse.

of the chapel by means of the northern staircase and

exited down the southern staircase.122 Kalden-

A number of other donations and commissions

also contributed to the spatial environment of the

Rosenfeld bases her argument on the iconography

western chapel in late medieval Rothenburg and

of Riemenschneider’s altarpiece: visitors would ini-

would have complemented the privileged position

tially have seen Judas’s back and caught the gaze of

of the Holy Blood Altarpiece. In 1472, for instance,

the pointing apostle as they moved across the space

the church fabrica paid a carpenter to outfit the

(fig. 39). The problem with this argument, though

chapel with “stalls to the Holy Blood” (stuln zu

the traffic pattern it traces is correct, is one of cause

heyligen plutt).121 These likely stood along the flat,

and effect: it was the architecture and established

largely unarticulated walls of the chapel straight

pattern of traffic that inspired Riemenschneider’s

bay, which stretch alongside the modern organ up

composition rather than the other way around. The

to the start of the gallery. Their early presence in

implications of this point are significant, because

the chapel can help explain the lack of architec-

they demonstrate the degree to which the artist was

tural ornament along these walls, which otherwise

attentive to the conditions of the site in which the

stands in stark contrast to the elegant articulation

altarpiece was to stand.

of the chapel’s western terminus.

established direction of traffic through the space to

The design of the Holy Blood Altarpiece

heeded its intended position within this elaborate


Three features prove helpful in tracing the

which Riemenschneider’s composition responded.

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Fig. 39  Chapel and Altarpiece of the Holy Blood in Rothenburg seen from the northeast.

First, approaching by the north staircase and

his composition. The frame of the north window,

descending by the south staircase, visitors would

therefore, would have been seen at an angle; its

have entered beneath the painted inscription

simple form would not have distracted. On the

“1453 begun” and exited under the correspond-

return journey down the south staircase, in con-

ing inscription “1471 completed” (figs. 16 and 17).

trast, the visitor’s gaze was free to wander over the

Second, differences in the architectural profiles

intricate detailing of the architecture without fear

of the moldings on the windows and doors of the

of distraction. Here, the window would have been

north and south staircases support this direction

approached head-on, so that its elegant composi-

of movement. The profile of the window lighting

tion could be fully appreciated. A subtle difference

the south staircase is rounded and complex, in

in articulation likewise differentiates the two

contrast to the flat and simplified profile of the

doorways feeding into the elevated chapel space.

north-staircase window. Proceeding up the north

Unlike most doorways, which form right angles

staircase, the viewer’s attention was caught by the

as they cut through a wall, the doorways feeding

altar seen through the angled doorway—an expe-

into the Chapel of the Holy Blood are angled so as

rience Riemenschneider amplified and exploited in

to direct the gaze of approaching visitors toward

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vaults. Johannes Tripps has shown how such openings were used throughout Europe in the late Middle Ages for the staging of liturgical feast days, when carved figures could be raised and lowered by means of ropes in order to enact biblical stories.124 In Rothenburg a Himmelloch is included in the vaulting above the north staircase (fig. 40) but is absent from the vault above the south staircase.

Although no sources attest to the use of the

vault openings in Rothenburg, comparative evidence at least allows for the possibility that dramatic plays took place in the elevated west chapel, which was both accessible to the laity and visible from the nave below (fig. 20). One of the oldest animated celebrations associated with this type of opening in a vault, the Ordo Stellae, was staged with the aid of a star hung from above to guide actors dressed as the three Magi to a crèche in a reenactment of the Adoration.125 Hung from the opening in the vault of the north staircase at St. Jakob, such a star would have led actors up to Fig. 40  View of the Holy Blood Altarpiece from the north stairway of the west end of St. Jakob in Rothenburg.

the elevated west end. A second star, suspended from the diamond-shaped opening in the complex ribbed vault of the main chapel space, could have marked the location of a crèche set up in front of

the central altar (fig. 40, and see fig. 38). Both

the altar and just to the east of the facing door-

the north and south doorways are framed with

ways. The spiral staircase, called in the sources the

sculpted shafts that crisscross at the shoulders and

“Teutonic Order’s winding staircase” (teutschen

apex of the arch. Seen from within the chapel, the

herren schnecke), provided access from the

frame of the south doorway is thicker by one order

western gallery up to the roof of the church, so

than its counterpart in the north (figs. 16 and 17).

that “angelic” singers could have been concealed

This slight augmentation in profiling seems to

around the Himmelloch or sculpted figures could

underscore the south side as the appropriate exit

have been lowered through it.126 The south stair-

from the space, for it subtly draws attention toward

case, which did not have an opening in the vault,

it from within the chapel.

would have served as the appropriate exit from the



The third architectural clue to an intended

chapel. Such a staging of the first pilgrimage, that

direction for traffic from north to south is found

of the Magi, would have echoed the contemporary

in the placement of Himmelloch openings in the

pilgrimage function of the space in the fifteenth

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and early sixteenth centuries and would seem to

Jakob, the civic authorities of the late Middle Ages

confirm the suggested direction of traffic through

created a physical place for the local community

the Chapel of the Holy Blood.

to encounter and participate in a projected set of

shared values.

In this way, the spatial environment of the west

end of St. Jakob actively engaged with the perfor-

mance of devotion. More than a visual backdrop

climate of enthusiasm for blood relics and to the

This project also responded to the wider

supporting the liturgical performance at the altar,

related context of heightened Eucharistic piety.128

the Altarpiece of the Holy Blood, which so aptly

Rothenburg reacted to the common increased

thematized the Eucharist in both its narrative

desire for access to the Eucharist by offering

origins and its experienced form, was an active

numerous visual alternatives to consumption.

agent within the localized context of Rothenburg

These visual surrogates specifically stressed the

pilgrimage. It became the core of a space—elevated

importance of the Holy Blood in the attainment of

over a city street, sheltering the relic of the Holy

salvation. Though the actual bloodstain venerated

Blood, and articulated by a rich artistic pro-

as a relic in Rothenburg could not be seen by most

gram—that expounded within a particular local

visitors, it was visually supported and amplified

idiom on the miraculous transformative ritual

through a series of conceits that made its presence

of the Mass and the salvation made possible by

perceptible to the largest possible audience. By the

Christ’s sacrifice.127 The reliquary cross, newly set

early sixteenth century these conceits included

in the crest of the altarpiece, held the sacramental

(from micro to macro) the magnifying rock crystal

relic of the Holy Blood; a monstrance on the altar

set over the relic, its elevated gilt cross reliquary,

mensa displayed the visible host; and the central

the carved altarpiece by Riemenschneider and

scene of the sculpted altarpiece showed the Last

Harschner, and the late Gothic chapel that towered

Supper—the origin of the Eucharistic feast. Visitors

over the city by bridging a major street.

were encouraged to relate the general promise of

this program to their local experience and to the

of the Holy Blood demonstrates the profound

city over which the chapel stood. The architecture

responsiveness of late medieval patrons, designers,

directed visitors through this dynamic ensemble

and artisans to established spatial environments.

and also projected its authority beyond the church

The site specificity of the altarpiece in Rothenburg


went beyond the general parameters of iconogra-

Considered within this context, the Altarpiece

phy and scale outlined in the 1501 contract between Riemenschneider and the city representatives,


evincing the artists’ familiarity with and appreciation for the role of the chapel within the broader

Although Rothenburg never became an interna-

city. That Riemenschneider visited the site and

tional blood-pilgrimage destination, it did succeed

took into consideration the intended setting for

in fostering a distinct local identity rooted in the

the grand and expensive Altarpiece of the Holy

spatial environment of the parish church. With

Blood does not necessarily mean that all altarpieces

the design and furnishings of the west end of St.

by the artist were designed with the same degree

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of specificity. It does, however, suggest that the

traditional approach to his and other late medieval

and furnishings of the west end of St. Jakob related

In Rothenburg the spatial composition, rituals,

artists’ works, which focuses on the space of the

the general promises of Eucharistic salvation to the

workshop, should be expanded to consider the real

specific place and local community through the

spatial environments of installation. This will bring

blood-turned-relic displayed in Riemenschneider’s

into closer dialogue the production and reception

and Harschner’s masterpiece. Set at the heart of the

histories of medieval art and into higher relief the

city and elevated over a major street, this ensemble

pressures and sensitivities involved in the design

formed the lynchpin in a developing network of

and experience of multimedia programs.

civic religious spaces in the city.

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The Urban Complex


Chapter 3

lthough Rothenburg’s efforts to establish a

of architecture, figural art, and ritual practice.

major blood pilgrimage during the fifteenth

Medieval urban complexes were spatial-thematic

century met with only moderate success, the new

systems of the built environment that functioned

west end of St. Jakob—with its street passageway,

as dynamic instruments of urban planning, helping

elevated pilgrimage chapel, and Altarpiece of the

to revise and reconceptualize urban space through

Holy Blood—henceforward featured prominently

the formation of evocative centers of attention. The

in the urban landscape. This one architectural proj-

term “urban complex” is not new: it has been used

ect and its furnishings helped translate universal

by scholars of other periods to describe large-scale

promises of the Church into a specific local itera-

building projects that respond to urban economic

tion of place. The multimedia thinking apparent in

and population developments, ranging from

the west end of St. Jakob allowed disparate elements

Smriti Srinivas’s study of high-tech cities in India

of art, architecture, and ritual to work together as a

to Robert Weaver’s urban renewal proposals for

spatial environment. But the west end of St. Jakob

the Housing and Home Finance Administration

itself contributed to a larger program that reached

and contemporary design projects like AUBE’s

beyond the confines of the parish church into the

Huangshi Urban Complex, China;1 and it has been

city proper and incorporated several distinctive

mentioned in passing by scholars of medieval archi-

visual environments. This structured ensemble

tecture to describe a range of phenomena.2 But it

formed what I term an urban complex.

has never been theorized as an organized system of

The idea of the urban complex includes but

late medieval urban planning that stretched beyond

extends beyond a built architectural compound of

the medium of architecture. This chapter proposes

interconnected spaces to consider the interrelation

that together the parish church, cemetery, and

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charnel-house chapel of Rothenburg ob der Tauber,

chapel dedicated to Saint Michael that would stand

along with elements of their furnishings, functioned

directly to the east of Rothenburg’s parish church.

as one such urban complex and that this meaning-

Also germane is the commission of individual pieces

ful system communicated more richly in toto than

for the complex that contributed to a coherent

through any one of its component parts.

thematic program over the following sixty years. The

surviving financial ledgers of the St. Jakob fabrica

Rothenburg is especially ripe for this kind of

analysis. The striking relationships between the

demonstrate that the civic council of Rothenburg

various constituent environments make clear

and its appointed church caretakers closely managed

their agency as an ensemble. This is supported by

the major buildings and artistic commissions of the

stylistic, iconographic, liturgical, and adminis-

parish urban complex. The production of the com-

trative structures as well as by the chronology of

plex in Rothenburg was a protracted and ongoing

construction. Moreover, Rothenburg provides an

event, one around which community was built.

opportunity to investigate the manner in which a guiding logic shaped projects into a coherent system over a protracted period of time.


Parish Church, Cemetery, and Charnel House

Unpacking both the concept of the urban

complex generally and its iteration in Rothenburg

On April 17, 1485, the mood in Rothenburg was

specifically entails examination first of the close

festive as the city turned out to witness the con-

functional interdependence of the spaces in the

secration of its principal church. Rothenburg had

parish urban complex and second of the intricate

just emerged from a period of pestilence that had

spatial-thematic programming that tied them

claimed numerous lives. Indeed, the epidemic

together into an entity. How were urban complexes

the previous year had been so bad that the parish

articulated in medieval sources and structured in

fabrica had ordered additional cartloads of soil to

physical space? To what extent were they inten-

be delivered to the cemetery to ensure that corpses

tionally programmed, despite their protracted

could be properly interred. It had also paid the

aggregation over time? And is it productive to

gravedigger an extra sum to level out the terrain.

consider such ensembles as organized systems

The income of the parish church from funerals had

rather than as conglomerations of individual proj-

jumped from 30 lb in 1482/83 to 228 lb in 1483/84,

ects? In other words, what did the urban complex

and the bells that tolled to mark the deaths of the

accomplish that its constituent parts considered

wealthiest citizens had been in frequent use.3 But

separately could not? Finally, what are the implica-

now this trying time was over, and the surviving

tions of the urban complex for the planning of the

population came together to celebrate the long-

late medieval city?

awaited consecration of its parish church. They had

worked hard to prepare for the occasion. Broken

These questions invite a fresh look back to the

first half of the fifteenth century, when the west end

windows in the Chapel of the Holy Blood in the

of St. Jakob in Rothenburg was planned but not yet

west end of the parish church had been mended,

built and the city’s efforts were instead focused on

a new chalice had been added to the church’s col-

the construction of a freestanding charnel-house

lection of liturgical vessels, and the Charnel-House

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Fig. 41  Compilation of images by Leonhard Häffner and Johann Friedrich Schmidt showing the parochial complex of Rothenburg, with the Church of St. Jakob and the Chapel of St. Michael. Compilation by author.

Chapel of St. Michael had received a new door.

centuries. Of course, the final consecration did not

Various items had also been prepared for the con-

mean that all work on the site would cease. Small

secration ceremony itself, including two jugs, three

projects here and there needed to be finished,

pouring vessels, a hand-stitched tablecloth, and

and repairs were already called for in places.6 For

four ells (about ten feet) of lamb cloth.4

other, larger projects, like the vaulting of the street

passage beneath the west end of St. Jakob, it was

The auxiliary bishop of Würzburg, Georg Ant-

worter, had arrived in Rothenburg for the occasion,

anyone’s guess whether the city would ever return

bringing with him an entourage of priests as well

to finish them.7 But the new Ehetür portal (1479)

as his personal attendant. The presence of these

on the south side of the nave, the last major archi-

visitors leant the ceremony a certain gravitas and

tectural addition to the parish church, had recently

added to the festiveness of the occasion. In addi-

been completed, and the consecration ceremony of

tion to paying for their services, the city also wined

1485 would ceremoniously mark the end of major

and dined its guests at considerable expense.5

work on the complex (fig. 4).8

It had taken 180 years to build the Parish

Included in the consecration ceremonies and

Church of St. Jakob, and though the older citizens

invocation on this occasion were the Parish Church

could remember a time when construction of the

of St. Jakob, the urban parish cemetery, and the

main church had halted for a generation, the parish

charnel-house chapel dedicated to Saint Michael

close had been a construction zone for almost two

(fig. 41). All three spaces were also listed in the city’s

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records of the event.9 This first indication that the

parish church, cemetery, and charnel-house chapel

charnel house during the Middle Ages was the

were considered a unified complex in late medie-

interdependence in medieval Christian doctrine of

val Rothenburg is corroborated by what is known

the living and the dead. Death was seen as a pro-

generally about the functional role of such parish

cess by which the body and the soul were divided

spaces during the fifteenth century as well as by the

until final judgment, when they would be reunited

particular formal and iconographic choices made by

again to enter heaven or descend into hell for

the city authorities and their employed architects.

eternity.11 During the intermediary stage of death,

most souls were thought to suffer in purgatory for

The parish church, situated at the heart of the

Fundamental to the role of the cemetery and

medieval city, served as a prominent civic space

a period of time to atone for their sins, while the

throughout the Middle Ages. The cemetery that

body lay interred in the cemetery, where its flesh

lay alongside it also formed part of this center,

returned to dust. It was the task of the living to

serving as an open and adaptable public space.

care for the dead, to ease the suffering of the souls

Festivals, dances, and public proclamations, as well

in purgatory through active commemoration. As

as funerals and church processions, drew inhabi-

Jonathan Finch has pointed out, “the emphasis

tants within the cemetery’s encircling walls, where

was on continuing and ongoing support, exercised

they were confronted by a rich assortment of visual

through the cyclical nature of many of the rituals

stimuli.10 Stone and metal plaques commemorated

associated with the intercessory prayers.”12 The rela-

the dead, candles surrounded funeral biers, opulent

tionship between the living and dead communities

fabrics covered gravesites on anniversary days, and

was one of mutual benefit, for as the prayers of the

figural groups of the Mount of Olives and the Cru-

living provided the dead relief and might shorten

cifixion formed stations linking the cemetery to the

their time in purgatory, so did the many commem-

biblical sites of Christ’s Passion and death. Not least

orations of the dead ensure the living leniency after

of these features was the ossuary or charnel house

their own demise.13 Prayers, both those offered and

(ossuarium, charnier, Karner), a space designated

those received, acted as a counterbalance to the

for the storage of old bones dug up in the over-

weight of sins. An indulgence issued for Rothen-

crowded cemetery.

burg in 1356, for instance, commuted forty days of

Although the medieval terms for ossuary

canonical penance to time off from purgatory for

and charnel house were used interchangeably, in

anyone who walked through the cemetery beside

the interest of clarity, I use “ossuary” to refer to

St. Jakob and prayed for the faithful living and

a vaulted chamber for the storage of bones that

dead.14 In this manner, individuals were encour-

is part of a larger structure and “charnel house”

aged—and incentivized—to perform acts of faith

to refer to a structure, usually freestanding, that

that were thought to benefit the community of

includes an ossuary as one of its primary spaces.

faithful, living and dead.

St. Michael in Rothenburg was a charnel house

that incorporated an ossuary in its ground-floor

of the cemetery, and burial ceremonies, especially

space, beneath an elevated chapel dedicated to the

of wealthy individuals, could bring large crowds

archangel Michael.

together. They were also lucrative affairs for the

Funerals were one of the primary ritual uses

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city and its religious institutions. When the wealthy

attire for the public ceremonies.17 For the parish

wool merchant Michael Ottnat died, on June 9,

fabrica and the various religious institutions of

1488, just three years after the consecration of

the city—including the Dominican convent, the

the parish urban complex of Rothenburg, he left

Franciscan monastery, the Teutonic Order, the


most of his fortune to the city of Rothenburg.

Parish Church of St. Jakob, the Spital, the Chapel

In carrying out the provisions of his testament,

of St. John, and the Marian chapel on the Milch-

the city administrators kept meticulous financial

markt—the funeral services brought business and

records, which provide a glimpse into the cash

visibility. Finally, for the city and its administration,

flow as well as into the rituals accompanying the

services such as these provided the very reason

most lavish of Rothenburg’s funerals. In addition

for its oversight of church affairs: donors since

to family members, friends, and general bystanders

the fourteenth century had appointed the city of

who gathered for the occasion, students carrying

Rothenburg executor of their testaments, chantries,

candles, an untold number of priests, and eighteen

and other donations in order to ensure that their

unidentified others accompanied Ottnat’s body to

provisions be honored by the appropriate religious

the parish close in exchange for payment. This pro-

institutions.18 This practice gave the civic govern-

cession, on the day after Ottnat’s death, cost a total

ment its power over the religious institutions of the

of 19 lb 25 d and was followed by many weeks of

city and also provided it with an opportunity to

related activities, including commemorative gath-

promote Rothenburg through a demonstration of

erings and the ringing of bells in various churches

the wealth, order, and faith of the city’s inhabitants.

throughout the city. The sacristan, sexton, school-

master, and city scribe all received money for their

they did stretch for several months—anniversary

services. The accounts also designated sums for

celebrations, which visited graves annually, were

a pall (bortuch), a cross (creutz) on the shroud

often made “in perpetuity” and so extended the

(leichtuch), a tombstone (leichstein), candles made

commemoration into the foreseeable future. In

by Dominican nuns, and wine for the Franciscan

Rothenburg an anniversary Mass required a dona-

friars.16 It thus engaged the wider community of the

tion returning an annual interest of 1 lb h or 1 fl rh

city in a multisensory commemorative service cen-

and so was only affordable for wealthy families.19

tered around the cemetery. As late as October 3, 10

To ensure their maximum efficacy, it was import-

fl financed the singing of an early Mass in memory

ant that these services be public events: they were

of the man deceased nearly four months earlier.

announced from the pulpit the Sunday before the

anniversary day, they were listed by the sacristan

Ottnat’s extravagant funeral and subsequent

While funerals were one-time affairs—even if

memorials served several functions. Within

on a visible board within the parish church each

the context of Christian religious beliefs, which

week, and they were attended by some or all of the

included the fiery holding ground of purgatory, it

priests, the sacristan, and an unknown number of

ensured that frequent prayers were said for the soul

private citizens. The standard ceremony in Rothen-

of the departed. It also served as a public display

burg followed a common format: the sacristan,

of social status, both for the deceased and for par-

responsible for preparations, led a procession of

ticipants who appeared decked out in appropriate

priests from the parish church to the burial site.

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Standing around the grave and walking over it,

to accommodate new burials and because its space

the priests spoke an antiphon and several collects

was mapped and marked through such temporal

for the dead (pro defunctis). During the ritual, the

rituals. While it was closely tied to the ritualized

grave was covered by a cloth, lit by four candles,

commemoration of individuals and families, the

sprinkled with holy water, and censed. Ultimately,

cemetery also served as an important reminder

the procession returned to the main church, possi-

of the passage of time in the medieval city. The

bly passing through the lower story of the charnel

many accrued epitaphs documented the long use

house before doing so.

of the site over successive generations. Long after

an individual died or a family left the city, their



In addition to performing social status,

anniversary-day celebrations reinforced familial

monuments continued to contribute to a space of

identities and charted different ritual paths through

shared cultural memory. The fact that Rothenburg’s

the space of the cemetery in a display similar to the

school bounded the northern edge of the cemetery,

funeral. The location of the grave was often given

between the Church of St. Jakob and the Chapel of

as a number of steps from a prominent monument

St. Michael, for instance, meant that the primary

or feature of the urban complex, and multiple

education of the city’s young took place along-

graves might be pulled together into a single com-

side the resting place of its departed citizens. The

memorative service. The painter Heinrich Glück’s

cemetery was therefore a powerful site for the con-

anniversary celebration established in Rothenburg

struction of civic identity and ideals of community.

in 1487, for instance, had a procession walk over

four graves: the first lay “by Saint Catherine’s door”

cemetery in Rothenburg is worth mentioning here,

and was marked by a tombstone with the family

though little evidence of its exact form has sur-

name and coat of arms; the second lay before the

vived. In addition to stipulating funeral services

school, in the middle of the churchyard, and was

and donations to religious institutions, testaments

similarly designated by a tombstone with the name

of well-to-do citizens in Rothenburg often included

Glück; the third was located eight steps from the

sums to fund food for the city’s poor. This food was

Charnel House of St. Michael and labeled “Diem”

handed out from a kind of soup kitchen located

(after Glück’s wife Margarethe Diem); and the

within the churchyard. These food donations,

fourth was situated twelve strides from the charnel

the so-called Reichsalmosen (literally “alms of the

house and marked by a tombstone bearing the

realm”), were generally recorded as the number

name Volckmar (after his wife Christine Volck-

of bowls of food that the alms funded. The bowls

mar). These services provide one glimpse into

were distributed every Saturday between Vespers

the divers ritual experience of the urban com-

and Compline, so roughly between six and nine

plex: itinerate ceremonies and processions linked

in the evening. A full bowl included meat and two

disparate spaces of the complex into a meaningful

pieces of bread valued at around 1 ß, while a half

experience shared by a local community.

bowl offered less meat and one piece of bread and

was valued at about half the price. Occasionally



The cemetery was a space with a shifting topog-

One further site within the grounds of the

raphy, both because graves rarely remained in place

the donations could be quite generous: Selena

for more than a generation before they were cleared

Langmantel, for example—who also established a

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chaplaincy in the Chapel of St. Michael—made a

whereby the bones could be piled or stacked in a

large donation to the Reichsalmosen that returned 52

vaulted space. Although most medieval charnel

fl annually and supported twenty full bowls of food

houses have been torn down and those that survive

for the poor every week. In total, the city records

were generally cleared of their human remains

mention twenty-seven such donations before 1518—

in the nineteenth century, a few rare examples

though mostly of one bowl per week, not twenty.23

demonstrate that they could house the accumu-

As was common elsewhere, the location of the soup

lated bones of thousands. The lower story of the

kitchen within the churchyard was strategic, for it

charnel house in Iphofen, for instance, contains

reminded the impoverished recipients to pray for

the bones of around eight thousand individuals,

the souls of the donors. Since the prayers of the poor

the one in Oppenheim houses an estimated twenty

were thought to be particularly effective, this calcu-

thousand (fig. 42), and reports of the reburial of

lated generosity benefited the donors themselves. It

remains from the ossuaries in Jena and Gerolz-

also, however, fostered a sense of civic responsibility

hofen during the nineteenth century mention

whereby the wealthier citizens were encouraged to

seventy and forty cartloads of bones respectively.26

provide for the poor. The cemetery was therefore a

public space of community formation due to more

existed in Rothenburg already in the early four-

than one ritual and institution.

teenth century, before the construction of the

Gothic Church of St. Jakob. In a document issued

The location of the medieval cemetery at the

Indirect evidence suggests that an ossuary

heart of the city ensured that these activities were

March 12, 1303, the city announced the donation

highly visible, but this centrality also came at a

of a house and surrounding yard, situated beside

price. The constraints of space were considerable,

the cemetery (cimiterium), to the Parish of St.

for although the cemetery was flexible in its func-

Jakob.27 The donors, Heinricus Zenner and his wife,

tion and topography, only rarely did land grants

Irmgard, stated that their intention was to ensure

extend its boundaries. So the same ground had

the general right to burial for everyone in the

to accommodate successive generations of dead.

parish. In addition to directing how gravesites were

The solution to this problem was the ossuary. The

to be established and maintained, they stipulated

constant influx of new dead, particularly at times of

that anyone who allowed a grave to be exhumed

pestilence, required that the bones of older burials,

but found the corpse not yet adequately decayed

cleaned of the flesh, be cleared. These bones of the

was responsible for finding another burial spot.28

faithful, however, were to be preserved until the

Although the document does not indicate the fate

final resurrection at the end of time, and ossuaries

of the bones whose flesh was deemed “adequately

provided a consecrated space in proximity to an

decayed,” the implication is that they were not

altar to protect remains.

reburied. Instead, they likely found a second rest-


In some cases, the ossuary took the form of a

ing place in an ossuary.

crypt beneath the main church; in others, it stood

as part of a separate building. Charnel houses,

on an elaborate charnel house to replace this first

situated within the boundary of the cemetery,

ossuary. Built on the heels of the nave of St. Jakob,

provided an efficient and highly visible solution

from roughly 1410 to 1450, and before the Chapel


It was not until a century later that work began

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Fig. 42  Lower ossuary of the charnel-house chapel in Oppenheim.

of the Holy Blood in the west end of St. Jakob

in the late Middle Ages they were considered

(1453–71), the octagonal Chapel of St. Michael

and experienced as interdependent structures. At

related closely to its neighboring parish church

the physical and functional center of this system

through its administration, spatial disposition, and

was the cemetery, a rich visual environment that

function. It was in building this two-story chapel

served as a repository for individual and collec-

at the eastern edge of the cemetery, across from

tive memory and as a generative core of local

the choir of St. Jakob, that the city first shaped the


parish close into an urban complex (fig. 43).

Once described as “the daintiest Gothic build-

ing of Rothenburg,” St. Michael filled the important function of ossuary and cemetery chapel.29 It

The Charnel-House Chapel of St. Michael

belonged to a type of charnel house built with two stories that once dotted the landscape of late medi-


Although the Church of St. Jakob and the Chapel

eval Germany. Examples survive in Ebern (begun

of St. Michael have always been treated by scholars

1464), Gerolzhofen (1497), Haßfurt (ca. 1420),

as distinct entities due to their physical separation,

Iphofen (ca. 1380), Kiedrich (consecrated 1445),

Riemenschneider in Rothenburg

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Fig. 43  Colored copperplate engraving of the Kirchplatz in Rothenburg by Johann Friedrich Schmidt, 1762. © RothenburgMuseum.

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Kronach (1512), Ochsenfurt (1440–96), Oppen-

chapels of the fifteenth-century two-story charnel

heim (early fifteenth century), Tauberbischofsheim

houses generally boast large tracery windows and

(begun 1474), Wertheim (begun 1472), and Zeil

distinguishing features, such as elegant rib vault-

am Main (early fifteenth century). Although

ing, western galleries, outdoor pulpits, projecting

St. Michael in Rothenburg was converted into a

east choirs, and bell turrets.33 The lower ossuaries

library in the sixteenth century and torn down

vary more considerably in their articulation and


around 1804–6, it once served as an important

disposition, ranging from simple barrel-vaulted

cornerstone in the city’s parochial urban complex.

chambers constructed of rough-hewn stone (Zeil

am Main) to rib-vaulted spaces with a single cen-


The two superimposed spaces of these late

Gothic charnel-house chapels architecturally

tral support (Tauberbischofsheim), to three-aisled

announced their dual role as ossuary (below) and

rooms with elegant net vaults (Wertheim).

cemetery chapel (above). Several charnel houses

document their primary function of protecting the

dividing the place for the storage of bones from

souls of the dead. For example, in Gerolzhofen,

that used for services by the living. Since the two

a large inscription in the south wall records how,

discrete stories were not usually connected by

“[i]n the year of Christ 1497, . . . this charnel house

interior staircases but instead had their own sep-

was begun for the salvation of the souls,” and a

arate entrances, the division of spaces was visibly

foundation document records that an eternal Mass

pronounced on the exterior of the structures.34

celebrated in the upper-level chapel was “for the

In many cases the elevated entrance to the chapel

help and consolation of all faithful souls.”

story was configured as a platform overlooking

the surrounding cemetery from which public



The surviving two-story charnel houses built

The two levels were thus spatially distinct,

in modern-day Germany during the fifteenth

announcements might be made. At times the doors

century demonstrate the wide use of the urban

to the two stories were vertically aligned (Ochsen-

complex as a tool of late medieval urban planning.

furt, Haßfurt); in other cases they were offset in the

Although the parish church and neighboring

same facade (Tauberbischofsheim, Zeil am Main)

cemetery had always functioned as a linked pair

or positioned around the corner from each other

during the Middle Ages, the addition of a charnel

in two adjoining walls (Iphofen, Gerolzhofen).

house, particularly one that incorporated its own

Whatever their location, however, the disposition

chapel space above an ossuary, dramatically shifted

of entrances had two important consequences: it

the Schwerpunkt, the main emphasis, of the space.

meant that a visitor’s ascent to the chapel or move-

The heightened visual ornament and “showiness”

ment between the upper and lower spaces was

of the fifteenth-century examples, in particular,

outdoors and highly visible, and it distinguished a

demonstrate that they were conceived of as archi-

primary facade (or sometimes two) of the building.

tectural complements to their respective principal


invariably faced the cemetery and the main church.

In addition to portals, the facades frequently

Although no two charnel houses looked exactly

The facades of these two-story charnel houses

the same, several characteristics are common

featured a richer profiling of architectural elements

among the late medieval examples. The upper-story

that distinguished them and occasionally included

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Fig. 44  Charnel-House Chapel of St. Kilian in Wertheim from the southwest.

figural reliefs. In Wertheim, for instance, the

sculpted western portal of the upper-story chapel

two-story Chapel of St. Kilian includes an elabo-

and the finials and crockets of the buttresses add

rate balustrade that runs along its west and south

to the rich appearance of these show sides, while

sides at the upper, chapel level (fig. 44). Since the

the back sides (north and east) are remarkably

chapel lies to the north of the principal church, it

less ornate, with no balustrade, sculpted frieze, or

is these two sides that face the church and church-

buttress finials.

yard. A deeply sculpted band—with zigzag and

braid motifs as well as a frieze of shields—adorns

those of other two-story charnel houses, set up

the lower edge of the balustrade, which forms an

a visual dialogue with the principal church that

elaborate late Gothic tracery ribbon tying together

played out across the open space of the cemetery.

the west and south sides of the chapel. The large

In his catalog and study of the surviving two-story

The facades of the Wertheim example, like

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Fig. 45  Charnel-House Chapel of St. Michael in Ochsenfurt from the north.


charnel houses in Germany, Stephan Zilkens

exterior finishes can effect a strong visual relation-

investigates the preferred position of these chapels

ship. In Ochsenfurt, for instance, the parish church

(after 1300 generally to the south of the parish or

was finished by the end of the fourteenth century

principal church) and the stylistic relationship

and the Charnel-House Chapel of St. Michael not

between the two church buildings (which, he con-

built until 1440–96 (fig. 45). The tracery forms

cludes, was only occasionally strong).35 Although

of the windows, the detailed profiles of mold-

he acknowledges the close functional interdepen-

ing bands, and the articulation of buttresses do

dence of the principal church and neighboring

not “match.” And yet the local yellow sandstone

charnel-house chapel, Zilkens’s focus on close

used for architectural elements and ornament on

stylistic details in comparing buildings leads him

both buildings, as well as their orientation, visual

to fall short of recognizing the powerful visual

division by a string course into two levels, and

dialogue they set up.

tall Gothic tracery windows, gives the two build-

ings a common aesthetic. Richard Krautheimer’s

Even in cases where the facing church and

chapel do not cite each other in detailed forms,

important article on the “iconography” of medie-

their Gothic windows, construction materials, and

val architecture demonstrates the extent to which

Riemenschneider in Rothenburg

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Fig. 46  Plan of the urban complex in Kiedrich. Scanned from Handbuch der deutschen Kunstdenkmäler: Hessen II; Regierungsbezirk Darmstadt (Deutscher Kunstverlag: Munich, 2008). Fig. 47  Charnel-House Chapel of St. Michael in Kiedrich from the northwest.

connections might be made even between distant

The case is all the more striking in the exam-

sites by “copying” characteristic features that did

ples, albeit rare, where the principal church and

not necessarily look alike.36 How much stronger

neighboring charnel-house chapel share stylistic

must the connection between such loosely copied

ties. In Kiedrich, the Parish Church of St. Valen-

features have appeared when two buildings faced

tin was built from circa 1330 to circa 1380. After

each other directly. Even today the visual dialogue

this, from 1434 to 1444, attention turned to the

in Ochsenfurt is hard to ignore; in the Middle

construction of a neighboring two-story charnel

Ages, when a cemetery wall enclosed the two

house dedicated to Saint Michael (figs. 46 and

edifices in one space and rituals mapped a path

47). Only after the completion and consecration

from one to the other, it must have been even more

of St. Michael did work resume on the principal


church with the addition of a new late Gothic choir

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(1454–70) and renovation of the nave (1480–93).37

the charnel house provide an excellent idea of its

As Zilkens has observed, the late work on the

exterior appearance before it was torn down in the

parish church incorporated stylistic elements found

early nineteenth century. Johann Ludwig Schäffer’s

in the charnel house. Particularly in details of the

color-washed ink drawing, dated 1729, presents a

architectural ornament adorning the buttresses

polygonal chapel, much taller than its neighboring

of the south side of St. Valentin—the side facing

buildings, with a large fenestrated upper story and

the cemetery and St. Michael—the patrons and

a shorter lower story (fig. 48). It shows the chapel

architects cited the earlier charnel-house chapel.

from the west. An outdoor staircase leads up from

The heavy concentration of ornament—with dense

the bottom of the page to a rectangular building

crocketing articulating spires and ornate, interwo-

adjoining the upper story of the octagonal chapel

ven ogival arches capping recessed niches—echoes

on its northeast side. A red legend at the top of the

between the two buildings. Here again the color of

page identifies this as “2. The passage to the library

the stone and the painted finish of both churches

[Der Gang zur Bibliothec].”39 Also included are “1.

emphasize their close relationship. Claudia Wels

Sexton’s house [Küster oder Kircheners Haus],”

has gone so far as to suggest that the construction

“3. Stone staircase [Steinerne Treppe],” and “4.

of the charnel-house chapel in Kiedrich and the

Supporting arch or vaulted passageway whereon

subsequent rebuilding and extension of the choir

the library stands [Schwibbogen oder gewölbter

of St. Valentin served as an instrument of political

gang worauf die Bibliothec stehte].” A second,

control whereby the city incrementally claimed

green-washed cartouche identifies the view as “St.

its patronage rights over the church, much as

Michael’s Chapel, that is, the public library [that]

Rothenburg did during the fourteenth century. The

will be abandoned” (St. Michaelis Capelle / also

architecture of both Kiedrich buildings used cita-

Bibliotheca / publica aufgehoben wird).

tions of important regional models to demonstrate

prestige, Wels argues, resulting in a Steigerung, or

tially obstructed from view by a low wall, stands on

intensification, of architectural ornament, which

arches opening toward the north, northwest, west,

placed the two buildings in close dialogue with

and southwest. These arches originally faced the

each other.

cemetery and marked the lower story as an exten-

sion of this sepulchral space. On the west face of



The cemetery was literally and figuratively cen-

The lower level of the octagonal chapel, par-

tral in the relationship between church and charnel

the chapel, over the lower-story arch, is a corbelled

house, as it provided a functional link between the

balcony with a door at back and a half-timbered

two sacral buildings and an intermediary space

balustrade at front that served as an outdoor pulpit.

from which both could be seen across from each

Above the balcony, the wall continues to a gable

other. Nowhere was the relationship between

that supports a bell turret. The other visible faces

cemetery and ossuary, or indeed between char-

are each punctuated by a large window divided by

nel house and parish church, more pronounced

mullions into four lancets and filled with indistinct

than in Rothenburg, where the lower story of St.

tracery forms. Overall the chapel appears quite tall,

Michael opened through arches onto the sur-

with a definite vertical emphasis in the steep roof,

rounding land. Two eighteenth-century images of

large Gothic windows, and buttresses articulating

Riemenschneider in Rothenburg

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Fig. 48  Color-washed ink drawing of St. Michael by Johann Ludwig Schäffer, 1729. © Stadtarchiv Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

the corners of the octagon (see also fig. 43). The

the polygonal end of St. Jakob’s east choir frames

two stories are separated by a molding band and

the image on the left. Defining the square to the

thus clearly legible on the exterior of the structure.

north and occupying a central, though distant,

position is the Gymnasium, or schoolhouse, a late

The second, more detailed eighteenth-century

view of the Chapel of St. Michael is a colored

sixteenth-century structure with a projecting spi-

copperplate engraving attributed to Johann

ral-stair turret.

Friedrich Schmidt and dated 1762 (fig. 43). It

shows the populated square (previously the site of

Chapel of St. Michael, Schmidt’s rendition is

the cemetery) between St. Jakob and St. Michael

consistent with Schäffer’s view. It too shows the

from the south. Indeed, it underscores the visual

lower story open to the west through arches. The

dialogue between the charnel house and the parish

upper story of the octagonal structure boasts

church: the Chapel of St. Michael, seen from the

large windows, again divided into four lancets

southwest, bounds the image on the right, just as

but here clearly topped by fine tracery forms. A

In its depiction of the general forms of the

The Urban Complex

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flight of stairs winds behind the building, mount-

forms to those of the built monument, so the same

ing as it disappears on the northwest side of the

may be true for the charnel-house chapel.

octagon. The rectangular annex, a later addition

to the south of St. Michael’s, has a single molding

then, the Chapel of St. Michael once faced its

band, suggesting it too had two floors, and a pair

neighboring church, the Church of St. Jakob, with

of adjoined rectangular windows. The chapel’s

a pronounced facade. The polygonal terminus of

pyramidal roof rises steeply, its apex cropped by

St. Jakob’s east choir, with its tall lancet windows

the image frame. The bell turret, which held a

above a lower socle zone, confronted a counter-

bell donated by Jakob Nolt in 1479, rises over the

part in the octagonal Chapel of St. Michael, with

gable on the west facade of the structure.40 These

its two stories, dividing molding band, and Gothic

features appeared already in Schäffer’s view, with

tracery windows. The design of the charnel house’s

the difference that Schäffer’s pointed lower-story

lower story also made evident its conceptualiza-

arches are here shown round.

tion as an extension of the churchyard and thus

an integral component of the urban complex of

More clearly defined in Schmidt’s view are

the buttresses at the corners of the octagonal


chapel. The two shown fully are set back once at

the level of the curved upper zone of the window

includes one other important piece of information.

heads. Those flanking the west face of the building

Through the two arches of the lower story visible

become more filigree above this and end in finial

in the print can be glimpsed the interior vaulting

bouquets. In contrast, the buttress between the

as well as trellised arches in the north part of the

southwestern and southern faces of the chapel

space. These gated arches appear to section off the

continues unadorned to the cornice, where it

back of the octagon with a pierced wall. The trel-

terminates in a simple pyramidal cap. The balcony,

liswork presumably controlled physical access to

familiar from Schäffer’s view, protrudes from the

the space beyond without restricting its visibility,

west wall, topped by a slanted roof supported by

and it is likely here that the bones of the dead were

slender posts, one at each corner and one in the


center. A round-arched doorway feeds into the

space beyond. On this facade, Schmidt lightly

story arches of St. Michael as “[s]upporting arch or

sketches stone coursings, presumably an indication

vaulted passageway whereon the library stands,” is

of ashlar masonry though possibly also a regulariz-

significant in this context. The notion of a “pas-

ing painting program.

sageway” reflects not only the eighteenth-century

take on the structure—which served as the city’s



Like the surviving two-story charnel houses,

The relative precision with which Schmidt

Though difficult to decipher, Schmidt’s view

Schäffer’s legend, which identifies the lower-

renders St. Jakob suggests that his image of St.

library beginning in the mid-sixteenth century—

Michael’s is for the most part trustworthy. Early

but also its likely use in the fifteenth century. Like

modern artists, however, often invented details

the lower story of the charnel-house chapel in

such as the tracery forms in the windows. Those

Kiedrich (fig. 49), the ossuary of the Rothenburg

shown in the windows of the east end of St. Jakob

charnel house was divided into two spaces: the

correspond in lancet number but not in decorative

stacked bones were relegated to one side of the

Riemenschneider in Rothenburg

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Fig. 49  Interior of the lower ossuary of St. Michael in Kiedrich toward the east.

ossuary chamber, while the other side was used for

chapel.47 Within this context, the altar dedications


offered reminders not only of death but also of the

promised resurrection and judgment to come.

