Elevation and Salvation
Tamara Klemm studied history of art at the Albert-Ludwigs-Unversität in Freiburg im Breisgau, and has worked since 2007 as an academic research assistant for the German Corpus Vitrearum. Her master’s thesis dealt with the choir glazing of the church of St Martha in Nuremberg, in particular with the windows’ original programme. She is currently doing a doctorate on the charnel houses of Saint-Etienne-du-Mont in Paris.
Panel 2b of the so-called Waldstromer Window (window I in the choir of the church of St Martha in Nuremberg) constitutes a distillation of the overall programme for the glazing (executed c.1390) into a single scene: the elevation of the host during the celebration of mass [Fig. 1].
The panel (81.5cm x 40.5 cm), can be found in the central light of the east window, above the altar. It shows a small vaulted space in which one act of the mass liturgy can be seen: the elevation of the host. The priest raises the host, inscribed with a depiction of Christ crucified, above his head. On the right-hand side of the panel a mass server holds the hem of the celebrant’s blue chasuble for him, while holding a tall candle in his other hand. In front of the clergyman, an open book (probably the missal), a chalice and a paten lie on top of the colourfully framed chest altar. On the retable is an image of the Annunciation. The space is enclosed at the back by a red branched and foliate ground that stands in stark contrast to the blue vault with its small yellow keystone.
Style and composition
The glazed figures in the church of St Martha all correspond to the same type. They are short and stocky, their movements give an impression of being stiff and clumsy, and their facial expressions are restrained. The artist appears to have had difficulties working with the small format of the panel and arranging the figures and their actions sensibly within the space. For example, in our panel it is not absolutely clear whether the mass server in the illustrated panel is kneeling or standing, or whether the priest is next to or before the altar.
The narrowness of the picture space results principally from the broad frames decorated with flowers along the upper and lower edges of the panel. The majority of the panels have an architectural frame, usually consisting of columns and very simple traceried canopies. The architectural forms are arranged across the three registers of a window symmetrically about the axis and are combined thoughtfully in both horizontal and vertical directions. The depth of the narrow picture space is occasionally indicated by a vault, but generally there is no great perspectival development. In most cases, scenes occupy one framed panel each, and only rarely does the representation extend across several panels.
Nuremberg in the High Middle Ages
Nuremberg occupied an important position in medieval Germany. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the city, which flourished commercially and culturally, saw an explosion of building activity. The city’s patrician families combined high levels of wealth with a religious outlook, resulting in a great enthusiasm for the establishment of religious and charitable foundations. Churches, hospitals and hospices for the poor sprang up in a very short space of time. Those in power sought to acquire and promote relics, above all those of the hermit saint Sebaldus, spreading awareness of the relics’ miracle-working properties along trade routes. Trade routes thus also became pilgrimage routes, and Nuremberg exercised its charm simultaneously on commercial, religious and devotional fronts. The importance of the city within the Holy Roman Empire’s network of political, religious and trade routes created capacity problems, as growing numbers of people travelled to Nuremberg. Two pilgrim hostels were set up outside the gates of the city: that of the Holy Cross (before 1354) on the west, and that of St Martha (about ten years later) on the south-west. Their location by the city gates ensured that even travellers who arrived late could find accommodation.
St Martha’s Pilgrim Hostel
St Martha’s hostel, situated in front of the Frauentor (Our Lady’s Gate), took in foreign and poor travellers, as well as pilgrims. Its church was endowed with a perpetual living for a resident priest who was to celebrate mass for those staying there. This provision is echoed in the glazing, as is apparent from our panel and those flanking it [Fig. 2].
On 19 June 1356 a wealthy Nuremberg couple, Conrad I Waldstromer and his wife Agnes Pfinzing, recorded their intention to found the hostel and church. Conrad Waldstromer was senior forester for the imperial Lorenz Forest and his wife was descended from one of the oldest families of the council. Construction only began in or after 1363, when their sons Conrad and Johannes Waldstromer became co-founders. By then both parents were dead (Conrad in 1360, Agnes in 1356). In 1364, the Waldstromer brothers were admitted to the ranks of the imperial servants of Charles IV. Documentary evidence suggests that the building was complete by 1376 [Further reading: see Stadtarchiv Nürnberg].
The glazing programme
It is likely that the choir windows were installed more than a decade after the building was finished. Conrad I and Agnes are commemorated in the lowest register of the east window, kneeling on either side of their shield of arms, directly beneath the representation of the elevation of the host [Fig. 3]. The window, probably given by their children in their memory, must date from before 1395, when the last of their offspring died. Heraldic evidence in another window (nIII) indicates a glazing date of after 1388; suggesting that the choir scheme may have been executed in around 1390. The original glazing programme can only be partly reconstructed, but enough evidence – around 150 panels – survives to reconstruct a complex iconographic scheme.
