High atop the Schlossburg over Hohenecken, in Hessia, stands the glorified ruin of the spur castle of Burg Hohenecken. This 13th century fortress, which looms above the valley town below, once belonged to the descendants of Reinhard von Lautern. In the 17th century, a siege resulted in its ruination by French troops, from which it never was restored.
Over the centuries the castle has accrued a number of legends: a wise woman who gave prophecy to the doomed maiden Hildegard, stories of buried treasure, and the plague miracles attributed to St. Roch. And so in my brief time there, my imagination swelled with these stories and images. Each day I would climb up the castle hill to take in the setting of the medieval legends, and be rewarded with the view of the Hohenecken valley below (to someone like me who’s spent most of his life at sea level, a snow covered castle on a tall hill is irresistible).
At the last stretch of my visit, I decided to face the cold of German winter one last time, and went alone in the night to climb the Schlossberg. Though I was now familiar with the way to the top, at night the paths seemed both steeper and more treacherous. Once past the barrier, there is no light to be had. And it was in these conditions that my imagination got the better of me. The wooded hill quickly muffled any sounds from the sleepy town below. Every step of mine became too loud against the quiet. My mind started filling in the blanks caused by the silence and the dark.
Fear of what goes bump in the night slowed me down so much. What animals may be watching me in this strange terrain? What other people could be out on this hill? Why do I feel like I am being watched? The stories of the battles that took place here came to mind, and the dread that some dead soldier might appear to scare me off. One last steep climb and I had made it to the top of the hill, and the foot of the castle whose stones threatened to fall down on me at any moment. And it was then that I heard the foot steps across the outer ward, and they were slowly heading toward me.
Never have I climbed downhill faster in my life! Goodbye to whatever may be up there watching me. Goodbye to the spirits of this old mound. Let me go and I will not come back! The self-styled sorcerer, who would have climbed the summit to perform a magic rite under the stars, was so easily spooked by the things he keeps in his own head. At the time it was exhilarating and frightful, and now safe at home I feel so silly.
The mind, where all magic is to be found, is so easily suggestible.
One of the earliest works of the Flemish master, Hans Memling. One side, of little interest, shows the souls of the righteous calmly queuing up to Heaven’s gate. The right panel depicts monstrous demonic figures shoveling the Damned into Hell’s brackish pits.
Clear, deep coloration creates a rich contrast between the two opposed realms of the dead. This piece is an excellent example of the emerging trend especially in Flemish works of exquisite textural details in oil work.
This coming January, we are planning a trip to Frankfurt and touring the surrounding area of Hessia. Apart from visiting family there, there is a very exciting prospect waiting for me as it is the birthplace of the mythology of Dr. Faustus. As you can obviously tell, the legend of Faustus has inspired me since I was a boy. It is a name I have taken unto myself. It will be a time for special inquiry in situ and I will hopefully find some time to contemplate the themes of Faustus in his own country. How did this myth shape the history of that place? What is the current fingerprint of the legend on the people who live there? Where do the stories overlap with real history? These will be some of the questions I present myself, with the help of 500 years of scholarship on Faustus to work from. It is an exciting time, more to come!
Lloyd de Beer, curator at The British Museum, explains the origin of the Canterbury pilgrim badges and how they relate to the swift rise of the cult of Thomas à Becket, whose followers drank the blood of the martyr for miracle cures.
490-500 BCE: This Attic red-figure psykter (wine cooling vessel) from the necropolis of Cerveteri depicts bearded satyrs in revelry. A satyr falls backwards and balances a cantharos (drinking cup) upon his erect penis. Other satyrs around him pour wine into the cantharos. Other figure groups in the artefact depict other acrobatic satyrs in various states of drunkenness.
It boggles my mind to think that this piece of pornographic pottery is as old as Buddhism.
These highly sculptural 19th century alcohol burning kettle/warmers are of Russian Imperial origin. Made of wood, bronze and copper, these two specimens feature fantastical medievalized basilisks holding a teapot over an alcohol burner. The grip and other functional points are stylized with floral motifs and grotesques. The large curly tail holds up the burner.
Flemish artist Adriaen Collaert (1560-1619) produced the engravings, pictured here, which depict personifications of Aristotle’s classical elements: Earth, Water, Air & Fire, printed in a wunderbuch in the collection of Jean de Poligny. Now located at the Rijksmuseum. Prior to modern atomic theory, these elements were postulated to be the prima materia whose infinite combinations were the physical composites of all things in the Universe. Each engraving was modeled on paintings by the Flemish master de Vos the Elder.
Between 1999 and 2003, an archaeological excavation of the Sainte-Catherine river produced a remarkable collection of medieval pilgrim badges. Between C. XII and C. XV, Christian pilgrims would display these inexpensive badges as charms bought at shrines to the saints.
Some pilgrim badges would display a mundane concern to which the pilgrimage was dedicated (healing, expiation for sins committed, special blessing, travel concerns, etc.) while others were fashioned through verisimilitude to have the same protective powers as the sacred relics they represented.
These badges, or signs, not only represented the experiences of the pilgrimage, but also presented the wearer’s status as a pilgrim as well as what pilgrimage they were set upon. These would also function as a visual language between pilgrims who did not speak a common tongue. The wide popularity, mobility and cheap easy production has resulted in a high number of found examples. Besides their apotropaic qualities, to the medieval pilgrim, the badge also served as a visual memory of their encounter with the sacred relic–a souvenir.
In the image above, a variety of examples from Canterbury Cathedral depict the head relic of St. Thomas à Becket. The head was removed from public veneration and the Cult of Becket was outlawed during the English Reformation.
Bibliography Blick, Sarah, ‘Comparing Pilgrim Souvenirs and Trinity Chapel Windows at Canterbury Cathedral: An Exploration of Context, Copying, and the Recovery of Lost Stained Glass’, Mirator (2001), 1-27 Lee, Jennifer, ‘Beyond the Locus Sanctus: The Independent Iconography of Pilgrims’ Souvenirs’, Visual Resources 21 (2005), 363-381 TIXADOR A. Enseignes sacrées et profanes médiévales découvertes à Valenciennes, Service archéologique de Valenciennes / Illustria-Librairie des Musées, 2004.