In this location, the skeletal remains were shel-

tered by the upper-story chapel both physically and

The construction of the west end of St. Jakob,

spiritually. Here, the chaplain of St. Michael held at

from 1453 to 1471, added to the already strong

least four services a week, periodically descending

connections between the parish church and the

the stairs to sprinkle the remains with holy water.44

freestanding charnel house. Indeed, the archi-

For these services the charnel house in Rothenburg

tectural ties between St. Michael and the west

had its own set of vestments and liturgical fur-

end of St. Jakob, with its elevated Chapel of the

nishings, listed in an inventory from 1543 as “four

Holy Blood, are so strong that early scholarship

liturgical vestments with all accessories and four

on Rothenburg proposed the Niclaus Eselers as

corporals, which belong to the blessed holdings of

architects of both buildings.48 Nevertheless, since

the charnel house.”45

the Eselers are not documented in connection with

The two altars of the elevated chapel—one dedi-

Rothenburg until 1449, it is unlikely that they had a

cated to Saint Michael, the protector of souls, in the

role in the design of the chapel. It is, however, clear

east, and the second dedicated to the Holy Cross

that they took into account the earlier chapel in

in the north—befitted the shielding role of the

their design of the western pilgrimage chapel of St.

charnel house. Sources indicate that on All Saints’

Jakob after arriving on-site.

Day a memorial service for the dead was said in

the Chapel of St. Michael, and it is likely that on

Holy Blood, were linked through their design in

the following day, dedicated to All Souls, the chapel

three striking ways. First, their position on axis

also featured prominently. These were just two of

at opposite ends of the parochial complex set

several feast days on which celebrations included

them up as counterpoints. Second, they related in

processions to and through the charnel-house

composition, sharing the similar spatial scheme


The two chapels, of St. Michael and of the

The Urban Complex

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of an elevated late Gothic chapel positioned above

miracle-working blood relic had no permanent

an open passageway. Third, each chapel included

home, and it is possible that St. Michael served as

a projecting pulpit, ideally suited for the display

a temporary location for its display. Clearly, it was

of relics before a crowd. For St. Michael, this was

in the city’s interest (financially and otherwise) to

the outdoor pulpit set in its western facade; for

keep pilgrimage to the relic active during construc-

the Chapel of the Holy Blood, it was the pulpit

tion. Ellringen’s dated miracle accounts indicate

that projected at the center of the western gallery

that the relic performed miraculous healings into

within the church (figs. 9 and 43). Considering

the 1380s and then again, after a pause, beginning

that processions—such as the one held annually on

in the 1430s.53 This pause in recorded miracles

Church Consecration Day—periodically charted a

corresponds closely to the period of construction

path from one chapel to the other, medieval visitors

on the two-story Chapel of St. Michael and makes

would have noticed these connections.

it likely that the chapel served as a temporary


At Kiedrich the outdoor pulpit is the most

continued to feature in processions of the relic, as

as well (fig. 47). The platform sits beneath a

in Kiedrich, after the completion of the new Chapel

deep ogival arch, has a tracery balustrade, and is

of the Holy Blood.

accessible through a door in the north wall of the

upper-story chapel. Friedrich Wilhelm Fischer has

construction chronology corroborates the impres-

convincingly argued that the two-story Kiedrich

sion given by its formal appearance, disposition,

chapel related to a tradition of medieval Heil-

and function: that it was closely integrated into

tumskirchen, or reliquary churches, intended to

the urban complex of Rothenburg. It was built by

display relics from an elevated position in front of

the city between the completion of the nave and

a gathered crowd. On important feast days the

the start of work on the west end of St. Jakob, as

relics of Saint Valentine were taken from the parish

attested by a series of surviving textual sources.

church in procession through the churchyard and

Unfortunately, the financial records of the parish

displayed from the outdoor pulpit of St. Michael.52

fabrica do not survive for the period of the chapel’s

In this elevated location they were visible to a large

principal construction campaigns.54 The first doc-


ument proving a sense of progress on the project

is the record of the chapel’s first consecration, on




home for the miracle-working relic. Perhaps it even

striking exterior feature of its principal facade

Constructed between 1434 and 1444 and

What we know of the Chapel of St. Michael’s

consecrated in 1445, the Chapel of St. Michael

October 25, 1411. This included an indulgence of

in Kiedrich was an exact contemporary of the

forty days for heavy sins and one year for lighter

Chapel of St. Michael in Rothenburg, and the

sins of visitors to the chapel on the anniversary of

charnel-house chapel in the Franconian Reichsstadt

its consecration (the Feast of St. Michael), on listed

may have had a similar function of relic display.

feast days, or on Sunday.55 Though a consecration

Between the destruction of the old Chapel of the

does not always correspond to the completion of

Body and Blood of Christ around 1388 and the

a building project, here it probably indicates that

completion of the new Chapel of the Holy Blood

work was under way and that an altar had been

in the west end of St. Jakob in 1471, Rothenburg’s

established. By 1435 the upper-story chapel must

Riemenschneider in Rothenburg

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have been well advanced, because in that year the

final consecration ceremony in 1485. The resultant

two-time widow Selena Langmantel, to commem-

program and architecture formed a tightly knit

orate her late husbands, made an endowment to

complex, with a structured visual and ideological

religious institutions throughout Rothenburg that

dialogue unfolding in the space between St. Jakob

included services in the Chapel of St. Michael.

and St. Michael.

Langmantel’s bequest for the celebration of a Mass

in perpetuity was confirmed in May 1449, by the

fabrica that the Chapel of St. Michael continued

commandery of the Teutonic Order in Rothenburg

to be considered part of the parish fabric after its

and Bishop Gottfried IV of Würzburg.

completion. References to the charnel house punc-

tuate accounts related to the Church of St. Jakob,



In the same year, 1449, an inscription tablet was

It is clear from the financial records of the

placed in the northern wall of the upper chapel to

to the urban complex, and to a wider network of

commemorate a second consecration and indul-

chapels throughout the city. For example, an entry

gence. This time it was Auxiliary Bishop Hermann

recorded on October 12, 1488, three years after

von Akkon representing Bishop Gottfried IV of

the consecration of the urban complex, notes “2

Würzburg who, on April 27, consecrated the chapel

flor 3 lb 5 d for glass to be installed in the parish

to the patron saints Michael, Gregor, Lucia, Ottilia,

church, on the charnel house, and in the Chapel

Jodocus, and Christopher. The celebration of the

of Our Lady, which the weather and the hail

consecration was set for Quasimodo Sunday (the

destroyed.”60 Thus repairs on the windows of three

Sunday after Easter) and again included an indul-

separate buildings (St. Jakob, St. Michael, and the

gence of forty days for heavy sins and one year for

Marian chapel on the Milchmarkt) damaged in a

lighter sins.

hailstorm were included in a single payment. Both

during the initial construction and for later repairs,


Though they cannot provide an absolute

chronology for the building campaigns of the

the same craftsmen worked on St. Michael and St.

chapel, these dates are nevertheless points of

Jakob, and expenses for work on St. Michael con-

reference for its construction. Accordingly, the

tinued to be seamlessly interspersed among entries

Chapel of St. Michael was built on the heels of

related to St. Jakob and the parish’s other chapels.61

the nave of St. Jakob and completed just before

Funded by the same means, constructed by the

work began on the west end of that church. In

same teams of masons, and administered by the

other words, what appears to be a halt in the

same city-appointed caretakers as served the parish

construction of the parish church, when St. Jakob

church, the Chapel of St. Michael was a distinct

is considered alone, is instead a shift in the focus

yet integral component of the urban complex of

of construction to complete the Charnel-House


Chapel of St. Michael before turning to the western pilgrimage chapel of the complex.59 Considered in this way, St. Michael must be seen as one compo-

The Altarpiece of the Holy Cross

nent in an uninterrupted campaign on the urban complex of Rothenburg during the century from

Three to five years after the last pieces of the Altar-

the laying of the nave cornerstone in 1373 to the

piece of the Holy Blood were mounted in the west

The Urban Complex

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Fig. 50  Holy Cross Altarpiece by Tilman Riemenschneider now in Detwang. Fig. 51  Reconstruction of the Holy Cross Altarpiece now in Detwang. Courtesy of Eike and Karin Oellermann.

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end of St. Jakob, Riemenschneider carved another

altarpiece spanned 4.09 meters (13 ft. 5 in.). The

altarpiece for the city of Rothenburg with the Cru-

superstructure, forfeited when the altarpiece was

cifixion as its central scene. Though the original

installed in Detwang, would have added substantial

location of this altarpiece has been debated, I argue

height to the retable as well, and with it, the Oell-

that it most likely stood on the altar of the Holy

ermanns estimate the retable once rose to a total

Cross in the upper-story chapel of St. Michael.

height of 5.10 meters (16 ft. 8 ¾ in.) (fig. 51).63

Recontextualizing the altarpiece, now in Detwang,

within its original setting in Rothenburg demon-

date of the retable, the current understanding of

strates that the iconography of Riemenschneider’s

Riemenschneider’s stylistic development generally

composition was designed to complement both the

leads scholars to place it between 1508 and 1513.64

spatial logic of the charnel-house chapel and the

The altarpiece in Detwang certainly seems to be

broader thematic program of the urban complex.

the work of a mature artist at the height of his

achievement. The crisp yet deep and graceful folds

Today the Holy Cross Altarpiece by Riemen-

Though scholarship is divided as to the exact

schneider stands crowded into the small square

that articulate the drapery of Mary and the other

choir of the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul in

mourners (fig. 52), their soft fleshy hands, and the

Detwang (fig. 50). The central shrine of the

painful naturalism with which Christ’s feet are

triptych encases an image of Christ crucified

depicted nailed to the cross evince both a technical

with two figural groups huddled near the base of

and an artistic mastery of the medium. The heavily

the cross—mourning women and Saint John the

clothed figures at the foot of the cross contrast with

Evangelist on Christ’s right, scowling men on his

Christ’s slender, molded body above. With drawn

left. A man in a military shirt and floppy hat in

brow, sunken cheeks, and parted lips, he appears to

this second group seems to stare intently at Christ’s

breath his last as his head falls forward (fig. 53). The

knee. This misguided gaze is neither prophetic nor

delicate creases of the loincloth pulled taut across

programmatic but rather the result of cutting the

his hips transition to deeper folds at its fluttering

central piece down in width when it was relocated

ends. The quiet sorrow expressed in the huddled

to Detwang. The wings of the altarpiece, displaying

figures at the base of the cross, visible even in the

low-relief scenes of the Mount of Olives (left) and

concerned faces of the soldiers grouped around

the Resurrection (right), preserve their original

Caiaphus, gives way to an airy space above, in

form and therefore, when added together, as they

which Christ’s final breath appears a release born

would be when closed, provide the original mea-

upward by a breeze that catches his loincloth and

surements of the central shrine. According to the

once also buoyed the wings of attendant angels.

reconstruction proposal made by Eike and Karin

Oellermann after their restoration of the altar-

further the sense of transition from weighty

piece in the early 1990s, the central shrine, now

solemnity to airy reprieve. The left scene, of the

forty-four centimeters narrower, once included

Mount of Olives, is scoured by sharp folds and

three additional standing figures, a kneeling figure

jagged rocks. The sleeping trio of apostles in the

of Mary Magdalene at the base of the cross, and

foreground fills the frame, creating a dense group

angels surrounding Christ. With open wings, the

behind which Jesus appears isolated yet crowded


The reliefs on the retable’s moveable wings

The Urban Complex

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Fig. 52  Detail of the mourning group from the central shrine of the Holy Cross Altarpiece now in Detwang.


by rocky outcrops (figs. 50 and 54). He kneels,

the subtle torsion in Christ’s body creates momen-

hands folded in prayer, and gazes upward to a now-

tum as he steps forward, and on to the lower right

lost apparition. The composition of the right wing,

corner, where an awakened guard kneels and

depicting Christ’s resurrection from the tomb, is

raises his hand as if to shield his eyes from Christ.

strikingly different. The positioning of figures and

Conceived as a tightly knit triptych, the principal

features of the landscape creates a sense of space

scenes of the altarpiece not only narrate a sequence

that surrounds the frontal figure of Christ (fig. 55).

of Christological stories but also convey an emo-

He strides toward the viewer, his loose drapery

tional trajectory from the painful anticipation of

billowing out behind and to his left. The flag hung

Christ’s death at the Mount of Olives, through the

from his staff, too, is caught in the gust of wind

sorrow and release of the Crucifixion, to the vital

that blows from the viewer’s left to right across the

wonder experienced at the Resurrection.

scene. A diagonal axis, accentuated by the strong

line of Christ’s tomb slab, flows from the rear left

published a source pertaining to the Detwang

corner of the composition, where the three Marys

altarpiece that proved the retable once stood in

appear to enter through a gate, to the center, where

a church in Rothenburg: the financial ledgers of

In 1925 Paul Schattenmann discovered and

Riemenschneider in Rothenburg

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Fig. 53  Detail of Christ on the cross from the central shrine of the Holy Cross Altarpiece now in Detwang.

Detwang include an entry from 1653/54 reporting

the Charnel-House Chapel of St. Michael and the

that an altarpiece was “dismantled, brought down,

church of the Dominican convent, which once

and reassembled” in Detwang. Since Detwang

stood two blocks to the northwest of St. Jakob but

lies in the Tauber River valley less than two miles

was torn down in 1812.67

(about 2 km) from Rothenburg, this source

confirms that the altarpiece originally stood in

what we can reconstruct of the scale of the two

the hilltop city and that it was disassembled and

proposed locations, the Chapel of St. Michael

reconstructed in altered form for the small Church

is the more likely original setting.68 The textual

of Sts. Peter and Paul.66 The two primary contend-

sources indicate that an altar dedicated to the

ers for its original installation in Rothenburg are

archangel and endowed with a benefice existed in


Given both the documentary evidence and

The Urban Complex

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Fig. 54  Detail of the sleeping apostles from the left wing of the Holy Cross Altarpiece now in Detwang.

the chapel by 1449; that in 1479, 1503, and 1522 an

the altarpiece now in Detwang would not have fit

altar of the Holy Cross (“altare sanctae crucis”)

beneath the west gallery of the Dominican convent

was the location for the presentation, investiture,

church but would have had ample space within the

and collation of the chaplains of St. Michael; that

upper-story chapel of St. Michael.72

in 1555 an altar mensa was dismantled there; that

in 1653 or 1654 the Riemenschneider altarpiece in

menschneider altarpiece now in Detwang made

question was brought down from somewhere in

two discoveries that also seem to corroborate its

Rothenburg to its current location in Detwang; that

original placement in the Chapel of St. Michael

in 1747 Johann Georg Bezold recorded the presence

in Rothenburg. First, the surface on which the

of an altar mensa in the upper-story chapel of St.

altarpiece stands has a polygonal shape—effectively

Michael; and that the Chapel of St. Michael stood

a rectangle with the two back corners cut to give

until its demolition between 1804 and 1806.

it an unusual six-sided form. This may relate to its

intended placement against the wall of a polygonal




Though both the Chapel of St. Michael and

The last team of restorers to work on the Rie-

the Dominican convent church were torn down

space. Second, instead of having its own base, the

in the early nineteenth century, the buildings that

central shrine of the altarpiece sits directly on the

once abutted them survive and preserve valuable

predella as a kind of hutch, a construction unusual

material evidence (figs. 56 and 57). This makes

for such altarpieces. The absence of a bottom for

possible a rough reconstruction of the scale of both

the shrine would seem to indicate that it had to

the Chapel of St. Michael, with its two individual

be transported to its destined location in smaller

stories, and the western gallery of the Dominican

pieces and constructed on-site. As the Oellermanns

convent church, beneath which its Corpus Christi

have pointed out, these two discoveries can best be

altar most likely stood (figs. 58 and 59).71 These

explained by an original location in the elevated

reconstruction attempts support a conclusion that

octagonal chapel of St. Michael.73

Riemenschneider in Rothenburg

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Fig. 55  Resurrection scene on the right wing of the Holy Cross Altarpiece now in Detwang.

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(clockwise from top left) Fig. 56  Partially surviving wall of the Charnel-House Chapel of St. Michael in Rothenburg. Fig. 57  Aerial view of the location of St. Michael in Rothenburg, with the surviving staircase and partial wall. Fig. 58  Color-washed ink drawing of the Dominican convent church in Rothenburg by Johann Ludwig Schäffer, 1738. © Stadtarchiv Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Fig. 59  Surviving convent building with upper and lower doors to the destroyed Dominican convent church.

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The preponderance of evidence, thus, points to

(fig. 31); the Altarpiece of the Holy Cross begins

the upper-story chapel of St. Michael as the most

with a repetition of the Mount of Olives, takes the

likely original location for the altarpiece now in

Crucifixion for its central scene, and ends with the

Detwang. In Rothenburg the Holy Cross Altarpiece

Resurrection (fig. 50).

would have suited well the spatial and ideological

program of both the charnel-house chapel and the

of Olives scene, rather than redundant, would have

larger parochial complex. Through its iconography,

served as a transition that insisted on the close

the retable offered common artistic conceits of the

relationship between the two retables, encouraging

time, but the location in St. Michael would have

visitors to read them as part of the same program

endowed them with additional local relevance. The

(figs. 60 and 61). It is true that Riemenschneider’s

program, centered on Christ’s death and resur-

workshop often repeated compositions in almost

rection, offered general hope of life after death,

serial fashion, a practice that has been investi-

but positioned above the skeletal remains in the

gated from the standpoint of workshop process.75

ossuary, this imagery would have read as a more

However, setting aside the practical and economic

specific promise of salvation for the local commu-

reasons for such repetition, the installation of two

nity. Paired with an altar dedicated to the angelic

altarpieces with a strong compositional over-

protector Saint Michael, the chapel served as a

lap within the same urban complex would have

kind of local Golgotha, with the dead taking the

made a visual statement. For one, it means that

place of Adam’s bones beneath the cross. Given

the representatives of the city who commissioned

that the cross reliquary containing Rothenburg’s

both pieces within a matter of years and specified

Holy Blood also included a piece of “the stone on

the iconographic program of each retable chose to

which the cross of Christ was erected,” it is possible

repeat a scene. For another, in returning to the same

that the Crucifixion scene carried additional local

workshop for both commissions, the city would

significance by calling to mind a specific object in

clearly have intended a stylistic affinity between

the parish’s holdings.

the two pieces. This is all the more apparent in

that both altarpieces were never polychromed but


In addition to the importance accorded the

In such a pairing, the repetition of the Mount

altarpiece by its spatial setting, its relationship to

instead left holzsichtig (literally “wood-visible”), an

other components of the complex, in particular

uncommon choice at the time. The resultant pair

to the Altarpiece of the Holy Blood, would have

resonated strongly in everything from details in the

created a unique program found only in Rothen-

treatment of hair, hands, folds, and facial types to

burg. In the parish complex at the heart of the

compositional choices, to the evocation of a con-

city, the Altarpiece of the Holy Cross in the upper

templative mood. These affinities would not have

chapel of St. Michael would effectively have con-

been lost on the patrons or on visitors who joined

tinued the program of the Holy Blood Altarpiece

in ritual activities linking both spaces.

in the west end of St. Jakob: the triptych of the

Holy Blood Altarpiece begins with the Entry into

iconography of each altarpiece would nevertheless

Jerusalem, then shows the Last Supper in its central

have been uniquely suited to its individual setting:

shrine, and concludes with the Mount of Olives

the Holy Blood Altarpiece, with its assertion

Although strongly related to each other, the

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Fig. 60  Mount of Olives scene on the right wing of the Holy Blood Altarpiece in Rothenburg. Fig. 61  Mount of Olives scene on the left wing of the Holy Cross Altarpiece now in Detwang.

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of the origin of the Eucharistic feast in the Last

field within which visitors experienced artistic

Supper, displayed the city’s miracle-working blood

ensembles as intentional programs, despite their

relic and accompanied the weekly celebration of

aggregation over centuries.

ocular Communion; the Holy Cross Altarpiece,

with its focus on the death and resurrection of

urban complex of Rothenburg encouraged visitors

Christ, promised protection and resurrection for

to recognize central themes that repeated in its

the dead in the lower ossuary. At the heart of both

different visual environments. The combination

altarpieces was the promise of salvation through

of four unusual features in Rothenburg’s parish

the body and blood of Christ, though one was

center—the opposed apses of St. Jakob, its west-end

addressed primarily to the living community of

chapel elevated over a passageway, the location of

Rothenburg (Holy Blood), the other to the dead

the freestanding charnel house to the east of the

(Holy Cross), and one foregrounded a specific

main apse of St. Jakob, and the parallel east–west

healing relic of Christ’s blood, while the other

altars of the Holy Blood and Holy Cross, set in

emphasized his sacrificed body.

their respective buildings’ second stories—com-

The spatial system of the architecture in the

pelled a consideration of the spatial, figurative, and devotional complex as a whole.

The Artistic Program of the Urban Complex

The themes encountered in Riemenschneider’s

Altarpieces of the Holy Blood and Holy Cross were Although not planned in a unified and prescriptive

not newly introduced by these pieces; they were

way from the start, the urban parochial complex

woven throughout the wider program of the urban

in Rothenburg nevertheless followed a spatial,

complex long before Riemenschneider first came to

functional, and iconographic logic that unified its

Rothenburg. Of course, it is impossible to recon-

disparate elements into an evocative multimedia

struct the full artistic landscape of the city’s parish

program. While art history as a discipline, and

center. It once included hundreds of monuments

medieval art history in particular, has tended to

marking burial sites, and more ephemeral instru-

organize objects by medium, medieval people

ments of commemoration such as candles and

experienced and navigated artistic programs

fabrics that have long disappeared. Sources indicate

through iconographic themes. The late medieval

that by 1807 at least fourteen metal plaques had

viewer undoubtedly understood that a Mount of

been removed from the Church of St. Jakob, and

Olives in stone and a Mount of Olives in wood

in 1825 several more bronze epitaphs weighing a

were related objects. Like other elaborate ensem-

total of 6.5 centners (about 325 kg) were sold to a

bles, the one in Rothenburg offered a web of

bell maker in Nuremberg.77 Numerous paintings,

diverse correspondences, which integrated earlier

too, were removed from the church at this time,

commissions into a continually developing pro-

and in 1854 Karl Alexander von Heideloff received

gram. Following the art and spaces of Rothenburg’s

permission to further clear the church of altar

urban complex thematically allows us to recuperate

tables, galleries, and all postmedieval additions.78

associations that may have been more apparent

The material evidence of the rich tradition of com-

in the past, providing an idea of the intricate

memoration and intercession in Rothenburg has


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Fig. 62  High altar and sacrament niche in the east choir of St. Jakob in Rothenburg.


thus largely vanished. The exception is a number

Jakob was built, in the third quarter of the fifteenth

of monumental works that were retained over the

century, it was dedicated simply to the Holy Blood,

centuries and that can still provide a glimpse of the

though the earlier chapel it replaced had been

original artistic program.

dedicated to the body and blood of Christ.79 This

shift in nomenclature not only underscores the rise

Two interconnected themes, in particular, seem

to have dominated the late medieval artistic pro-

in importance of the local blood relic but also hints

gram, judging by these survivals: one, the emphasis

at a spatial restructuring of the theme.

already noted on the body and blood of Christ,

and two, the focus on death and the promise of

presence of Christ existed in each species of the


Mass and in every particle of consecrated bread

and wine.80 This meant that a reference to one

The theme of the Holy Body and Blood of

The theory of concomitance held that the total

Christ was an old one in Rothenburg, but from the

substance sufficed to recall the full promise of the

last quarter of the fourteenth century through the

Eucharist. In late medieval Rothenburg, however,

first quarter of the sixteenth century, it rose to new

it is notable that blood was stressed alongside

prominence there. When the new west end of St.

more ubiquitous images of Christ’s sacrificed body.

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In the particular local context, this insistence on body and blood recalled the active power of blood-become-relic.

Already in the late fourteenth century, an elab-

orate visual program was added to the east choir of St. Jakob to incorporate this theme. About 1390 the city-appointed administration of the church oversaw the commission of two prominent pieces to refurbish the choir. Although individual donors may have been involved in funding these projects, their prominent and integral locations would have necessitated the approval of the appropriate authorities. Together, the new sacrament niche and stained-glass windows visualize the promise contained in the body and blood of Christ. The elaborately sculpted sacrament niche in the north wall of the choir is the more conventional of the two additions, articulating the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist primarily through a focus on his body (fig. 62).81 But one of the two windows added to the choir terminus at the same time is very unusual and notably highlights the Eucharist in both species, bread and wine, with a particular

Fig. 63  Detail of the middle register of the south stained-glass window in the east choir of St. Jakob in Rothenburg.

focus on the active role of Christ’s blood.

The unique program of the south stained-glass

choir window elaborates the redemptive power of

The many visual repetitions between the scenes

Eucharistic bread and wine by connecting them

of the window invite the viewer’s gaze to wander

directly to the body and blood of Christ on the

through the composition, constantly revisiting

cross. From top to bottom, the window shows

groups to find new parallels.

God the Father, the Old Testament story of manna,

Abraham, a priest celebrating Mass (hereafter

vertically aligned representations of Christ on the

called the middle register), purgatory, and the

cross. The first appears in the large Crucifixion

Crucifixion (hereafter called the bottom regis-

scene of the bottom register. The other two fall

ter). Detlef Knipping has argued that the window

in the middle register, in the scene of the priest

must be read from bottom to top. However, the

celebrating Mass: Christ on the cross appears in

complex web of visual parallels and thematic

the depicted altarpiece and again sprouting from

correspondences throughout the window seems to

the host elevated by the celebrating priest (fig. 63).

promote a holistic reading rather than a linear one.

Therefore, already in the repeated imagery of the



The central axis of the window includes three

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Crucifixion, the historic body of Christ on the

in prayer, but instead of the devils typical of repre-

cross (the large Crucifixion) is related to repre-

sentations of hell, angels administer to the tortured.

sentations of Christ in figural art (the depicted

These angels pour liquid for the penitent to drink

altarpiece) and to his real presence in the Eucharist

(on the left) and carry purified souls upward (on

(the elevated host).

the right). An inscription bounding purgatory

states: “The sacred offerings of Saint Gregory bene-

The bottom register of the window, in par-

ticular, relates the benefits of the sacraments to

fit the souls.”86 The souls are thus said to profit from

Christ’s sacrifice (fig. 64). Flanking the large image

the offerings of the Mass, a concise statement of the

of Christ crucified that fills the central panel of

window’s theme: salvation through the Eucharist.

this register are scenes of Mass and baptism. From

Within Rothenburg’s parish church, the thematic

Christ’s hands, nailed to the cross, emerge two

program of this unusual stained-glass window

thick streams of blood that flow to the flanking

would have resonated with the liturgical celebra-

panels. On the left, a priest catches the blood in

tions of the Mass as well as with the pilgrimage to

a chalice he holds aloft during the celebration of

the sacramental relic of the Holy Blood. After all,

Mass. On the right, the blood stream lands in a

the healing relic of Rothenburg was three drops

large baptismal font in which a living child is being

of Eucharistic wine that actively protected its

baptized. Around Christ float angels, some carry-


ing souls of the purgatorial dead, or Armeseelen,

in their arms. One angel lifts up a praying soul

through materials of Christ’s body to the story of

to make contact with the blood that flows from

his death and resurrection and to the promise of

Christ’s side wound.

life after death offered to all other Christian souls.


Throughout the program, the blood of Christ

This program also connected powerfully

Indeed, the south stained-glass window of St. Jakob

assumes an active role. It flows directly from

rises alongside a somewhat older central window

Christ’s wound into the chalice of the celebrat-

(ca. 1340–50) showing scenes of Christ’s life and

ing priest, making a strong visual argument for

death, thereby presenting the parallel visually. The

transubstantiation. The consecrated wine is the

axial window is composed of four lancets with a

blood of Christ shed on the cross, and it is through

typological frame of Old Testament prophets who

the outpouring of this blood that the souls held by

stand in fantastic architectural tabernacles and

angels are purified. This power of purification is

turn toward the central narrative scenes. Individ-

reiterated in the scene of baptism. Here, the blood

ual banderols identify these witnesses by name,

of Christ on the cross becomes the water of bap-

while a continuous red band carries their biblical

tism that purifies a living child as well as the souls

texts around the borders of the window. With two

of the dead.

scenes to a row—read from left to right and bottom

to top—the sequence of central panels shows the


The rare representation of purgatory and its

accompanying inscription articulate the stakes of

Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity, the

the window’s message. Purgatory, crowded with figures in a fiery setting, divides the bottom register from the middle one. Nude souls fold their hands


Fig. 64  Bottom register of the south stained-glass window in the east choir of St. Jakob in Rothenburg.

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Adoration of the Magi, the Flight into Egypt, the

Supper in the central window and again among

Baptism of Christ, the Last Supper, the Mount

the manna in the parallel register of the south

of Olives, the Betrayal of Christ, the Trial Before

window—demonstrate the extent to which the

Herod, the Flagellation of Christ, the Crown-

newer commission responded in detail to elements

ing with Thorns, Christ Carrying the Cross, the

already present within the artistic environment.

Crucifixion, the Deposition, the Burial, and finally,

The resonance among artworks in the newly

beneath delicate Gothic microarchitecture, the

refurbished choir crafted a program that was site

Resurrection and the Harrowing of Hell. The four

specific both in its particular combinations and in

Evangelists at the bottom and two angels at the top

its engagement with the local devotional context.

of the window complete the program.

The beliefs espoused were commonplace, but

their manifestations in Rothenburg were new and

It is notable that the widow terminates with the

Resurrection and the gates of hell. In the topmost


level of the lancets, just beneath the tracery, a red

text band forms a basket arch with the inscribed

like that of the east choir, could extend beyond

words “Resureccio Domini” (Resurrection of the

the single environment and resonate across the

Lord). This text gives the culminating theme of the

broader complex. Sometime after the glazing of the

window, Christ’s resurrection from the dead. The

central window but before the glazing of its south-

figure of God the Father, present in many compa-

ern counterpart, circa 1360–80,87 a novel sculptural

rable window programs, and Christ’s Ascension

composition was added to the exterior of the choir,

into Heaven are absent. In both final scenes Christ

which ultimately drew the themes of the interior

holds a staff with a golden cross on it. The cross

program beyond the walls of the church and into

has trilobed termini and resembles the reliquary

the space of the cemetery. Positioned against the

cross now set in the altarpiece of the Holy Blood

exterior surface of the central choir window stands

in the west end of the church. The window thus

a Man of Sorrows—the popular late medieval

emphasizes Christ’s death and resurrection, with

image type of the resurrected Christ displaying his

a possible reference to the local blood relic and a

wounds—that summarizes the ideological content

reminder of the souls in hell (or purgatory) await-

of the program in stained glass. Though two coats

ing their liberation.

of arms at its base identify the figure as an indi-

vidual donation, the intricate incorporation of the

The addition of the south stained-glass widow

The implications of an artistic program,

acted as a gloss on this older central window,

group into the architecture of the church, before

with its program of narrative scenes from Christ’s

the axial stained-glass window, again suggests that

life. The idea of salvation through Christ’s sacri-

the church fabrica must have approved and over-

fice, with which the central window culminates,

seen the installation of this prominent addition.88

receives expanded treatment in the south window,

linking the promise more directly to the institution

central window of the choir is true to the medieval

of the Mass and the agency of Christ’s blood. Subtle

original, although both the original stone setting

correspondences between the two windows—such

that delicately supported the figure in front of the

as the inclusion of a pretzel on the table of the Last

stained glass and the life-size sculpture itself have

The position of the Man of Sorrows before the

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Fig. 65  Man of Sorrows group on the exterior of the east choir of St. Jakob in Rothenburg.

been replaced with limestone copies.89 Today the

transitional position is emphasized by the stepped

life-size figure of the Man of Sorrows forms the

platform of openwork tracery on which the figures

center of a cluster of sculptures, but only one other


figure, that of Christ at the whipping post directly

above the Man of Sorrows, demonstrably belonged

in the region. The sculpted program of the

to the medieval ensemble (fig. 65). Centered

sacrament niche of St. Sebald in Nurnberg, for

on the eastern terminus of the church, the group

instance, stretches up into the window zone, where

stands before the molding dividing the socle

Christ appears in the Second Coming, framed by

from the window zone. It thus bridges the strong

an ornate arch and backlit by the window glass.

horizontal band of the lower wall and aligns with

The striking placement of the Man of Sorrows

the vertical stretch of the choir windows.91 This

group in Rothenburg may similarly have carried


Though rare, such a position is not unknown

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With a striking directness, the Man of Sorrows

displays both his wounds, the evidence of his suffering and death, and his vitality, the proof of his resurrection. Although strongly weathered, the preserved original still retains traces of the thick drops of blood that spill from Christ’s open wounds (fig. 66). Christ holds his right hand, marked by its deep nail wound and petallike blood drops, close to his side wound, emphasizing the latter through gesture.92 Together with the smaller figure of Christ at the whipping post, the Rothenburg Man of Sorrows addressed its audience and the medieval cemetery with a timeless visualization of Christ’s suffering.

Gerhard Weilandt has argued that the medi-

eval Man of Sorrows was not simply an object for human pietas (sympathy) but represented Christ as the embodiment of divine misericordia (mercy).93 Often included in epitaphs or positioned in proximity to graves, the Man of Sorrows became a popular motif of memoria.94 Anniversary-day processions, such as those described earlier, visited gravesites while reciting the Miserere, which asked Fig. 66  Original Man of Sorrows figure. © RothenburgMuseum.

God for mercy for the dead. The image of the Man of Sorrows effectively made permanent this ritually vocalized appeal.


iconographic meaning by underscoring Christ’s

Repetition of the Man of Sorrows within a

resurrection and the liminal period between his

single church program was common. In the pre-

death and ascension. Not only does Christ ascend

served furnishings of St. Jakob in Rothenburg, the

from the earth-bound zone of stone to the ethereal

Man of Sorrows appears several times: in addition

realm of light represented by the glass, but the

to his position facing the cemetery, he is found

group inverts the traditional relationship between

in the crest of Riemenschneider’s Holy Blood

artistic media: whereas stone generally holds glass,

Altarpiece, beside the sculpted sacrament niche

here glass seems to support stone. This inversion

of the east choir, in the crest of Friedrich Herlin’s

and the play on the contrast between the solid mass

retable for the high altar, as a painted half figure on

of the stone sculpture and the fragile medium of

the back of the same retable, and as a stone figure

glass may offer a symbolic-material iteration of the

in the north side aisle of the nave. Here, then, was

promise that out of death will come life.

an image type that connected two primary themes

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of the church: Christ’s body and blood, particu-

program and gently shift the nature of the assem-

larly as related to the Eucharist, and the promise

blage can be demonstrated with one further

of resurrection. Although each Man of Sorrows

example. A figure of Saint Michael slaying a dragon

figure in Rothenburg was made at a different time,

now stands on its console beside the sacristy door

by a different artist, and for a particular setting,

in the choir of St. Jakob (fig. 69).98 This figure of

together they formed an iconographic program

the archangel was an individual commission that

that stretched throughout the urban complex.

was integrated into the thematic program not long

Repetition was not redundant but rather served as

after the final consecration of the Charnel-House

a means of organization that punctuated the medi-

Chapel of St. Michael. In its original installation

eval Christian spaces with familiar image types.

within the easternmost bay of the north side aisle

of St. Jakob, “over the door behind the pulpit,” the

By the end of the fifteenth century, several

monumental stone groups—including the Man

polychromed statue, console, and now-lost accom-

of Sorrows (ca. 1360–80), a Mount of Olives (ca.

panying inscription plaque formed a group that

1450–60 and 1505–7),95 a now-lost Crucifixion

commemorated the burgher Michael Offner, who

(ca. 1320–30), and a Second Coming (ca. 1310)

died in 1462 and was buried nearby,99 but it also

showing Christ in Majesty flanked by trum-

had broader significance.

pet-blowing angels above a Lichterker, or lantern

of the dead97—were positioned throughout the

asked for God’s mercy for the “respectable Michael

churchyard, promising the residents of Rothen-

Offner,” took the form of a metal trefoil with a coat

burg mercy and resurrection through the example

of arms at its center. In 1462 it joined a group of

of Christ (figs. 67 and 68). This program was

similar, often polylobed pieces that commemorated

articulated in three-dimensional sculpture: in the

specific dead within the church. Indeed, the fact

tactile and earthy medium of stone. The biblical

that many of the documented commemorative

history told in the ethereal medium of glass in the

inscriptions were inscribed as trefoils or quatrefoils

east choir of St. Jakob became more physical as it

shows that beyond serving as individual texts to

addressed the churchyard. At the same time, glass

be read, such inscriptions also functioned as visual

retained a symbolic role in the exterior program as

emblems—nonfigural programmatic reminders—

a nonfigural symbol of the divine. By the time the

of commemoration that worked collectively.

two-story Charnel-House Chapel of St. Michael

was constructed at the east end of the cemetery, the

of the north side aisle, the statue of Saint Michael

artistic topography of the parish churchyard must

extended the saint’s protection over a group of

have read like a miniature Jerusalem. The chapel

similar inscriptions and graves located within the

itself contributed to the complex eschatological

parish church, particularly over a dense cluster in

program that mediated between the living and the

the eastern bays of the nave side aisles.100 Indeed,

dead, the waiting ground of the cemetery and the

a spatial system seems to have guided the organi-

day of resurrection and judgment to come.

zation of individual monuments within the urban

complex of Rothenburg, demonstrating that even


How each addition to the visual field of the

urban complex could resonate with the broader

The accompanying inscription plaque, which

From its elevated position in the eastern bay

small individual commissions were subject to

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Fig. 67  Sculptural groups on the exterior of St. Jakob in Rothenburg that once overlooked the cemetery.

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Fig. 68  Original Christ in Majesty figure. © RothenburgMuseum. Photo by Hellmuth Möhring.

notions of appropriateness or decorum.101 Epi-

advance of private donations into the straight bays

taphs and tombstones filled the nave, clustering

of the choir—which the choir stalls and possibly a

especially in the eastern bays of the side aisles;

rood screen delineated as the realm of the Teu-

the east choir, by contrast, seems to have been

tonic Order104—may be taken as another visual

restricted to a particular form of commemorative

expression of the shift in power from the religious

object: a round wooden plaque commemorating

order to the city government, but it also points to

a dead civilian, often painted with both an image

the existence of unrecorded regulations, which

and an inscription. The first of these so-called

delineated the possibilities for individual commis-

death shields, in German Totenschilder, known

sions. Similarly, the consoles positioned around the

from Rothenburg sources dated to 1400.102 Around

eastern piers of St. Jakob, designed and built with

1420, at a time when the nave of St. Jakob was

the rising nave, made space for later sculptural

newly completed, the city experienced a significant

donations, thereby drawing together individual

increase in commissions for these round wooden

and iconographically diverse commissions.

plaques. When Bezold recorded the inscriptions

of Rothenburg, in 1747, these death shields pri-

role in the fate of the dead in the Middle Ages,

marily hung on the north and south walls of the

late medieval cities developed visual programs

choir, with a few exceptions located on the piers

to serve as constant reminders of the roles and

of the nave, and there is no reason to believe that

responsibilities of civic community. In Rothenburg,

this placement was not original, especially consid-

the donation of a piece that would join the artistic

ering the similar placement of death shields still

program of the parish complex was a means not

preserved in the parish churches of Nuremberg.

only of entering the reciprocal system of benefits

These plaques, then, were monuments permitted

promulgated by the Church but also of insert-

to enter the restricted east end of the church. This

ing oneself into the visual field that in its spatial


With the living playing such a determinant

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programming ensured a flexibility that could accommodate a wide range of contributors and contributions.