The east window, in which our panel appears, combines Christological images (the Baptism and the Last Supper) with Old Testament scenes (Moses receiving the Ten Commandments, Noah in his ark, Jacob’s dream, the sacrifice of Isaac and the gathering of manna) and a timeless/eternal symbol, the Mercy Seat Trinity [Fig. 4]. Our panel appears between two scenes of communion: to the left the devout take communion in church; to the right a man receives communion on his death bed. The windows immediately to north and south contain scenes from Christ’s Life, Passion and Resurrection. Beyond them are windows depicting the end of the world and the Last Judgement.
A Scene from Real Life
Our panel, unusually among the 150 preserved in the church [Fig. 5], does not depict an event from the Old or New Testaments, but springs directly from the daily life of the medieval church-goer, offering the contemporary viewer a means of identifying with a recognisable event. The practice of elevating the host, begun in the 11th century, was formalised at the fourth Lateran council in 1215. By the 1390s, when this panel was made, elevation had become the focal point of the mass; the visual and spiritual high point of the liturgy. During the mass, elevation was signalled by the ringing of bells and the carrying of consecration candles; that carried in the hand of the server may be one such.
The impulse to show piety became more marked as the Middle Ages progressed. The very act of looking at the host was considered to aid salvation; the gaze of an individual came to be regarded as a replacement for taking communion. Beholding the consecrated host became the real purpose of attending mass. Indeed, medieval authors report that the craving for this was so great on occasion, that the faithful surged into the sanctuary, even though it was forbidden, so that there would be no chance of their missing out on it. Some priests responded to this need by holding up the host for longer, elevating it in different directions, or repeating the elevation several times in the course of celebrating mass.
By depicting the moment of elevation, the designer of the scheme has worked real life, and thus the viewer, into his account of the story of salvation. The central moment of the celebration of the Eucharist has been captured as a perpetual image. There are only a few earlier parallels in stained glass which combine contemporary liturgical events with biblical scenes in this way. These include representations of the elevation in the axial windows of the abbey church in Bücken (Lower Saxony) and the cathedral in Meißen (Saxony), the transept window (nIV) of the abbey church in Niederhaslach (Elsass), and a later depiction of the scene in sII at Rothenburg ob der Tauber (Bavaria) [Figs 6 and 7].
The Iconographic Programme
Although looking at an image of the elevation was not redemptive in itself, it could aid individual devotion. That an image of the act could be construed as an encouragement to silent devotion is apparent from an extract of a sermon given at mass by Berthold von Regensburg, which was published in the fourteenth century and widely circulated in southern Germany. The author describes how the priest’s liturgical acts are symbolic of the Passion of Christ. So when the celebrant lifts up the body of Christ in the form of the host, he thereby shows how Christ was raised up on the cross:
‘That he raises the host to be beheld by the eyes of all signifies that he was raised on the cross in the eyes of all…‘ [Further Reading: Berthold von Regensburg]
At St Martha’s, the host is also decorated with a depiction of Christ crucified, whereby the analogy described by Berthold becomes even clearer. The image, and that of the Annunciation on the retable, are essential for understanding the significance of the elevation. This is the moment of transubstantiation, when the Incarnation, Christ made flesh, takes place anew. The retable image of the Annunciation echoes the detailed account of the incarnation and childhood of Christ shown in nII, immediately to the left of the axial window [Fig. 8]. In a similar way, the image of Christ crucified on the host refers to the events of the Passion and after the Resurrection which are the theme of the two windows to the right of our panel (sII–III). The narratives behind these references are thus made visible to the viewer.
In Berthold’s sermons it is clear how the concepts associated with the elevation ties in with the story of salvation: the Son is presented, whom the Father allowed to be given up and to whom he displays his wounds. The idea of the accepted sacrifice is one that finds pictorial expression in the representation of the Mercy Seat Trinity at the apex of the window, so in the axis, above the elevation [Fig. 9]. The faithful should not lose heart, but should themselves patiently bear the burdens loaded upon them, in the same way that Christ endured death on the cross in order to save them.
Moreover, he who is present in the host is also described as the one who will come in judgement and to whom all will have to give account. According to various contemporary texts, the elevation was thought to anticipate the end of time. Berthold, for example, records the priest’s words at the moment of elevation as follows:
‘Behold the Son of God, who thus is about to come to judge the living and the dead, to whom it will be necessary for you to give account … Therefore prepare (yourselves with) penance and good works.‘ (Further Reading: Berthold von Regensburg)
Events associated with which figure prominently in the overall glazing programme. The Last Judgement is displayed for the faithful in sV [Fig. 10], while in nIII the approaching end of the world is described in through the representation of the signs that foretell it. The viewer can see how the Second Coming of Christ is announced, signs which include spring tides, earthquakes and bleeding plants [Figs 11 and 12]. Here the end of time is not visualized as an occurrence in the distant future, or an intellectual idea, but is displayed comprehensibly in a clear narrative manner.
