Graubünden - Culture of Construction

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Romanesque Church Construction
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Reformierte Kirche St. Martin*

7432 Zillis-Reischen
Oldest, almost entirely preserved wooden ceiling of painted figures in Western Art.

Mother Church of Schams, Rheinwald and Avers, mentioned around 840, donated by Emperor Otto I to the diocese of Chur in 940, annexed to the diocesan capital in 1357; Reformation 1530-35. Excavations from 1938-40 attest to an Early Christian church situated on a Roman occupation layer, which was probably uncovered after the removal of a secular building; the conscripted exedra of the church was excavated around 800 and replaced by a Carolingian east-section with three horseshoe-shaped apses in the “Chur-Rhaetian” style. While the nave and the south tower in ashlar masonry are preserved from the Romanesque reconstruction from 1110, the small rectangular choir had to yield to a Late-Gothic polygonal choir by Andreas Bühler in 1509. New roof truss around 1547, replaced during the over-all restoration from 1938-40; last restoration in 1972.

Exterior. Long rectangular nave and slightly retracted choir with large tracery windows; the narrow tower added to the south side is integrated by blinds with round arch friezes; damaged cuspidal helmet by Peter Zurr from 1677. Of the Romanesque nave windows, both oculi in the façade of the gable, as well as those above the south entrance, are original, while the round-arched window in the façade of the gable and two further ones in the south wall were, according to construction site findings, reconstructed - enlarged to improve illumination; the northern length of wall is without windows. On the west façade, a colossal rendering of Saint Christopher from the middle of 14th century by the Master of Waltensburg, preservation in 1995.

Interior. The Romanesque nave and the Late-Gothic choir are separated by a peaked choir arch, which overlaps in the ceiling of the nave, leading to the assumption that a reconstruction of the nave was also planned in 1509; small Romanesque round-arched windows walled-up toward the side of the choir arch. In the light-bathed choir, semi-circular colonnettes support a two-bayed stellar vault; the monograms of Christ and Mary appear on both keystones; in the eastern sectroids, the signature of the master builder, Andreas Bühler and the crest of priest Sebastian Castelmur, both from 1509; the crests of the diocese of Chur and the Upper Alliance at the end of the choir. Late-Gothic wall tabernacles with blind tracery.

In the nave, a unique Romanesque pictorial ceiling* shortly before 1114 (dendrodating), consisting of a total of 153 individual, ornamentally-framed, colourfully-painted panels; restored from 1939-40, newly assembled by Erwin Poeschel during the same period; protected against further deterioration 1971-72, in 1994 and 2003/04.

The ceiling is composed of three arrangements: 105 inner panels describing-in rows that read from east to the west-the salvific history of the New Testament, linked in the final row to scenes from the life of the church patron Saint Martin. The inner surface is framed by a border frieze with an ocean background, which is populated with fable creatures and sea monsters, in between which three scenic panels are inserted: of a ship voyage, a fishing haul and another undistinguishable nautical scene. Over the entire composition lies a cross, formed by double ornamental fillets, which divide the ceiling into four equal-sized rectangles. Presumably, horn-blowing angels were to be found in all four corners.

The concept of the ceiling follows the layout of a mediaeval map of the world. The graphic style of the pictures and the typification resemble contemporary book renderings found in Bavaria and Upper Italy. The ceiling, however, was probably actually painted by local artists. Two different techniques are distinguishable: those of a master and an assistant, the latter recognisable by the heavier, more timid line quality.

Painted Romanesque mural frieze with meandering band and Sibyl busts along the ceiling. Romanesque baptismal font with spherical bowl from the 12th century under the sacramental sanctuary in the choir; polygonal pulpit from 1647, simple pews from around 1730. Organ from 1974.

Arrangement of the pictorial ceiling:
The order of the pictures today corresponds to Erwin Poeschel’s arrangement, which represents a meticulous reconstruction, but not the original state.