Conclusion Guided by a deep sensitivity to earlier commissions and to the shifting structures of patronage, the oversight committee of the parish fabrica in Rothenburg conceived of a set of spaces related through form, function, and iconographic theme that established a meaningful complex at the heart of the city. This provided the backbone of a system within which individuals could contribute pieces that gave them a visual presence within the community. Patrons exercised some freedom of choice in iconography, medium, and artist’s workshop, yet they remained bound by conventions and expectations set out by the extant program. These limits were seldom written down, yet they guided new commissions to such an extent that the new works often appear seamlessly integrated into the spatial environment. Fig. 69  Figure of Saint Michael slaying the dragon in St. Jakob in Rothenburg.

Though it is impossible today to reconstruct

Rothenburg’s urban complex comprehensively, the surviving fragments evince striking relations that provide an idea of how medieval visitors would


system, thematic insistence, and ideas of decorum

have experienced cohesive themes as program-

defined collective community at the heart of the

matic. Within the overall program—promising

city. As a result, the urban complex both displayed

salvation for the living and dead through the body

and helped shape ideas of community. Community

and blood of Christ—subtle variations related

members were the conceivers, builders, funders,

to the functions of different environments. The

and primary beneficiaries of the parish church and

Parish Church of St. Jakob explored Christolog-

its artistic program. Art was an opportunity for

ical concerns by concentrating on the dual and

investment in an individual’s fate and public image

concomitant materiality of the Eucharist. In the

but also in the material, reputation, and prosperity

east end of the church, the sacrament niche and the

of the city. The complex processes guiding such

south stained-glass window linked the materials of

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the Mass to Christ’s sacrifice. The souls of the dead

represented and helped build local community, not

as well as the living were shown to benefit from the

merely in exceptional moments of “cathedral build-

Eucharistic body and blood, and this message was

ing” that spurred a community into heightened

drawn out to the cemetery and to clusters of tombs

action, but also through the generation-to-genera-

in the side aisles through a rich array of artistic

tion layers of artistic sediment that contributed to

media. In the west end of St. Jakob, the materials

a living, synchronic program. Exploring the parish

of the Mass were similarly linked to the promise of

urban complex in Rothenburg demonstrates this:

salvation but within the context of pilgrimage to its

that medieval artistic programming could stretch

miracle-working blood relic. The iconographic pro-

over many generations and disparate building

gram of the Holy Blood Altarpiece supported the

projects yet remain remarkably coherent. At its

local practice of ocular Communion, responded to

core, this coherence stemmed from the sensitivity

established patterns of pilgrimage, and instigated

of the local government and individual patrons

a network of iconographic interactions centered

to the visual and social environments of the city.

around the species of the Eucharist.

Although the core themes and rituals that wove

together the distinctive spaces of parish church,

Ultimately, the idea of the urban complex can

help adjust our understanding of medieval urban

cemetery, and charnel house into an urban com-

planning as an aggregated yet structured process

plex drew from universal Christian doctrine, their

because it presents a spatial system within which

particular expression in Rothenburg was unique.

an ever-changing landscape of monuments accommodated the commissions of individual donors into larger assemblages. These assemblages both

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Remapping the City


Chapter 4

n 1474 the parish fabrica ecclesiae of St. Jakob in

mention only Zeichen, or “signs,” that Saint Wolf-

Rothenburg ob der Tauber purchased a painted

gang “came” to the witness and that there were

panel of Saint Wolfgang. The following year a local

related “miracles.”3 Whatever role images may have

tradesman, Georg Laterer, witnessed a miracle

played in the miracle of 1475, in its immediate after-

by the same saint. This miracle instigated a new

math art objects clearly became an integral part of

pilgrimage in Rothenburg and led to the construc-

the nascent pilgrimage to St. Wolfgang, with statues

tion and furnishing of a chapel dedicated to Saint

of Mary and Wolfgang erected on-site even before

Wolfgang, complete with a painted altarpiece con-

the construction of a permanent pilgrimage chapel.4

taining sculpted figures by the workshop of Tilman

Indeed, the city clearly worked to create an environ-

Riemenschneider in its central shrine (fig. 70).

ment that enhanced the experience of (and extracted

donations from) visitors: it applied for indulgences,


It remains uncertain whether the two initial

events related to Saint Wolfgang—the commis-

built a temporary shelter, set up a portable altar,

sioning of the painted panel and the witnessing of

purchased a chalice, missal, corporal cloth, and

the miracle—were directly connected. Images were

vestments, and erected an offertory box on the site,

often instigators of miraculous visions, but the

all within a few years of the miracle.5 These efforts

contemporary sources for the Wolfgang miracle in

were so successful that the income from donations

Rothenburg leave its precise nature unclear. They

was enough to cover the considerable expense of


constructing a new chapel. Figural images continued Fig. 70  St. Wolfgang Altarpiece by Tilman Riemenschneider and Wilhelm Ziegler in the Chapel of St. Wolfgang in Rothenburg.

Boivin, Riemenschneider_PRINT.indd 129

to be important for the pilgrimage to St. Wolfgang after the completion of the chapel, for the space was outfitted with a series of three altarpieces by 1515.

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The central of these altarpieces contained in its

figures by Riemenschneider’s workshop that were

sculpted shrine a trio of standing figures repre-

installed throughout Rothenburg between circa

senting the saints to whom the altar was dedicated:

1485 and 1514. The polychromed figures of the St.

Wolfgang, Sebastian, and Roch. For the last time,

Wolfgang Altarpiece thus joined a group of carv-

the city of Rothenburg commissioned figures from

ings executed in Riemenschneider’s recognizable

Riemenschneider’s workshop. Wilhelm Ziegler,

workshop style that established a flexible network

a resident of the city since 1507, was charged

across Rothenburg. Within this network, themes

with painting the altarpiece, including its casing,

were continually mapped through an elaborate set

sculpted figures, and both sides of its moveable

of devotional practices and public performances.

wings. Judging by the construction and carving

As new centers of devotion, corporate identity,

of the casing, it is possible that Erhart Harschner

and ritual processions, altarpieces intervened in

again supplied the armature. Elegantly customized

the urban fabric and formed points of connection

to suit the scale, architectural articulation, and

between the physical and social city.

function of the chapel, the altarpiece formed a

focal point of the late Gothic environment.

an assemblage of altarpieces by Riemenschneider

as Rothenburg. So the question arises, Why did the

A new pilgrimage, like that to St. Wolfgang in

No other city could boast as many or as dense

Rothenburg, was bound to have a dramatic effect on

city collect such a significant inventory over the

the material and social fabric of the city. It created

course of three decades? How did repeat commis-

new centers of attention, changed traffic patterns,

sions from one artist’s workshop contribute to the

and reshaped identities. In Rothenburg, this was

development of spatial networks within medieval

especially true, given that the site of the new pil-

Rothenburg? How did the many repetitions appar-

grimage lay just outside the city’s northern gate and

ent throughout a medieval city’s altarpieces support

that the civic authorities—interested in capitalizing

their function as instruments of urban planning?

fully on the enthusiasm over St. Wolfgang, not to

mention on the accompanying income—resolved

universal and deeply contextual works, were

to integrate the site into its urban fabric. The new

essential elements in late medieval networks of

chapel was connected to the city’s fortification

civic religious space.6 They explored in their carved

system and designed to relate visually to other

or painted imagery familiar Christian themes and

pilgrimage destinations within the city.

supported common rituals, yet they did so while

Given the prominence of images in establishing

rooted to their specific locations, to particular

and sustaining pilgrimage, it is no surprise that the

relics and saints, and to local ritual schedules.

integration of the Chapel of St. Wolfgang into the

This fundamental duality in their identity gave

existing urban fabric of Rothenburg was accom-

altarpieces a powerful and flexible agency that

plished not only through the physical layout of the

made them ideal tools of urban planning. Mitchell

space but also through the addition of the principal

Merback has remarked “how collective perception

altarpiece of the same name. The distinctive style

could be directed toward an expanded topogra-

of its carved shrine figures resonated with at least

phy of cult and memory, encompassing spaces

six, and likely eight, other altarpieces incorporating

beyond [a] shrine itself.”7 His point of departure

This chapter argues that altarpieces, at once

Riemenschneider in Rothenburg

Boivin, Riemenschneider_PRINT.indd 130

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was a single urban cult that was projected into

between 1485 and 1514. I then consider how the

the surrounding city. The field becomes more

fifteenth-century chapels of Rothenburg formed

complex when considering multiple cult sites and

a network that extended ideas of pilgrimage and

their overlapping topographies across the space

local identity across the wider cityscape. Finally, I

of an entire city. Building on Merback’s idea, this

suggest how ritual processions and parades helped

chapter explores the interrelated networks of cult

direct a communal experience of the city using key

space that were mapped and remapped throughout

altars within their church spaces.

the city of Rothenburg during the late medieval

period. These cults were not purely religious but

gramming during the Middle Ages was approached

also strongly cultural. Through appeals to partic-

as an ongoing process of civic self-formation rather

ular audiences, correspondences in iconographic

than as a necessary means of achieving some

themes, or participation in feast-day celebrations,

preconceived whole. Indeed, medieval audiences

not only did altarpieces serve as visual foci for the

often experienced objects in various stages of com-

ritual sacrament and for cultic devotion to saints

pletion, and their unfinished nature seems not to

or holy materials within a church, but they also

have impaired the agency of the objects or that of

had the potential to project ideas of communal

the assemblages to which they belonged. Riemen-

identity beyond church walls. In particular, I argue,

schneider’s altarpieces in Rothenburg demonstrate

this potential existed in the many stylistic, icono-

this fact. The case of Rothenburg thus calls into

graphic, and aesthetic correspondences within a

question modern notions of “completeness” that so

collection of related works and in the experience of

often and problematically condition the approach

visitors who charted paths through the collection.

to medieval ensembles.

Ultimately, I intend to show that artistic pro-

The altarpiece, therefore, must be considered as part of the city’s urban fabric, not as separate from it merely because of its location within the walls

Geographies of the Altarpiece

of a church or chapel. Church space was, after all, largely public space, and it was envisioned by

By the time the Reformation first arrived in

municipal authorities as contiguous with the civic

Rothenburg, in 1525, the city likely boasted nine

urban fabric.

altarpieces by Riemenschneider’s workshop,

more than are known to have stood in any other

Consideration of the full list of known Rie-

menschneider altarpieces that once adorned the

single city.8 Of course, there were other towns

religious spaces of the city, in their architectural-

that purchased multiple pieces from the prolific

liturgical settings as well as their iconographic and

workshop: the parish church in Großlangheim,

aesthetic correspondences, presents the opportu-

for instance, may have had four Riemenschneider

nity to reevaluate not only the visual identity of

altarpieces, gauging by surviving fragments and

late medieval Rothenburg but also the emerging

a visitation report from the seventeenth century.9

civic identity of its community. In what follows,

Würzburg, the location of the artist’s workshop,

I introduce the altarpieces by Riemenschneider’s

certainly had more individual Riemenschneider

workshop that were commissioned for Rothenburg

works than Rothenburg, showcasing the rich

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variety of the artist’s production—from stone

and the nave (fig. 38).13 This prominent position

buttress figures adorning its Marian chapel to a

placed it on axis with both the high altar dedicated

wooden bust figure carried in procession through

to Saint James the Greater and Mary in the east

the city, to stone tomb effigies in the cathedral, to a

choir and the altar dedicated to the Holy Blood in

limestone-and-oak table in Würzburg’s town hall.

the elevated western pilgrimage chapel. As the lay

But few altarpieces by Riemenschneider can with

altar, it served as the principal site for the celebra-

confidence be placed within the episcopal city,

tion of Mass for the general community of faithful

and therefore their number, location, and density

in the city. Here, the second daily Mass was sung

in the Middle Ages is unclear. For the most part,

and the lay population gathered to receive Com-

no more than one or two altarpieces by the artist

munion on Easter and other special occasions.14

graced a particular town, so that Rothenburg

stands out as a primary location to study Riemen-

the 1496 altarpiece, possibly from Riemenschnei-

schneider’s work. In fact, if Iris Kalden-Rosenfeld

der, the city of Rothenburg had seen fit to equip

is correct in her estimate that Riemenschneider’s

the central Marian altar with a retable. In 1481 the

workshop produced a total of around twenty

fabrica of St. Jakob recorded a payment of 34 fl

altarpieces between 1490 and 1525, then the city

7 1/2 lb to an unnamed Würzburg sculptor (“dem

of Rothenburg was one of the principal clients of

bildschnitzer zw Wirtzburg”) for the altarpiece

Riemenschneider’s workshop.11

(“die tafeln”).15 Previous scholarship has generally

overlooked this indication that the 1481 altarpiece,


I have already shown how two altarpieces by

Riemenschneider contributed to the artistic pro-

as well as its 1496 replacement, came from Würz-

gram of the urban parish complex in Rothenburg:

burg.16 Although Riemenschneider cannot be the

the Altarpiece of the Holy Blood and the Altarpiece

author of the earlier altarpiece, because he only

of the Holy Cross stood in their respective elevated

became a journeyman in the Guild of St. Luke in

chapels and underscored the strong relationship

Würzburg in 1483 and a master sculptor and citizen

between these two spaces. A third altarpiece con-

of the same city in 1485, the accounts demonstrate

tributed to this ensemble: one mentioned in the

that Rothenburg was already looking to Würzburg

sources as a Marian altarpiece commissioned from

as a source for altarpieces at the time.17 Signifi-

a Würzburg sculptor (“schnizer gen Wirczburg”)

cantly, they also demonstrate that the Marian

to stand on the lay altar in the Church of St. Jakob.

altarpiece was, from its first iteration, a carved

The figures of this altarpiece, too, were likely

retable rather than a painted panel.

carved by Riemenschneider and his workshop,

though nothing is known of its iconographic

according to a later chronicle, leaving no trace of its


form or iconography. In 1496 a replacement costing

28 guilders was delivered from Würzburg.18 By this



Already fifteen years before the purchase of

It is clear that the Marian altarpiece (“di tafel uff

The Marian altarpiece of 1481 burned in 1494,

unser liben frauen altar”), carved for the Church

time Riemenschneider had already finished three

of St. Jakob by a Würzburg sculptor in 1496, was

altarpieces for the Franciscan church in Rothen-

made for the lay altar dedicated to the Virgin Mary,

burg, and it makes sense that the city would have

which stood at the junction between the east choir

applied to his workshop for the new carved retable.

Riemenschneider in Rothenburg

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It is interesting to consider whether the expense

does not necessarily imply that it was half the size.

recorded for “die tafeln” covered a full new altar-

Without further information, interpretation of this

piece or one for which elements from the previous

difference in cost would be chancy.

carved retable were salvaged and incorporated.

Certainly the price of 28 guilders was not high,

ance of the 1496 Marian altarpiece must remain

compared to the 60 guilders paid Riemenschnei-

conjecture, it is worth rehearsing one of the most

der for the Altarpiece of the Holy Blood or the 75

tempting proposals. Since Eduard Tönnies’s

guilders he received for the Altarpiece of Christ

and Karl Adelmann’s publications around 1900,

and the Apostles formerly in Windsheim. If the

scholars have periodically suggested that the

payment was for figures rather than for a complete

Marian Assumption Altarpiece now in the Herr-

altarpiece, it may have been on par with the cost of

gottskirche, or Church of Our Lord, in Creglingen,

other work the city commissioned from Riemen-

originally stood on the Marian altar of St. Jakob

schneider’s workshop. However, it is worth noting

in Rothenburg (fig. 71).22 Justus Bier dismissed

that the price of a project did not always depend

this suggestion because, according to his stylis-

on its scale or even on the amount of material

tic chronology of Riemenschneider’s works, the

used. For example, Riemenschneider’s workshop

Creglingen altarpiece fell later in the artist’s devel-

received more for the two figures of Adam and

opment than the 1501–5 Holy Blood Altarpiece

Eve commissioned to flank the principal portal of

and must therefore postdate it.23 His suggestion

the Marian church in Würzburg than it did for the

that the Creglingen altarpiece be dated about 1505

fourteen apostle figures intended for the buttresses

has remained the most popular, so that the date

of the same building. In fact, the difference in cost

range for the piece is generally given as 1505–10.24

is staggering: for the two figures of Adam and Eve,

However, Holger Simon has argued that Riemen-

Riemenschneider received 110 guilders, along with

schneider’s workshop, working from sculptural

a 10-guilder tip; for the fourteen buttress figures, he

models, had the ability to move between stylistic

received only 10 guilders per figure. In the case of

motifs, indeed that Riemenschneider employed

these larger-than-life-size stone figures, the price

what Simon calls “an eclectic work process” (eine

of the job seems to have depended on the position

eklektizistische Arbeitsweise).25 In Simon’s anal-

of the figures, their degree of finish, and the extent

ysis, the terminus post quem for the Creglingen

to which the master sculptor himself—as opposed

altarpiece is 1493, determined by a woodcut of the

to journeymen in his workshop—completed

Annunciation from the Nuremberg Chronicle that

the work. Despite differences in the quality and

served as a direct model.26 This earlier date would

execution of the figures, however, there was clearly

make possible the interpretation—which Simon

a huge range in the amount Riemenschneider was

himself favors—that the Creglingen altarpiece and

willing to accept for various commissions. Though

the Marian altarpiece of St. Jakob delivered in 1496

the documented expenses related to the Marian

were one and the same.

altarpiece made for St. Jakob in Rothenburg in 1496

were thus less than half as much as those recorded

Creglingen altarpiece conducted by Volker Schaible

for the figures of the Holy Blood Altarpiece, this

and Jochen Ansel has reopened the question of




Although any suggestions about the appear-

Recently, an extensive technical study of the

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its original location.27 Evidence from the study

Herrgottskirche during the last decades of the six-

suggests that the altarpiece only arrived in the Her-

teenth century. Probably around the same time, all

rgottskirche in Creglingen in the 1580s, though it

but four of the original sixteen ceiling beams in the

does not definitively establish its original location.

church were sawed off. This aggressive interven-

tion may have been connected to the installation


Some of the most important evidence from

the recent technical investigation is inscriptions

of the tall altarpiece, whose upper crest would

high on the back of the retable that are visible only

otherwise have been obscured or even blocked by

under special lighting. The inscriptions—really

the beams. Finally, the earliest graffiti that can be

pieces of graffiti—date to the 1550s and appear in

connected to individuals or families resident in

a zone above the pierced windows at the back of

Creglingen appear low on the back of the retable

the central shrine that is now about 4.5 to 5 meters

and date between 1606 and 1663.31 Together, this

from the ground (fig. 72). The height of the

evidence strongly suggests an installation in the

inscriptions provides the interpretive key because,

Herrgottskirche in Creglingen in the late sixteenth

as Schaible argues, either “Maria Binz 1550” and

century and not a century earlier, when the altar-

others climbed a ladder to reach this part of the

piece was carved.

altarpiece and scribble their graffiti across its back,

or the altarpiece had been dismounted by the 1550s

determine the original location of the Assumption

and stood on the floor, so that those of average

Altarpiece, it does compel a reconsideration of the

height might easily write their names across the

possibility that it once stood on the Marian altar of

back in this area. The likelihood of someone using

St. Jakob in Rothenburg. An entry recorded in the

a ladder to write graffiti high on an altarpiece still

financial accounts of St. Jakob for 1553, discovered

mounted on an altar in a church is so low that,

by Schaible, documents a payment for two curtains

whatever its original location, one must assume

to cover the Marian altarpiece of the church,

the Riemenschneider Marian altarpiece, now in

possibly during the time it was dismounted from

Creglingen, was indeed dismounted in the 1550s.

the altar and placed in storage: “4 lb 12 d for 3 1/2

quarters black cloth for two curtains on Our Lady’s



Several additional discoveries support Schai-

Though this new research alone cannot

ble’s interpretation that the retable was in storage

altar in the parish church.”32 The Marian altarpiece

by 1550 and not set up in the Herrgottskirche in

of St. Jakob may thus have been dismounted at a

Creglingen until a few decades later. Dendrochro-

time precisely corresponding to the graffiti on the

nological examinations of the wooden supports for

back of the Marian Assumption Altarpiece now in

the altarpiece in its current installation in Creg-


lingen returned a fell date of winter 1585/86. Along

with the documented installation of a pulpit in

lingen altarpiece would have been striking on the

1594, these results suggest that the altarpiece likely

lay altar in Rothenburg. There, the retable’s tall

came to Creglingen during a refurbishment of the

and slender figure would have been accentuated

Certainly the scale and program of the Creg-

by the framing arch of the choir. With its carved Fig. 71  Marian Assumption Altarpiece by Tilman Riemenschneider now in Creglingen. Photo by Matthias Weniger.

predella, central shrine, and superstructure, it is nearly identical in overall height to the Holy

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Fig. 72  Back of the Marian Assumption Altarpiece now in Creglingen.


Blood Altarpiece. A sense of how it would have

nave and choir.33 Here, the remarkable shallowness

looked within this space is therefore afforded by

of the Creglingen shrine, which measures a mere

the seventeenth-century painting of the interior of

twenty-five centimeters, would have been disguised

St. Jakob rendered after baroque renovations had

by the virtuosic appearance of depth achieved by

replaced the Marian retable with the Altarpiece of

the central composition.

the Holy Blood on the lay altar (fig. 73). Framed at

the junction between the choir and nave by vaults

Assumption scene is upward rather than inward,

much higher than those of Holy Blood Chapel with

complementing the verticality of the retable’s

respect to the floor level, the large altarpiece would

overall form as well as the tall and narrow propor-

have accentuated the division of space between the

tions of the choir of St. Jakob. Instead of forming a

The dominant momentum of the Creglingen

Riemenschneider in Rothenburg

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Fig. 73  Detail from an anonymous oil painting of the interior of St. Jakob in Rothenburg toward the east, ca. 1670. © RothenburgMuseum.

single row, as in the Holy Blood Altarpiece, the late

left hip is countered by a fluttering swag of fabric

Gothic tracery windows that pierce the back of the

on her right; her long hands, with fingertips about

Creglingen retable’s shrine case (here unglazed) are

to touch, are held at center; and her head counters

tiered, with the three central windows set higher

the incline of her body (fig. 74). The crisp folds of

than the pair to either side. The figure of Mary,

her drapery give the material weight while bestow-

held aloft by angels, floats before these central win-

ing a sense of dynamism. Overall, Mary is graceful

dows above a void positioned between two groups

and composed, yet a sense of animation surrounds

of gazing apostles, which Merback has likened to a

her in her state of suspension.

symbolic tomb. The Virgin stands on ribbonlike

clouds, the hem of her mantle ornamented with

ear tracery vaults and fanciful Rankenwerk that

embroidery and gems. Despite the strong lean

further draw the eye upward (fig. 75). Lithe

of her upper torso to her right (the viewer’s left),

vegetation sprouts from pendent bosses deco-

Mary’s figure remains balanced: the thrust of her

rated with delicately capped niches. These vines


Mary is crowned by a canopy of curvilin-

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lack the naturalistic details—such as lateral buds and pruned ends—of their counterparts in the Holy Blood Altarpiece; instead, they are rendered with striations reminiscent of late Gothic tracery profiles. Interwoven with slender ribs and finials, they represent a living architecture that seems to support the superstructure above.

The wings of the altarpiece contribute to the

impression of its verticality, with two stacked scenes appearing in each (fig. 71). These scenes proceed clockwise around the central shrine, beginning at the bottom left with the Annunciation, followed by the Visitation (top left), Nativity (top right), and Presentation in the Temple (bottom right). The wings are supported by relatively flat and simple corbels that appear more like the cross section of a late Gothic molding profile than the ribbed vaulting simulated by their equivalents in the Holy Blood Altarpiece. They also project less dramatically from the solid predella, which is strictly divided into three niches with a low-relief carving in each: at center, a rendition of

Fig. 74 (opposite)  Detail of Mary from the central shrine of the Marian Assumption Altarpiece now in Creglingen. Photo by Matthias Weniger. Fig. 75 (above)  Detail of the Rankenwerk and crest of the Marian Assumption Altarpiece now in Creglingen.

a cloth held up by angels that likely served as the backdrop for a displayed monstrance; to the left, the Adoration of the Magi; to the right, the Presen-

she appears to lean forward, whereas in the central

tation in the Temple.

scene she leans back (fig. 76). Her mantle now

flows over her right shoulder and down to her

The superstructure of the Creglingen altarpiece

takes the shape of a buttressed tower. Rather than

knees, as if shielding her from the viewer’s gaze.

individual figures perched in a web of openwork

Above this heavenly scene, the final crest of inter-

canopies, as in the Holy Blood Altarpiece, the

laced ogival arches supports a freestanding Man of

scene of the Coronation of the Virgin is set in a

Sorrows in a dainty architectural canopy.

microarchitectural room pierced at back with its

own set of Gothic tracery windows. It thus adds

of increasing intricacy: from the strictly divided

a second narrative level to the altarpiece’s cen-

tripartite predella to the tall shrine and wings, to

tral shrine. Mary, flanked by the Father and Son,

the towerlike crest with its lacy, microarchitectural

kneels to be crowned by two descending angels.

detail. Positioned at the east end of the nave of St.

Her folded hands, loose tresses, and outward gaze

Jakob in Rothenburg, this altarpiece would have

echo elements of the central shrine, though here

formed a fitting counterpart to the Holy Blood

The Creglingen altarpiece has an overall effect

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Fig. 76  Coronation of the Virgin in the crest of the Marian Assumption Altarpiece now in Creglingen. Photo by Matthias Weniger.

Altarpiece, with features such as the windows

Mary’s Assumption, and it is tantalizing to imagine

piercing the shrine, the central predella niche

performances in Rothenburg taking place in front

intended for the display of a monstrance, and their

of the retable now in Creglingen akin to those

near identical height echoing between the two.

documented for Schwäbisch Hall, Halle, Schwerin,

and elsewhere.36



At the apex of transverse ribbing visually above

the location of the Marian altar in St. Jakob is a

Add to this ensemble the Holy Cross Altar-

ring boss (fig. 11), whose use in dramatic late medi-

piece—now in Detwang but once likely installed in

eval stagings is a matter of speculation. Centrally

the elevated Chapel of St. Michael—then the parish

positioned between the second and third bays of

urban complex of Rothenburg would have had a

the nave, the ring boss would have related to the

central longitudinal axis, articulated not only by

Marian altar in an arrangement similar to that of

significant altarpieces but also, more particularly,

its counterpart in front of the Holy Blood altar in

by unpainted, or monochrome, Riemenschnei-

the west end of the church. Although no surviv-

der altarpieces. The Holy Blood, Holy Cross, and

ing source addresses its use, the situation of this

Marian Assumption imagery would have res-

opening made it a fitting location for the staging of

onated all the more strongly, since its thematic

Riemenschneider in Rothenburg

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Fig. 77  Compilation of surviving fragments from the Crucifixion Altarpiece by Tilman Riemenschneider and Martin Schwarz now in Munich. © Imhof Verlag, from Matthias Weniger, Tilman Riemenschneider: Die Werke im Bayerischen Nationalmuseum (Petersberg: Michael Imhof, 2017), 58, fig. 1.19. Compilation by Andreas Weyer and Matthias Weniger.

connections were underscored by stylistic and

church, is likely the earliest of these retables.37

compositional correspondences. Even if, instead of

Several fragments of the retable survive in museum

the Marian Assumption Altarpiece in Creglingen,

collections, making it possible to gain an excellent

another altarpiece with figures by Riemenschnei-

sense of its program and to estimate the scale of

der once stood on the Marian altar of St. Jakob,

its central components. Two figural groups from

strong formal and iconographic ties would have

the deeply carved shrine are now on display in the


Bayerisches Nationalmuseum in Munich, panels

from its wings are housed in Berchtesgaden, and

Outside the parish urban complex is a second

concentration of altarpieces in Rothenburg with

figural groups from the predella stand in the Skulp-

figures by Riemenschneider. Indeed, the three

turensammlung in Berlin (fig. 77).38 As is often

altarpieces, assembled under the guardianship of

the case, little is known about the armature of the

Martin Schwarz in the church of the Franciscan

altarpiece; only the figural elements survive, since

monastery, constituted the earliest collection of

they were valued for their aesthetic qualities even

works by the sculptor in the city. A Crucifixion

after the retable had lost its function and the Fran-

or Passion Altarpiece, stylistically dated around

ciscan monastery had been dissolved.39 Given the

1485–90 and carved for the high altar of the

width of the scenes from the wings, however, it is

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Fig. 78  Left figural group from the central shrine of the Crucifixion Altarpiece now in Munich. © Bayerisches National Museum, Munich. Photo by Matthias Weniger.

Fig. 79  Right figural group from the central shrine of the Crucifixion Altarpiece now in Munich. © Bayerisches National Museum, Munich. Photo by Matthias Weniger.

reasonable to estimate that the altarpiece originally

entire altarpiece was painted by Martin Schwarz,

measured nearly six meters across in its open state,

an attribution confirmed by a stencil pattern used

a scale that suggests it also would have boasted a

on Saint John’s robe that is also found on a signed

tall crest. Iconographically, it featured the Cruci-

panel from the Dominican convent church in

fixion as its central scene, flanked on its wings by

Rothenburg, now on loan to the Germanisches

shallow reliefs of the Mount of Olives (left) and

Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg.40

the Resurrection (right). The predella depicted two

groups of figures mourning Jesus at his entomb-

triptych but also their composition and style

ment. Once its carved elements were complete, the

were repeated in the Holy Cross Altarpiece now

Not only the choice of scenes for the central

Riemenschneider in Rothenburg

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Fig. 80  Detail of the figural groups in the central shrine of the Holy Cross Altarpiece now in Detwang.

in Detwang about two decades later (fig. 50). In

while Mary leans forward and appears more stable

both, tightly grouped and heavily clad figures

on her feet; in the later Holy Cross Altarpiece

stand on either side of the cross. Even in details,

now in Detwang, the sweep of Mary’s garments

these figures are often similar (figs. 78, 79, and

and the position of Saint John behind her subtlety

80). For example, Mary’s delicate fringed veil, her

suggest a faint. The posture and garb of Caiaphas

composed though longing gaze, and her hands,

is different in each as well: in the altarpiece made

folded across her breast, repeat in both retables.

for the Franciscan church, his fleshy clean-shaven

The deep, crisp drapery folds, supply modeled

face is framed by loose curls, while the long tippet,

faces, and freely falling curls of figures from both

or liripipe, of his chaperon drapes over his left

altarpieces also share strong stylistic ties. The

shoulder; in the altarpiece now in Detwang, he

differences between the two are relatively minor

instead appears bearded, wearing a turban tightly

and read as compositional choices by the same

wound around his head and with his hand tucked

workshop. In the earlier Crucifixion Altarpiece

behind his cloak. Instead of turning out toward the

for the Franciscan church, for instance, Saint John

viewer, he casts his eyes down toward the base of

turns wistfully toward the cross and gazes upward,

the cross.

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Fig. 81  Mount of Olives scene from the left wing of the Crucifixion Altarpiece by Tilman Riemenschneider and Martin Schwarz now in Berchtesgaden. © Wittelsbacher Ausgleichsfonds München. Photo by Matthias Weniger.


The compositional similarities between the

those of the altarpiece in Detwang (figs. 55 and 82).

two retables continue in the low-relief carvings of

In both renditions of the scene, for instance, the

their wings as well. In the Crucifixion Altarpiece of

sleeping guard in the lower left corner extends his

the Franciscan church, the three sleeping apostles,

right leg, his knee turned out toward the viewer,

their garments characterized by crisp angular folds,

while he rests his head on his hand supported by a

again fill the foreground of the Mount of Olives

raised left knee. His companion in the foreground,

scene (figs. 61 and 81). Behind them, Christ kneels,

however, who has awoken with a start, is composed

gazing upward toward a rocky outcrop where a

differently. In the earlier altarpiece, his lower body

heavenly apparition once appeared. In this earlier

twists awkwardly back toward the middle of the

composition, however, Christ is given more space,

scene and his legs stick out as he shields his eyes

his head framed by the blue ground of the sky with

from Christ. In the later composition, Riemen-

the glow of the sun just visible over the horizon at

schneider has “fixed” this awkwardness by having

his back. In the scene of the Resurrection, the three

the figure crouch on one knee, the bottom of his

attendant soldiers have poses nearly identical to

left foot visible to the viewer as it stretches behind

Riemenschneider in Rothenburg

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Fig. 82  Resurrection scene from the right wing of the Crucifixion Altarpiece now in Berchtesgaden. © Wittelsbacher Ausgleichsfonds München. Photo by Matthias Weniger.

the extended leg of the other soldier. His shielding

figures and scenes of the earlier altarpiece were fin-

gesture, however, is the same. Both in details and in

ished has an overall aesthetic different from that of

more general choices of posture and composition,

the monochrome Holy Cross Altarpiece. The added

then, the altarpiece now in Detwang reads as a

painted details of textile patterns, loose curls, and

selectively revised repetition of the earlier Crucifix-

feathery eyebrows accentuate the naturalism of

ion Altarpiece.

the figures. Caiaphas, for instance, has a shadow

The two most salient differences are in the

of stubble around his fleshy jowls and double chin.

proportions of the compositions—the wings (and

The color also highlights certain features, like eyes,

therefore also the original proportions of the

which have dark makeup-like liner. The bodies of

central shrine) of the Crucifixion Altarpiece from

the sleeping apostles in the Crucifixion Altarpiece’s

the Franciscan church are relatively wide com-

Mount of Olives scene appear almost fragmented

pared with those of the Detwang altarpiece, which

by the contrast between the bright gold of their

are more vertical—and in the Fassung, or finish,

cloaks and the deep purple of their undergarments.

of each. The vibrant polychromy with which the

By comparison, the monochrome treatment of the

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Fig. 83  Nave and rood screen of the Franciscan church in Rothenburg toward the east.

same figures in the Holy Cross Altarpiece now in

rood-screen chapel within the same church), they

Detwang shapes them into a more even and unified

were likely more modest than those of the high

mass at the bottom of the scene (fig. 54).


Around 1490 the Crucifixion Altarpiece

was joined in the Franciscan church by another

ing the stigmata occupies the central shrine (fig.

altarpiece carved by Riemenschneider and poly-

84). Set within a steep rocky landscape with a dis-

chromed by Schwarz: the Altarpiece of St. Francis.

tant church and central well, the gold-clad figures

Though this retable now stands on the high altar,

of the kneeling saint and his sleeping companion

it was originally installed in one of the chapels

stand out against the dark green ground. Francis,

beneath the rood screen, most likely in the second

his head raised, his upper torso turned toward

chapel from the north (fig. 83). There, its smaller

the viewer, opens his arms to receive the stigmata

scale was appropriate, and though the original

from a now-missing seraph. The saint appears

predella and superstructure have been lost (the

bared, an impression accentuated not only by his

current predella comes from an altarpiece dedi-

posture but also by the pleating of his garments. In

cated to Saint John that once stood in the southern

contrast to the deep folds that heighten the sense




A narrative scene showing Saint Francis receiv-

Riemenschneider in Rothenburg

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Fig. 84  St. Francis Altarpiece by Tilman Riemenschneider and Martin Schwarz in the Franciscan church in Rothenburg.

of foreshortening of his hooded companion, the

his face in his hands (fig. 85). The compositional

few shallow folds of Francis’s girded robe describe

and stylistic affinities of the two altarpieces, seen

a figure pressed forward and exposed to view. They

within the same church in close proximity to each

fall vertically to his knees, then cradle his legs,

other, must have encouraged viewers to draw par-

minimizing the sense of depth.

allels between Saint Francis and his model, Christ.

Compositionally, the central scene of the St.

Probably in the 1490s the Franciscans commis-

Francis Altarpiece echoes elements of the Mount of

sioned a third work, the small winged Altarpiece

Olives depicted on the left wing of the Crucifixion

of St. Ludwig of Toulouse. Though it now stands

Altarpiece. In both, the principal figure kneels in

in the south side aisle of the Church of St. Jakob, it

a landscape characterized by rocky outcrops while

was originally installed on an altar in the northern

others sleep. The posture of the single companion

rood-screen chapel of the Franciscan church and

in the Altarpiece of St. Francis resembles one of the

therefore directly to the left of the Altarpiece of

sleeping apostles in the Crucifixion Altarpiece: the

St. Francis as seen from the nave.43 The fixed and

left leg of each extends, the knee pointing outward;

moveable wings, displaying scenes from the life

the bent right leg supports a book; and each rests

of its titular saint, were likely painted by Jakob

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gloves of fine fabric; and the angled eyes and supple flesh around the bishop’s cheeks and mouth convey both age and a sense of contemplation (fig. 86). Although lacking the narrative content of the other, larger altarpieces by Riemenschneider’s workshop for the Franciscan church in Rothenburg, the St. Ludwig Altarpiece nevertheless would have related to these stylistically.

Within the Franciscan church, then, visitors

would once have encountered in tight sequence three altarpieces with sculptures in Riemenschneider’s characteristic style. Since the primary public entrance to the church was in the north side aisle of the nave, the Altarpieces of St. Francis and St. Ludwig, in the northern two chapels of the rood screen, would have faced visitors as a highly visible pair, ushering them across the aisle and into the central nave (fig. 83). The high altarpiece, the programmatic focus of the friar’s choir, stood at a greater distance from the lay audience, but its large scale made it visible from the nave through the Fig. 85  Detail of the sleeping companion in the central shrine of the St. Francis Altarpiece in Rothenburg.

central opening in the rood screen.

In contrast to the trio of Riemenschneider

altarpieces in the parish urban complex, the altarpieces of the Franciscan church were brightly Mülholzer, with whom Riemenschneider also

colored, a notable difference, especially given that

collaborated on an altarpiece for the parish church

the two groups stood not far from one another in

in Windsheim. The lone figure of the saintly

Rothenburg’s two most significant churches. It is

bishop Ludwig, which stands in the central shrine,

all the more puzzling in light of the close similarity

bears many characteristics of Riemenschneider’s

between the Holy Cross and Crucifixion Altar-

workshop style, though it was possibly carved by

pieces that once stood respectively in the Chapel

a journeyman rather than by the master himself:

of St. Michael and on the high altar of the Francis-

the saint’s robes are cinched together, forming

can church in Rothenburg. Would these retables

delicate creases around his waist; a swath of his

have read as copies, as variations on a theme, or

mantle tucked in beneath his belt forms a sweep

as works strongly differentiated by means of their

of fabric animated by crisp angular folds at front

contrasting finishes?

and deeper hanging pleats at the sides; the figure’s

graceful hands are covered by delicately rendered

of color in Riemenschneider’s oeuvre. Conservators



There is much astute scholarship on the question

Riemenschneider in Rothenburg

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Fig. 86  Central-shrine figure of the St. Ludwig of Toulouse Altarpiece now in St. Jakob in Rothenburg.

and historians have long debated why Riemenschnei-

do with the desire of the patrons than with the aes-

der and other contemporary sculptors left select

thetic penchants of the artist. This becomes clear

pieces unpolychromed, or holzsichtig, beginning

from details in surviving contracts and from the

shortly before 1500.45 Although I cannot hope to

many documented cases where altarpieces initially

resolve the question here, I would like to offer some

left unpainted were later colored at the behest of

reflections spurred by the consideration of the collec-

a patron. The substantial evidence from textual

tion of Riemenschneider’s altarpieces in Rothenburg.

sources, gathered by Georg Habenicht, has done

much to document this phenomenon and demon-

Scholars now generally agree that the decision

whether to paint an altarpiece likely had more to

strates that patrons often considered polychromy a

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way of “finishing” an altarpiece. The Altarpiece of

the final figures for the Holy Blood Altarpiece

St. John in Basel, for instance, stood unpainted for

and was paid off for his work, he received a new

a least ten years before a 1523 document men-

commission from Rothenburg to carve an altar-

tioned its paintings (picturis) were finally finished

piece dedicated to Saint Anne for the city’s Marian


chapel.50 Although this does not definitively

In many of the cases where an altarpiece was

rule out the possibility of an intent to color the

initially installed with a monochrome aesthetic but

monochrome altarpieces of the city, it shows, at

later received a colorful treatment, cost may have

the very least, that the city prioritized paying for

played a factor. It is staggering to recognize that

new sculpted and polychromed retables over the

the cost of polychroming an altarpiece could be

painting of installed unpainted ones, regardless

twice as high as that of its carving and construction

of their relative importance. The polychroming of

combined. On the other hand, the wood stains

certain altarpieces, then, was at best a low priority

occasionally used by artists like Riemenschnei-

in Rothenburg and was more likely intentionally

der to finish monochrome works included rare

omitted. Particularly in considering the Riemen-

imported ingredients and therefore could be quite

schneider altarpieces of Rothenburg as a group, the

pricey as well. Given this, it is hard to rationalize

monochrome aesthetic of select retables appears a

a patron’s paying for such a stain if the decision to

resolute choice.

postpone polychroming the piece was due to a lack

of resources. Instead, if cost were the determin-

relation to the understanding of artistic program-

ing factor, the altarpiece would more predictably

ming that I have been developing throughout this

have been erected without a stain as it awaited the

study. Questions about intention and “finish,”

intended colorful finish.49 This may explain why

particularly, foreground the notions of “complete-

the Marian Assumption Altarpiece in Creglingen

ness” to which art historians frequently subject

never received a finishing Fassung.

medieval material. Perhaps more productive than

the question whether an altarpiece was consid-





Of course, the evidence demonstrating that

The topic of polychromy bears a noteworthy

patrons sometimes polychromed altarpieces

ered “finished” if it lacked a colorful coat of paint,

originally left unpainted (or that they intended

or even the question of what the initial intent of

to do so whether or not they eventually did) does

patrons might have been, is the observation that

not preclude the possibility that the intent in some

altarpieces functioned as visual and cultic centers

cases was to leave select pieces holzsichtig. The sit-

regardless of finish and often before a colorful coat

uation in Rothenburg, moreover, makes it unlikely

of paint was added. The many unpolychromed

that the motivation was exclusively financial. The

altarpieces that were installed several years before

city, which was able to fund the painting of two

being dismounted, painted, and reinstalled demon-

altarpieces in 1514 and 1515 for the Chapel of St.

strate the flexible mentality of medieval audiences,

Wolfgang, surely could have found the means to

for whom a lack of color was not a deficiency that

do the same for the more important Holy Blood

impaired the ability of an altarpiece to function

Altarpiece in the Church of St. Jakob. Instead, in

within its liturgical environment. The capacity of

the same year that Riemenschneider delivered

an unpolychromed altarpiece—or even one that

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already had color—to be (re)painted was in tune

it is not uncommon that monochrome altar-

with the medieval understanding of artistic pro-

pieces stood alongside polychromed ones. Even

grams as possessing inherent potential for change

within the Church of St. Jakob in Rothenburg,

and addition. “Finishing” an altarpiece, either “in

Riemenschneider’s unpainted works were erected

its paintings” or with a monochrome stain, then,

alongside retables with a polychrome finish, like

was about applying a particular layer or surface

the high altarpiece by Friedrich Herlin, dated 1466.

treatment rather than finalizing the object and

Within the Diocese of Würzburg, reports docu-

forever fixing its aesthetic identity.

ment numerous unpainted medieval altarpieces in

towns such as Volkach, Iphofen, Münnerstadt, and


Beyond these considerations, the selective

polychroming of Rothenburg’s altarpieces with

Dettelbach. The Parish Church of St. Laurentius

figures by Riemenschneider also points to the

in Nordheim am Main even had three unpainted

nature of late medieval aesthetic sensibilities,

altarpieces.54 But Rothenburg makes the choice all

which rejoiced in variety, even where they sought

the more apparent, since it erected painted and

incorporation and repetition. The chronology of

unpainted altarpieces that were carved by the same

Riemenschneider’s altarpieces created for Rothen-

artist’s workshop within such a short span of time.

burg demonstrates that the decision to install

altarpieces unpainted was not simply a matter of

location, function, or significance of certain

changing aesthetic fashion in the decades leading

altarpieces motivated their holzsichtige aesthetic.

up to the Reformation. Both the earliest and the

In fact, given the location of known monochrome

latest altarpieces for the city were brightly painted,

and polychrome altarpieces in Rothenburg, it

while at least two chronologically central altar-

seems probable that the choice of finish depended

pieces received a monochrome finish. Even works

on the particular setting. The Franciscan church

commissioned around the same time could be

of Rothenburg had three altarpieces with figures

finished differently: an All Saints Altarpiece for the

by Riemenschneider’s workshop that were all

Dominican convent church, commissioned from

polychromed (the Crucifixion, St. Francis, and St.