The elevation of the host does not only refer to the Second Coming of the Judge, but simultaneously makes provision for salvation, a theme which is explored in the axial window. The notion of the redemptive benefit of looking at the body of Christ has a theological basis in various allegorical interpretations of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, some of which are illustrated in the window. Explanation is offered, for example, as follows: in the same way that Moses had to go barefoot on Mount Horeb, so beholding the consecrated host brings about a freeing of the self from materials and worldly desires, symbolized by the animal skin, from which Moses’ shoes have been manufactured [Fig. 13]. At the same time, of course, the significance of viewing the elevation was transformed in popular belief with ideas verging on the magical. A day without sight of the body of Christ was thought to be an unlucky one, whereas no-one could suffer hunger on the days on which he has seen the host. Nor could sudden death hurry the believer away.
In addition to the evocation of these direct and powerful effects, the east window emphasizes the celebration of the Eucharist as a sign of the covenant that constitutes part of the great divine plan for salvation. Various moments in the sequence of epochs of salvation history are depicted in the window. The bond between God and man is illustrated by images of the chosen of the Old Testament (Noah and Abraham), the covenant with the people under the law and through their rescue from starvation (Moses is handed the tablets of the Law, the Gathering of Manna), Baptism and the establishment of the celebration of the Eucharist as a sign of brotherhood (the Baptism of Christ and the Last Supper). Finally, the window shows how the celebration of the Eucharist extends into present time with the distribution of communion to church-goers and the sick, and with the central moment of the elevation).
The iconographic programme at St Martha’s is complex and sophisticated. Its designer has set out the story of Christian salvation, clarifying the position of the faithful and, with an eye towards the approaching end of the world, the means of salvation that is the Eucharist.
Archival sources for the founding of the hospital
Stadtarchiv Nürnberg, Urkunden, 27. Oktober 1363
Stadtarchiv Nürnberg, D 12 Marthaspital 1
On the stained glass at St Martha’s
A. Erlande-Brandenburg and L. Grodecki, ‘Les quinzes signes précurseurs de la fin du monde dans les vitraux allemands, français et alsaciens’, in Kunst des Mittelalters in Sachsen, Festschrift Wolf Schubert, Weimar, 1967, pp. 292–99
G. Frenzel, ‘Nuremberger Glasmalerei der Parlerzeit’ (dissertation, University of Erlangen, 1954)
G. and U. Frenzel, ‘Die fünfzehn Zeichen vor dem Jüngsten Gericht in der St. Martha-Kirche zu Nuremberg’, in U. Schlegel and C. Zoege von Manteuffel (eds), Festschrift für Peter Metz, Berlin, 1965, pp224-238
M. Kautzsch, ‘Anfänge der Glasmalerei in Nürnberg und Franken 1240 – 1450’ (dissertation, University of Halle-Wittenberg, 1931)
U. Meyer-Eisfeld, Die Glasmalerei in der St. Martha-Kirche zu Nuremberg – Ein Führer durch die Inhalte, Nuremberg, 2000
D. Parello, ‘Kurzführer zu den besichtigten Glasmalereistandorten – Nuremberg, St. Martha’, in CVMA Glasmalerei im Kontext, XXII. Internationales Colloquium, Nuremberg und Regensburg 2004, pp. 116–21
K. Pilz, Die Evangelisch-reformierte St. Marthakirche und das Pilgrim-Spital St. Martha – Die reformierte Gemeinde in Nürnberg, Nuremberg, 1979
H. Scholz, Die mittelalterlichen Glasmalereien in Mittelfranken und Nürnberg, CVMA Deutschland X/1, Berlin, 2002
On the Fifteen Last Days
Feature by Roger Rosewell, Vidimus 45, November 2010
On the Elevation of the Host
Berthold von Regensburg: Rusticanus de Dominicus, zitiert nach Franz Adolphs Abschrift der Handschrift CLinc, Blatt 67f aus der Studienbibliothek in Linz)
A. Angenendt, Geschichte der Religiosität im Mittelalter, Darmstadt, 2000
F. Adolph, Die Messe im deutschen Mittelalter, Beiträge zur Geschichte der Liturgie und des religiösen Volkslebens, Darmstadt, 1963 [1st edn, Freiburg, 1902]
S. Klöckner, ‘Elevation’, and A. Döring, ‘Eucharistische Frömmigkeit’, in Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, Freiburg, 20 vols, III/3 (1995)
G. Schwerhoff, ‘Christus zerstückeln – Das Schwören bei den Gliedern Gottes und die spätmittelalterliche Passionsfrömmigkeit’, in K. Schreiner, Frömmigkeit im Mittelalter – politisch-soziale Kontexte, visuelle Praxis, körperliche Ausdrucksformen, Munich, 2002, pp. 499–527