1 - 48. The Border Pictures (of which 13 are new: 22 - 25, 27 - 31, 33 - 36). Outer rows, arranged along the wall. In the four corner areas, angels with horns (1, 9, 25, 33), which to Poeschel were personifications of the four winds, but according to more recent opinion actually represent apocalyptic angels who announce the advent of Armageddon and hold back the winds from the four corners of the world. On the recurring waves between, are fable creatures and sea serpents, interpreted as symbols of chaos by Poeschal, in accordance with his definition of the borders as a zone of peril; inserted between, three fishing scenes (10, 11, 12), which, according to Poeschel, are illustrations of the story of Jonah, as well as an allusion to the salvation of the baptised, who break through the evil circle of monsters and prepare the viewer’s mind for the concepts of the main cycle, the Gospel. Opposing Poeschel’s evaluative polarisation of inner and outer order is another possible interpretation, after which the border pictures – in reference to “terra incognita” on mediaeval maps of the world – reveal the unknown pagan regions at the edge of the world; the inner fields, in turn, depict the known mainland.

The Inner Cycle (49 - 153). To be read line-for-line from the left to the right.

49 - 55. Enthroned kings with circumcision knives (49 - 51), according to Poeschel, the Old Testament forefathers of Christ: David, Solomon and Rehoboam; two female figures (52, 53), according to Poeschel, portrayals of a Synagogue and the Assembly of believers, but according to more recent opinion, assisting figures in the subsequent Annunciation (54, 55).

56 - 62. Joseph’s Dream with an angel (56, 57), Visitation of Mary and Elisabeth (58), Proclamation to the Shepherds (59), Birth of Christ (60 - 62).

63 - 69. Angel guiding the train with the Three Wise Men (63 - 66), the Three Wise Men before Herod with three, waiting horses (67 - 69).

70 - 76. Adoration of the Christ Child by the Three Wise Men (70 - 73), the Three Wise Men guided home again by the angel (74 - 76).

77 - 83. The Three Wise Men (77), Purification Rite of Mary (78), Presentation at the Temple (79), Joseph’s Dream (80), escape to Egypt (81 - 83).

84 - 90. The Holy Family (84), Herod’s henchmen receiving his order to murder the children (85, 86), Massacre of the Innocents (87 - 90).

91 - 97. The Christ Child reviving birds of clay (91), 12-year-old Jesus in the Temple (92, 93), John preaching in the desert (94 - 97).

98 - 104. Baptism of Christ in the Jordan (98), Triple Temptation of Christ by the Devil (99 - 101), two Archangels and Christ (102), Wedding at Cana (103, 104).

105 - 111. Christ and the Captain from Capernaum (105), Christ cures the ill (106), exorcising the Gerasenes demonic (107, 108), the Canaanite woman (109), the cripple at the Pool of Bethesda (110, 111).

112 -118. Healing of a cripple (112), Resurrection of Lazarus (113 - 115), Christ and the Samaritan woman (116), Christ teaching at the school in Nazareth (117 - 118).

119 - 125. Christ and the children (119), Jesus sending out the Apostles (120 - 112), Transfiguration: Christ between Moses and Elijah, three Apostles kneeling (123 – 125).

126 - 132. Entry into Jerusalem with Zacchaeus in the tree and men spreading palm branches (126 – 130), Cleansing of the Temple (131, 132). 133 - 139. Judas’ Betrayal, Commission and Payment (133, 134), Washing of the feet (135), the Last Supper (136, 137), Christ on the Mount of Olives (138, 139).

140 - 146. Arrest of Christ with Peter and Malchus, Judas’ Kiss (140 - 143), Christ before Pilate (144), Derision and Coronation of Thorns (145, 146). – The Passion story is discontinued.

147 - 153. Scenes from the life of St. Martin: the Saint with a horse and a beggar (147, 148), Hilarius ordaining St. Martin (149), St. Martin resurrecting a dead person (150), the Devil appears to St. Martin in the guise of a king (151 - 153).

(Kunstführer durch Graubünden, Hg. Gesellschaft für Schweizerische Kunstgeschichte. Eng. translation of the title: Art Guide of Graubünden, ed. Society for the History of Swiss Art, Zurich 2008. This book has only been published in German.)