Riemenschneider in 1507/8 and paid for in full in

Ludwig Altarpieces) while the parish urban com-

1509/10, is a close contemporary of the unpainted

plex, just blocks away, had at least two, and possibly

Holy Cross Altarpiece now in Detwang. Two

three, altarpieces that were left in a monochrome

figures preserved in the collection of the Cleveland

finish (the Holy Blood, Holy Cross, and Marian

Museum of Art that are likely from this work and

Altarpieces). Even the involvement of a painter

two others now in the Historisches Museum in

like Martin Schwarz, guardian of the Franciscan

Frankfurt suggest that the All Saints Altarpiece was

church and artistic advisor and signatory on the

polychromed, while the Holy Cross Altarpiece now

contract with Riemenschneider for the Holy Blood

in Detwang was given a monochrome finish.53

Altarpiece, did not guarantee that an altarpiece

In Rothenburg, then, monochrome and

would necessarily be painted before its installa-

polychrome altarpieces from the same sculptor’s

tion or that all works within the same city would

workshop were erected in close physical and

be treated in a similar fashion. Retables like the

chronological proximity to one another. Of course,

Holy Cross and Crucifixion Altarpieces displayed


Perhaps, then, something about the specific

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strong iconographic, compositional, and stylistic

urban planning; it is my contention that altar-

similarities to which medieval audiences must have

pieces, too, represented interventions into the city’s

been attuned, but at the same time, their different

fabric that could chart associations between multi-

Fassungen allowed these altarpieces to operate

ple environments and therefore serve to reorganize

variously within their individual environments of

the urban landscape.

installation. It seems, then, that the choice between

a monochrome or a polychrome finish of a piece

nel-House Chapel of St. Michael at the eastern edge

could at times depend on the dictates of a particu-

of the cemetery, the city was also busy building

lar environment.

a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary on the

Milchmarkt. Although this Marian chapel was torn

Returning once more to the possibility that

Already during the construction of the Char-

the retable now in Creglingen once stood on

down in 1805, entries in the financial records of the

the Marian altar of St. Jakob, consider now the

parish fabrica report that it once housed an Altar-

following: the first Riemenschneider altarpiece

piece of St. Anne by Riemenschneider.55 In January

delivered to the parish (1496) was installed without

1505, then, at the same time the sculptor received

any polychromy, likely with the intent to “finish” it

his final payment for the Holy Blood Altarpiece, he

at a later date; the aesthetic success of this altar-

accepted a commission from the same represen-

piece within the church soon prompted a second

tatives of the city to carve the St. Anne Altarpiece.

and later a third commission from the sculptor’s

This he delivered to Rothenburg in May 1506 and

workshop—the Holy Blood (1499–1505) and Holy

received final payment for it the following month.56

Cross (1508–13) Altarpieces—to be installed with

a monochrome stain. They thereby embraced the

survive in museum collections, though it is impos-

holzsichtige aesthetic of the earlier retable and rein-

sible to make an attribution with any certainty.

forced the axial program of the urban complex.

Some favored contenders are fragments from a

Fragments from the St. Anne Altarpiece likely

single altarpiece showing the Holy Kindred that are now distributed between the collections of the

Chapel Itineraries

Landesmuseum Württemberg in Stuttgart, the Skulpturensammlung in Berlin, and the Victoria


The stories of the last two Riemenschneider

and Albert Museum in London. Of these, the

altarpieces known to have been commissioned for

Berlin fragment is the largest and once belonged

Rothenburg are best told in connection with the

to the central group of the altarpiece. In it, Anne

histories of the chapels in which they stood. The

is shown seated on a high-backed seat. Her face

Chapels of the Virgin Mary on the Milchmarkt

betrays her age, with eyes framed by heavy lids

(later known as the Kapellenplatz) and of St. Wolf-

above and bags below and sagging skin forming

gang outside the Klingentor, the city’s northern

gentle hollows at her cheeks. Her figure is ani-

gate, were built as cult, or pilgrimage, sites during

mated by lively drapery folds as she reaches to her

the fifteenth century and belonged to a network of

right (viewer’s left), where she once addressed her

related spaces drawn across the late medieval city.

daughter, Mary, and the infant Jesus at the center

Chapels have been recognized as instruments of

of the composition. Behind Anne stand her three

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husbands: turbaned Joachim, heavyset Cleophas,

Rothenburg, which survives as a fragment in the

and bearded Salomas. The carving of this group

Bayerisches Nationalmuseum in Munich, instead

is masterly: a sense of quiet sorrow characterizes

was polychromed. The Munich relief depicts Saint

the faces; the three men form a tight-knit trio with

Anne seated in profile before a curtain. Traces of

Cleophas and Salomas looking to Joachim, whose

paint indicate that the curtain was once painted

lips are parted as if in speech. They back Anne

red to contrast with Anne’s blue mantle and green

yet are separated from her as she devotes her full

inner lining.57 The carving of the Munich piece

attention to the predestined infant.

betrays close stylistic and compositional ties to the

The two figures preserved in the Stuttgart

Holy Kindred fragments described above, making

fragment strongly resemble Anne and Joachim in

them not only products of the same workshop but

the Berlin relief. In fact, Maria Cleophas (Anne’s

also likely close in date. For instance, the crescent

daughter by Cleophas) and her husband, Alphee,

pattern on the hem of Anne’s cloak repeats on both

are represented as a mirror image of the older gen-

the Berlin and Munich fragments, and the dimple

eration. Like her mother, Maria Cleophas betrays

in the veil falling across the forehead appears

in her face her mature age and quiet concern. She

in figures of the Munich, Berlin, and Stuttgart

once sat at the left of the family group, turning

fragments. Given that it is impossible to determine

toward the center, with her husband standing

which, if any, of these fragments originally formed

behind the draped parapet at her back. Alphee’s

part of the St. Anne Altarpiece in Rothenburg, we

long face is framed by his turban, beard, and hair,

cannot know whether the retable featured a mono-

which falls in deep spry curls about his shoulders.

chrome or a polychrome finish.

In the original composition, Mary Cleophas

Whatever its finish, the St. Anne Altarpiece was

and Alphee were balanced at the right by Anne’s

destined for the Marian chapel on the Milchmarkt

other daughter, Mary Salome (fathered by Salo-

in Rothenburg. The construction story of this

mas), and her husband, Zebedee, preserved in the

chapel clearly demonstrates how civic authorities

London fragment. Like her sister, Mary Salome

used chapel space to shape not only the physical

holds an open book on her lap and turns toward

city but also its social structures: the chapel was

the original center of the composition. She appears

built on the site of a destroyed synagogue, and its

younger than Mary Cleophas, her skin tighter

construction, from 1404 to 1411, accompanied the

around her eyes and cheeks, her hands graceful

displacement of the local Jewish population from

and smooth. In contrast to the energy conveyed

the center of the city to an area a few blocks to the

by the tight creases of Saint Anne’s robes—which

north of the Parish Church of St. Jakob.

make her a clear focal point of the retable—the

long pleats of both Mary Cleophas’s and Mary

tural project, however, that served as an instrument

Salome’s clothing fall in gentle sweeps and would

of urban planning; the commission of the St. Anne

have led the viewer’s eye back to the central figures.

Altarpiece also represented a social, devotional, and

aesthetic reorganization within the city. The altar

The altarpiece to which these fragments

It was not only this fifteenth-century architec-

belonged was finished in a monochrome stain;

on which Riemenschneider’s retable was erected in

another contender for the St. Anne Altarpiece in

1506 was one of two side altars in the Milchmarkt

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chapel. First mentioned in a document of 1478,

presumably followed the scheme found in the

this altar was initially dedicated to Saints Sebastian

majority of similarly sized churches and chapels:

and Pancras and only later associated with Saint

a main altar in the central apse and two side altars

Anne. The altar’s change in nomenclature indicates

set against the east wall of the nave to either side.60

a shift in the city’s cult topography, one in which

The St. Anne altar, with its carved retable by Rie-

the carved altarpiece would have played a highly

menschneider, was therefore not centered within

visible role. Information about the Saint Anne cult

the space, yet its role as the site of a popular late

in Rothenburg is limited: archival records indi-

medieval cult would have made it a pivotal furnish-

cate that it had its own offertory box—mentioned

ing. Although the Marian chapel never developed

in the financial records of the St. Jakob fabrica in

a pilgrimage equivalent to those of the Holy Blood

1515—and an associated fraternity. It therefore rep-

or St. Wolfgang Chapel in Rothenburg, it did serve

resented not only a new devotional focus but also

as a prominent space on a market square of the late

a new social group, whose existence and financial

medieval city.

status were given visual expression within the city

in the commissioned Altarpiece of St. Anne.

remain something of a mystery, but the retable

itself almost certainly featured Riemenschneider’s



What is known of the chapel’s appearance

largely concerns its exterior, so that knowledge

signature style and within the Marian chapel on

of the original setting of the altarpiece, like that

the Milchmarkt resonated with other altarpieces by

of Riemenschneider’s All Saints Altarpiece in

the sculptor throughout the city. The long sinuous

the Dominican convent church, is limited. Two

hands, supply molded skin, sprightly curls, and

views in Schäffer’s chronicle dated 1745 and one by

fleshy faces of Riemenschneider’s figures, which

Schmidt from around 1762 show the chapel from

may at first appear individualistic, formed common

the south, southwest, and west respectively (fig.

tropes within the artist’s oeuvre that constitute a

87). Accordingly, the chapel had a two-bay nave

recognizable workshop style. Discerning medieval

and a narrower choir. The choir boasted tall Gothic

audiences, attuned to the aesthetics of the time

windows, a polygonal terminus, and buttresses

and conditioned to perceive subtle differences

outfitted with ornate finials. The principal entrance

between contemporary compositions, must have

was a portal in the western bay of the south side

seen Riemenschneider’s workshop productions as

that was flanked by a pair of statues standing on

standing apart from other late medieval sculpture.

corbels, while a smaller door also provided access

As the focus for the cult of St. Anne in Rothen-

through the west wall. Large four-lancet windows

burg, located in a Marian chapel administered by

lit the nave from the south, while the west wall was

the civic parish authorities, the altarpiece would

broken only by a vertical arrangement of two small

have been highly visible during Marian feast-day

baroque oculi and a simple round-arched window.

celebrations throughout the liturgical year.

The junction between the nave and choir was

crowned by a modest bell turret.

the ensemble made by Riemenschneider for

Rothenburg: the Altarpiece of St. Wolfgang in the

The arrangement of the three altars known

to have stood within the Milchmarkt chapel


The setting of the St. Anne Altarpiece may

One last retable must be counted among

pilgrimage chapel of the same name. Scholarship

Riemenschneider in Rothenburg

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Fig. 87  Color-washed ink drawing of the Marian chapel on the Milchmarkt by Johann Ludwig Schäffer, 1745. © Stadtarchiv Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

on Rothenburg has to date seen the quick response

to incorporate this site into the established network

to the St. Wolfgang miracle of 1475 as an effort

of urban chapels.

on the part of the city council of Rothenburg and

the bishop of Würzburg to control and dampen

rial and social contours of Rothenburg. In 1475,

The new pilgrimage changed both the mate-

the nascent pilgrimage before it got out of hand.

the same year as the witnessed miracle, a separate

The evidence, however, suggests that the city

fabrica was established under the aegis of Rothen-

approached the miraculous occurrence, whatever

burg’s city council to oversee the administrative

its nature, as an opportunity rather than a threat.

organization of the St. Wolfgang pilgrimage. The

Indeed, the quick and strategic maneuvering of

wool merchant and city councilman Michael

the governing officials betrays a desire to promote

Ottnat stepped up to take a leading role in the new

pilgrimage at yet one more location in the city and

fabrica, keeping meticulous financial records and


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Fig. 88  Chapel of St. Wolfgang in Rothenburg from the south. Fig. 89  Longitudinal section and plan of St. Wolfgang in Rothenburg. © Bayerisches Landesamt für Denkmalpflege. Section and plan by Anton Ress.

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ensuring that the excitement around the initial

With the exception of its south side, the exterior of

miracle flourish into a permanent cult.62

the chapel is strictly rectilinear in plan and strongly

Ottnat was evidently an exceptional organizer

fortified in appearance. The sheer north, east, and

as well as a good businessman. In addition to estab-

west walls overlook the city’s mote, pierced only by

lishing a fitting visual and ritual environment at the

narrow high-set windows. By contrast, the south

site of the Wolfgang pilgrimage, he also instigated

side of the chapel faces the inner Klingentor and

the formation of a fraternity of wool merchants and

the city beyond with large Gothic windows filled

shepherds to take on the role of principal institu-

with elaborate tracery forms (fig. 88). The relation-

tional patron of the chapel. Since Ottnat was one of

ship between the exterior and interior forms of

Rothenburg’s leading wool merchants himself, this

the chapel is complicated by a system of defensive

organization suited his private as well as political

passageways set within the northern and western

aspirations. It also drew a group of shepherds, who

walls, upon which the chapel sits (fig. 89). These

spent much of their time outside the city walls,

connect to the interior of the chapel at two points:

into the civic community by giving them an official

one, through a small ogee-arched doorway in the

group identity and an annual convocation.

north wall of the east choir; the second, in the

western nave bay, adjacent to the outer gate.

In the years following its 1476 formation, the

Fraternity of Shepherds raised significant funds,

averaging about 100 fl a year, to support the

articulated with late Gothic lierne vaults (fig. 90).

Chapel of St. Wolfgang and its endowed Masses.

The spatial divisions and distinct vaulting systems

The income from the fraternity supplemented

of the chapel’s spaces become tighter toward the

that from the offertory box set up on-site, which,

east, progressively focusing attention on the central

during the construction of the Chapel of St. Wolf-

altar and its crowning altarpiece. A thick transverse

gang, from 1477 until about 1507, brought in the

arch resting on corbels divides the interior into a

substantial average sum of 140 fl per year, enough

three-bay star-vaulted nave and a narrower two-

to support the majority of building costs. In

bay net-vaulted choir. The latter ends in a shallow

exchange for their patronage, the chapel accom-

polygonal terminus set within the thickness of

modated an annual meeting of the members of the

the exterior walls. These three sections are further

fraternity on the Feast of St. Bartholomew (August

accentuated by single-step increases in the floor level

24), and two services were read there every week

moving from west to east. Overall, then, the interior

for the benefit of their living and dead brethren.64

of St. Wolfgang remains compact and focused yet

They were thus integrated into the social fabric

varied in its articulation of distinct zones.

of the city, just as their chapel was connected phys-

ically to its urban fabric.

choir mitigates one of the strongest idiosyncrasies

of the composition: the fact that the longitudinal


As built, the Chapel of St. Wolfgang is a small

Inside, the chapel is modest in scale yet richly

The thick arch separating the nave from the

yet fascinating creation, a structure integrated into

axis of the chapel’s nave vaults does not align with

the city’s fortification system so that it sits in the

that of the choir vaults. Instead, the line is offset at

liminal space between two city gates (figs. 2 and

the junction between the two spaces because the

13). As a result, its form is rather unconventional.

inset of the choir from the wider nave occurs only

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Fig. 90  Interior of St. Wolfgang in Rothenburg toward the east.


on the south side, whereas, on the north side, the

Within this setting, the Altarpiece of St. Wolf-

nave arcade continues in line with the north choir

gang, on the main altar, forms a visual and cultic

wall. Three shallow net-vaulted chapels set into the

focus. It is joined by two additional late Gothic

north wall give a semblance of balance to the space,

altarpieces on side altars dedicated to the Virgin

but they do not shift the center line of the main

Mary (north) and Saint Wendel (south).65 This

nave vault. As a result, a tension exists between the

trio, positioned to mimic a high altar and balanc-

apparent spatial alignment of the choir and nave at

ing side-aisle altars, helps disguise and normalize

ground level and their misalignment in the upper

the unusual spatial system of St. Wolfgang by

zone of the vaults. The choir’s eastern polygo-

treating the northeast side chapel as part of the

nal terminus follows the axis of its straight bays,

nave. According to a reference in the city archives,

though it is set apart by its lower vaults. Framed by

the Fraternity of Shepherds in Rothenburg was

a rounded arch that mirrors the shape of the single,

instrumental in setting up both the St. Wolfgang

deeply flanged axial window (now shuttered), the

Altarpiece of 1514 and the St. Wendel Altar-

choir terminus creates a small, intimate space that

piece of 1515 (“two costly altarpieces with several

appears to telescope out from the wider nave.


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The St. Wolfgang Altarpiece, in particular,

is balanced by the tilt of his head in the opposite

seems custom-made for its setting. The case of its

direction. His expression is thoughtful and sad,

central shrine projects out subtly into the chapel

the brows knit together, the thin lips turned down.

space, the twisted columns that frame it recalling

A swath of Saint Wolfgang’s cope falls from his

the twisted bases of the chapel responds behind the

crooked left arm, its long pleats contrasting with

altar (fig. 91). The two pinnacles of the altarpiece’s

the crisp creases about his thighs. The bishop holds

modest superstructure correspond so closely to

an open book in his gloved right hand. Sculpted

the articulation of the chapel that they appear as

gems ornament his mitre, cope, and gloves, and

supports for the system of ribbed vaults above (fig.

rings encircle his fingers. Gold dominates the

70). Although my focus is on the carved elements

Fassung of both this figure and those flanking

of the altarpiece, its painted program, too, refer-

it; all three also stand before a golden backdrop

ences its location within the Rothenburg chapel.

painted to simulate a curtain hung from a rod.

For instance, the painter Wilhelm Ziegler—a

In its setting within the small choir of the Chapel

resident of Rothenburg since 1507 who signed and

of St. Wolfgang, the predominance of gold in the

dated the altarpiece—included a “portrait” of the

retable’s central shrine seems calculated to catch

Rothenburg chapel in a scene from the life of Saint

light from the large southern windows. As a result

Wolfgang (fig. 91). Located in the lower panel of

of the unusual architecture of the chapel, light on

the open right wing, the Chapel of St. Wolfgang

the altarpiece is always from the south or south-

appears as the legendary church the saint built with

west. Shining in from this direction, it highlights

the help of the devil. Recognizable by its adjoining

the long swath of Wolfgang’s cope and illuminates

gate tower, paired portals, and arrangement of

the exposed left side of his face. The saint’s stance

windows, this painted depiction of the Rothenburg

and the turn of his head—which, for instance, is

chapel even includes the sculpted relief of Saint

opposite that of the figure of Saint Ludwig from the

Wolfgang positioned between its two portals. In

earlier altarpiece for the Franciscan church—seem

Ziegler’s rendition, the close connection between

designed for the space (figs. 86 and 92).

the saint and his chapel are underscored formally.

The chapel leans forward, as if bowing to Wolfgang,

through two side-by-side portals in its southern

who, astride his horse, turns back and raises his

flank (fig. 93). It is striking, and more than a little

right hand toward the chapel. Other heads turn to

odd, that both portals, separated from one another

follow Saint Wolfgang’s gesture, so that the scene

by a few feet, feed into the same interior space.

has a dynamic rotation toward the depicted chapel.

Though similar in scale and height, they differ

somewhat in articulation, most notably in that the


The carved figures in the central shrine of the

Visitors access the Chapel of St. Wolfgang

St. Wolfgang retable have been linked to Rie-

inner arch of the western portal ends in an ogival

menschneider’s workshop based on their style.

point, while its eastern counterpart is rounded. The

The saintly bishop at center, in particular, has

western entrance is further distinguished by the

the subtly molded cheeks of a middle-aged man,

presence of a foundation inscription carved into

familiar from other works by Riemenschneider

the masonry abutting its western shoulder. Given

(fig. 92). The curve of his body to the viewer’s right

these differences, it seems evident that the western

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Fig. 91  St. Wolfgang Altarpiece by Tilman Riemenschneider and Wilhelm Ziegler, 1515.

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Fig. 92  Detail of the central shrine figure of the St. Wolfgang Altarpiece.

portal served as the primary entrance to the chapel,

arrangement, the paired portals of St. Wolfgang

the eastern portal as a corresponding exit.

are strikingly similar to those of the earlier Heil-

tumskammer, which likewise sit side by side and

The paired portals of St. Wolfgang not only

facilitated movement through the chapel space

feed into a single interior space (fig. 19). Although

but, by echoing the similar pairing of portals in the

the precise processional uses of the Chapel of St.

Heiltumskammer of St. Jakob only three hundred

Wolfgang and the Heiltumskammer must remain

meters down the street, also related the new chapel

hypothetical, the strong visual parallel of paired por-

visually to this established pilgrimage site and to

tals situated close to one another on the same major

processional routes within the city. In their unusual

street strongly suggests an intended connection.

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Fig. 93  Paired portals of the St. Wolfgang Chapel in Rothenburg from the south.


One final chapel that belonged to the building

citywide processions. Indeed, the chapel’s location

boom in Rothenburg during the fifteenth century

beside the bridge that directed Rothenburg’s most

deserves mention, although its medieval furnish-

important trade route over the Tauber River and

ings do not survive.68 Despite its location outside

into the city made it an important destination

the city walls, at the base of the Tauber valley, the

(figs. 3 and 13).69 For example, the Feast of Church

Chapel of Our Lady in Kobolzell was incorpo-

Consecration, an occasion for documented proces-

rated into the network of Rothenburg’s chapels

sions through the urban complex of Rothenburg,

through its administrative structure, architectural

also brought people from the city to the chapel

form, and use as a pilgrimage site and station in

of Kobolzell.70 Seen from outside the chapel,

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Fig. 94  Interior of the Marian chapel of Kobolzell toward the west.

Rothenburg appeared to its best advantage, a forti-

fied city perched above sunny southern slopes.

demonstrate its pilgrimage function. Beneath its

Features of the chapel’s architecture also

In 1472, directly after the completion of the

western gallery, three large portals feed into the

west end of St. Jakob and just three years before the

chapel from the north, south, and west. On the

miracle of Saint Wolfgang, the city broke ground

exterior, large creeping crockets articulate the head

on the new building project. Completed by 1505,

of the western portal, marking it as a distinguished

the new Chapel of Our Lady in Kobolzell replaced

entrance, likely used for formal processions (fig.

an older structure, first mentioned in 1298, that

95). The north and south portals are relatively sleek

seems to have been a site of Marian pilgrimage.

by comparison, though they are large and richly

profiled with moldings that rise from delicately


Architecturally, the chapel of Kobolzell evinces

close ties to both the earlier west end of St. Jakob

carved, late Gothic bases. They sit across from each

and the contemporaneous Chapel of St. Wolfgang.

other to accommodate circulation in one way and

These ties include an overlap in masons’ marks,

out the other, a feature associated both in Rothen-

similarities in detailed forms, and parallels in

burg and elsewhere with pilgrimage traffic.72 The

spatial conception. For instance, stretching across

location of an inscription to the west of the south-

the western bay of the chapel of Kobolzell is an ele-

side portal suggests this was the primary entrance;

vated gallery visually similar to the western gallery

the north portal would have served as the corre-

of St. Jakob (fig. 94), the star vaults at Kobolzell

sponding exit. In addition, one of the most striking

are elegant precursors by a matter of years to

and unusual characteristics of the chapel, a double

those of the nave of St. Wolfgang, and molding

spiral staircase in the west wall, affords a similar

profiles throughout the riverside chapel resemble

provision for circulation up to the western gallery:

those found in the other late Gothic chapels of

one of the intertwined staircases feeds from inside


the chapel’s western bay up to the gallery, while the

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Fig. 95  Marian chapel of Kobolzell from the southwest.


other leads down from the gallery to outside the

mentioned in textual sources have led Ludwig

chapel’s west facade. The Kobolzell chapel’s elegant

Schnurrer to suggest that the pilgrimage focused

system of portals, therefore, would have allowed a

on a Marian statue that once stood on the main

steady flow of pilgrims to pass through the main

altar.74 An inventory from 1515 suggests that both

space as well as up to the western gallery.73 In pro-

this Marian statue and a statue of Saint Jodo-

viding for the flow of traffic, then, it is akin to the

cus—which originally stood on the main altar but

west end of St. Jakob, with its paired Heiltumskam-

was ultimately moved to its own altar within the

mer portals and double staircases leading to the

chapel—were dressed in fine robes specifically

elevated Chapel of the Holy Blood.

made for the figures. The western gallery was the

location of large trunks used to collect and store

Though the furnishings of the Kobolzell chapel

were destroyed during an iconoclastic episode

donated items until they could be sold to benefit

associated with the arrival of the Reformation in

the chapel.75

Rothenburg—an altarpiece (tafel) originally set

up in 1488 was defaced and thrown into the river

function comes from the accounts of the fabrica of

in 1525 along with other images—several items

St. Jakob. They record not only an unusually rich

Final confirmation of the chapel’s pilgrimage

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intake of gifts, in the form of clothing and mate-

an extension of the protective power of venerated

rial goods from the chapel, but also substantial

saints and relics across the city. Within this assem-

donations placed in the offertory boxes at Kobolzell

blage of spaces, altarpieces served as important

on important feast days. In the years for which

visual and cultic fulcrums, themselves capable of

financial records survive, the donations collected

remapping the urban center. Their chosen iconog-

in the chapel of Kobolzell accounted for about 36

raphy, but also their stylistic and compositional

percent of the total donations to the parish fabrica

affinities, established relationships between various

ecclesiae made throughout the city. In addition to

sites that would have been particularly apparent

demonstrating the pilgrimage function of the way-

during processional and feast-day rituals.


side chapel, these donations also suggest that the site was incorporated formally into processional itineraries, bringing large crowds to the chapel

Processional Networks

from the hilltop center on festive occasions.

Together, the late Gothic chapels of Rothen-

Of the approximately thirty-six altars that stood

burg—the Marian chapel on the Milchmarkt,

within the city walls of Rothenburg by the early

the Chapel of St. Michael, the Chapel of the Holy

sixteenth century, roughly 25 percent boasted

Blood, the Marian chapel of Kobolzell, and the

carvings by Riemenschneider’s Würzburg-based

Chapel of St. Wolfgang—formed a network of

workshop. Together, these altarpieces formed quite

religious spaces that stretched from one side of the

a collection, contributing to the “look” of the city

city to the other, even extending into the Tauber

more than the works of most other artists. This

valley. They represent a substantial investment in

is especially true given the many repeated motifs

and remapping of the cityscape. In fact, over the

and the strong workshop style that characterize

course of a century, the number of churches in

Riemenschneider’s oeuvre. Though it is impos-

Rothenburg doubled. This meant more altars, more

sible to reconstruct a specific experience of the

offertory boxes, more chaplaincies with secular

artistic programs of late medieval Rothenburg,

priests, and more processional stations.

evidence of organized processions and parades

demonstrates how visitors often experienced the

In addition to the physical development they

represented for the city—the extension of its

city’s spatial environment as connected networks.

fortification system, the positioning of a protective

Throughout Europe processions regularly wound

relic over a major urban thoroughfare, the increase

their way through medieval cities, stopping at

in traffic to certain key locations—the late Gothic

various stations en route. The highly organized and

chapels also effected a host of other significant

ordered movement of these processions mapped

changes. These included a redistricting of the

important ideas of civic identity across the fabric

city’s residential spaces with the relocation of the

of the city.77 Processions—both those marking

local Jewish population, a remapping of the city’s

exceptional occasions like the visit of an emperor

soundscape through the addition of new bells,

and those marking the reoccurring feasts of the

a multiplication of the public religious spaces in

liturgical year—were fundamentally local in nature:

which the city council exercised its authority, and

routes were determined by the topography of the

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specific city; hierarchies of participants performed

important feast days of the liturgical year. Because

local social structures; and the collections of relics

they were unusual, the visits of kings were recorded

and treasures, banners and standards, on dis-

by the city scribe, thus providing detailed accounts

play reflected particular aspects of local identity

not available for the more regular liturgical celebra-

and identification. They were therefore strategic

tions. These accounts highlight the importance of

demonstrations of piety but also a show of power

the city’s religious environments, as well as portable

structures, of collective and individual identities,

objects, in the display of civic identity.

and of the attributes of the particular place. Charles

Zika has described how “the very marking-out of

Rothenburg on February 4, 1474, for example, a

territorial space in regulated fashion demonstrated

crowd met him before the city gates. The mayor

an identification with the authorities who exercised

and city councilmen presented the emperor with

jurisdiction over that space.” Although many

the keys to the city on a red velvet pillow, and

theories exist on the role of ritual in constructing,

ninety priests and all the students of the city were

confirming, or challenging power structures, such

present to witness the occasion. Rothenburg’s

processions clearly formalized an experience of

religious population carried with it the city’s holy

spaces among their participants.

relics and other treasures, and all the bells in the

In late medieval Rothenburg, processions were

city were rung.80 On display was not simply the

instrumental in projecting a unified vision of civic

finery of individual burghers but also the entire

community, one that subsumed other institutional

fabric and social structure of the city itself, led by

and group identities. Although the sources for pro-

the city council.

cessions in Rothenburg provide insufficient detail

to reconstruct precise itineraries, they do demon-

to proceed directly to the Parish Church of St.

strate how the governing authorities—“those who

Jakob. However, this planned adventus ceremony

most controlled ritualization”—brought together

met with an unexpected setback. Perhaps due to

the concrete city and the social city in a dynamic

the poor weather, the emperor was instead escorted

performance.79 The movement of the strictly

to his temporary quarters in a stately house on the

ordered participants, often led by the mayor and

Herrengasse and asked that the relics be taken to

governing councilmen and accompanied by the

St. Jakob so that he might visit them at his leisure

sounding of bells and the display of relic treasures,

later on. The intended procession to Rothenburg’s

exhibited the government’s control, not only over

principal church was therefore delayed, though it

space but also over time and material manifesta-

nevertheless took more than an hour for the large

tions of the divine within the city.

cortege of approximately fifteen hundred people

and a thousand horses to enter the city, and the



A clear sense of the local government’s author-

When Emperor Frederick III arrived in

From the city gates, a procession was scheduled

ity over and investment in such public displays can

celebrations lasted into the night.81

be gleaned from records of how Rothenburg wel-

comed important dignitaries. The formal parades

not appear in the church that night, nor did he

that met and accompanied these visitors shared

visit the relics the following day, so that the city

much in common with the processions staged on

officials were thwarted in their plan to show off

Despite the emperor’s stated intention, he did

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Rothenburg’s most impressive church early in his

out to escort the emperor into the city, but that the

visit. In fact, it was not until Sunday, February

emperor declined the distinction on this occasion.

14, ten days after his arrival in the city, that the

Instead, he asked that the canopy be brought to

emperor finally entered St. Jakob. He did so in

him the next day so that he might walk to church

order to attend Mass and receive Communion in

beneath it.83

the company of a venerable list of guests. Pres-

ent were the king of Denmark, the archbishop of

the accompanying ceremonies for the self-image

Mainz, and the master of ceremonies of the Polish

of Rothenburg is clear from the text of the city

court, all seated in the carved pews of the east choir

scribes who recorded them. In 1474 the scribe

of the church.

began his account: “Since it behooves all respon-

sible officeholders of sacred as well as worldly

Despite the emperor’s delay in visiting St.

The importance of these imperial visits and

Jakob, Rothenburg’s sociopolitical structures were

dignity, character, and class to retain for future use

strongly inscribed in the spaces of the city during

and management of their office the memory of

his visit. Members of the imperial court were

our past history; since this occasionally slips from

housed according to their rank in the homes of

human knowledge out of stupidity or excessive

Rothenburg’s citizens, and the banners of the realm

diligence, but through written formulation may be

were displayed in the recently completed west end

presented to the people and transmitted to their

of St. Jakob for the full duration of the emperor’s

descendants, so are the following stories, regimes,

two-week sojourn. Social hierarchy was thereby

and practiced actions presented and incorporated

underscored both in the ordering of bodies and in

in this short account for lasting memory, espe-

the uses of urban space. Although the emperor’s

cially for the praise and honor of this imperial city

reasons for delaying his visit to the parish church

Rothenburg ob der Tauber.”84 As noted earlier, the

remain unknown, this resistance may have served

city used written documents in order to confirm its

as a display of his power over public functions

authority, “praise,” and “honor.” The image of unity

and ritual within the city, the subjugation of the

it projected could thereby be passed down through

Reichsstadt’s display of social empowerment to his

generations “for lasting memory.”

own authority.

That the city saw its parish church as a source

were liturgical feast days that occasioned proces-

of pride and a locus of civic identity is clear from

sions. These Hochzeiten, as they are called in the

its intention, both in 1474 and again in 1513, when

Rothenburg sources, were often major events cele-

Emperor Maximilian I came to Rothenburg, to

brated not only within individual churches but also

conduct the esteemed guests from the city gates

throughout the wider city.85 Many of the portable

directly to St. Jakob. Though Emperor Maximilian

treasures of the city, including the most lavish vest-

did not wait ten days to make his appearance in the

ments of its religious institutions, were used during

church, he, too, chose to delay his visit. Rothen-

these events. The St. Jakob inventory of 1543, for

burg’s city scribe reported that the Traghimmel—a

instance, mentions “three red velvet copes with

canopy made of blue fabric and carried over the

all accoutrements and several stones and buttons,

host in processions on Corpus Christi—was sent

which are used for all high feast days”; “four small


More frequent than imperial visits to the city

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white boys’ vestments, which are used for the high

most significant relic—the miracle-working drops

feasts”; and “four more patterned copes, which

of Holy Blood—was, after all, closely linked to the

the [altar] boys wear for feast days.” An older

holy sacrament of the Mass. It is no coincidence

inventory of St. Jakob from around 1410 similarly

that every Thursday a priest celebrated Mass on

indicates several pieces that were used in unspeci-

the altar of the Holy Blood in the west end of

fied processions through the city: for instance, “one

St. Jakob in Rothenburg, for Thursday, too, was

silver monstrance, which Hans Newenstat made, in

the day on which the Last Supper was thought

which one carries Our Lord’s body [i.e., the host]”

to have occurred and therefore also the day on

and “two monstrances, in which one carries Our

which the moveable Feast of Corpus Christi

Lord’s body in the city; one is silver and the other

was celebrated. It is difficult to say whether the


original chapel dedicated to the body and blood

of Christ in Rothenburg in 1266 was related to



Citywide processions boasted not only the

treasures of the parish church and of the other

the Feast of Corpus Christi from the start.90 If the

religious institutions of the city, but also members

nascent feast indeed inspired the chapel’s titular

and objects contributed by various lay organiza-

dedication, then the chapel dedicated to Corpus

tions. The Shepherds’ Fraternity in Rothenburg, for

Christi in Rothenburg stood as one of the earliest

instance, had its own flag for such occasions. This

known examples of what later became a medieval

would have joined a host of other banners, stan-

staple. At latest by the last quarter of the thirteenth

dards, and costumes that charted different group

century, the Feast of Corpus Christi was known in

identities within the larger social body of the city.

Rothenburg: an indulgence issued for the Rothen-

burg chapel from Augsburg in 1278 gave forty days


The richest evidence of specific processions

in medieval Rothenburg relates to the annual

off purgatory to those who visited the chapel on

celebration of the Feast of Corpus Christi, on the

the anniversary of the consecration of the church

Thursday following the octave of Pentecost. The

or “on the day on which the Mass of the all holy

feast honoring the body of Christ in the form of the

body and blood of Christ is celebrated and on

Eucharist was initiated in Liège around 1246, where

its octave.”91 The list of indulgences in Ellringen’s

it was inspired by the visions of Juliana of Liège.

tripartite compendium included indulgences for

It was sanctioned by Pope Urban IV two decades

the Feast of Corpus Christi and its octave, along-

later, so that the official start date of the feast is

side those for the chapel, again emphasizing the

often given as 1264, though it was incorporated and

strong association (if not the causative relation-

published in a collection of canon law, the Clem-

ship) between the feast day and the local chapel.92

entines, only in 1317. By this time the practice of

By the time the new west end of St. Jakob was

celebrating Corpus Christ with citywide proces-

erected, then, in the third quarter of the fifteenth

sions had spread through many channels and was

century, the Feast of Corpus Christi was one of the

common especially in Germany.

most important events in the liturgical calendar of

It should come as no surprise that Corpus

Rothenburg and closely linked to the local Chapel

Christi was one of the most important feast days

of the Holy Blood. Once installed, the Holy Blood

celebrated in late medieval Rothenburg. The city’s

Altarpiece would have served as one of the most



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important stations during the annual feast-day

that it dates to the beginning of the fifteenth cen-


tury. This corresponds well to the first mention of

the play in Rothenburg, in a document of 1400.98

Processions on Corpus Christi commonly

included a city’s religious and lay dignitaries as

The timeframe is confirmed by a related source

well as candles, flags, and music. The spectacle in

from 1403, again written by the schoolmaster of

Rothenburg was certainly to type. For example, the

Rothenburg, which lodged a complaint: “Also,

Holy Ghost Spital of Rothenburg paid someone to

dear sirs, in the previous two years you gave me 1

walk in front of the treasure of relics and musi-

guilder each year for my work on the play, which

cians to accompany the procession. Pride of place

is held for Corpus Christi and the consecration of

in the procession was accorded to a monstrance

the church; this year you gave me none of this.”99

containing a consecrated host, which was listed in

Importantly, this source underscores the close

the 1543 inventory of the holdings of St. Jakob as

relationship between the Feasts of Corpus Christi

“one large silver monstrance, as used for Corpus

and Church Consecration as they were celebrated

Christi, with its accoutrements: 1 silver cross, 2

in Rothenburg: the schoolmaster uses both names

small silver monstrances, 2 small silver vessels, and

to refer to the annual four-day festivities stretching

one silver thurible; all this is used for high feast

from Thursday through Sunday to which the play

days.” The large monstrance was distinguished

in question belonged.

by the blue Traghimmel canopy and carried by the

parish priest of St. Jakob, who wore an expensive

resembles the better-preserved Innsbruck Corpus

cope. In addition to the listed silver treasures, the

Christi play, so that its larger structure may be

Heiltümer, or relics of the parish, were also carried

hypothesized. The Innsbruck play probably origi-

in procession.96 The gilded thirteenth-century

nated in the middle of Germany at the beginning

cruciform reliquary containing the relic of the Holy

of the fourteenth century, but the earliest surviving

Blood was placed on a designated staff and also

manuscript dates to 1391.100 The sequence begins

carried through the streets (fig. 15). Indeed, it pos-

with appearances by Adam and Eve followed by

sibly shared with the host the distinction of being

a longer section exploring the Apostles’ Creed in

carried under the blue canopy. In any case, both

an exchange between the twelve apostles and an

species—consecrated bread and wine, the latter in

equivalent contingent of prophets. It ends with

the form of the Dauerwunder relic—were carried

speeches by the three Magi and finally by the pope.

through the town for all to see.

The surviving Rothenburg fragment corresponds

to the monologue of the first of the Magi, King





One of the festivities of the day was the

What survives of the play itself strikingly

performance of a play, which included costumed

Caspar, in the Innsbruck play. The directions of the

participants enacting biblical scenes at various

Innsbruck manuscript have the king appear with

locations throughout the city. A small fragment

myrrh, turn toward the Holy Sacrament held aloft

of the text of this Rothenburg Corpus Christi play

by a priest, recite his speech, and present his gift.101

survives in a document written by the schoolmas-

ter, who signed his position though not his name.

seems likely that the enactment of the scene fol-

The script and the watermark of the page indicate

lowed a similar staging. For one, the king says, “I

From clues in the Rothenburg fragment, it

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see him there in the priest’s hands; / I want to turn

myself to his service, / I have my offering ready

the blood of Christ, not just the body, continued

here,” and later mentions that his offering is myrrh

as a theme throughout the entire Rothenburg play.

(mirren). What the priest held up was probably

Little, too, can be said about the rest of the props

a host standing in for the Christ Child. The one

used, though repeated entries in the financial

difference Elizabeth Wainwright has identified

ledgers of the religious institutions of Rothenburg

between the Rothenburg fragment and its Inns-

confirm a considerable array of visual supports.

bruck model is in the final lines of the speech. In

Schnurrer has identified references to costumes

the Rothenburg play, Caspar concludes:

that included a dragon, the Antichrist, a devil,


We may never know whether the emphasis on

Adam and Eve, and prophets.104 Crowns, beards, Lord, now let your help shine upon us

and a Judenschüssel (literally “Jew’s bowl”) were

Through your bitter torments

also mentioned in financial accounts, and carpen-

And through your precious blood so red!

ters, tailors, and painters were engaged for work

Help us, that your holy death

related to the play.105 In 1485 thirteen boys participated in the play; by 1494 that number had risen to

Be never lost upon us Since you were born for our solace!


twenty.106 The picture this affords is of a lavish and colorful celebration that moved through the city,


This plea, unlike its model, is addressed directly

incorporating props and participants from various

to God, “Herre,” and includes lines from an earlier

constituent communities.

speech in the Innsbruck play. While Wainwright

dismisses this as a minor difference, it in fact

tions was ensured, for already in 1282 King Rudolf

indicates an emphasis in the Rothenburg play that

I of Germany had given Rothenburg permission

related powerfully to the local context. The exclam-

to hold an annual eight-day market beginning on

atory appeal to the “tewres plut so rot,” the precious

Corpus Christi.107 The crowds thus included not

red blood of Christ, must have resonated in a city

only many of the roughly five thousand inhabitants

whose central pilgrimage was to a relic of the Holy

of the city at the time but also visitors from the

Blood. Although the visual prop held by the priest

surrounding area. This high attendance and par-

to represent Christ was probably the host, it is the

ticipation in the festivities celebrating the octave of

red blood that provides the desired help in the text.

Corpus Christi during the late medieval period is

Here, then, is a direct textual (or oral) appeal to

indirectly recorded in the financial accounts of the

the mercy of Christ represented by his blood, one

parish. For example, in 1501/2, during the octave

akin to the visual appeal made in the figure of the

of Corpus Christi and the Feast of Church Con-

Man of Sorrows as it was repeated throughout the

secration, the fabrica ecclesiae collected 108 1/2 lb

urban complex of Rothenburg. Of course, it would

in donations made to the offertory box located in

be fascinating to know where this particular speech

the Chapel of the Holy Blood.108 In comparison,

was performed—in the Holy Blood Chapel itself,

the income from the same box on the Feast Day of

on the street outside the towering west end of St.

Saint James, the patron saint of the parish church,

Jakob, or elsewhere?

amounted to 50 lb 25d.

An audience for these Corpus Christi celebra-

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Such records also provide a hint at a possi-

Germany, it was common for processions held on

ble itinerary for the Corpus Christ procession in

Corpus Christi, the Assumption, and Rogationtide

Rothenburg, though its exact route can no longer

not only to circumambulate the town but also to

be reconstructed. The starting and ending point for

move through agricultural lands outside the city

most liturgical processions in Rothenburg, includ-

walls, conducting what have been called blessings

ing Corpus Christi, was in all probability the Parish

of the air.109

Church of St. Jakob, just as this church was the

intended first stop for imperial adventus parades

liturgical feast for Rothenburg, similar festivities

in the city. The Chapel of the Holy Blood clearly

no doubt occurred at other moments of the year.

featured as a separate stop in the procession as well,

The seven Marian altars positioned throughout

as the recorded donations suggest. Whatever the

Rothenburg were likely connected through devo-

sequence of stops, it is likely that the procession

tional practices on Marian feast days, including the

moved through the street passageway beneath the

Assumption. These stood in St. Jakob, the chapel of

west end of St. Jakob at some point, possibly cir-

Kobolzell, the Chapel of St. Wolfgang, the Marian

culating through the Heiltumskammer on its way,

chapel on the Milchmarkt, the Dominican convent

because the Klingengasse connected the northern

church, and the Franciscan church. In fact, the

part of the city, the location of the Dominican con-

numerous repetitions in altar dedications through-

vent church and the Chapel of St. Wolfgang, with

out the city suggest a flexible system within which

the city center (fig. 13).

various networks might be drawn. Saint Catherine,

for instance, was venerated at four altars through-

The itinerary of each procession, like that held

Though Corpus Christi is the best-documented

on Corpus Christi in Rothenburg, was undoubt-

out the city, Saint John and all saints each at three

edly affected by the location and dedication of

altars, and Saint Nicholas, Saint Leonhard, Saint

altars. The Dominican convent church in Rothen-

Jodocus, and the Three Kings each at two. Since

burg, for instance, housed an altar dedicated to

many of these altars boasted altarpieces or statues,

Corpus Christi—the one proposed by Vetter as the

the networks were reinforced not only through

original location of the Riemenschneider altarpiece

titular dedications but through visual correspon-

now in Detwang—as did the Spital church. It is

dences as well.

likely, therefore, that these churches, too, featured

in the Corpus Christi procession. The Franciscan

burg have moved from their original locations

church, as one of the largest and most centrally

or disappeared, processions connecting Rothen-

located churches of the city, not to mention the

burg’s religious spaces would necessarily have

church endowed with the most private services,

passed by several retables with figures executed by

likely warranted a stop as well. By virtue of its

Riemenschneider’s workshop. These altarpieces

location within the city’s fortification system and

shared close formal, stylistic, and sometimes

its paired portals, the Chapel of St. Wolfgang also

iconographic characteristics, so they would have

seems a likely candidate for citywide processions,

formed a significant visual assemblage within the

which often included not only churches and cha-

city. The result of the many commissions by the

pels but also the marketplace, gates, and walls. In

Würzburg sculptor was therefore that late medieval

Although many of the altarpieces of Rothen-

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Rothenburg developed a veritable topography of

commissioning works that were transported to the

altarpieces in the distinctive workshop style that

city on carts.

could be variably networked through ritual and

individual itineraries. These altarpieces strongly

then, was how to craft a unique aesthetic identity

affected the “look” of Rothenburg church space and

of place while using imported styles and artworks.

encouraged visitors to recognize repetitions as pro-

Whereas artistic centers like Paris and Nuremberg

grammatic. This program and others like it formed

drew primarily on local production and therefore

interventions in the built environment and served

developed styles traceable to the particular place,

as part of the ongoing process of urban planning, a

Rothenburg’s uniqueness had to consist of some-

process that actively shaped the projected identity

thing else. Throughout this book I have described

of the city.

several strategies for addressing this challenge.

A fundamental challenge Rothenburg faced,

The shift between the construction of the choir of St. Jakob and its nave, traced in chapter 1, demon-


strates how the city council rejected a design based on a single model in favor of one that drew


Throughout the late Middle Ages, Rothenburg

eclectically on a variety of models. This move away

attempted to establish itself as a significant

from the single “copy” toward multiple “citations”

Reichsstadt not only through politics but also by

represented a change in the approach to visually

means of its material fabric. The city’s aesthetics

expressing Rothenburg’s developing identity.

(fortifications, towers, churches) and its socie-

Rather than demonstrate a deferential affiliation,

tal structures (the city council, fraternities, and

it proudly situated Rothenburg within a family of

practices of giving) projected an image of pres-

other imperial cities.

tige and beauty according to common medieval

ideals. Art and architecture were important tools

identity was to establish individual spatial environ-

involved in shaping these material and immaterial

ments that insisted on the particular local context.

qualities of the city. Despite the importance of

Universal concerns of the Church might, through

the arts in Rothenburg, however, the city never

artistic and devotional gestures, take on heightened

developed into a center for artistic production.

local significance. Thus, motifs in the Holy Blood

Although known artists did at times take up

Altarpiece, in the particular context of its instal-

residence within Rothenburg—Friedrich Herlin,

lation, spoke not only of the general promise of

Martin Schwarz, Erhart Harschner, and Wilhelm

the Eucharist but also of the specific place: of local

Ziegler, among others—the city never developed a

viticultural production, of the healing powers of

system of artistic guilds or became the permanent

Rothenburg’s blood relic, and of a rooted place of

home of stable workshops. As a result, Rothenburg

pilgrimage. Broad themes were thereby tied to the

had to import much of the art used to construct

particular city and community.

its spatial environments, employing architects

whose primary affiliations lay elsewhere and

to a single identity of place, it was important that

A second strategy for creating a unique civic

For such individual environments to contribute

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they be perceived as connected. Spatial systems,

southern windows of the chapel and the move-

like the urban complex, emphasized strong yet

ment of Judas across and into the Last Supper

flexible relationships between individual envi-

scene at the center of the Holy Blood Altarpiece

ronments. Repetition played an important role

betray a sensitivity to the conditions of the envi-

in underscoring such connections within the

ronments in which they were installed. Combined

experience of visitors, so that two axially aligned

with the choice of finish and the custom-made

two-story chapels with complementary altar

armature, the design of an altarpiece could

dedications and matching altarpieces, for instance,

resonate both with other media within a single

might be read as continuations of a single pro-

environment and with other altarpieces across a

grammatic theme.

church or city.

The tightly structured system of the urban com-

In fact, the uniqueness of the image Rothen-

plex at the heart of Rothenburg was supported by

burg crafted for itself over the two centuries

wider networks as well. These networks stretched

under study depended on specific configurations.

throughout the city, allowing visitors to flexibly

The combination and spatial arrangement of

chart diverse itineraries. The boom in chapel build-

individual elements gave meaning to St. Jakob’s

ing in Rothenburg during the fifteenth century

architectural citation, to its rooted spatial envi-

evinces the city government’s desire to establish

ronments, to the parish urban complex, and to the

such networks, reinforced by the repetition of altar

citywide networks that made Rothenburg unique.

dedications, architectural features, imagery, and

The process of late medieval artistic programming

style. The strategic activities of processions and

required that these configurations remain flexi-

feast-day celebrations formalized the experience of

ble: open to new additions and supple in content.

these networks.

While artistic programs were locally determined

and site specific, they were universally dynamic

Thus, despite the fact that much of the art in

Rothenburg was brought to the city from other

works in progress rather than finished or prede-

centers, it was successfully tailored to the spe-

signed products. Our understanding both of the

cific setting, where it entered a local discourse

medieval city as material and social entity and of

that emphasized Rothenburg’s uniqueness. The

artistic production during the late Middle Ages

example of altarpieces from Riemenschneider’s

must accommodate this flexibility. By acknowl-

workshop is exemplary of this process of produc-

edging that medieval programs were continually

tion and custom fitting: the repetitions of style and

subject to change and that they defied stable

composition among altarpieces betray a workshop

notions of completeness, we liberate moments

practice operating from a set of models that could

like the consecration of a church or the erection

be exported to a variety of locations; yet these

of a monochrome altarpiece from ideas of a fixed

models were sometimes manipulated subtly or

endpoint or preconceived plan. Instead, we allow

combined in unique ways to relate to their specific

for multiple actors—individuals, institutions, art

intended environments. The turn of the figure

objects, and spatial environments—to contribute

of Saint Wolfgang to catch the light through the

to the dynamic visual identity of the medieval city.

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Although Rothenburg cultivated a distinct

mark the city as peripheral, the practices I have

identity for itself in the late Middle Ages, its

traced in Rothenburg made it a powerful center

process of configuring spaces as a means of estab-

of combination. The spatial environments of the

lishing civic identity and giving programmatic

medieval city were generative agents of artistic

form to aggregated collections of art objects was


common among late medieval cities. Rather than


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Epilogue The Modern Medieval City


n March 14, 1501—exactly one month and

Rathaus itself: “that excellent building,” with “walls

one day before Riemenschneider signed the

that had dominated for years.”3 He mentions its

contract for the Holy Blood Altarpiece in Rothen-

high gable, its castlelike turret, its squared masonry

burg—a fire devastated the east wing of the city’s

and hard stones, and its sonorous bell, which came

Rathaus, claiming two lives and a large portion

crashing down. He laments, too, the loss of writ-

of the municipal archives. A poem by Johannes

ings that had been preserved for generations in the

Beuschel, likely published the same year in Leipzig,

city council’s “famous library.”4 In the poem, the

documents the horrific experience of that night.

material fabric of the Rathaus serves both to glorify

At the heart of Rothenburg—a city “held by a

the city and to demonstrate the devastating force of

high mountain” and crowned with “sparkling high

the fire.

walls” and “glimmering churches”—a crackling


The fire of 1501 left a deep scar in the center of

blaze engulfed the fourteenth-century Rathaus.

Rothenburg, which the city council was eager to

Before Beuschel turns to the effects of the fire

repair. Rebuilding the destroyed east wing of the

on the city’s inhabitants—on the pale and trem-

Rathaus, however, proved to be a protracted project

bling mothers, on the heroic councilmen, on the

that not only outlasted the arrival and gradual

clamoring burghers roused to action, and on the

adoption of the Reformation in Rothenburg but

unfortunate tower watchman and his wife, whose

also reflected major shifts in both the aesthetic

harrowing shrieks are heard from below as they

sensibilities and the urban objectives (“urbanische

perish in the flames—he bemoans the loss of the

Zielsetzungen”) of the city.5 The old Gothic Rathaus


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had been built around 1360—just after the com-

however, demonstrates the extent to which this

pletion of the choir of the Church of St. Jakob and

reputation persists despite extensive loss and

before the start of work on its nave—by a munic-

rebuilding of the city’s medieval fabric. On March

ipal government intent on a broad campaign of

31, 1945, for example, less than two months before

urban Kirchenpolitik. Its steep double gable and

the end of World War II in Europe, sixteen Allied

slender belfry, still visible in a panel of Friedrich

bombers dropped their deadly cargo over Rothen-

Herlin’s high altarpiece for St. Jakob, faced the

burg, leveling more than 40 percent of the city’s

stately Herrengasse, while its north and south sides

historic center, including more than seven hundred

were lined with shops and stalls. The replacement

meters of its encircling walls.10 A significant section

Renaissance wing was ultimately built from 1572 to

of the city thus had to be reconstructed.

1580 as part of an urban-renewal project focused

on profane structures, including the Gymnasium,

I end with a glance at Rothenburg’s postmedieval

the granary (Schranne), and a series of fountains

history and at the modern “medieval” city that con-

along the north–south axis of the city.6 The new

tinues to draw visitors today. While the success of

wing retained the general footprint and shape of

Rothenburg during the Middle Ages rested on its

its predecessor but substituted a scrolled Renais-

ability to establish its distinctiveness through the

sance profile for the Gothic stepped gable, added a

configuration of imported arts, its modern fame

richly articulated corner oriel, and conceived of the

relies on its ability to export an ideal image of the

marketplace side as a second facade (fig. 96). The

remarkably preserved and representative medieval

rebuilding of Rothenburg’s Rathaus wing in new

city. Joshua Hagen has contributed much toward

Renaissance style—which marked the start of a

this history, demonstrating how Rothenburg

decoupling of civic identity from religious space in

repeatedly served as a site for the construction of

Rothenburg—in many ways demarcates the end of

German national ideals, not simply because of its

the process of medieval urban programming.

actual preserved medieval fabric but because of its

ability to invoke a sense of a general shared past.11


Today Rothenburg ob der Tauber represents the

quintessential well-preserved German medieval

As a result, the present-day experience of Rothen-

city. It has been so successful in cultivating this

burg effects what Alexander Nagel and Christopher

reputation that at least a dozen cities vie for titles

Wood have called “a clash of temporalities” by

like “Rothenburg of the North” or “Westphalian

placing in dialogue two competing encounters with

Rothenburg” and modern guidebooks extol it as

the medieval city.12

“a true medieval gem” with a “miraculous legacy

of perfectly preserved medieval and Renaissance

historical mode, whereby those engaged with the

buildings.” Elements from Rothenburg have even

city track changes and losses to its material fabric

served as synecdochic representatives of German

over time. In this vein, the formal language of

medieval architecture, such as the old wing of the

the Renaissance wing of Rothenburg’s Rathaus

Rathaus, which inspired features of the Deutsches

juxtaposed with the earlier Gothic wing attests

Haus at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. Even a

to the fire of 1501 and the subsequent rebuild-

cursory look at Rothenburg’s postmedieval history,

ing. Less immediately visible is evidence of the




In concluding this book, it seems fitting that

The first of these encounters is the dominant

Riemenschneider in Rothenburg

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Fig. 96  Rathaus in Rothenburg, with its old and new wings.

Boivin, Riemenschneider_PRINT.indd 177

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reconstruction of that same Renaissance wing

St. John were heavily damaged during the March

following the bombing of 1945. After the war,

31, 1945, bombing of Rothenburg; while the surviv-

the damaged wing was deemed to hold special

ing sections were preserved, there was little interest

historical importance and therefore to be worthy

in restoring these churches following their original

of faithful reconstruction. Consequently, it was

forms.15 Features like modern ceilings make visible

rebuilt as a copy of the sixteenth-century post-

the loss to the original substance. These gaps invite

fire rebuilt structure, along with other secular

visitors to imagine the lost sacred spaces of the city

buildings, such as the contemporary Renaissance

and thus to participate in a process of collective

grammar school and several of Rothenburg’s

remembering aided by tour guides and commemo-

fortification towers. Only those in the know would

rative plaques.

realize that the reconstructed Rathaus wing also

incorporated some symbolic changes: the original

influential publications and by the recent wave of

sandstone floor tiles, for instance, were replaced by

reconstructions of historic centers across Germany,

limestone slabs taken from the Reichsparteitags-

Rothenburg today increasingly includes remind-

gelände in Nuremberg. The Rathaus thus invites a

ers of its postwar rebuilding history. Tours and

historic narrative that tells of moments of remark-

information pamphlets now mention the bomb-

able preservation and others of loss and rebuilding.

ing in 1945, the substantial loss of historic urban

fabric, and the subsequent rebuilding. In general,




Whereas Rothenburg’s damaged secular struc-

In part, no doubt prompted by Hagen’s

tures, like the Rathaus, were often rebuilt, the city’s

this narrative of successful preservation versus

lost sacred structures have left perceptible holes in

loss and reconstruction dominates over consid-

the urban fabric. Several aggressive changes were

eration of more subtle changes to the city’s spatial

made to the sacred fabric of Rothenburg during


the eighteenth through twentieth centuries: the

church of the Dominican convent and the Chapels

burg after the Reformation offer a case in point.

of St. Michael and the Virgin Mary on the Milch-

Shortly after Protestantism was formally adopted

markt were torn down before antiquarian interest

in the city, the Chapel of St. Michael was converted

in Rothenburg began to have an effect on preser-

into a library; select panels of Friedrich Herlin’s

vation in the mid-nineteenth century. These lost

1466 high altarpiece for St. Jakob were painted

structures manifest as legible gaps in Rothenburg’s

over;16 and the Altarpiece of the Holy Blood was

urban fabric: the site of the Dominican convent

moved to the juncture between the choir and

church, for instance, is now a picturesque garden

the nave of St. Jakob. There, in its new Lutheran

studded with bits of Gothic tracery; the octagonal

context, Riemenschneider’s central scene of the

plinth of St. Michael serves as a restaurant ter-

Last Supper—which in its original context had

race in the shadows of the chapel’s one partially

asserted Eucharistic piety through the sacramen-

preserved wall (fig. 57); and the site of the Chapel

tal and miracle-working nature of Rothenburg’s

of the Virgin Mary is an open square called the

blood relic—was reinterpreted as a more gen-

Kapellenplatz, though it no longer has a Kapelle.

eral statement on the significance and origin of

The Spital church and the Chapel of the Knights of

the celebration of the Mass.17 The centrality of

A few changes to the urban complex of Rothen-

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Judas, which in the elevated western chapel spoke

recent creations, like Kaethe Wolfahrt’s glistening

expressly to pilgrims moving across the space,

Christmas Museum, the medievalist Meistertrunk

obtained a new inflection that accentuated indi-

festival, and a stuffed bear blowing bubbles from a

vidual contrition and self-contemplation. Today, of

second-floor window on the Hafengasse. Rothen-

course, the situation has changed again. Riemen-

burg’s reputation relies on visitors’ willingness to

schneider’s famous altarpiece has been returned to

substitute the ambience created by the combina-

its original location, and the overpainted sections

tion of these features for the experience of the late

of Herlin’s altarpiece have been uncovered.

medieval city (fig. 97).

The narrative of remarkable preservation often

The resultant image of Rothenburg, exported

casts such changes as minor episodes in an object’s

on so many postcards and souvenirs, tends to

postmedieval history, flyover territory that helps

champion the city’s secular features—its squares,

account teleologically for the successful survival

cobblestone streets, and encircling wall. It also

of original fabric. Read differently, however, these

concentrates on architecture, in particular on

adjustments may be seen as part of a continuing

architectural exteriors. While the postwar res-

process of artistic programming, which places

toration of the Rathaus and other distinguished

in dialogue the precise originary moment of an

buildings valued fidelity to the original structures,

artifact with its ongoing participation in an active

the majority of the city’s residential areas that were

spatial environment.

destroyed during World War II were filled with

loose architectural reconstructions considered

The anachronisms encountered in Rothenburg

today are at once highly visible markers of a linear

fitting for the overall ambience of the city but not

history while at the same time part of a collective

designed as strict copies of lost originals.18

image that evokes the nonspecific “medieval” past.

And this is the second mode in which those who

and preservation, documented in so many plaques

engage with the city encounter the urban material

and remembered in guided tours that usher

fabric of Rothenburg today.

groups through its streets and churches, serves as

evidence of a sustained investment in the “medi-

Although “medieval” has come to mean many

The history of Rothenburg’s reconstruction

things, the “medieval city” is a concept remarkably

eval” identity of Rothenburg that contributes to

fixed in the contemporary imagination. It conjures

the city’s success as a representative exemplum

visions of fortified walls, towering churches, and

today. Gaps in the surviving medieval fabric are at

narrow winding streets familiar from fairytales,

once remembered and filled to ensure an ambi-

songs, and video games. Rothenburg’s success as a

ent experience of the “medieval” as distant and

modern medieval city relies on its ability to fulfill

fragmented yet remarkably present. In this context,

the expectations of this image, both aesthetically

incompleteness takes on a new role: rather than

and experientially. The two million visitors annu-

a sign of ongoing potential for transformation,

ally who come to Rothenburg today encounter

as it was in the late medieval period, it becomes

survivals from the fourteenth through sixteenth

an index of the historicity of the place, of a once

centuries alongside modern rebuildings and

complete entity partially preserved in the present.

historicizing replacements; they also enjoy more

Thus, the lost Riemenschneider altarpiece from the


Boivin, Riemenschneider_PRINT.indd 179


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Fig. 97  Aerial view of the southeast corner of the Marktplatz in Rothenburg.


Dominican convent church, the destroyed Chapel

tower gates were considered so important for

of St. Michael, the relocated urban cemetery, and

the city’s modern medieval image that they were

the missing crest of the altarpiece now in Detwang

rebuilt while many of the city’s inhabitants were

are features to be reconstructed or imagined, while

still homeless.19 Although the damaged portions

their very loss throws into relief the remarkable

of Rothenburg’s walls have since been rebuilt,

preservation of the surviving fragments and the

the campaign for their preservation is still active

lingering ambience of the “medieval” place.

today. Rothenburg’s website promises to commem-

orate donations upward of 1,200€ with a plaque

One of the most evocative places in which visi-

tors encounter this type of clash of temporalities in

inscribing the name and hometown of the donor

Rothenburg today is in the walkway along the city’s

in the walls.20 And indeed, the many tourists who

fortification walls. Among the many losses Rothen-

walk Rothenburg’s walls today find evidence of

burg incurred during World War II, the one given

the success of this international campaign, which

priority in rebuilding efforts immediately after the

continues to draw donations in great number,

war was the city’s damaged towers and encircling

not only from Europe but also from the United

defensive walls. Indeed, some of Rothenburg’s

States and Japan. The fortifications thus preserve

Riemenschneider in Rothenburg

Boivin, Riemenschneider_PRINT.indd 180

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some of their medieval material alongside modern

The altarpieces with figures by Riemenschneider

reconstructions that map the ongoing preservation

continue to shape the itineraries of visitors, and

campaign and its most significant benefactors.

architecture still articulates distinct multimedia

What has changed in Rothenburg since the late

environments, but the encounter with the mate-

Middle Ages is the reciprocal relationship between

rial past effects a dialogic clash of temporalities.

visitors and city, which during the medieval period

Rothenburg’s representative nature rests on its

motivated visitors to look to the future and par-

ability to bring together the city of the fourteenth

ticipate in the creation of a city identity through

through sixteenth centuries, which this book has

donations and memoria but now prompts them

attempted to reconstruct, with “the medieval city”

instead to construct a stable notion of the past.

of modern imagination.


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Boivin, Riemenschneider_PRINT.indd 182

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Introduction 1. Oellermann, “Tilman Riemenschneider in Rothenburg”; Oellermann, “Bedeutung des Malers Martinus Schwarz.” 2. For a transcription and translation of the contract, see Baxandall, Limewood Sculptors, 172–76. 3. For a transcription of the sources pertaining to these dates, see Bier, Tilmann Riemenschneider: Die reifen Werke, 169–75. 4. For example: Weilandt, Sebalduskirche in Nürnberg; Nussbaum, Gebrauchte Kirche; Zchomelidse, Art, Ritual, and Civic Identity. 5. Sauerländer, “Integration,” 9. 6. Paul Crossley describes this approach to the cathedral as “the belief in some unitary and unifying ‘program,’ informing all aspects of the cathedral’s imagery and performance, and expressive of a wider cultural order, both political and ideological.” Crossley, “Integrated Cathedral,” 157–58. For the Gesamtkunstwerk idea, see Sedlmayr, Entstehung der Kathedrale, and von Simson, Gothic Cathedral. Also important for these holistic approaches were Hegel’s notion of the Zeitgeist and Panofsky’s ideas on scholasticism. Hegel, Phenomenology of Sprit; Panofsky, Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism. 7. Jung, Gothic Screen, 4. 8. Crossley, “Integrated Cathedral,” 166; Binski, Becket’s Crown, xii, xiv; Binski, Westminster Abbey. 9. This is what Paul Binski, following Clifford Geertz, has called the “imaginative universe within which cultural signs operate.” Binski, Becket’s Crown, xi– xii; Geertz, “Religion as a Cultural System.” 10. Klukas, “Durham Cathedral,” esp. 70, 78. 11. Draper, “Interpreting the Architecture of Wells,” esp. 127. 12. Binski, Becket’s Crown; Caviness, Sumptuous Arts; Weilandt, Sebalduskirche in Nürnberg; Crossley, “Integrated Cathedral,” 157. 13. See, for instance, the many contributions related to architecture and stained glass in Lane, Pastan, and Shortell, Four Modes of Seeing.

Boivin, Riemenschneider_PRINT.indd 183

14. Caviness, Sumptuous Arts, xix. 15. Weilandt, Sebalduskirche in Nürnberg; Maxwell, Art of Medieval Urbanism; Frost, Time, Space, and Order. Recent exceptions that broaden this scope include Bent, Public Painting, and Atkinson, Noisy Renaissance. 16. Sitte, Art of Building Cities; Collins and Collins, Camillo Sitte, 14–15; A. Morris, History of Urban Form, 92, 104–18; Kostof, City Shaped, 43–69. For a recent response to the organic-growth model, see Lilley, “Cities of God?” 17. Latour, Reassembling the Social; Bennett, Vibrant Matter, 9–10, 13. 18. Bennett, Vibrant Matter, 21. Bennett draws on assemblage theory, introduced by Deleuze and Guattari. Deleuze and Guattari, Thousand Plateaus. 19. Bennett, Vibrant Matter, 24. 20. Sauerländer, “Integration,” 11. 21. These included the painters Friedrich Herlin, Martin Schwarz, and Wilhelm Ziegler. 22. Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:15; Schnurrer, “Neue Quellen,” 86. 23. Cologne and Prague, the largest cities in the Holy Roman Empire, were home to around 40,000 people each. 24. After 1505 Nuremberg also had more territory. Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:15. 25. The first castle on this site may have been built as early as the tenth century, though the most important castle for the development of the surrounding city was the Hohenstaufen castle of the twelfth century. Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 443. 26. Already in 1242 Rothenburg appeared in the imperial tax rolls with a charge of 90 marks silver to its name. Ibid., 2–10. 27. Ibid. On the number of free imperial cities around 1500, see Bünz, “Klerus und Bürger,” 356. 28. Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 39. 29. The pact with Schwäbisch Hall was signed on November 10, 1397. Lubich, “Rothenburg und Schwäbisch Hall,” 33–34.

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30. Heinrich Toppler, member of the inner city council of Rothenburg, traveled to Nuremberg on at least one occasion when the imperial court was in town to adjudicate matters. He was also one of two delegates sent to Prague to represent Rothenburg. Schnurrer, Urkunden, 2:1037, 1051–52, 1058, 1069–70, entries 2657, 2691, 2707, 2737. On the court at Prague, see Boehm and Fajt, Prague: The Crown of Bohemia. 31. Lubich, “Rothenburg und Schwäbisch Hall,” 34. 32. Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 10–11; Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:14; Weigel, Reichsstadt Rothenburg o.T.; H. Schmidt, “Heinrich Toppler.” 33. Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 11. 34. There is evidence of grumbling already in 1440, just three years after a devastating famine affected the city. Then in 1447 the city council instituted a new tax on wine production, which roused the outrage of the general population: in addition to the extant tax on each liter of wine poured in the city, the new law imposed a tax of 1 guilder on each ton of wine produced. This not only affected vintners but also drove up the price of the most popular beverage in the city. For a more detailed account, see Schnurrer, “Soziale und bürgerliche Aufstände,” 15–16, 21–24. 35. Dyers, weavers, masons, tanners, carpenters, metalworkers, butchers, vintners, and tailors represented their respective trades. Ibid., 21. For the following account, see ibid., 16, 21–24, 30–32. 36. Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:11. 37. The restored constitution restricted the inner city council to sixteen members, the outer to forty. Schnurrer, “Soziale und bürgerliche Aufstände,” 31. 38. Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:21–22. 39. Schnurrer, Urkunden, 2:1098, entry 2812. 40. For a chronological list of known members, see Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:511–23. For an excellent summary of literature on the diversity and complexity of identities in the medieval city, see Bünz, “Klerus und Bürger,” 355–56, and Moraw, “Regionale Identität.” On the multiplicity of identities for single individuals, see H-J. Schmidt, Kirche, Staat, Nation, 23. 41. Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:28. 42. Fild, “Geschichte der St.-Jakobs-Kirche,” 29. 43. Vice, “Bildersturm in Rothenburg,” 59. 44. Ibid., 60.


45. Baumann, Quellen zur Geschichte des Bauernkriegs, 339–47. 46. On the “rediscovery” of Rothenburg, see Hagen, Preservation. 47. Baxandall, Limewood Sculptors, 172–90, has studied the lighting effects on the Holy Blood Altarpiece in the west end of St. Jakob; Welzel, “Tilman Riemenschneider,” has emphasized the iconographic connection to blood pilgrimage; and Kalden-Rosenfeld, in Tilman Riemenschneider: Werkstattleiter, has discussed the movement of visitors through the space. For a more general contextualization, see Trepesch, Studien zur Dunkelgestaltung; Hecht, “Flügelretabel”; J. Schneider, “Memorialkultur im Spätmittelalter”; and W. Schneider, “Altaria deren seind Drey.” A forthcoming volume with Brepols attempts to narrow the gap in scholarship: Boivin and Bryda, Riemenschneider in Situ. 48. Maxwell, Art of Medieval Urbanism, 3; Atkinson, Noisy Renaissance, 31; Bent, Public Painting, 30.

Chapter 1 1. The translation into English is mine here and elsewhere unless otherwise stated. Wir Burgermaister und Rath der stadt Zu Rothenburg uf der tauber thun kundt ofentlich mit diesem brief vor aller menniglichen: Alß der Ehrwürdig, Geistlich herr, Herr Ulrich abt deß Closters Zu Hailßbronn des Ordens von Cister, in Eichstedter bistumb gelegen, auch sein Erbare botschaft gebetten hat, ihme ein warheit und gezeugnus Zu geben von deß baues wegen unserer Pfarr kirchen in unserer Stadt gelegen, mit welcherley gabe, gelt und hilff dieselbe Pfarr kirchen gebeßert sey worden. Alß bekennen wir, so ferne uns kundt und wißend ist, daß dieselbe unser Pfarr kirchen mit gabe, rath und hülff und gemeinem allmosen unserer mitburger, und auch anderer frommen Christenleuth, als gewonheit ist im land, gebauen und gebeßert worden ist, ohn alle geferde. Urkund versigelt mit unser Vorgenanten Stadt Zuruck aufgetruncktem Secret Jisigel, doch unß, unserer Stadt, und gemeind, ohne schaden. Datum feria sexta post Udalrici Ao. 1436. [Freitag, Juli 6]

Notes to Pages 10–15

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Excerpt as published in Tittmann, “Rothenburger Ratsantwort,” 74–75. Tittmann takes this from the chronicle by Gottfried Rösch (d. 1641), written between 1620 and 1638: Staatsarchiv Nürnberg, Akt. 72–73. Rösch, who served as Registrator and archivist to the city council of Rothenburg, copied this from an earlier transcription of the medieval original. The original letter presumably numbers among the losses of the 1501 city-hall fire, which consumed an inestimable number of medieval archives. Especially hard hit were documents dating to the fifteenth century, so that this period presents a large gap in what survives today. Schnurrer, Urkunden, 1:xxviii–lxxii. 2. Frugoni, Distant City; Davis, “Cathedral, Palace, Hôtel”; Oberste, Repräsentationen; Rubin, “Religious Culture,” 9. 3. Schnurrer, “Soziale und bürgerliche Aufstände.” 4. The one exception is Tittmann, “Rothenburger Ratsantwort,” 74–75. 5. The body of literature on the role of parish churches during the Middle Ages is growing. For the most part, this literature is still divided by country. For some of the most important and current literature on German parish churches and, in particular, on their role as a site for the expression of civic community, see the extensive scholarship of Enno Bünz and Christian Speer. Speer, Frömmigkeit und Politik; Bünz, “Klerus und Bürger”; Siewert, Stadtpfarrkirchen Sachsens; Philipp, Pfarrkirchen. 6. Binski, Medieval Death, 74. 7. There is much scholarship on this broad phenomenon as well as on individual case studies. See, for instance, Boockmann, Stadt im späten Mittelalter, 191–218; Isenmann, Deutsche Stadt im Spätmittelalter; Rüth, “Biberach und Eberbach”; and Kahleyß, “Zwickau,” 88. 8. The first city councils in German-speaking regions are documented around 1200 in towns such as Utrecht, Speyer, Worms, and Lübeck. For Strasbourg, a council is first mentioned in 1214, and by the second half of the thirteenth century, it was competing with the bishop and cathedral chapter for control over church space. Later chronicles for Rothenburg include city-council lists beginning in 1230. B. Klein, “Straßburger Münster”; Mertens, “Straßburger Ellenhard-Codex,” 578; Wiek, “Straßburger Münster”;

Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:11; Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 4; Nicholas, Growth of the Medieval City, 208, 234–35, 301. 9. Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:199. 10. Ibid., 1:3, 739. 11. In Philipp’s original: “dass es das Ziel einer jeden mittelalterlichen Stadt und insbesondere der Reichsstädte war, kirchenrechtliche Unabhängigkeit von einem Patronats- oder Inkorporationsherrn zu erreichen.” Philipp, “Hallenkirche ‘reloaded,’” 15. Similarly, Philipp, Pfarrkirchen, 23. 12. The hôtel de ville, Rathaus, or city hall in particular has been extolled by art historians as one of the greatest material expressions of this secularization of power. Gruber, Das deutsche Rathaus; Paul, “Rathaus und Markt”; Roeck, “Rathaus und Reichsstadt”; Friedrichs, “Das städtische Rathaus”; Stiehl, Das deutsche Rathaus im Mittelalter. Maureen Miller has also demonstrated that bishops’ palaces served as sites of the gradual transition of city governance. Miller, Bishop’s Palace. 13. Wine consumption at the convent was limited to the amount imbibed by the nuns themselves and a small additional allowance for the convent’s guests, thereby shutting down the convent’s use of its tax exemption to store and sell wine. Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:158–61. 14. Ibid., 1:161–62; Schnurrer, Urkunden, 2:1033–35, entry 2652. 15. Schnurrer, Urkunden, 2:1033–35, entry 2652; Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:162. 16. February 22, 1398: “Albreht, der etwan der closterfrawen kneht was, umb sulch missetat, als er dem rot geton, daz der rot wol weiz, dorumb er in gefancknuß kumen was, dorumb im sein awgen usgestochen wurden.” Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:163, 2:918–19n39; Staatsarchiv Nürnberg, RA 86, fol. 88v. 17. Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:163–64. 18. Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 458; Staatsarchiv Nürnberg, RAR 543. For more on the cloistering of nuns, see Hamburger, “Art, Enclosure, and the Cura Monialium,” and Hamburger, Visual and the Visionary, 35–109. 19. Murray, Beauvais Cathedral, 25; Branner, “Historical Aspects.”

Notes to Pages 16–20

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20. This was the case in German cities like Görlitz and Eßlingen, for instance. Speer, “Patronatsherrschaft,” esp. 104–7; Philipp, Pfarrkirchen, 11, 56–57; Brown, Civic Ceremony. 21. Bünz, “Klerus und Bürger”; Kuys, “Weltliche Funktionen.” Bünz also provides a good review of the literature on this question and the concept of a Sakralgemeinschaft. In particular, the work of Boockmann argues against the conflict model espoused by much of the scholarship. Boockmann, Bürgerkirchen, 186–204. Also important for this discussion is the concept of “civic religion,” first introduced by André Vauchez in the 1990s and developed by Andrew Brown in his study of Bruges. Brown, Civic Ceremony, 14–21. 22. Klaus Jan Philipp develops this idea of the city as verus fundator. Philipp, Pfarrkirchen, 57, 74. On patronage structures more broadly, see Caskey, “Medieval Patronage.” 23. Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 7, 24–26. 24. The shrewd patrician class, which until then held exclusive access to government positions in the city, managed to retain the upper hand for a while under the new institutional structure but gradually disappeared as the wealthiest trades families in the city rose to new prominence. Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 24–25. 25. Tittmann, “Zenner’sche Begräbnisstiftung,” 34, 38. 26. Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 76. A second indulgence for the Church of St. Jakob was issued in the same year. Schnurrer, Urkunden, 1:226–27, entry 293; Staatsarchiv Nürnberg, Reichsstadt Rothenburg, MA U 1980. 27. For a more nuanced discussion of the financing of construction, see Reitemeier, Pfarrkirchen in der Stadt, and Vroom, Financing Cathedral Building. 28. Schnurrer, Urkunden, 1:101, entry 230; Staatsarchiv Nürnberg, Akt. 72–73. I am not the first to suggest that the start of construction may have been related to the 1303 donation. Tittmann has similarly interpreted this document as indicating the initiation of construction of the east choir. Tittmann, “Zenner’sche Begräbnisstiftung,” 34, 38; Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:39. 29. For a transcription of the resultant contract, see Schnurrer, Urkunden, 1:230, entry 551, and


Staatsarchiv Nürnberg, Reichsstadt Rothenburg, MA U 198. 30. Parish fabrica ecclesiae foundations began appearing in the first half of the thirteenth century and were often overseen by lay governments. Wim Vroom also sees their establishment as motivated by the desire of civic authorities to control church oblations. Vroom, Financing Cathedral Building, 57. 31. Schnurrer, Urkunden, 1:230, entry 551; Staatsarchiv Nürnberg, Reichsstadt Rothenburg, MA U 198. 32. In his 1959 publication on the religious architecture of Rothenburg, Anton Ress claims that “the absolute measurements, the total length as well as the depth, of both of the western narrow bays” of St. Jakob’s choir copied those of the Deutschhauskirche. This is roughly true of the length of each of the first four bays, but their width and height vary substantially. Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 119. For the specific measurements of each bay, see Boivin, “Architecture and Devotion,” 59–60. 33. Krautheimer, “Introduction to an ‘Iconography.’” 34. Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:21, 52. 35. Murray, Plotting Gothic; Murray, “Narrating Gothic.” 36. In 1336 a burgher, mentioned in the sources as N. N. Karcher, donated an eternal light for an altar dedicated to Saint Catherine in the parish church; in 1344 Friedrich von Hemmendorf endowed a Mass to be held at an altar dedicated to All Saints; two years later Heinrich Hartrand endowed another, to be held at the altar of Saint John; two years after that his widow funded an eternal light at the same altar; and finally Friedrich von Hemmendorf in 1360 again stepped up, to donate an eternal light at the All Saints altar. Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:52. Though Borchardt does not list a source for the 1336 eternal light donated by Karcher, he likely relies on the 1336 contract between the city and the Teutonic Order for this information. Schnurrer, Urkunden, 1:230, entry 551; Staatsarchiv Nürnberg, Reichsstadt Rothenburg, MA U 198. 37. The dendrochronological examinations indicate that the trees used for the roof timbers were cut around 1347, and they would likely have been used within the next few years. Mägele et al., “Kirche St. Jakob,” 36. Based both on its style and on the life span of its donor—the landed knight Götz Lesch, who is depicted in its bottom register—the central

Notes to Pages 21–27

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stained-glass window of the choir can be dated around 1340–50. Schnurrer, “Stifter des mittleren Farbfensters,” 78–79; Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 133–41, esp. 141; Frenzel, “Die mittelalterlichen Glasgemälde,” 139. Stained glass was often produced during the construction of a church, not only after its completion. Balcon-Berry, “Stained Glass,” 102. 38. Schnurrer, “Heinrich Toppler,” 114. 39. The letter was issued by Duke Stephan III of Bavaria, probably in response to a request from Toppler. Ibid., 105, 112. 40. Ibid., 108–9; Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:15. For monetary values at the time, see Borchardt, “Münz- und Geldgeschichte.” 41. “Anno D[omi]ni M CCC LXX III Inceptv[m] e[st] hoc op[us] i[n] ho[no]re D[omi]ni n[ost] ri Ijesu X [Christi] et b[eate] Marie V[irginis] AC B[eati] Jacobi Ap[ostoli] Maioris Pat[ro]n[i H[uius] Ecc[les]ie.” Schnurrer, “Baubeginn des Langhauses,” 42. 42. Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 78–79, 98–100. 43. Ibid., 78. 44. Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:60–62. 45. Schnurrer, Urkunden, 2:823–25, entry 2097. 46. The detail of Toppler’s donation exceeds that of most others recorded in Rothenburg, though it is not unusual for the general practice of donations and endowments during the Middle Ages. For more on this practice, see Schleif, Donatio et Memoria; Bijsterveld, Do ut des; and Oexle, “Memoria Heinrichs des Löwen.” 47. Schnurrer, Urkunden, 2:825–26, entry 2099. 48. Ibid., 2:826–27, entry 2100. 49. Stadtarchiv Rothenburg, B 298, fols. 2r, 26v, 130v. For a complete list of known donations, see Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:661–706. 50. The dress was donated in 1406 by Agnes Seiler. Her second-best dress went to the Franciscans in Rothenburg. Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:693, entry 211; Staatsarchiv Nürnberg, RA 487g, fol. 201v. On the value of clothing and the practice of leaving articles of clothing to a church, see Vroom, Financing Cathedral Building, 412. 51. For more on the medieval practice of giving and memoria, see Bijsterveld, Do ut des; Oexle, “Memoria Heinrichs des Löwen”; and Schleif, Donatio et Memoria. 52. Schleif, Donatio et Memoria, 232–33.

53. In the original: “krieg, stoße, bruch, zuspruch, misshellung, widerwertickeit und zweyung.” “Aller Streit . . . wegen Totschlags.” Schnurrer, Urkunden, 2:1098, entry 2812; Staatsarchiv Nürnberg, Reichsstadt Rothenburg, MA U 850. 54. Schnurrer, Urkunden, 2:1098, entry 2812. It is worth noting that the money designations of account keeping were different from those of actual coinage. Vroom, Financing Cathedral Building, 483–84; Borchardt, “Münz- und Geldgeschichte.” 55. Schnurrer, Urkunden, 2:1098, entry 2812. 56. Municipal appointment of churchwardens to oversee the parish fabric was not unique to Rothenburg. Cities like Görlitz, Nördlingen, and Utrecht also established a similar administrative system. Speer, “Patronatsherrschaft”; Philipp, Pfarrkirchen, 22; Vroom, Financing Cathedral Building, 405–18. For more on the lay administration of churches, see Reitemeier, Pfarrkirchen in der Stadt, and Schröcker, Kirchenpflegschaft. 57. Schnurrer, Urkunden, 2:1098, entry 2812. 58. It is also related to the piers of the Church of St. Severus in Erfurt (1270s–1360s). 59. For more on the function of this and other ring bosses, see the discussions in chapters 2 and 4. 60. Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 116–18, 126–27. 61. I am grateful to Jérôme Zahn for sharing with me some of the exciting implications of his as-yet-unpublished data-rich research on mason’s marks. 62. Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 129. 63. Architecture could carry ideological meaning, but it did so flexibly, and expressions of attitude during the period did not take consistent stylistic or typological form. On the lack of consistent connections between typological form and function, see, for instance, Bürger, “Was für ein Typ?” On the hall church specifically, see Philipp, “Hallenkirche ‘reloaded’”; Schenkluhn, “Erfindung der Hallenkirche”; and Kunst, “Ideologie der deutschen Hallenkirchen.” 64. On the aesthetic and programmatic value of buttresses, see Hutterer, Framing the Church; Hutterer, “Lofty Sculpture”; Hutterer, “Broken Outlines”; and Guérin, “Meaningful Spectacles.” 65. On the construction and expense of high vaults and flying buttresses, see Murray, “Master Jehancon Garnache”; Wolfe and Mark, “Gothic Cathedral Buttressing”; Davis, “Splendor and Peril”; Bork,

Notes to Pages 27–36

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Mark, and Murray, “Openwork Flying Buttresses,” 486; and Branner, “Historical Aspects,” 32. The choir-flanking towers of the Church of St. Jakob were part of the early design concept, but their upper stories and openwork stone spires were only completed in the final stages of work on the nave. They harken back to a long tradition of Romanesque churches with choir-flanking towers and may have been intended as another mark of prestige. 66. Schnurrer, “Rothenburg im Schwäbischen Städtebund”; Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 10. 67. Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 394–95. The ease with which this administrative oversight was formally adopted has left little record in the archives; the city wielded the written word as an instrument useful during conflict, rather than as a tool of historical record evenly employed for noncontentious as well as contentious transactions. 68. Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:15. 69. Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:203. 70. Ibid., 202. For a complete list of all documented donations to churches in Rothenburg, see ibid., 661–706. 71. Schnurrer, “Soziale und bürgerliche Aufstände,” 13. 72. On the Schwäbische Städtebund, see Schnurrer, “Rothenburg im Schwäbischen Städtebund,” 25–26. 73. Schnurrer, “Soziale und bürgerliche Aufstände,” 14. 74. Ibid.; Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 2:943n25; Staatsarchiv Nürnberg, RA 86, fol. 45r. 75. Schnurrer, Urkunden, 2:1041–42, entry 2668; Schnurrer, “Heinrich Toppler,” 104; Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:72–76. 76. Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 452–54. 77. Schnurrer, Urkunden, 2:1078–79, entry 2759; Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:130–31. 78. They were said to support the church “von gotlicher miltikeit mit iren guten und ander erbar lewt in ir stat” with “stewr und almusen.” Schnurrer, Urkunden, 2:942–43, entry 2424; Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:129. 79. Schnurrer, Urkunden, 2:942–43, entry 2424; Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:129. 80. Jews were subject to their own special tax without the benefit of citizen status. Already in 1241 the Jewish community in Rothenburg paid 10 marks Reichssteuer to the city’s 90 marks. Borchardt, Die


geistlichen Institutionen, 1:11; Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 24. 81. On the proliferation of donors, see Schleif, Donatio et Memoria, 228. 82. Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 10–11; H. Schmidt, “Heinrich Toppler.”

Chapter 2 1. On gift giving and memoria, see Bijsterveld, Do ut des, esp. 17–39, 188–214. Contrary to Bijsterveld’s claim that “in late medieval times, the exchange of gifts did not operate to the same degree as a ‘social glue’” (ibid., 38), the case of Rothenburg demonstrates that it did indeed continue to shape communities. Fraternities, like the Fraternity of Shepherds (discussed in chapter 4), are just one example of how gift giving and memoria continued to be powerful agents of social identity during the fifteenth century. 2. Jung, Gothic Screen, 4. 3. For a history of the appearance of blood relics, see chapter 4 in Vincent, Holy Blood, 31–81. On the emergence of blood piety, see Bynum, Wonderful Blood, 1–5. 4. This is discussed at greater length in chapter 4. 5. Bynum, Wonderful Blood, 151, following Johannes Heuser, has suggested that the relic may be a conflation of a blood relic and a bloody corporal miracle. However, the mention of the corporal in sources seems to point to a Eucharistic relic. This is an argument also made by Joseph Leo Koerner. Heuser, “‘Heilig-Blut’ in Kult und Brauchtum,” 14–15; Koerner, Reformation of the Image, 345. 6. The consecration of the first Chapel of the Holy Blood in Rothenburg is dated by Johann von Ellringen to 1266 in his compendium of 1442, while a later chronicle places it exactly a decade later. I use the earlier date, since, as Borchardt suggests, the later chronicle most likely copied Ellringen’s manuscript incorrectly. Since we know that the original chapel was “within the walls” of the predecessor Church of St. Jakob, scholars generally suggest a location or at least configuration similar to the present one. Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen,

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1:50; Schnurrer, “Kapelle und Wallfahrt,” 89; Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 76–77. 7. Schattenmann, “Reliquien und Wunder,” 42: “tres gutte sanguinis p(er)fuse sup(er) corp(er)ale et apparet vestig(iu)m.” Sources refer to the relic as either one or three drops of blood on a corporal cloth. Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 77; Johannes von Ellringen, compendium, Reichsstadt Rothenburg 1947, Staatsarchiv Nürnberg, fol. 4r. Similar origin stories were often recorded post factum for blood relics. An analogous stained corporal in the Spanish monastery of Maria del Zebrero, for instance, was said to have come from a chalice in which blood miraculously appeared, “and part of it flowed from the aforesaid chalice onto the linens which were on the altar, and this same blood remained visible and today is on view reserved as a relic.” Bynum, Wonderful Blood, 89, citing Cesare Baronius and Raynaldus Ordericus, Annales ecclesiastici 1198–1534, vol. 19 (Antwerp: Platiniana, 1663), no. 23, for 1487 [n.p.]. Another case comparable to Rothenburg’s, for which little is known of the origin of the relic, is the relic of Holy Blood in Košice. Juckes, “Košice Burghers”; Juckes, Parish and Pilgrimage Church. 8. On Dauerwunder, see Browe, Die eucharistischen Wunder, 117–28. 9. In the original Latin: “in honorem gloriosissimi corporis et sanguinis d.n. Jesu Christi.” Ellringen, compendium, fol. 7v; Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:50; Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 76. 10. For instance, Caroline Walker Bynum titled the introduction to her book on blood piety “A Frenzy for Blood.” Bynum, Wonderful Blood, 1–5. 11. Book of Margery Kempe, 278–79. 12. Bynum, Wonderful Blood, 25–26. 13. Ibid., Wonderful Blood, 25–45; Merback, Pilgrimage and Pogrom, 77–79; Kühne and Ziesak, Wunder, Wallfahrt, Widersacher. 14. Bynum, Wonderful Blood, 29. 15. Cohausz, “Vier ehemalige Sakramentswallfahrten.” 16. On Walldürn, see Bynum, Wonderful Blood, 28, and Kolb, Vom heiligen Blut, 163–67. Other competitors nearby included Iphofen and Komburg. Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 77; Browe, “Die eucharistischen Verwandlungswunder,” 143. 17. As Mitchell Merback has pointed out, the development of relic veneration in Germany followed a

trajectory different from that of the rest of Europe, progressing from a focus on Christ’s body and blood to a late concentration on sites of Marian veneration between 1490 and 1520. Merback, Pilgrimage and Pogrom, 157–58. 18. The reference to three drops of blood comes from Ellringen’s compendium, discussed at length below. Ellringen, compendium, fol. 4r. 19. Schnurrer, “Wunderheilungen,” 14, 16. 20. Ellringen, compendium. Schattenmann published an article with the first thirty miracle accounts and a German translation of the Latin inventory of relics. Schnurrer has followed this lead with an article of his own that transcribes all of the miracle accounts. I have returned to the original but found Schnurrer’s transcription to be accurate. I therefore follow his interpretation of difficult-to-read passages. Schnurrer, “Wunderheilungen”; Schattenmann, “Reliquien und Wunder.” 21. Ellringen, compendium, fol. 3v; Schattenmann, “Reliquien und Wunder,” 44–49. 22. Ellringen, compendium, fols. 3v–4r. 23. I am grateful to Sonja Drimmer, Chris Fletcher, Lyle Dechant, and an anonymous reader for weighing in on the transcription of this line. 24. Ellringen, compendium, fol. 4r. Published in German translation in Schattenmann, “Reliquien und Wunder,” 48. 25. Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 184, stylistically dates the cross to about 1270, given its affinity to the Villinger Cross, dated 1268. 26. Ibid.: “kupferin cruz.” “Jakobsrechnungen,” vol. 2, R 363, Stadtarchiv Rothenburg, fol. 46r: “Item 4 lb 25 d fur dy berrill in das creuß,” and “Item 4 lb 5 d Wolffart goltschmid von der barril in das creuß.” 27. Weissbecker, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, 66: “Gutta sanguinis Christi / supra corporali / St. Andrea Apostoli / Sanctorum Petri et Pauli / De Lapide de quo Crux / Christi erecta fuit. / De cruce Sti Andreae / de corpore et cuti / et crinibus Stae Elizabeth / Sti Augustini / de spinea corona. / Anno Domini millesimo / quingentesimo secundo / crux ista iterum / deaurata est et tabla / ista nova erecta ante / corporis Christi.” Also given in Bier, Riemenschneider: Die reifen Werke, 174. On September 11, 1502, a goldsmith was paid 6 guilders for the gilding. “Jakobsrechnungen,” vol. 2, R 363,

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Stadtarchiv Rothenburg, fol. 228v; Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 184. On the collecting and labeling of relics as well as the potential slippage of relic identity, see Smith, “Portable Christianity.” 28. Bier, Riemenschneider: Die reifen Werke, 171; Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 179. 29. The accounts follow a heading in red ink at the top of page 7: “In the year 1266, which one counts after Christ’s birth, was consecrated the chapel in honor of the holy body of our Lord Jesus Christ and his Holy Blood” (Des Jars, do man zalte nach christi geburt MCC und LXVI Jar ward geweihet die capelle in der ere des heiligen lichnams unsers hern Jesu Christi und seines heligen blutes); then: “These are the signs that occurred in the Chapel of the Holy Blood in Rothenburg” (Diß synt dye czeychen, dye geschehen syn yn der cappeln des heyligen plut zu Rotenburg). Ellringen, compendium, fol. 7v. 30. Entries 19, 21, and 22 are dated 1300. Miracle 23 is dated to 1307. Miracle 27 occurred in 1319, and miracle 29 in 1317. The outlier from 1380 is number 30, the last entry in this hand. Ellringen, compendium, fol. 9r; Schnurrer, “Wunderheilungen,” 2. 31. Entry 40 may be dated as early as 1403, but since the date is written as “Millesimo quadringentesimo etc. tercio,” the decade is not certain. Otherwise entries 31 and 32 are dated 1441, entry 33 is dated 1443, and entry 41 is dated 1445. Entry 46 is again strange in its notation (“Anno etc. drigesimo quarto”) but seems to correspond to 1434, though this places it out of chronological sequence. Finally, entry 67 is dated “Millesimo quadragentesimo quadragesimo septimo,” so 1447. Ellringen, compendium, fols. 9r–10v, 14v–15r; Schnurrer, “Wunderheilungen,” 5–8, 13–15. 32. Schnurrer, “Wunderheilungen,” 2. 33. “Eyn frauwe hye auß der stat waz von siechthum worden zu eym stumen ein halp jar; dy tranck auß dem kilche vor dem altar und wart gesunt.” Ellringen, compendium, fol. 8r; Schnurrer, “Wunderheilungen,” 6; Schattenmann, “Reliquien und Wunder,” 50. 34. “Eyn magt was gar frolichin an sandt Mertins abend, und do sye ob dem eßen saß, do verloße sye ir gesprechde dry tag; dy tranck auß dem kilche yn der selben cappellen und wart reden.” Ellringen, compendium, fol. 8v; Schnurrer,

“Wunderheilungen,” 7; Schattenmann, “Reliquien und Wunder,” 50. 35. Unconsecrated wine permitted the laity to partake symbolically in the second species without risking problematic spillage of sacred blood. Rubin, Corpus Christi, 48; Merback, Pilgrimage and Pogrom, 159–62. 36. “Zwe frauwen wurden erloßt, und der wart eyne erloßt von dem nagel der uff der cappeln ist yn dem crucz.” I am following Schnurrer’s reading of “Zwe frauwen” rather than Schattenmann’s transcription “Vier frauen.” Ellringen, compendium, fol. 8r; Schnurrer, “Wunderheilungen,” 7; Schattenmann, “Reliquien und Wunder,” 50. 37. The list of relics contained within the cross does not include a nail, nor does a nail appear anywhere in the extensive inventory of relics in Ellringen’s own compendium. Three caveats are worth mentioning: a few of the entries in Ellringen’s compendium are now so faded that they are impossible to read; also, at the end of several of the lists of relics grouped by reliquary, Ellringen claims there are several pieces without names; finally, it is possible that the “nail” refers to the thorn from Christ’s cross contained within the cruciform reliquary. Ellringen, compendium, fols. 2r–7r, 16r–v; Schattenmann, “Reliquien und Wunder,” 49. 38. The mention of the altar occurs primarily early on in the list (entries 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 10, 19, 21). After entry 10, the formulation “zu dieser cappellen” or “yn diese cappellen” dominates (entries 12, 15, 16, 18, 20–30). Ellringen, compendium, fols. 7v–8v; Schattenmann, “Reliquien und Wunder,” 43. The miraculously healed are said to pray (“gelobt sich”) to the Holy Blood in entries 31, 40, 41, 44, 45, 46, 67–71, 73, 74. The chapel is named in entries 42, 47, 56: “yn dy cappellen zum heyligen plut.” Ellringen, compendium, fols. 9r–10r, 14v–15r; Schnurrer, “Wunderheilungen,” 13–15. 39. The named man in group one is referred to as “Graff Hans” or “Earl Hans,” and he features in the final entry of group one, which is dated 1380. In the many cases of miracles involving children, the parents are usually identified by name. In the first group, entries 6, 10, 15, 17, 22, and 25 involve children but usually do not name their parents. Of the entries mentioning a child in the second group

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(entries 33, 35, 36, 39, 41, 42 [refers to a daughter of unknown age], 43–45, 47, 54 [refers to a young girl, “meydlein”], 55, 58, 60, 66, 67 [refers to a boy, “knaben”], 68–70), only five do not identify the parents by name. Ellringen, compendium, fols. 7v–10v, 14v–15r; Schnurrer, “Wunderheilungen,” 6–7, 13–15. 40. The shorthand entries include 48 through 65, which in large part appear on folio 10v. In its entirety, entry 52 reads, “Item Lemmermenen,” and entry 65, “Neglin.” Ellringen, compendium, fol. 10v; Schnurrer, “Wunderheilungen,” 14–15. 41. Examples include entries 31 and 33, and 61 through 64 respectively. Ellringen, compendium, fols. 9r, 10v. 42. In the original: “kamen und brochten ire kerczen; uff der selben stat wurden sye gesunt.” Ellringen, compendium, fol. 7v; Schnurrer, “Wunderheilungen,” 6. 43. Entries 31, 36, 37–39, 43, 56. Ellringen, compendium, fols. 9r–10v; Schnurrer, “Wunderheilungen,” 13–14. 44. “Item ein kint von Marckolshein das was ungehornde. Sein vater und sein muter gelobten es zu diser cappelen und machten es zynshaftig zu dem altar der selben capellen und wart gehorend.” Ellringen, compendium, fol. 9r; Schnurrer, “Wunderheilungen,” 13. 45. “Item eyn fraw genant Morynn Gastenfelden, die hat die frawen kranckheit langes czeitt gehabt. Sie gelobt sich zu diser cappelln und macht sich zyns hafftig mit eynem halben pfundt waschs und war von stund an gesunt.” Ellringen, compendium, fol. 9r; Schnurrer, “Wunderheilungen,” 13. 46. Van der Velden, Donor’s Image, 247–78; Conrad, “Meanings of Duccio’s Maestà,” 181–82; Giorgi and Moscadelli, Costruire una cattedrale, 328–29. 47. “Item ein fraw hy in der stat, ein arme, der was ir gesicht ab gangen, das sy nicht gesach, dy gelopt 2 pfunt wachs und 1 schleyr dy wart gesehen.” “Item Peter Zelter von Großen aurach, dem starb ein weyp und ein tochter, dor umb bekumert sich dy ander tochter, das sy vil in ein kranckheyt, das sy lag 14 tag ungeret; do ward er geweist zu eynem weisen artzt gen Feuchtwang; as sy do hin kam, do kom yn fur, er solt sy geloben zum heylgen plut myt 30 pfunt wachs, und solt ale erczeney loßen; und do er heim kom, do fant er sy sitzen bey dem gesind, und sy war gesund.” Ellringen, compendium, fols. 14v–15r; Schnurrer, “Wunderheilungen,” 15.

48. Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:55–56. 49. Ellringen, compendium, fols. 11r–14r, 15r–v; Schattenmann, “Reliquien und Wunder,” 51. 50. Ellringen, compendium, fols. 15r–v. 51. Schleif, Donatio et Memoria. 52. See, for instance, Vincent, Holy Blood, 14, 154–85; Bynum, Wonderful Blood, 7–8, 244, 250; Brown, Civic Ceremony, 40; Cohausz, “Vier ehemalige Sakramentswallfahrten,” 278. 53. Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:723, entry 755. 54. Ibid., 1:724, entry 756. 55. This was a common practice in the Middle Ages. On the funding of church construction projects, see Vroom, Financing Cathedral Building, and Kraus, Gold was the Mortar. 56. It is now clear that it was the elevated chapel that was dedicated to the Holy Blood. Early scholarship mistakenly considered the Heiltumskammer, in the lower story of the west end, to be the relic chapel. Heinrich Weissbecker, for instance, who calls the east end of St. Jakob the “white choir” and the west end the “black choir,” clearly describes the Heiltumskammer instead of the upper chapel in his discussion of the “Chapel of the Holy Blood.” Weissbecker, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, 56, 68; Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 79, 86, 91. 57. Traces of the regularizing painting program were found on the exterior of St. Jakob during the recent restoration of the church. I am grateful to Jérôme Zahn for sharing this information with me and for showing me traces of the paint on site. 58. Hahn draws heavily on the work of Mary Carruthers in developing this idea. Hahn, Reliquary Effect, 99; Carruthers, Craft of Thought, 232–33. 59. Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:48; Schnurrer, “Fronleichnamsfest,” 51–52. 60. Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:48, 52, 65–66, 723–24. 61. A similar festive procession carried the host from the east choir to the west choir of the Church of St. Sebald in Nuremberg on certain feast days. Weilandt, Sebalduskirche in Nürnberg, 220. 62. In the original: “unden in sarch neben dem sacramentsgehäwße.” The Grimm dictionary defines Sarg as “Kasten, Schrein, in welchem ein Götzenbild sich befindet, zusammt dem Bild, dann wohl auch das

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bild allein” (box, shrine, in which an idol is located, together with a picture, then also the picture alone). Baxandall, Limewood Sculptors, 174, 176; Bier, Riemenschneider: Die reifen Werke, 171. 63. Bynum, Wonderful Blood, 10, 76–77, 87; Caspers, “Western Church”; Biernoff, Sight and Embodiment, 133–64; Dumoutet, Désir de voir; Timmermann, Real Presence, 3–7. 64. Cohausz, “Vier ehemalige Sakramentswallfahrten,” 279–80. 65. Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:48. 66. Bynum, Wonderful Blood, 92. 67. Anheben (here anhebt) literally means to lift something, though here it probably refers to breaking ground or beginning the construction project. Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:676, entry 105. 68. The provisional west terminus of the nave is visible in Friedrich Herlin’s 1462 view of the Church of St. Jakob in his altarpiece painted for the high altar in Nördlingen. The original roof of St. Jakob includes several changes in construction technique that correspond to different construction campaigns on the church. The roof construction over the westernmost nave bay is different from that of the rest of the nave, demonstrating inconsistencies in the dimensions of the beams as well as in the construction system. Mägele et al., “Kirche St. Jakob,” 73, 88, 92. 69. From the chronicle by Rösch, written between 1620 and 1638 using earlier, now lost, sources. Staatsarchiv Nürnberg, Akt. 72–73; Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 79. 70. “Jakobsrechnungen,” vol. 1, R 362, Stadtarchiv Rothenburg, fol. 9r. 71. R 362, Stadtarchiv Rothenburg, fols. 35v–36v; Mägele et al., “Kirche St. Jakob,” 93, 107. 72. July 14, 1471: “von dem kreutz bogen zu hawen und ist bezalt.” The term hawen, or “hewing,” seems to suggest the arch in question was not a rib vault but rather the arch that was temporarily filled between the nave and the west end. “Jakobsrechnungen,” vol. 1, R 362, Stadtarchiv Rothenburg, fol. 48v. 73. “St. Jacobskirchen mit der Corporis Christi Capellen unter ein gewölb und tach.” A 1424, Stadtarchiv Rothenburg, fol. 45r; Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 82; Schnurrer, “Hans Müllner,” 52–53.


74. “Item 4 lb als das gewelb zu geschlossen, zu vertrincken den gesweln.” “Jakobsrechnungen,” vol. 1, R 362, Stadtarchiv Rothenburg, fol. 50r. 75. In the original: “der erbar maister Niclaus Eseler der steinmez von Alczheim.” Pelizaeus, Eseler von Alzey, 6. 76. Helmberger, Architektur und Baugeschichte, 123. 77. Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 82. 78. The receipt was signed “Niclaus Eseler werckmaister des Hohen Stifts zu meincz.” Helmberger, Architektur und Baugeschichte, 127–38. 79. Specifically, “meister Nyclas” and “sein sun” in 1468, “meister Nyclasen” and “sein sun” in 1469, and “meister Niclasen” in 1470. The last of these presumably refers to the younger Niclaus Eseler, the “son” in the earlier entries, who took over for his father in Rothenburg, probably in 1469, and stayed on in the region for another three decades. “Jakobsrechnungen,” vol. 1, R 362, Stadtarchiv Rothenburg, fols. 10v, 23r, 23v. In 1488 “mainster Nicklas von Dinckelspuhl,” Niclaus Eseler Jr., appears in the Rothenburg financial ledgers as the recipient of a payment of 1 fl. Three years later he is thanked again with a payment of 1 guilder for work on a now-lost baptismal font. This last entry, dated November 20, 1491, is the final mention of an Eseler in Rothenburg, though the records show that Niclaus Eseler Jr. continued to work in the nearby town of Dinkelsbühl after this date. Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 82. “Item 1 gulden mainster Niclas Eßler geschencht vom visir vom dauff stein.” “Jakobsrechnungen,” vol. 2, R 363, Stadtarchiv Rothenburg, fol. 49v. 80. Helmberger, Architektur und Baugeschichte, 108–11. 81. Ress, for instance, describes the west end from top down and notes its spatial relationship to the nave but does not directly connect his discussion of the composition with the functions of the spaces. Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 100, 129–30. 82. The spatial arrangement has distant antecedents in the architecture of westworks (Westwerke), crypts, and western galleries. Many of the Gothic churches of Nuremberg, for instance, included elevated western spaces. These have sometimes been interpreted as imperial signifiers, though this does not seem a strong symbolism of the Rothenburg west end, despite the city’s status as an imperial city (Reichsstadt) and evidence of several imperial

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visits to Rothenburg. A more likely connection may lie in the practice of exhibiting holy relics in the west end of a church. Weilandt, Sebalduskirche in Nürnberg, 219–21; Eichhorn, “Sebalder Engelschor.” On the meaning of western structures, see Lobbedey, “Westwerke und Westchöre”; Lehmann, “Westbauten der Stiftskirchen”; Möbius, Westwerkstudien; and Bandmann, Mittelalterliche Architektur. 83. At least since the mid-twentieth century, scholars have claimed that the Heiltumskammer served “to safeguard the relic treasure” of the Church of St. Jakob. Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 79; Götz, Zentralbau und Zentralbautendenz, 246. The two surviving inventories of the church, however, do not mention the Heiltumskammer, although the inventory of 1543 specifies that numerous items were kept “in the sacristy,” some others “in the sexton’s office” (in the possession of the priest), and a handful of others in the sacrament house. Schnurrer, “Zwei Inventare,” 29, 30, 31. It seems more likely that the Heiltumskammer, considering also its street-level location, served as a space for periodic, ritualized display rather than for permanent storage. See also Merback, Pilgrimage and Pogrom, 237. 84. It is worth noting that the vaulting of the Heiltumskammer (as well as that of the neighboring passageway) seems never to have been completed. This raises the question whether there was a difference between the intended function of the space and its actual postconstruction use. 85. I have made initial suggestions elsewhere toward distinguishing several types: Boivin, “Chancel Passageways,” 307–9. 86. Tilmann Breuer and Georg Dehio briefly mention Schwibbogen and Kavaten in their volume on Franconia, for example. The only scholar to treat the subject of passageways beneath medieval churches more thoroughly has been Friedrich Möbius in his 1996 volume on St. Michael in Jena. Breuer, Dehio, and Gall, Franken; Möbius, Stadtkirche St. Michael zu Jena: Symbolik. See also Boivin, “Chancel Passageways.” 87. Mader, Kunstdenkmäler von Unterfranken, 165–79; Herzig, “Deutschordenskommende Würzburg,” 34– 65; Trenschel, Deutschhauskirche Würzburg; Codex M. ch. F., 176b, Universitäts Bibliothek Würzburg.

88. “Das man dar unter hyn gereiten, gefaren und gegen moge.” Herzig, “Deutschordenskommende Würzburg,” 64. 89. Vauchez and Bornstein, Laity in the Middle Ages, 141–52. On the concept of the “find-spot,” see Merback, Pilgrimage and Pogrom. 90. Sebald, Stadt Oberwesel, 1:689; Vauchez and Bornstein, Laity in the Middle Ages, 147. 91. Sebald, Stadt Oberwesel, 1:689. 92. The so-called Werner relief—a sculpted narrative of the gruesome story made in 1727 that until 1969 was mounted on the exterior of the axial east wall of the chapel—tells in an inscription of Werner who was killed “within the vault beside this church by the Jews” (von den Juden bey dieser Kirch im Gewölb). Ibid. 93. Documents from 1426 and 1578 show that pilgrims visited the Wernersäule, a column connected to the legend, which was exhibited in the apse of the chapel. Ibid. 94. Paczkowski, Evangelische Stiftskirche. Today the path through the buttresses in Oberwesel provides access to the chapel through a door in the south side. Metal fastenings confirm that, at one point, this path could be closed off—most likely by trelliswork gates—to control access, a feature also found in Wertheim. 95. Today the passageways of both sites also accommodate automotive traffic. 96. Oberwesel lies at a distance of about fifty kilometers from Alzey and about forty kilometers from Mainz. 97. Merback, Pilgrimage and Pogrom, 236–37, also 124, 243. 98. Norbert Nussbaum has remarked on the relationship between the vaulting of the Church of the Holy Savior in Passau and that of the Augustinian cloister church in Nuremberg, designed by Heinrich Kugler from Nördlingen. Nussbaum, German Gothic Church Architecture, 185, 209. I am grateful to Jérôme Zahn for pointing out differences in the quality of vaulting: the earlier gallery vaults are executed with much higher precision and skill than those of the central chapel space. On the so-called Wandpfeilerkirchen of Austria and Bavaria, which similarly include galleries that encircle the church, see Büchner, Spätgotische Wandpfeilerkirche, esp. 59–60, and Dambeck, Spätgotische Kirchenbauten in

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Ostbayern, 37. On the Church of the Holy Savior in Passau, see also Viertlböck, “St. Salvator in Passau.” 99. Merback, Pilgrimage and Pogrom, 232. 100. These relics were an altar stone upon which the hosts had allegedly been stabbed, the knife with which this act was supposedly carried out, and one of the bleeding hosts. Ibid., 126–28. 101. Ibid., 125, 243. 102. Schnurrer, “Rothenburg als Wallfahrtsstadt” (2005), 82–83; Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:76; Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 529; Schnurrer, “Wallfahrt zur Reinen Maria.” 103. Merback, Pilgrimage and Pogrom, 249. 104. For a transcription of the primary sources on Harschner’s contribution, see Bier, Riemenschneider: Die reifen Werke, 170, 172–75. For the surviving contract between Riemenschneider and the city council of Rothenburg, see ibid., 171, and Baxandall, Limewood Sculptors, 174–76. 105. Baxandall, Limewood Sculptors, 188–90. See also Trepesch, Studien zur Dunkelgestaltung, 286–96. 106. John 13:26. Welzel, “Tilman Riemenschneider,” 206, has pointed out the emphasis here on Judas’s false Communion. Communicants were to confess their sins before receiving Communion, so that they would be pure receptacles for the holy substance. Rubin, Corpus Christi, 148. On the Man of Sorrows as a representation of God’s mercy, see Weilandt, Sebalduskirche in Nürnberg, 99. 107. Bier, Riemenschneider: Die reifen Werke, 171. 108. Luke 22:44. 109. Trepesch, Studien zur Dunkelgestaltung, 83, 280. 110. Koerner, Reformation of the Image, 346, has argued that scenes of the Last Supper in pre-Reformation altarpieces are rare precisely because they were meant to emphasize the particular local cult rather than the general sacrament. 111. Bryda, “Tree, Vine, and Herb,” 8. 112. Ibid., 1–2, 15. 113. Trepesch, Studien zur Dunkelgestaltung, 267–68. 114. Greub, “Standort, Judas und Reliquienkreuz.” 115. Many thanks to Tim Juckes for reminding me of this example. Weilandt, Sebalduskirche in Nürnberg, 616. 116. Examples include the Liebfrauenkirche in Oberwesel and St. Sebald in Nuremberg. In St. Jakob in Rothenburg, another Himmelloch opens


through the vaults before the original location of the lay altar (explored further in chapter 4). On such “heaven holes,” see Krause, “‘Imago ascensionis.’” 117. Saint Jodocus is also called Jost or Jos in the sources. Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:52, 67. 118. Two entries in the financial accounts from 1504 record payments to “Erhart, carpenter for the balustrade to the Holy Blood by St. Jos altar” (Erhart schreiner für das glen zu dem heyligen pluet bey sant Jos altar) and to “the metalworker [or locksmith] for work on the balustrade to St. Jobst altar” (dem schloßer für arbeyt an dem glen zu sant Jobst altar). “Jakobsrechnungen,” vol. 2, R 363, Stadtarchiv Rothenburg, fol. 264r–v; Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 84. 119. Borchardt locates this altar beneath the western gallery. Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:52. Ress correctly places the altar on the gallery. Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 84. 120. Today a copy replaces the original, which is kept in the RothenburgMuseum. 121. “Jakobsrechnungen,” vol. 1, R 362, Stadtarchiv Rothenburg, fol. 59r. The earliest explication of the Mass in German, which is from Nuremberg and dates to around 1480, instructs the congregation to sit during all lessons except those from the Gospels. Kroesen and Steensma, Interior of the Medieval Village Church, 263–83, esp. 272–73. During the fifteenth century the west choir of St. Sebald in Nuremberg also had a set of stalls, though these were added at a time when the primary functions of the west choir had been moved to the new hall-type east choir. Weilandt, Sebalduskirche in Nürnberg, 219–21. 122. Kalden-Rosenfeld, Tilman Riemenschneider: Werkstattleiter, 52. 123. From a technical perspective, the frame of the north doorway is executed in greater depth and with a more challenging overlap of elements than the south doorway. I am grateful to Jérôme Zahn for pointing this out to me. 124. Tripps, Das handelnde Bildwerk, 186–215. Such openings also had a practical function, as they allowed for large or heavy objects—such as loads of shingles for repairing the roof—to be hoisted up into the space beneath the roof.

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125. This was practiced throughout Europe since at least the eleventh century. Ibid., 209–11. 126. Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:52, 66–67; Tripps, Das handelnde Bildwerk, 126, 207–8, 215. 127. For a related exploration of the dynamic role of an altarpiece within its particular local context, see Merback, “Fount of Mercy.” 128. Bynum, Wonderful Blood, 5, 34; Rubin, Corpus Christi, 35, 72; Timmermann, “‘Mercklich köstlich und wercklich sacrament gehews,’” 207–10; Haquin, Fête-Dieu, vol. 1.

Chapter 3 1. Smriti Srinivas, for instance, defines the “urban performative complex” as “a multicentered network of sites of locational sacrality and the sacrality of urban sprawl that links spatial arenas, social constituencies, and civic history on a number of axes through the performance and mediation of sacred power.” Srinivas, Landscapes of Urban Memory, 67; Weaver, Urban Complex. On the Huangshi Complex, see https://www‌.archdaily‌.com‌/899602 /huangshi-‌urban-‌complex-‌aube. 2. On references in connection with the Middle Ages, see Ayers, “Understanding the Urban Environment,” 68, and Abel, “Water,” 10. 3. The income of the parish fabrica from the ringing of bells to mark the funerals of wealthy citizens had increased steeply from 15 lb in 1482/83 to 63 lb in 1483/84. Schnurrer also cites the increase in income listed for the sale of goods donated to the church upon the death of parishioners (from 32 lb in 1482/83 to 438 lb in 1483/84) as evidence of this pestilence. Schnurrer, “Pest in Rothenburg,” 22–23. 4. “Jakobsrechnungen,” vol. 1, R 362, Stadtarchiv Rothenburg, fols. 79v, 224r, 226r, 243r. 5. A payment in the accounts of the St. Jakob fabrica records 30 lb spent to feed these guests. The bishop was paid, or “gifted,” 4 fl, and his personal attendant also received a small sum. “Jakobsrechnungen,” vol. 1, R 362, Stadtarchiv Rothenburg, fol. 243r. 6. The windows of the church were particularly vulnerable and had to be mended on several occasions. See, for example, “Jakobsrechnungen,” vol. 1, R 362,

Stadtarchiv Rothenburg, fols. 222r, 255v, 278r; vol. 2, R 363, fols. 49v, 67r, 135v. 7. From a close inspection of the rib springers of the vaults of the passageway and neighboring Heiltumskammer, it seems unlikely that the vaults of either space were ever completed during the medieval period. I am grateful to Jérôme Zahn for on-site conversations during the most recent restoration efforts confirming this fact. 8. On the Eheportal, see Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 82, 112. 9. “Jakobsrechnungen,” vol. 1, R 362, Stadtarchiv Rothenburg, fol. 243r. 10. Ragon, Space of Death, 143–44. 11. Bynum, “Bodily Miracles”; Bynum, Resurrection of the Body; Westerhof, Death and the Noble Body. 12. Finch, “Reformation of Meaning,” 440. 13. Gordon and Marshall, “Placing the Dead,” 4. 14. Schnurrer, Urkunden, 1:415, entry 1015. 15. For the following details, see Schnurrer’s transcription of the expenses listed in relation to Ottnat’s funeral. Schnurrer, “Tod und Begräbnis.” 16. Ibid., 85. 17. Binski, Medieval Death, esp. 70. 18. See the discussion of the city’s role as executor in chapter 1. 19. At the usual interest rate of 5 percent, this required a capital of 20 lb h or 20 fl rh. Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:657. On commemorative services, see Binski, Medieval Death; Bassett, Death in Towns; Finch, “Reformation of Meaning”; Heck, “Eigene Seele retten”; Kowzan, “Memorare Novissima Tua”; Schell, “Death and Disruption”; and Schnurrer, “Tod und Begräbnis.” 20. Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:658–59. 21. A surviving source describing a similar practice in the Spital cemetery makes this a likely practice also for the parish cemetery and the Charnel House of St. Michael. Schnurrer, Urkunden, 1:392–93, entry 958. 22. Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:669, entry 57. 23. Ibid., 1:660. 24. Bynum, Resurrection of the Body, 203–4. 25. Schweizer, Kirchhof und Friedhof, 60. 26. Möbius, Stadtkirche St. Michael zu Jena: Symbolik, 43; W. Schneider, “Zu Hilf und zu Trost,” 13. The

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bones in the charnel house of Iphofen were buried in a cemetery, only to be returned to the charnel house during its 2005 restoration. Wieser, St. Michael in Iphofen. In Gerolzhofen the bones were removed in 1816. I am grateful to Klaus Vogt, director of the Museum “Kunst und Geist der Gotik” in Gerolzhofen, for sharing with me his unpublished research on the Gerolzhofen Charnel House of St. John. 27. Schnurrer, Urkunden, 1:101, entry 230; Staatsarchiv Nürnberg, Akt. 72–73. This document is the first of those surviving to mention the cemetery beside the Parish Church of St. Jakob. Since there were already graves to be dug up and confirmed, a smaller cemetery must have existed beside the predecessor church. 28. Schnurrer, Urkunden, 1:101, entry 230; Staatsarchiv Nürnberg, Akt. 72–73. 29. Weissbecker, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, 78: “die zierlichste gotische Bauwerke Rothenburgs.” 30. Faber, Kirchen der Pfarrei Haßfurt; Paczkowski, Evangelische Stiftskirche; W. Schneider, “Zu Hilf und zu Trost”; Wieser, St. Michael in Iphofen; Zilkens, Karner-Kapellen; Zürcher, Sebastianuskapelle Tauberbischofsheim. A short guide to the city of Zeil am Main claims that the charnel-house chapel dedicated to St. Anne was consecrated in 1412, though it gives no source for this date and I have not been able to verify it. Leisentritt, Spaziergang durch Zeil, 20. 31. Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:82; Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 525. 32. Bier, Riemenschneider: Die späten Werke in Holz, 18; W. Schneider, “Zu Hilf und zu Trost,” 11. 33. The bell turret, or thurnlein, of the charnel-house chapel in Haßfurt is documented in a surviving record of 1527, as it was dismantled in that year. My thanks go to archivist Thomas Schindler for drawing my attention to this source. Haßfurt accounts, Stadtarchiv Haßfurt, fol. 20v. 34. Frequently the division was also underscored by the inclusion of a dividing string course, as it was in the examples at Ochsenfurt and Tauberbischofsheim. Friedrich Möbius has argued, for the related Church of St. Michael in Jena, that the division was meant as a demarcation of two realms. Möbius, Stadtkirche St. Michael zu Jena: Eine Einführung in die Baugeschichte, 61.

35. Zilkens, Karner-Kapellen, 57–70, 90–103. 36. Krautheimer, “Introduction to an ‘Iconography.’” 37. Wels, “Pfarrkirche zu Kiedrich,” 73–101. Note that the dates given by Zilkens vary somewhat: Zilkens, Karner-Kapellen, 94–95. 38. Wels, “Pfarrkirche zu Kiedrich,” esp. 122–23, 144. 39. The “library,” or “Bibliothec,” is St. Michael itself, repurposed to this use. Schäffer, “Compendium,” Stadtarchiv Rothenburg, B 668, B669, fig. 20. 40. Jakob Nolt donated a bell for St. Michael in 1479. In 1493, 1fl 9.5 lb was paid for the casting of a bell that was said to weigh “1/2 centners 6 pounds.” The same day, the ledger records “1 lb 20 d for the bay to the bell on the charnel house,” probably in reference to work on the bell turret. By 1502 the bell seems to have been ready, for an additional 10 lb was paid to make up for the difference between the amount prepaid and the actual cost of the bell, and 2 lb was spent to purchase rope. “Item 1 fl 9 1/2 lb glocklein zw giessen dem kernther, wigt 1/2 centner 6 pf.” “Item 1 lb 20 d vom joch zu der glocken uff dem kernther.” “Jakobsrechnungen,” vol. 2, R 363, Stadtarchiv Rothenburg, fol. 79v. “Item 10 lb dem Kesler, hot sein glocken mer die er auf den kernther geben hatt.” “Item 2 lb 4 d umb siler zu der glocken zum kernther.” Ibid., fol. 228r–v. In today’s measure, “1/2 centner 6 pf ” works out to be roughly 25.5 kg, so the bell was rather modest in size. Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 525; Weissbecker, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, 44. 41. Traces of paint on the standing wall of the chapel indicate that it was once painted, like the Church of St. Jakob, with false stone coursings to regularize its appearance. 42. This is also a feature originally found in other two-story charnel-house chapels such as those in Kiedrich, Wertheim, and Ochsenfurt. 43. In Kiedrich the division between charnel storage space and processional space is made clear by the arrangement of doors and the vaulting structure (two parallel barrel vaults). See Zilkens, KarnerKapellen, 45. 44. Unfortunately, the original source that Borchardt and Ress cite for the establishment of the chantry has been lost. Although included in the table of contents, the page with the donation for the chaplaincy and chantry in St. Michael has been cut out of

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the sourcebook and cannot be located. Nuremberg Sourcebook, Staatsarchiv Nürnberg, RAR 543, fols. 4r–v, 31v; Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:82; Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 525; A 1424, Stadtarchiv Rothenburg, fols. 64v–65r. The priest charged with oversight of the Charnel-House Chapel of St. Michael in Kiedrich similarly performed three required weekly Masses, after each of which he was to descend to the lower-story ossuary and read the psalm Miserere mei, Deus and the collect Deus, cuius misericordiae non est numerus. Fischer, Spätgotische Kirchenbaukunst, 74. 45. Schnurrer, “Zwei Inventare,” 31. 46. The surviving two-story charnel-house chapel in Gerolzhofen also originally had two altars in the upper story, with one located in the east and the second, dedicated to Saint Anne, set in a niche in the north wall. Two altars are also attested to for the octagonal ossuary chapel in Oberhofen by Göppingen in 1506. W. Schneider, “Zu Hilf und zu Trost,” 13; Zilkens, Karner-Kapellen, 82. 47. A 1424, Stadtarchiv Rothenburg, fols. 64v–65r; Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:82, 679. 48. Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 526. 49. Schnurrer, “Fronleichnamsfest,” 42, 50–52. 50. Zilkens, Karner-Kapellen, 62. The term “pulpit” was used early by Weissbecker to describe the balcony on the west facade of St. Michael in Rothenburg: “Aussenkanzel” or “freie Kanzel.” Weissbecker, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, 78. 51. Fischer, Spätgotische Kirchenbaukunst, 81. On the use of two-story charnel-house chapels as reliquary chapels more widely, see Zilkens, Karner-Kapellen, 134–44. 52. Kiedrich acquired a head relic of Saint Valentine in 1360 and received a second gift in the middle of the fifteenth century. Wels, “Pfarrkirche zu Kiedrich,” 71, dates this second gift to 1454, whereas Zilkens, Karner-Kapellen, 94–95, claims it was made in 1456. 53. Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 77, points to the existence of an altar in the sacristy abutting the north side of St. Jakob’s choir and proposes that this space may have functioned as a temporary storage site for the relic. However, it seems unlikely that this small space could have accommodated the steady flow of lay pilgrims in the 1430s and 1440s to which Ellringen’s miracle accounts attest, nor would it

explain the apparent gap in pilgrimage to the relic between the 1380s and 1430s. 54. The financial accounts survive beginning in 1468. In the records that do survive, occasional mention is made of St. Michael as der kernther, by which not just the charnel house but the entire Chapel of St. Michael is meant. The sums are generally small, most commonly between 2 lb and 10 lb, and seem to relate to individual projects on the chapel rather than to a concerted, large-scale construction campaign. A noticeable concentration of these entries leads up to the celebratory consecration of the parochial complex in 1485. “Jakobsrechnungen,” vol. 1, R 362, Stadtarchiv Rothenburg; Schnurrer, Urkunden, xxx. While the spelling in kernther is most common, the word also appears as kernter, kerntter, cerntter, kernthern, and kerneter. 55. The charnel house was dedicated to Saints Michael, Eucharius, and Maternus and consecrated by Auxiliary Bishop Nikolaus von Sebastopol, representing Bishop Johann I of Würzburg. “Capella sanctorum Michaelis, Ekarii et Materni annexa ecclesia parrochiali sancti Jakobi maioris necnon et muris eiusdem circumclusa.” Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:723; Staatsarchiv Nürnberg, RU 1872. 56. The document is dated July 14, 1435, and includes services for her husbands Siegfried Häuptlein and the knight Hans von Rosenberg. Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:679. 57. The consecration took place on April 27, 1449. On May 13, 1449, the Teutonic Order approved the chantry, and on May 31, 1449, Bishop Gottfried IV of Würzburg issued the confirmation document. Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:82; A 1424, Stadtarchiv Rothenburg, fols. 64v–65r. 58. Lutz, Inschriften der Stadt Rothenburg, 30–31; Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:82, 724; Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 525. 59. A similar chronology characterizes the construction of the Parish Church of St. Valentin in Kiedrich and its neighboring Chapel of St. Michael. In Kiedrich, the main church was begun around 1400 and interrupted around 1430, St. Michael was built from 1434 to 1445, and work continued on St. Valentin from ca. 1456 to ca. 1480. Zilkens, Karner-Kapellen, 94–95.

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60. “Item 2 flor 3 lb 5 d von schewben ein zu setzen in der pfar, auf dem kernter und in unser frawen capeln, die das wetter und der hagel zerschlahen hat.” “Jakobsrechnungen,” vol. 1, R 362, Stadtarchiv Rothenburg, fol. 308v. 61. For instance, repeated reference to the kernther is made in the accounts in March and April of 1481, recording payments for stone and for wood and to a brickmaker for work “on the vaulting stone.” By July of the same year, the ledger records a payment for work on the roof (zw decken). These expenses, for additional projects on the largely complete chapel and alongside payments like that of 9 lb for a new door in 1484, led up to or followed close after the final consecration of the urban complex. “Jakobsrechnungen,” vol. 1, R 362, Stadtarchiv Rothenburg, fols. 224r, 226r, 243r; vol. 2, R 363, fol. 79v; Reitemeier, Pfarrkirchen in der Stadt, 200. 62. Anton Weber first attributed the altarpiece to Riemenschneider in 1884. Vetter, “Zur Herkunft,” 83; Vetter, “Geschichte, Ikonographie und Deutung,” 45; Weber, Leben und Werke, 27. 63. Oellermann and Oellermann, “Detwanger Retabel,” 23, 29. By way of comparison, Riemenschneider’s Altarpiece of the Holy Blood is 35 ft. 6 3/8 in. (10.83 m) high and 13 ft. 8 1/4 in. (4.17 m) wide. Trepesch, Studien zur Dunkelgestaltung, 265. 64. There are no clear known references to the altarpiece in the surviving financial accounts of the parish fabrica or in the records of the city’s other religious institutions, unless one follows Edwald Vetter’s suggestion, discussed below, that it is the retable made for the Corpus Christi altar of the Dominican convent church. Vetter, “Geschichte, Ikonographie und Deutung,” 80–82; Bier, Riemenschneider: Die reifen Werke, 88. 65. Oellermann and Oellermann, “Detwanger Retabel”; Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:83. 66. Whether the altarpiece came directly to Detwang from its original location or by way of a second repository cannot be determined. 67. Because of its demolition in the early nineteenth century and its known altar dedicated to the Holy Cross, the Chapel of St. Michael has generally been assumed to be the original location for the altarpiece. Recently this reasoning has been called into question by Ewald Vetter, who instead has proposed


an original position on the Corpus Christi altar beneath the west gallery of the Dominican convent church of Rothenburg. See the following note. The sources describe the Corpus Christi altar as having its own chapel (“mit sein Cappell,” Staatsarchiv Nürnberg, der Capplan Gultbuch, RAR 512, fol. 4r, or “korlein,” RAR 516, fol. 240v), built by Katharina von Seinsheim (1339–1361), which Konrad Gans paid to vault sometime between 1502 and 1516. Vetter, “Geschichte, Ikonographie und Deutung,” 47; Vetter, “Zur Herkunft,” 96. 68. Based on a payment recorded in the accounts of the fabrica ecclesiae of St. Jakob for the dismantling of an altar in St. Michael in 1555, Ewald Vetter has suggested that the altarpiece, moved to Detwang almost a century later, stood on the Corpus Christi altar beneath the west gallery of the Dominican convent church in Rothenburg. However, the entry in the financial records names Haßen Kliebern as the man hired for the removal of the altar, and Kliebern was a stonemason, not a woodworker. The record, therefore, likely refers to the removal of a stone altar mensa, and the Rothenburg charnel-house chapel had two altars in its upper-story space by 1479. In any case, this entry does not preclude the possibility that a wooden altarpiece was stored beyond this date, either in the building itself or in another location. Vetter, “Zur Herkunft,” 85–86; Vetter, “Geschichte, Ikonographie und Deutung,” 46–47n17; Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 525. 69. Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:82, 2:860; Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 525. 70. When Johann Georg Bezold recorded an inscription in the upper-story chapel of St. Michael in 1747, he described the plaque as located “in the northern wall at the height of the altar.” Lutz, Inschriften der Stadt Rothenburg, 30–31. 71. Vetter, “Zur Herkunft,” 97, argues that the Corpus Christi altar, on which he suggests the altarpiece stood, was in the west of the church. He claims that the large altarpiece would have fit there. An extant door originally provided direct access from the adjoining convent building to the west gallery of the church. Standing about 5 m (16 ½ ft.) above the ground, the door indicates that the floor level of the west gallery was approximately at this height.

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Images of the Dominican convent church before its demolition show the church’s clerestory windows stretching quite far down. This seems to support the idea that the western gallery was not particularly high. By way of comparison, the vaults of the west gallery of St. Jakob rise 4.66 m (15 ft. 3 ½ in.) from the church floor. In “Architecture and Devotion,” 175–84, 406–21, I demonstrate that the upper-story chapel of St. Michael rose to a height between 6.29 m (20 ft. 7 5/8 in.) and 9.12 m (29 ft. 11 in.). These probable dimensions correspond well to those of the contemporary standing charnel-house chapel in Kiedrich mentioned earlier, where the interior vaults of the upper chapel reach a height of 8.21 m (26 ft. 9 1/4 in.). 72. The altarpiece, which originally measured about 5.10 m in height, undoubtedly stood on an altar table in its original location and therefore presumably required a space at least 6 m (19 ft. 8 in.) high. 73. Oellermann and Oellermann, “Detwanger Retabel,” 23, 31. 74. Adam’s skull, often included in representations of the Crucifixion, makes reference to Golgotha and the medieval legend that Jesus was crucified on the site of Adam’s burial. Merback, Thief, the Cross, and the Wheel, 59, 84. It is possible that the missing figure of Mary Magdalene, who once knelt beside the cross in the Holy Cross Altarpiece now in Detwang, also included a carved scull of Adam (fig. 51). 75. Claudia Lichte, among others, has remarked on the striking degree of repetition in Riemenschneider’s oeuvre. Fold patterns, facial types, etc. appear in numerous figures, so that Lichte has posited workshop practices whereby drawn schemata were transferred to the surface of wooden blocks in layers. Lichte, “Meister der Wiederholung,” 86–92. 76. For one example of the tendency to divide by artistic medium related to Rothenburg, see Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T. 77. Mayr, “Drei großen Restaurierungen,” 45; Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 91. 78. Mayr, “Drei großen Restaurierungen,” 46. 79. The 1266 Chapel of the Body and Blood of Christ is one of the earliest known examples of this dedication. The question remains open whether the Rothenburg chapel was founded in connection with the nascent Feast of Corpus Christi. By 1278,

certainly, an indulgence offered a commutation of forty days to those who visited the chapel on the anniversary of the consecration of the church or “on the day on which the Mass of the all holy body and blood of Christ is celebrated and on its octave.” Schnurrer, Urkunden, 1:45, entry 92. 80. On the theory of concomitance, see Bynum, Christian Materiality, 208–16, and Bynum, Wonderful Blood, 92–96. On bleeding hosts and other miraculous blood, see also the classic study Browe, Die eucharistischen Wunder. 81. The niche was modeled after a similar one in the Church of St. Sebald in Nuremberg. For the most extensive study of the Rothenburg sacrament niche, see Hutt, “Gotische Sakramentsnische.” On sacrament houses more broadly, see Timmermann, Real Presence. 82. Detlef Knipping has attributed the south window to the Astaler workshop ca. 1390, pointing to close stylistic ties to windows in the choir of St. Sebald in Nuremberg (1379–86). The north window of the choir of St. Jakob in Rothenburg was glazed by the same workshop and focuses on the joys of Mary. The central window of the choir had been glazed about forty years earlier with scenes of Christ’s life and Passion. Knipping, “Eucharistie- und Blutreliquienverehrung,” 79. 83. Ibid., 84. 84. Merback, Pilgrimage and Pogrom, 279. 85. Merback points to the “implied phenomenology of salvific action” and describes how the “streams of blood trace the path of salvific effect” in this window. Ibid., 278–79. On the active role of blood more generally, see Bynum, Wonderful Blood, esp. 10–11, 153–72, 175–78. 86. Knipping, “Eucharistie- und Blutreliquienverehrung,” 87, recognizes this as a variation on a sentence from Gregory the Great’s fourth book of the Dialogues. It also serves as a reference to the Mass of Saint Gregory. Meier, Gregorsmesse; Gormans and Lentes, Bild der Erscheinung. 87. Ress’s stylistic dating of 1360–80 is based on a similar Man of Sorrows from Schwäbisch Gmünd made shortly after 1350, but the Rothenburg figure is also similar in type to a Man of Sorrows once outside the Church of St. Sebald in Nuremberg, now part of the

Notes to Pages 110–120

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collection of the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg. Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 204. 88. Tim Juckes makes a similar argument about the involvement of the church fabrica in the installation of a prominent gallery space in the south transept of St. Elisabeth in Košice. Like St. Jakob in Rothenburg, the Church of St. Elisabeth was the destination of a blood pilgrimage in the late Middle Ages. It too had an associated charnel-house chapel dedicated to Saint Michael, so the parallels are quite strong. Juckes, “Košice Burghers,” 200–201; Juckes, Parish and Pilgrimage Church, esp. 195–99. 89. Pieces of the stone setting are currently housed in the Heiltumskammer, which serves as a lapidarium, while the standing figure survives in the RothenburgMuseum. 90. The original of Christ at the whipping post survives, though in poor condition, exposed to the elements, and overgrown by vines, in a private courtyard at Burggasse 7. The Rienecker family kindly provided me access to the courtyard to see and photograph the figure. The two flanking figures of Saints Peter and Paul do not appear in any of the early views of the group and are likely modern inventions. 91. A similar positioning of sculpted apostles in the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris led Francis Salet to suggest the arrangement as symbolic of theological ideas. Salet, “Statues d’apôtres,” 135–36. 92. Of the several Man of Sorrows types categorized by Gert von der Osten in 1935, the Rothenburg figure belongs to the type that most emphasizes the side wound. Von der Osten, Schmerzensmann. 93. Previous scholarship on the image type generally termed it an Andachtsbild, meaning an image for contemplation. Weilandt instead calls it a bildgewordener Begriff, a “concept made image.” Weilandt, Sebalduskirche in Nürnberg, 99–100. 94. On memoria, see, for instance, Bijsterveld, Do ut des, and Schleif, Donatio et Memoria. 95. Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 209. The Mount of Olives was most recently studied in a thesis by Mariam Sonntag. It stands against the exterior of the south choir wall, now sheltered by an early twentieth-century structure. The current setting takes the place of the medieval one but dates to the restoration campaign under Häffner. The figures belong to two chronological groups, the first


(including the sleeping apostles, Judas, the figures behind the fence, God the Father, and the angel) dates to around 1450–60. The second (including Christ and the man holding a lantern) dates to around 1505–7 and is attested to by surviving records in the financial accounts of the fabrica of St. Jakob. Sonntag, “Ölberg-Skulpturengruppe”; Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 92, 209. 96. Only the figure of Saint John the Evangelist survives today. Until 1907 it stood along with a figure of a lone Magus (end of the fourteenth century) in the so-called Eheportal (1479) of St. Jakob. The figure of Saint John is thought to have belonged to a Crucifixion group, possibly positioned in the cemetery. Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 206. 97. Such lanterns were a common feature of both medieval cemeteries and charnel houses. They served as a reminder to the living of the immortality of the soul and of the promise of resurrection. Plault, Lanternes des morts, 153–54; Höck, “Totenlaternen und Lichthäuschen,” 121. Höck points to texts attributed to the abbot Petrus Venerabilis of Cluny and another by an unknown author from 1187 for this interpretation. The first lanterns surviving in Germany that were directed toward the collected dead date to the thirteenth century. These include examples in Doberan, Schulpforta, and Magdeburg. Hula, Mittelalterliche Kultmale, 16; Hula, Totenleuchten und Bildstöcke. On the dating of the group, see Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 204–6. 98. The figure and console were probably moved during Heideloff ’s “purifying” campaign (1854–57) and later set in the current location. 99. The now-lost inscription read: “Anno Domini 1462, on Thursday before the first Sunday of Lent, died the respectable Michael Offner of Habolzhem, may God have mercy” (Nach Cristi gepurt 1462 am donerstag vor Invocavit starb der Erber Michel Ofner zu habolzhe(m) de(m) Got gnad). Lutz, Inschriften der Stadt Rothenburg, 36, entry 82. Only well-to-do burghers could afford monuments of this type to elicit prayers for their souls. Those of lesser means had to be satisfied with a collective intercessory prayer for the dead on Sundays, in the week after the Feast of St. Michael (September 29), and on All Saints Day (November 1).

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100. In 1437, for instance, the tombstone of Matthias in der Klingen was placed in the floor “on the way from the sacristy to the pulpit.” As recorded by Bezold: “auf dem Weg der Sacristey auf die Cantzel.” Marked with a metal coat of arms and an inscription, this monument was once one among many richly articulated individual commissions to which the sculpted figure of Saint Michael also responded. Bezold, “Zusammentrag,” 28, entry 59; Lutz, Inschriften der Stadt Rothenburg, 28. 101. Corine Schleif has demonstrated this in her work on Nuremberg as well. Schleif, Donatio et Memoria, 229–30. 102. It commemorated the passing of Walther Seehöfer and hung on the north wall of the choir. Lutz, Inschriften der Stadt Rothenburg, 16, entry 30. 103. Lutz, Inschriften der Stadt Rothenburg. Two examples also appear on a pier of the nave in an early painting of the interior of St. Jakob (fig. 73). 104. Many important parish churches incorporated rood screens. The image programs of rood screens generally addressed local lay communities, providing them an image wall, at the junction between the choir and the nave, that encouraged self-identification and could act as a unifier rather than simply as a hierarchical divider. Jung, Gothic Screen; Jung, “Beyond the Barrier”; Schmelzer, Der mittelalterliche Lettner.

Chapter 4 1. “Jakobsrechnungen,” vol. 1, R 362, Stadtarchiv Rothenburg, fol. 79r. 2. On the role of images in instigating visions, see Vikan, “Sacred Image, Sacred Power,” 141–42; Hamburger, Visual and the Visionary, esp. 111–48; and Freedberg, Power of Images, 283–316. 3. The references come from different sources. The mention of “signs” comes from an inscription included beside the west door of the new Chapel of St. Wolfgang, which reads: “Hie wirt S. Wolfgang geeret / sein lob mit zeichen gemeret / uff erfindung S. Steffans angefangen / 1475 jor ergangen.” Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 427; Lutz, Inschriften der Stadt Rothenburg, 41–42, cat. 93. Ottnat’s first entry in his accounts related to the finances of the

St. Wolfgang Chapel and pilgrimage notes that “er [Saint Wolfgang] kumen ist fur daz Klingen dor durch ein mit nomen Jorg Laterer.” Finally, a 1475 document issued by the bishop of Würzburg to confirm an indulgence mentions “locus ipse, quo iam beatus Wolffgangus miraculis et fidelium devotione.” The first narrative accounts of the chapel’s foundation date to the nineteenth century: one recorded in 1841 mentions a miraculous dream that directed a shepherd to the location of a treasure; a revised version of the story first published in 1872 associates the foundation with a planned Jewish attack on the city that was miraculously uncovered by a shepherd. Schnurrer, “St.-Wolfgangs-Kirche,” 439–41; Bensen, Alterthümer, Inschriften und Volkssagen, 90; Merz, Rothenburg in alter und neuer Zeit, 211. 4. The statues were likely erected before 1477, certainly before 1487. The chapel was largely finished by 1507. Schnurrer, “St.-Wolfgangs-Kirche,” 443, 447, 461. 5. Ibid., 440–43. 6. On ideas of the “local,” or “vernacular,” vs. the “translocal,” or “universal,” see Christian, Local Religion, esp. 4, 20–22, 147, 162, 175–80, and Zika, “Hosts, Processions, and Pilgrimages,” 60. 7. Merback, Pilgrimage and Pogrom, 224. See also Merback, “Fount of Mercy, City of Blood.” 8. Scholars are divided about how many altarpieces from Rothenburg can be ascribed to Riemenschneider’s workshop. For instance, Iris Kalden-Rosenfeld includes six in her catalog, while Karin and Eike Oellermann count nine. As I am interested not only in those works by the master’s own hand but more broadly in those executed in his workshop, I count eight from known fragments or textual sources plus a likely ninth in the Marian altarpiece of the Church of St. Jakob, discussed further below. Kalden-Rosenfeld, Riemenschneider: The Sculptor and His Workshop, 122–57; Oellermann, “Tilman Riemenschneider in Rothenburg.” 9. W. Schneider, “Altaria deren seind Drey,” 77–78; Diözesanarchiv Würzburg, Dek. Iphofen, Visitationsrelation 1614, fol. 5r. 10. One altarpiece by Riemenschneider originally stood on the high altar of Würzburg Cathedral. Figures from this altarpiece were destroyed in a fire in 1945. It is thought the altarpiece combined marble and wood carvings. Kalden-Rosenfeld, Riemenschneider:

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The Sculptor and His Workshop, 152, entry 67. Many of the figures now in the Museum für Franken once belonged to altarpieces, but of these the original locations of few are known. Lichte, Riemenschneider Collection. 11. Kalden-Rosenfeld, Riemenschneider: The Sculptor and His Workshop, 18. 12. “Jakobsrechnungen,” vol. 2, R 363, Stadtarchiv Rothenburg, fol. 117v; “Rechnungsmanuale,” vol. 1, R 360, Stadtarchiv Rothenburg, fol. 144r; Bier, Riemenschneider: Die reifen Werke, 7, 168. 13. The reference to the Marian altar is made twice in the accounts for March and April 1496. Stadtarchiv Rothenburg, R 363, fols. 117r–v; Bier, Riemenschneider: Die reifen Werke, 7. On the location of the lay altar, see Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 84; Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:52; and Boivin, “Architecture and Devotion,” 51–52, 72, 77. 14. Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:52. 15. “Jakobsrechnungen,” vol. 1, R 362, Stadtarchiv Rothenburg, fol. 193r. 16. Bier, Riemenschneider: Die reifen Werke, 7, 168. 17. The earliest mention of Riemenschneider in connection with Würzburg dates to before 1479, when he renounced a benefice at the Stift Haug. KaldenRosenfeld, Riemenschneider: The Sculptor and His Workshop, 17. 18. Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 84; “Jakobsrechnungen,” vol. 2, R 363, Stadtarchiv Rothenburg, fol. 117; Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:52; Bier, Riemenschneider: Die reifen Werke, 7, 168. 19. Kalden-Rosenfeld, Riemenschneider: The Sculptor and His Workshop, 96. 20. For instance, the entire Altarpiece of St. Anne— including its armature and figures—cost 50 guilders. The All Saints Altarpiece, commissioned by the Dominican convent in Rothenburg, cost 50 guilders for the work of a joiner on the armature, but the amount paid Riemenschneider was lumped together in a total sum of 57 fl 33 lb, which covered several distinct commissions: Riemenschneider’s figures for the altarpiece, choir stalls, a lectern (Pultbrett), and a container for oil (Ölheuslein). Justus Bier used the documented payments to suggest the relative scale of Riemenschneider’s altarpieces, comparing them to the preserved Holy Blood Altarpiece.


Bier, Riemenschneider: Die reifen Werke, 9, 44, 169, 175–76. 21. Kalden-Rosenfeld, Riemenschneider: The Sculptor and His Workshop, 46–47, 54; Bier, Riemenschneider: Die reifen Werke, 185–89; Buczynski, “Skulpturenschmuck Riemenschneiders.” 22. Tönnies, Leben und Werke, 142n1; Adelmann, Über Riemenschneider, 17; Adelmann, “Til Riemenschneider”; Simon, Creglinger Marienaltar. 23. Bier, Riemenschneider: Die reifen Werke, 8. 24. Kahsnitz, Carved Splendor, 238–53. 25. Simon, Creglinger Marienaltar, 173. 26. Ibid., 169. 27. I am grateful to Volker Schaible for sharing his conclusions, which he presented at the Riemenschneider in Situ Conference held in Rothenburg ob der Tauber and Würzburg, June 21–24, 2017. The restoration project was titled Forschungsprojekt kunsttechnologische Untersuchung des Marienretabels in der Herrgottskapelle in Creglingen and was conducted from 2007 to 2017 by the Institut für Konservierungswissenschaften an der Staatlichen Akademie der Bildenden Künste Stuttgart and the Landesamt für Denkmalpflege im Regierungspräsidium Stuttgart, Fachgebiet Restaurierung. Schaible, “Marienretabel von Tilman Riemenschneider.” See also Schaible, “Marian Retable.” 28. Schaible, “Marienretabel von Tilman Riemenschneider”; Schaible, “Marian Retable.” 29. The restoration team used various lighting techniques to see and document the many inscriptions on the altarpiece, including UV fluorescence and IR reflectography. Schaible, “Marienretabel von Tilman Riemenschneider.” 30. Another inscription reads: “Johann Bintz von Donauwerd dem bin ich feind O ge übel h[inweg], 1550.” Ibid. 31. Ibid. 32. In the original: “4 lb 12 d pro 3 ein 1/2 viertell schwartzer leinwantt zu 2 für hengen an unser frawen altar in der pfar” and “8 d von den gemelten fürhengen zu machen.” Schaible, “Marienretabel von Tilman Riemenschneider”; “Jakobsrechnungen,” vol. 4, R 365, Stadtarchiv Rothenburg, fol. 154r. Evidence from a painting depicting the interior of St. Jakob as well as from

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other sources indicates that the Marian altarpiece had been removed from its altar table and replaced by the relocated Altarpiece of the Holy Blood by 1575, making this proposal possible (fig. 73). If this were true, the Creglingen altarpiece, which Bier dates after the Holy Blood Altarpiece, would in fact be its precursor and a close follower of the likewise initially monochrome altarpiece made for the parish church of Münnerstadt from 1490 to 1492. It is important to note, however, that the entry in the financial ledgers does not indicate the position of the altarpiece for which the curtains were made, beyond saying it was in the parish church (“in der pfar”). On the altarpiece in Münnerstadt, see W. Schneider, Riemenschneideraltar in der Pfarrkirche, 8, and Weniger, Tilman Riemenschneider, 72–104. 33. It is possible, though not certain, that the Church of St. Jakob once had a rood screen dividing the choir from the nave. On rood screens, see Jung, Gothic Screen, and Schmelzer, Der mittelalterliche Lettner. 34. Merback, “Immanence and Intercession.” 35. It is worth noting a difference in opinion between restorers about the crest of the Marian altarpiece now in Creglingen. The Oellermanns are convinced that the armature of the altarpiece in Creglingen, like that of the Holy Blood Altarpiece in Rothenburg, was made by Harschner. Schaible, however, argues that the integration of the crest and figures in Creglingen is so intricate that both are likely by Riemenschneider’s workshop. More work is needed on the work of Erhart Harschner to help resolve this question. I am grateful to both the Oellermanns and to Volker Schaible for our conversations on this subject. 36. Tripps, Das handelnde Bildwerk, 186–202. 37. It is worth noting that not all scholars accept the proposal of an original location in the Franciscan church as conclusive. Weniger, Tilman Riemenschneider, 50–69. Rainer Kahsnitz, however, argues that the altarpiece as it can be reconstructed would have been too large to fit in the Dominican convent church. Kahsnitz, Tilman Riemenschneider: Zwei Figurengruppen, 21–34, esp. 26. The Franciscan church is also the location accepted by the Oellermanns and Hartmut Krohm. Oellermann and Oellermann, “Detwanger Retabel,” 43; Krohm, Rothenburger Passion, 88–89.

38. Krohm, Riemenschneider auf der Museumsinsel, 102–8. 39. For what is known of the provenance of the figural groups, see Kahsnitz, Tilman Riemenschneider: Zwei Figurengruppen, 21–26. 40. Weniger, Tilman Riemenschneider, 60–61. 41. Krohm, “Franziskus-Altar”; Oellermann, “Tilman Riemenschneider in Rothenburg ”; Oellermann, “Bedeutung des Malers Martinus Schwarz.” 42. Krohm, “Franziskus-Altar”; Kahsnitz, Tilman Riemenschneider: Zwei Figurengruppen, 27; Weissbecker, Geschichte des Franziskanerklosters, 12–29; Staatsarchiv Nürnberg, Akt. 72–73, fols. 62v–64v. 43. Krohm, “Ludwig-von-Toulouse-Altar”; Kahsnitz, Tilman Riemenschneider: Zwei Figurengruppen, 27; Weissbecker, Geschichte des Franziskanerklosters, 12–29; Staatsarchiv Nürnberg, Akt. 72–73, fols. 62v–64v. 44. Krohm, “Ludwig-von-Toulouse-Altar, 254”; Bier, “Tilmann Riemenschneider: His Life and Work,” 96. 45. Taubert, Polychrome Sculpture; Schürmann, “Gefasst oder holzsichtig?”; Marincola, “Surfaces of Riemenschneider”; Krohm and Oellermann, “Der ehemalige Münnerstädter Magdalenenaltar”; Oellermann, “Spätgotische Skulptur und ihre Bemalung.” 46. Habenicht, Das ungefasste Altarretabel, 12. 47. Ibid., 10. 48. Göbel, “Forschung zur ursprünglichen Farbgestaltung.” 49. The Assumption Altarpiece in Creglingen, for instance, seems never to have been stained or painted. Marincola and Serrota, “Riemenschneider’s Assumption Altarpiece.” 50. Bier, Riemenschneider: Die reifen Werke, 175–76. 51. Recent studies of layers of polychromy, such as that conducted for the sculpture of Regensburg Cathedral, have demonstrated how, even during the medieval period, sculpture was often freshened up and subtly changed by new coats of paint. Fuchs and Hubel, Farbige Kathedrale. 52. Bier, Riemenschneider: Die reifen Werke, 169. 53. H. Klein, Sacred Gifts and Worldly Treasures, 245. Unfortunately, as mentioned in the previous chapter, the Dominican convent church was torn down

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in 1812, so that little can be said about the architectural setting of this altarpiece. 54. W. Schneider, “Altaria deren seind Drey,” 80. 55. Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 529, 531; Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:76. 56. Bier, Riemenschneider: Die reifen Werke, 175–76. 57. Weniger, Tilman Riemenschneider, 144–48; Bier, Riemenschneider: Die reifen Werke, 46–55. 58. Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:79. 59. Schnurrer, “Rothenburg als Wallfahrtsstadt” (2010), 94; “Rechnungsmanuale,” vol. 1, R 360, Stadtarchiv Rothenburg, fol. 358r. 60. This is the most common arrangement of altars found in village churches. Kroesen and Steensma, Interior of the Medieval Village Church, 56–61. See also Kroesen, Seitenaltäre in mittelalterlichen Kirchen. 61. Schnurrer, “St.-Wolfgangs-Kirche,” 441; Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:85. This argument relies largely on parallels drawn to a later pilgrimage in Rothenburg begun in 1520 and on the appointment of caretakers to oversee administration of income and expenses related to the pilgrimage. As noted above, however, the appointment of civic caretakers was a common practice by this time, both in the city and throughout Germany, and it served not to restrict but rather to control and direct activities and income from the church. 62. Ludwig Schnurrer has published material from these financial records: Schnurrer, “St.-WolfgangsKirche,” 455–65. The original document survives in the Rothenburg archive: Stadtarchiv Rothenburg, A 783, fols. 154r–185v. 63. Of course, the pilgrimage brought immediate financial benefits to certain individuals as well. Twelve cardinals and the bishop of Würzburg were paid to recognize the pilgrimage with official documents. The cardinals received 2½ guilders, and the bishop was paid 11 guilders 1 lb for an episcopal confirmation document. Schnurrer, “St.-Wolfgangs-Kirche,” 441–42, 450, 461; Stadtarchiv Rothenburg, A 783, fol. 154r; Staatsarchiv Nürnberg, Archivalien des Historischen Vereins für Mittelfranken Nr. 201. 64. Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:86. 65. Ibid., 1:87. 66. Schnurrer, “St.-Wolfgangs-Kirche,” 437. 67. Ibid., 454; Oellermann, “Riemenschneider in Rothenburg”; Weniger, Tilman Riemenschneider, 61.


68. The Chapel of the Pure Virgin Mary (Kapelle der reinen Maria) is often included in the list of chapels belonging to this building boom, though, because of its late date, I have chosen not to incorporate it in my discussion. Schnurrer, “Wallfahrt zur Reinen Maria.” 69. Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 39. 70. Schnurrer, “Kirche zu Kobolzell,” 139. 71. Schnurrer, “Rothenburg als Wallfahrtsstadt” (2010), 88; Schnurrer, “Kirche zu Kobolzell,” 129–33. 72. Schnurrer, “Kirche zu Kobolzell,” 138–39. The Pilgrimage Herrgottskirche in Creglingen, for instance, has three similarly positioned portals. See Merback, Pilgrimage and Pogrom, 236. 73. Tim Juckes has posited a similar pilgrimage function for the entwined spiral staircases of St. Elisabeth in Košice that led to a gallery in the south transept of the church. Juckes, “Košice Burghers,” 200–201; Juckes, Parish and Pilgrimage Church. 74. An inventory of the pieces damaged on the night of April 17, 1525, made in the course of the subsequent investigation, shows that candles were stolen and lamps, statues, panel paintings, and a large crucifix torn down. Vice, “Bildersturm in Rothenburg,” 76–77; Schnurrer, “Kirche zu Kobolzell,” 133–35, 140–42. 75. Schnurrer, “Kirche zu Kobolzell,” 139. 76. Ibid. 77. Ashley and Hüsken, Moving Subjects; Frost, Time, Space, and Order. Especially relevant for the following discussion is Boogaart, “Our Savior’s Blood.” 78. Zika, “Hosts, Processions, and Pilgrimages,” 39, 63. 79. Bell, Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice, 212. 80. For this and the following discussion, see Schnurrer, “Kaiser kommt nach Rothenburg.” 81. Ibid. 82. This was the practice at least during later imperial visits and probably during Frederick III’s visit in 1474, which set the standard. Ibid., 21–29. 83. Ibid., 29. 84. Ibid., 16: Da allen fürsichtigen Regimentsträgern, sowohl geistlicher wie weltlicher Würde, Wesens und Stands, wohl geziemt, die bei uns ergangenen Geschichten zu künftigem Nutzen und zur Handhabung ihres Regiments in ihr Gedächtnis zu bringen; da diese aber gelegentlich aus Blödigkeit oder Überfleiß aus dem menschlichen

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Wissen weichen, aber dennoch durch schriftliche Abfassung dem Menschen vorgestellt und ihren Nachkommen überliefert werden können, so sind die nachfolgenden Geschichten, Ordnungen und geübten Handlungen, zu langem Gedächtnis, besonders zu Lob und Ehre dieser kaiserlichen Stadt Rothenburg auf der Tauber, in dieses kurze Verzeichnis gebracht und einverleibt worden. 85. Schnurrer, “Zwei Inventare”; Staatsarchiv Nürnberg, Reichsstadt Rothenburg, Akten 2082/1, fol. 33r–v; Akten 2082/2, fols. 486r–489v. 86. “Item drey roth samat khormenthel mit aller zu gehord und etlichen steinen und knupffen, die praucht man zu allen hochzeitlichen festen”; “Item 4 weis clein knaben khormenttel, die praucht nan zu den hochzeitlichen vesten”; “Item mer vier gemusirt chormentel, so die jungen zu den festen tragen.” Schnurrer, “Zwei Inventare,” 30–31. 87. “Item ein silbere monstrantz, die Hans Newenstat gezeugt hot, do man unsers herren leichnam inn tregt” and “Item zwu monstrantzen, do man unsers herren leichnam inn tregt in der stat, der ist ains silberein und die ander gulden.” Schnurrer, “Zwei Inventare,” 28–29. 88. Schnurrer, “St.-Wolfgangs-Kirche,” 436. 89. Rubin, Corpus Christi, 164–85. 90. Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:50; Stolz, Rothenburger Fronleichnamskapelle, 236–40; Weissbecker, Rothenburg ob der Tauber. 91. Schnurrer, Urkunden, 45, entries 92, 100, 101. In 1278, too, the consecration day of the Chapel of the Holy Body and Blood was celebrated on Corpus Christi, and in 1309 the choir and altar of the church of the Franciscan monastery in Rothenburg were consecrated on the same liturgical feast day. Ress, Stadt Rothenburg o.d.T., 42. 92. “Indulgentiae de festo Corporis et per octavas,” and “Indulgentiae Cappellae corporis Christi.” Ellringen, compendium, fols. 15r–v; Schattenmann, “Reliquien und Wunder,” 51. 93. Boogaart, “Our Savior’s Blood,” esp. 80–86. 94. Schnurrer, “Fronleichnamsfest,” 51. 95. “Item ein grosse silbere monstrantzen, so man in die Corporis Christi praucht, mit irer zugehorung 1 silber kreutz, 2 clein silber mostrantzen, 2 silbere cleine meßkendlin und ein silbere rauchfaß; das alles praucht man zun hochzeitlichen festen.” For a full

transcription of the inventory, see Schnurrer, “Zwei Inventare,” 30–31. The fact that the Feast of Corpus Christi is mentioned by name in the inventory lists distinguishes it from all other high feast days. 96. This is confirmed by an entry in the financial accounts of the fabrica of St. Jakob from 1493 that records payment to a painter for restoring the relics carried in Corpus Christi processions. Schnurrer, “Fronleichnamsfest,” 50–51. 97. Schnurrer, “Kaiser kommt nach Rothenburg.” 98. Wainwright, “Mittelalterliches Fronleichnamsspiel,” 4. In this, Wainwright follows Schnizlein, who relates the handwriting specifically to another document in the archive dated 1403. Schnizlein, “Kirchliche Spiele,” 10; Schnurrer, “Fronleichnamsfest,” 53. 99. “Auch lieben herren als ir mir vorher zwei jar alle jar ein guldin schankt von meiner arbeit wegen, die ich hat mit dem spil, das man hat zu unsers herrn leichnamtag und der kirchwey, do von hot man mir hewr nihts geben.” Schnurrer, “Fronleichnamsfest,” 53; Schnizlein, “Kirchliche Spiele,” 10. 100. Originally in the collection of the collegiate church of Neustift by Brixen, it is now kept in the library of the University of Innsbruck, from which it takes its modern name. The following description of the sequence of the text draws from Wainwright, “Mittelalterliches Fronleichnamsspiel,” 3–4. 101. Ibid., 4. 102. “Ich sihe in dort in des pristers henden; / Ich wil mich im zu dinste wenden, / Ich hab mein opfer hie bereit.” Ibid., 2. 103. “Herre, nu tue uns deiner hilffe schein / Durch die bittern marter dein / Und durch dein tewres plut so rot! / Hilff uns, daß dein heiliger tot / An uns nymmer werde verlorn, / Wann du uns zetrost bist geborn!” Ibid. 104. Schnurrer, “Fronleichnamsfest,” 54. Johannes Tripps relates the mentioned dragon to the animated artworks used in feast-day enactments within the church. Tripps, Das handelnde Bildwerk, 95. 105. “Für allerley besserung zum spill” (for all sorts of improvements to the play). “Jakobsrechnungen,” vol. 1, R 362, Stadtarchiv Rothenburg, fol. 86r. The financial ledgers also record the sale of two prophet costumes in 1529 when new ideas of the Reformation caused the Corpus Christi

Notes to Pages 167–170

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play in Rothenburg to be criticized. Schnurrer, “Fronleichnamsfest,” 54. 106. “Jakobsrechnungen,” vol. 1, R 362, Stadtarchiv Rothenburg, fol. 253r; vol. 2, R 363, fol. 93v; Schnurrer, “Fronleichnamsfest,” 54. 107. The document names the day the Thursday after Pentecost, without referring to the Feast of Corpus Christi directly. Schnurrer, Urkunden, 53, entry 115; Schnurrer, “Fronleichnamsfest,” 54. 108. For this and the following accounting numbers, see Borchardt, Die geistlichen Institutionen, 1:55. 109. Zika, “Hosts, Processions, and Pilgrimages,” 34; Franz, Die kirchlichen Benediktionen, 2:111–13. Evidence of these practices often comes through the objections raised to them in the late Middle Ages.

Epilogue 1. Schnurrer, Urkunden, 1:xxx. 2. Rothenburg is also referred to as “Urbs Rotemburgum, candida, dives opum!” Schnizlein, “Rathausbrand.” 3. “Heu ruit alta domus, multos dominate per annos.” Ibid., 36. 4. “Litterulae pereunt, celebris librique senatus, Quos tenuere pii saecula multa patres.” Ibid. 5. K-H. Schneider, Renaissancetrakt, 327. 6. Ibid. 7. A baroque arcade was added to the east side of the Rathaus. Ibid., 120–32. 8. Guidebook quotes from online entries on Rothenburg in the Lonely Planet and Rough Guides (last accessed August 17, 2018). Cities that have claimed to be the “Rothenburg of the North” include Halberstadt, Hornburg, and Neubrandenburg. Towns boasting other variations on this theme include Pyritz, “the Pomeranian Rothenburg”; Landsberg am Lech, “the Bavarian Rothenburg”; Beilstein an der Mosel, “the Miniature Rothenburg”; Glurns, “the Rothenburg of South Tyrol”; and Tecklenburg and Westerholt, “the Westphalian


Rothenburg.” Stegemann, “Rothenburg ob der Tauber.” In one recent measure of Rothenburg’s popularity, the city was voted fifth most popular site in Germany by more than thirty thousand tourists in a survey on the website www‌.germany‌.travel (http://www‌.germany‌.travel‌/en‌/towns-‌cities-‌cul ture‌/top‌-100‌/germany‌-travel-‌attractions‌.html#, last accessed August 14, 2018). 9. Kamp, “‘Das Deutsche Haus’ auf der Weltausstellung.” 10. On Rothenburg’s “rediscovery” and modern history, see Hagen, Preservation, here 223. 11. Hagen, Preservation. 12. Nagel and Wood, “Toward a New Model.” 13. Hagen, Preservation, 228. 14. K-H. Schneider, Renaissancetrakt. 15. Hagen, Preservation, 223. 16. Two of the 1466 panels by Friedrich Herlin were repainted in 1582. The original scenes were uncovered again during a restoration of the altarpiece in 1922. Bachmann, Oellermann, and Taubert, “Conservation and Technique,” 329–30. 17. Koerner, Reformation of the Image, 346. 18. Hagen, Preservation, esp. 230–31, 242–43. 19. Ibid., 229. 20. Rothenburg ob der Tauber, “Spende für die Stadtmauer,” https://‌www.rothenburg‌-tourismus‌.de ‌/service‌/spende-‌fuer-‌die-‌stadtmauer/.

Notes to Pages 170–180

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Wels, Claudia. “Die Pfarrkirche zu Kiedrich und die spätgotischen Dorfkirchen im Rheingau: Sakralarchitecktur auf dem Lande mit städtischem Charakter.” PhD diss., PhilippsUniversität Marburg, 2003. Welzel, Barbara. “Tilman Riemenschneider und das Bildprogramm des Heiligblut-Altares in Rothenburg o. T.” In Flügelaltäre des späten Mittelalters, edited by Hartmut Krohm and Eike Oellermann, 198–209. Berlin: Dietrich Reimer, 1992. Weniger, Matthias. Tilman Riemenschneider: Die Werke im Bayerischen Nationalmuseum. Petersberg: Michael Imhof, 2017. Westerhof, Danielle. Death and the Noble Body in Medieval England. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press, 2008. Wiek, Peter. “Das Straßburger Münster: Untersuchungen über die Mitwirkung des Stadtbürgertums am Bau bischöflicher Kathedralkirchen im Spätmittelalter.” Zeitschrift für die Geschichte des Oberrheins 107, n.s., 68 (1959): 40–113. Wieser, Matthias, ed. St. Michael in Iphofen: Beiträge zu Baugeschichte und Instandsetzung einer gotischen Friedhofskapelle mit erhaltenem Beinhaus. Veröffentlichungen der Gesellschaft für fränkische Geschichte, Reihe 13, Neujahrsblätter 46. Würzburg: Gesellschaft für fränkische Geschichte, 2006. Williamson, Beth. “Altarpieces, Liturgy, and Devotion.” Speculum 79, no. 2 (April 2004): 341–406. Wittekind, Susanne. “Heiligen- und Reliquienverehrung in staufischer Zeit.” In Heiliges Römisches Reich Deutscher Nation, 962 bis 1806: Von Otto dem Grossen bis zum Ausgang des Mittelalters, edited by Matthias Puhle and Claus-Peter Hasse, 2:210–21. Dresden: Sandstein, 2006.


Wolfe, Maury I., and Robert Mark. “Gothic Cathedral Buttressing: The Experiment at Bourges and Its Influence.” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 33 (1974): 17–26. Zaun, Johann Peter. Die St. Michaels-Kapelle zu Kiedrich im Rheingau. Annalen des Vereins für Nassauische Alterthumskunde und Geschichtsforschung 14. Wiesbaden: Bechthold, 1876. Zchomelidse, Nino. Art, Ritual, and Civic Identity in Medieval Southern Italy. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2014. Zika, Charles. “Hosts, Processions, and Pilgrimages: Controlling the Sacred in Fifteenth-Century Germany.” Past and Present 118 (February 1988): 25–64. Zilkens, Stephan. Karner-Kapellen in Deutschland: Untersuchungen zur Baugeschichte und Ikonographie doppelgeschossiger BeinhausKapellen. Edited by Günther Binding. Veröffentlichung der Abteilung Architektur des Kunsthistorischen Instituts der Universität zu Köln 22. Cologne: Universität zu Köln, 1983. Zürcher, Peter. Sebastianuskapelle Tauberbischofsheim: Ein geistlicher Weg-Weiser. Tauberbischofsheim: Katholische Kirchengemeinde St. Martin, 2009.


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Italicized page references indicate illustrations. Endnotes are referenced with “n” followed by the endnote number. actor-network theory, 5 agency of assemblages, 5–6 Agony in the Garden. See Mount of Olives Akkon, Hermann von, 105 alms, 15, 57, 92–93 altars All Saints, 171, 186n36 Corpus Christi, 110, 198n64, 67, 68, 71 Holy Blood, 57, 59, 60 Holy Cross, 110 Marian, 29, 135–37, 171 Saint Catherine, 28, 171, 186n36 Saint Francis, 146 Saint James the Greater (Jakob), 132 Saint Jodocus, 81, 105, 164, 171 Saint John, 171 Saint Leonhard, 28, 171 Saint Ludwig of Toulouse, 147 Saint Michael, 109–10, 198n68 Saint Nicholas, 81–82, 171 Three Kings, 171 Twelve Apostles, 28 See also altarpieces altarpieces (general) for Chapel of St. Wolfgang, 158, 158–59 documentation of, 12 duality in identity of, 130 for Franciscan monastery, 1, 132, 146–48, 151–52 by Friedrich Herlin (see Herlin, Friedrich) functions of, 131, 165 as instruments of urban planning, 130–31, 153–54, 171–72 monochrome wood stain for, 2, 13, 79, 113, 149–51 polychrome finish for, 148–52 in processional networks, 171–72 in spatial environment, 173 for urban complex of Rothenburg, 132–33, 135–36, 137, 140–41 See also specific altarpieces Altarpiece (specific) All Saints, 151, 202n20 Crucifixion (see Crucifixion Altarpiece) Holy Blood (see Holy Blood Altarpiece) Holy Cross (see Holy Cross Altarpiece) Marian Assumption (see Creglingen altarpiece) St. Anne, 150, 152–53, 154, 202n20 St. Francis, 146–47, 147, 148 St. John (Basel), 150

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St. Ludwig of Toulouse, 147–48, 149 St. Wolfgang, 128, 129–30, 150, 154–55, 158–59, 160–61 anniversary day celebrations, 91–92 anti-Semitism in Rothenburg, 38, 40, 68–69 Antworter, Georg, 89 architecture communicative potential of, 63–64 Eseler workshop style of, 61, 62 “iconography” of, 26, 98–99 as instrument of control by city council, 18–21 localizing effect of, 69 local pride, civic responsibility, and, 45 movement and, 57 of Rothenburg, modern focus on, 179–81 Rothenburg as importer of art and, 7, 172 visual dialogue of principal churches and charnel houses, 95, 97–101, 102, 105 Arma Christi, 70, 79 artistic programming as artistic integration, 4 civic control of religious space in, 21 in civic self-construction, 43, 45, 131 as continuing process, 179 flexibility of, 173 in Gothic churches, 3–6 overview of, 126–27 polychroming of altarpieces in, 150–52 Rothenburg as case study of, 6–12 of urban complex, 115–26 See also multimedia program ashlar masonry 36, 59, 80, 102 assemblages, agency of, 5–6 Augsburg Cathedral, 35 city of, 9, 10 indulgence issued from, 168 banners (flags), 166, 167, 168 basilican churches, 35 Beauvais, 20 bells, 24, 29, 41, 88, 102, 166, 175, 195n3, 196n40 Beuschel, Johannes, 175 Bezold, Johann Georg, 110, 125 Blomberg, 57 blood, Christ’s, 48, 50, 115, 117, 170 See also blood relics blood relics anti-Semitic violence and, 69 catalog of miracles related to, 52–53 Charnel-House Chapel of St. Michael and, 104

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blood relics (continued) consecrated wine as transformed into, 47, 48 cross reliquary for, 46, 49–50 functions of, 45 indulgences granted and, 53 localization of, 79–80 ocular Communion and, 57, 59 pilgrimage sites for, 48 promotion of, 43, 49–54 rise in importance of, 116–17 as sacramental, 47 second-order miracles of, 48–49 See also Dauerwunder relics; Holy Blood Altarpiece burghers (citizens), 22 Bruges, 7, 53–54 Büren, 48 burials, 90–93 See also funerals buttresses, 100 as evidence of break in construction, 65 inscription on, 28 figures on, 133 of St. Jakob, 36 of St. Michael, 101, 102 ornament of, 97, 98, 100 passageways through, 67, 68, 193n94 candles, 24, 29, 30, 52, 53, 91, 92, 204n74 Capua, Raimond von, 19 castle, 8, 40, 183n25 cemeteries, 90–93, 100 chalice, 51, 52, 88, 118, 129, 189n7 Chapel of Our Lady (Kobolzell), 162–65, 163, 164 of St. Blasius, 39, 40 of St. Nicholas, 30–31 of St. Wolfgang (see St. Wolfgang, Chapel of) of the Pure Virgin Mary, 12, 31, 204n68 of the Virgin Mary (Milchmarkt chapel), 69, 152–54, 155 See also charnel-house chapels; Oberwesel, Wernerkapelle chaplaincy, 28, 40, 57, 81, 92–93 caretakers, 21, 24, 38, 40, 49, 88, 105 See also churchwardens Charles IV, 19 charnel-house chapels of St. Kilian (Wertheim), 67, 96, 97, 97 of St. Michael (Kiedrich), 94, 99, 99–100, 102, 103, 104 of St. Michael (Ochsenfurt), 96, 98, 98, 99 of St. Michael (Rothenburg) (see St. Michael, Chapel of [Rothenburg]) charnel houses, 90, 93, 94, 94, 96–97 See also charnel-house chapels choir stalls, 82, 125


Church of Our Lord (Herrgottskirche, Creglingen), 133, 135 Church of the Holy Savior (Passau), 67–68, 68, 69 church space. See religious institutions; spatial environments; urban complex churchwardens, 29, 30, 31 See also caretakers citizens. See burghers city-as-patron (verus fundator), 21, 29, 31, 41 city council of Rothenburg church architecture as instrument of control by, 18–21 citizens eligible for election to, 22 disputes between regional nobility and, 10 funerals and, 91 as patrons, 4, 15–16, 29–30 Protestant reformers and, 11–12 public displays and, 165–72 religious institution oversight by, 18–21, 22, 24, 30–31, 37–41 city hall. See Rathaus of Rothenburg civic caretakers, 21, 22, 24, 38, 49, 105, 204n61 civic community, ideals of, 16 coherence of design, 4–5, 6, 126–27 commemoration, 90–92, 115 Communion, visual or ocular, 57, 59 concomitance, theory of, 116–17 conflicts between power structures and material fabric, 19–21 between regional nobility and city council, 10 between Teutonic Order and city council, 22, 24 Conrad III, 8 Coronation of the Virgin, 139, 140 Corpus Christi altar of, 110 Chapel of, 53, 54, 61 Feast of, 167–71 indulgences related to, 53 liturgical play, 169, 170 Council of Cologne, 57 Council of Mainz, 57 Creglingen altarpiece (Marian Assumption Altarpiece) central shrine of, 138 commission for, 132–33 design of, 136–37, 139–41 finishing of, 150 original location of, 135–36 Rankenwerk and crest of, 137, 139, 139, 140 views of, 134, 136 Creglingen, Church of Our Lord (Herrgottskirche), 133, 135 Crucifixion Altarpiece, 141, 141–46, 142, 144, 145, 147 cult of Saint Anne, 154 of Saint Wolfgang, 129, 155, 157


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Dauerwunder relics, 47, 79, 169 dead communities, relationship between living and, 90 death shields, 125 decorum, sense of, 4–5 dendrochronology, 27, 30, 60, 135, 186n37 design decorum or coherence in, 4–5, 6, 126–27 relationship of patrons and artists in process of, 13 repetition in, 3, 113, 172–73 Detwang Altarpiece (see Holy Cross Altarpiece) Sts. Peter and Paul, Church of, 106, 107, 108–9 Deutschhauskirche (Würzburg), 24–26, 25, 63–65, 64 Diem, Margarethe, 92 Dinkelsbühl city of, 10 St. Georg in, 61 documents and civic identity, 28 Dominican convent (Rothenburg) All Saints Altarpiece of, 151, 202n20 church of, 109, 110, 112 oversight of, 18, 19–20 as political entity, 10–11 donations for anniversary Masses, 91 for eternal lights, 26, 186n36 to Chapel of Our Lady (Kobolzell), 165 to Holy Blood Chapel, 52–53 civic identity through, 181 compendium of, 52–53 Feast of Corpus Christi and, 170 of food, handed out in cemeteries, 92–93 to Church of St. Jakob, 26–27, 28–29 for preservation of city walls, 180 to religious institutions, 41–42 Ebern, 94 Ehetür portal, 89 Ellringen, Johann von, compendium of, 49, 51, 53, 54, 59, 104 emperors, visits to city by, 166–67 ensembles medieval cities as, 5–6 in Rothenburg, 88 See also urban complex Entry into Jerusalem, 77, 78 epidemic, 88 Erfurt, 48 Eseler, Niclaus, Jr., 61, 103 Eseler, Niclaus, Sr., 61, 67, 103 Eseler, Peter, 61 eternal lights, 24, 26, 186n36 Eucharist, species/dual materials of, 47, 51, 79, 116–17, 126–27, 169

fabrica ecclesiae construction of nave and, 36 control over, 22, 24, 26–27, 28 financial ledgers of, 88 funerals and, 91 postmedieval changes to, 178–80 See also religious institutions Feast of All Saints, 103 of All Souls, 103 of Church Consecration, 162, 170 of Corpus Christi, 53, 167–71, 199n79 of St. Bartholomew, 157 of St. Michael, 104 Marian, 154 feast days, liturgical (Hochzeiten), 84, 167–71 find-spot, 66–67 fire, 176, 185n1 Flagellation of Christ (Christ at the whipping post), 120–22, 200n90 flying buttresses, 36, 37 Franciscan monastery (Rothenburg) Altarpiece of St. Francis of, 146–47, 147, 148 Altarpiece of St. Ludwig of Toulouse of, 147–48, 149 altarpieces of, 1, 132, 148, 151–52 city council oversight of, 38, 40 consecration of choir and altar of church of, 205n91 Crucifixion Altarpiece of, 141, 141–46, 144, 145, 147 nave and rood screen of church of, 146 as political entity, 10–11 Franconia Duchy of, 7 Teutonic Order in, 11 tourists to, 12 Fraternity of Shepherds, 157, 158, 168, 188n1 Frederick III, 166 funerals, 90–91 furnishings, liturgical, 12, 30, 88–89, 103, 164, 169 See also chalice; choir stalls; monstrance; relics and reliquaries; vestments gallery, western, 20, 33, 55, 64, 67, 80–82, 110, 163–64 Gerolzhofen, charnel-house chapel in, 94, 96 Gesamtkunstwerk, 3, 4, 6 glass. See stained-glass Glück, Heinrich, 92 Gothic churches artistic programming in, 3–6 continuous moldings of, 34 flying buttresses of, 36 hall-type, 35–36 of Nuremberg, 192n82 See also specific churches Gottfried IV, 54, 105


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Gottsbüren, 48 graves, 91–92, 93, 122, 123 Gymnasium, 95, 101, 176 hall churches, 35, 36 Harschner, Erhart, 2, 70, 75, 76, 79, 130, 172 Haßfurt 94, 96 Heideloff, Karl Alexander von, 80, 115 Heilsbronn, Abbot Ulrich of, 15–16 Heiltumskammer of St. Jakob, 54–55, 56, 62, 63, 67, 161 Heiltumskirchen (reliquary churches), 104 Herlin, Friedrich, 122, 151, 172, 176, 178, 179 Herrgottskirche (Church of Our Lord, Creglingen), 133, 135 Hillentrup, 57 Himmelloch openings, 80, 84 Hohenlohe, Ludwig and Gottfried von, 21–22 Holy Blood Altarpiece central shrine and wings of, 73, 74, 78, 114 commission for, 45, 70 context of, 85–86 contract for, 2 cost of, 133 creation and installation of, 2 Creglingen altarpiece compared to, 136, 137, 139–40 crest of, 71 cross reliquary with blood relic, 46 depth of field of, 75–76 design of, 70, 72, 74, 76–80, 82, 113, 115 Feast of Corpus Christi and, 168–69 location of, 80–81, 82 predella of, 72 Rankenwerk canopy of, 75, 76 themes of, 84, 115–16, 127, 140–41, 172 traffic through space of, 82–85 views of, 77, 83, 84 Holy Blood Chapel architecture of, 69 construction of, 54–55, 55, 57 cross reliquary and, 46, 49–50 donations to, 52–53 Feast of Corpus Christi and, 168 functions of, 57 indulgences associated with, 53–54 interior of, 83 links with Charnel-House Chapel, 103–4 miracles related to, 52 as pilgrimage site, 1–2, 54, 57, 69, 84–85 traffic through, 82–85 vaults of, 81 See also Holy Blood Altarpiece Holy Blood in Germany, 48, 116 See also blood relics Holy Cross Altarpiece central shrine of, 108, 109, 143


composition of, 107–8 Crucifixion Altarpiece compared to, 142–46 design of, 113, 115 monochrome finish of, 151 original location of, 108–10, 113 reconstruction of, 106 theme of, 115–16, 140–41 wings of, 110, 111, 114 Holy Ghost Spital (Rothenburg), 38, 39, 66, 169, 171, 178, 195n21 holzsichtig (monochrome), 2, 13, 79, 113, 149–52 Hornburg, Elisabeth, 57 host, 28, 48, 57, 59, 67, 69, 79, 117, 167–68, 170 host-miracle shrines, 57, 68 iconoclasm, 164 identity, civic artistic programming in, 43, 45, 131 cemeteries in, 92 Church of St. Jakob in, 167 construction of, 16, 18, 38, 40, 172–73 material fabric and, 28 as “medieval,” 179–81 parish churches in, 18, 21 processions in, 165–66 unified, projection of, 41–42 urban complex as shaping, 126 written records as shaping, 28 imperial city, Rothenburg as, 8–10, 166–67 importer of art and architecture, Rothenburg as, 7, 172 income, 27, 30, 41, 53, 88, 129, 157, 170, 195n3 indulgences associated with Holy Blood Chapel, 53–54 associated with Charnel-House Chapel of St. Michael, 104, 105 associated with Feast of Corpus Christi, 168 for walking through cemetery, 90 Ingolstadt, 35 Innsbruck Corpus Christi play, 169, 170 Iphofen, 93, 94, 96, 151 Jerusalem, 7, 11, 113, 123 Jewish community in Rothenburg, 38, 40, 68–69, 153 Judengasse, 69 Kempe, Margery, 48 Kiedrich St. Michael in, 94, 99, 99–100, 102, 103, 104 St. Valentin in, 99–100 relic display and processions in, 104 urban complex in, 99, 99–100 Kirchenpolitik, 18–19 Klingengasse passageway, 44, 55, 56, 60, 62–63, 69 Knights Hospitaller, 18, 40–41


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Kobolzell, Chapel of Our Lady, 162–65, 163, 164 Kolb, Konrad, 59 Kreglinger, Peter, 69 Langmantel, Selena, 92–93, 105 Last Supper, 72–75, 73, 74, 79, 120, 168, 178 Laterer, Georg, 129 library, 96, 100, 101, 175, 178 liturgy. See Feast, feast days, liturgical; furnishings, liturgical; Mass; plays, dramatic, on liturgical feast days living and dead, doctrine of, 90 Ludwig IV, 22 Ludwig the Bavarian, 38 Mainz, 7, 57, 61, 167 Mangold of Würzburg, 65 Man of Sorrows, 120–23, 121, 122, 170 Marian chapels. See Kobolzell, Chapel of Our Lady; Milchmarkt, Chapel of the Virgin Mary on marketplace, routes to, 28, 63, 69 Mass, 12, 28–30, 47, 54, 57, 79, 80, 81, 91, 96, 105, 117–20, 119, 132, 157, 167, 168, 186n36, 194n121, 197n44 material fabric civic identity and, 28 conflicts between power structures and, 19–21 power of city council and, 37 of Rathaus, 175 Maximilian I, 167 medieval churches. See Gothic churches; specific churches medieval cities as concept, 179 as ensembles, 5–6 modern, 176, 179–81 See also urban complex; urban planning memoria civic identity through, 181 donations for, 29 Man of Sorrows as motif of, 122 Mergentheim, 11 Milchmarkt, Chapel of the Virgin Mary on, 69, 152–54, 155 miracles catalog of, 51–53, 104 Dauerwunder, 47 host-miracle shrines, 57, 68 of Saint Wolfgang, 129, 155 monetary values, xv monstrance, 49, 50–51, 57, 70, 76, 139, 140, 168, 169 Mount of Olives (Agony in the Garden), 77–78, 90, 107–8, 113, 114, 115, 120, 123, 144, 144–47, 200n95 movement and architecture, 57 Mülholzer, Jakob, 147–48 Müllner, Hans, 61 multimedia program

objects as creating, 43, 45 of Church of St. Jakob, 87 of Rothenburg urban complex, 115 municipal government of Rothenburg. See city council of Rothenburg Münnerstadt, altarpiece in, 151, 203n32 networks of cult space, 130–31, 165, 173 processional, 165–72 nobility, 19–20, 40 Nolt, Jakob, 102 Nordenberg family, 19 Nordheim am Main, St. Laurentius in, 151 Nördlingen, 38, 61, 192n68 nuns, Dominican, 18, 19–20 Nuremburg Gothic churches of, 192n82 St. Lorenz in, 34–35 St. Sebald in, 34, 34, 35, 80, 121, 191n61, 194n121 oaths, 20, 22, 38, 40 Oberwesel, Wernerkapelle in, 65, 65–67, 66, 69 Ochsenfurt St. Andreas in, 35 St. Michael in, 96, 98, 98, 99 ocular Communion, 57, 59 offertory box, 24, 30, 129, 154, 157, 165, 170 Offner, Michael, 123 Oppenheim, 36, 93, 94, 96 Order of the Knights of St. John (Knights Hospitaller), 18, 40–41 Ordo Stellae, 84 ossuaries, 90, 93, 94, 96, 102–3, 103 Ottnat, Michael, 91, 155, 157 outdoor pulpit, 96, 100, 104 parish churches as civic spaces, 90, 131 communal or collective identity and, 18, 21 function of, in Middle Ages, 18 rood screens of, 201n104 See also specific churches passageways beneath medieval churches, 62–67, 64, 65, 66, 69 See also Klingengasse passageway Passau, Church of the Holy Savior in, 67–68, 68, 69 patricians, 7, 10, 11, 19, 22, 186n24 patronage structures, 27–31 patrons city council as, 4, 15–16, 29–30 color on altarpieces and, 149–50 in process of design, 13 pestilence, 88, 93 piers, 34, 125


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pilgrimage images in establishing and sustaining, 130 promotion of, 53–54, 129, 155 pilgrimage sites attempt to create, 43, 45 Chapel of Our Lady as, 162–65 Chapel of St. Wolfgang as, 129, 130, 152, 155, 157 Chapel of the Virgin Mary as, 152 economic underpinnings of, 53 Holy Blood, 48 Holy Blood Chapel as, 1–2, 54, 57, 69, 84–85 Rothenburg as, 1–2 Walldürn as, 48, 54 Wernerkapelle as, 66–67 Wilsnack as, 48–49, 54 Pius II (pope), 57 plays, dramatic, on liturgical feast days, 84, 169–70 polychrome finish of altarpieces, 148–52 poor, provisions for, 92–93 pope, 48, 53, 57, 168, 169 population, 7, 41 portal, Ehetür, 89 power localization of, 18–21 rituals and, 166–67 Prague, 10, 40, 48, 183n23, 184n30 processional networks, 165–72 processions, 54, 57, 91–92, 103, 104, 162, 165–68, 169, 171 pulpit, 29, 91, 104, 123, 135, 201n100 See also outdoor pulpit Rathaus of Rothenburg, 175–76, 177 Reformation changes to urban complex after, 178–79 city council and, 11–12 Regensburg Cathedral, 35 Reichsalmosen, 92–93 Reichsstadt, 8–10, 166–67 Reichstag, 9 Reims, 20 relics and reliquaries catalog of miracles related to, 51–53 Dauerwunder relic, 47, 79, 169 Heiltumskirchen, 104 in host-miracle shrines, 68 inventory of, 49–51 in processions, 169 See also blood relics religious institutions city council oversight of, 18–21, 22, 24, 30–31, 37–41 donations to, 41–42 function of, in Middle Ages, 18 growth in number of, 165 as political entities, 10–11 See also fabrica ecclesiae; specific institutions


reliquary churches (Heiltumskirchen), 104 repetition, 113, 117, 122–23, 130, 145, 171, 173 restorations, 40, 80, 107, 179, 191n57 Resurrection, 108, 111, 113, 118, 120, 122–23, 144, 145 Riemenschneider, Tilman All Saints Altarpiece of, 151, 202n20 Altarpiece of St. Anne of, 150, 152–53, 154 Altarpiece of St. Francis of, 146–47, 147, 148 Altarpiece of St. Ludwig of Toulouse of, 147–48, 149 altarpieces of, 115–16, 130–32, 165, 171–72 commissions and payment for, 45, 70, 132–33 contract signed with, 1–2, 57, 78, 85 Mülholzer and, 148 oeuvre of, 12–13 payments to, 133 polychroming in oeuvre of, 148–52 St. Wolfgang Altarpiece of, 128, 129–30, 150, 154–55, 158–59, 160–61 Würzburg Cathedral altarpiece of, 201n10 See also Creglingen altarpiece; Holy Blood Altarpiece; Holy Cross Altarpiece; Würzburg workshop ring bosses, 140 rituals anniversary celebrations, 91–92 funerals, 90–91 power structures and, 166–67 processions, 165–72 See also Eucharist, species/dual materials of rock crystal, 50 Rome, 54 roof, 27, 30, 55, 59–60, 61, 186n37, 192n68, 194n124 rooted sanctity, 69 Rösch, Gottfried, 60 Rothenburg ob der Tauber as case study, 6–12 epidemic in, 88 as imperial city, 8–10, 166–67 Kirchplatz in, 95 map of, 8, 39 Marktplatz in, 180 pilgrimage environment of, 1–2 population of, 7, 41 postmedieval history of, 176, 178–81 Rathaus of, 175–76, 177 urban complex concept and, 87–88 view of, in 1615, 9 See also city council of Rothenburg; identity, civic; specific institutions and churches Rudolf I of Germany, 170 Rudolf of Hapsburg, 65 Rupert of Germany, 10 sacrament niche, 57, 116, 117, 121, 122 sacristan, 29, 30, 91 Saint Anne cult, 154 See also Altarpiece of St. Anne


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Saint Wolfgang cult, 129, 155, 157 See also Chapel of St. Wolfgang Schäffer, Johann Ludwig, 100, 101, 102, 112, 154, 155 Scheu, Stephan, the Elder, 81 Schilingsfrist, 60 Schmidt, Johann Friedrich, 95, 101–2, 154 Schultheis, 40 Schwäbische Städtebund, 8–9, 37 Schwäbisch Gmünd, 35, 37 Schwäbisch Hall, 9, 10, 140 Schwarz, Martin Altarpiece of St. Francis and, 146, 147 as artistic counselor, 2 Crucifixion Altarpiece and, 141, 141, 142, 144 as guardian of monastery, 1, 151 as Rothenburg resident, 172 secular authority over religious institutions, 18–21, 22, 24, 30–31, 37–41 See also civic caretakers side aisles, 123–25 spatial environments altarpieces in, 173 concept of, 3–4, 43, 45 dialectic of, 6 establishment of, and local context, 172–73 as generative agents of artistic creation, 173–74 of installation, 86 postmedieval changes to, 176, 178–81 of west end of Parish Church of St. Jakob, 51, 82–85 spatial-thematic system, 4–5, 87–88 See also spatial environments; themes; urban complex Spital (Rothenburg), 38, 39, 66, 169, 171, 178, 195n21 stained-glass, 117–20, 117, 119 staircase, 57, 66, 81, 82–84, 84, 100, 112, 163–64 St. Andreas, Church of (Ochsenfurt), 35 St. Blasius, Chapel of (Rothenburg), 39, 40 St. Catherine, Church of (Oppenheim), 36 St. Georg, Church of (Dinkelsbühl), 61 St. Jakob, Church of (Rothenburg) acts of protest in, 12 altarpieces for, 151–52 Chapel of Our Lady compared to, 163, 164 choir construction in, 22, 24–26, 27, 31, 36 city council as patron of, 15–16 in civic identity, 18, 21, 167 consecration of, 88–90, 169 contracts for administrative oversight of, 21–27 donations to, 26–27, 29–30 east choir of, 23, 116, 117, 117–18, 119 exterior of, 37, 123, 124, 125 flying buttresses of, 36 fundraising for west end of, 49, 54 interior of, 32, 58, 137 inventories of treasures of, 167–68, 169 inventory of relics of, 49–51

longitudinal section of, 56 Man of Sorrows of, 120–22, 121, 122 Marian altar of, 29, 135–37 Marian altarpiece of, 132–33 monolithic window tracery of, 62 multimedia program of, 87 nave of, 28, 30, 31, 33, 34–37 in parochial complex, 89 plan of, 17, 82 roof construction of, 192n68 site of, 39 as Stadtkirche, 42 St. Jodocus altar of, 81–82 St. Nicholas altar of, 81–82 Toppler donations to, 28–29 vaults of, 25, 35 view of west end of, 44 west end construction in, 43, 54–55, 55, 57, 59–61, 103 west end design for, 61–65 See also fabrica ecclesiae; Holy Blood Altarpiece; Holy Blood Chapel St. Laurentius, Church of (Nordheim am Main), 151 St. Lorenz, Church of (Nuremberg), 34–35 St. Michael, Chapel of (Kiedrich), 94, 99, 99–100, 102, 103, 104 St. Michael, Chapel of (Rothenburg) Holy Cross Altarpiece and, 108–10, 113 Holy Blood Chapel and, 103–4 consecration of, 88–90, 104, 105 construction of, 93–94, 104–5 design of, 100–102, 101 functions of, 94, 96, 113 ossuary of, 90, 102–3 in parochial complex, 89 processions to and through, 103 surviving wall of, 112 St. Nicholas, Chapel of (Rothenburg), 30–31 St. Sebald, Church of (Nuremberg), 34, 34, 35, 80, 121, 191n61, 194n121 St. Valentin, Church of (Kiedrich), 99–100 St. Wolfgang, Chapel of altarpieces of, 128, 129–30, 150, 154–55, 158–59, 160–61 Chapel of Our Lady compared to, 163 exterior of, 156 interior of, 157–58, 158 location of, 157 paired portals of, 159, 161, 162 as pilgrimage site, 129, 130, 152, 155, 157 plan of, 156 Sts. Peter and Paul, Church of (Detwang), 106, 107, 108–9 Strasbourg city council history in, 185n8 Minster, 35 Tauberbischofsheim, 96 Tauber River, 7, 8, 9


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taxes, 10, 27 testaments, 29, 91, 92 Teutonic Order, 10–11, 16, 18, 22, 24–26, 25, 30–31 themes of Holy Blood Altarpiece, 84, 127, 140–41, 172 of altarpieces of Riemenschneider, 115–16, 130 as cohesive, 126–27 dual materials of Eucharist, 47, 51, 116–17, 126–27 Last Supper, 72, 75, 77, 79, 113, 115 Man of Sorrows, 120–23 Mount of Olives, 77–78, 107–8, 113, 115, 144, 147 of stained glass windows, 117–18, 120 St. Michael slaying dragon, 123, 126 tombstones, 42, 91, 92, 125 Toppler, Barbara, 28, 29 Toppler, Hans, 29 Toppler, Heinrich, 10, 27–29, 30, 42, 49 Toppler, Kathrin, 29 tourism, 12, 176, 178, 179 towers, 34–35, 64, 175, 188n65 tracery, 34–35, 61, 62, 98, 121 trade routes, international, 8–9 Trüb, Katharina, 20 Ulm Minster, 35 Ulrich (abbot), 15–16 Urban IV (pope), 168 urban complex artistic program of, 115–26 cemeteries in, 100 charnel-house chapels in, 96 components of, 88–94, 89 in Kiedrich, 99, 99–100 monuments in, 123, 125 overview of, 87–88, 126–27 plan of, 17 repetition in, 172–73 in Rothenburg, 100–105 See also Holy Cross Altarpiece urban planning as aggregated and structured process, 127 altarpieces as instruments of, 153–54, 171–72 chapels as instruments of, 152, 153 for churches, 59–60 overview of, 3 urban complex as tool of, 96

Walldürn pilgrimage, 48, 54 walls, defensive (fortifications), 38, 157, 180 wax, 30, 52 See also candles Wenceslaus IV (Wenzel), 10, 40, 42, 68 Wernerkapelle (Oberwesel), 65, 65–67, 66, 69 Wertheim, St. Kilian in, 67, 96, 97, 97 Wilsnack pilgrimage, 48–49, 54 Windsheim, 10, 133, 148 wine consecrated, as transformed into blood relic, 47, 48 production of, 7, 9, 79–80 restrictions on consumption of, 19 taxes on, 10 Wolfahrt, Kaethe, 179 wood stain for altarpieces, monochrome (holzsichtig), 2, 13, 79, 113, 149–52 Wormrath, Werner von, 66 Würzburg Deutschhauskirche in, 24–26, 25, 63–65, 64 Diocese of, 11, 151 Cathedral, altarpiece of, 201n10 Würzburg workshop altarpieces by, 2–3, 130 repetition of compositions by, 113 style of, 154, 165 Zeil am Main, 96 Zenner, Heinricus and Irmgard, 22, 93 Ziegler, Wilhelm, 128, 130, 159, 172

vaults, 25, 34, 57, 75, 80, 81, 84, 157–58, 195n7, 199n71 vestments, 103, 129, 167–68 visual aesthetic, 13 See also artistic programming visual dialogue of principal churches and charnel houses, 95, 97–101, 102, 105 Volckmar, Christine, 92



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