A Portal to Knowledge

Science on Public Display in the Holy Cross Parish Church at Schwäbisch Gmünd

in Nuncius
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Abstract

This article engages with the Creation cycle (hexaemeron) sculpted on the vault of the south portal of the choir of the Holy Cross Church at Schwäbisch Gmünd (1351–1377). Several reliefs depict the cosmological creation, which was a rather rare topic in monumental sculpture on public display during the Middle Ages. Being based on cosmological theories, taught at the universities, but not expected to be shared with the laity, it is a unique intellectual cultural phenomenon.

The article seeks to interpret anew the full scientific significance of these unprecedented iconographic cosmological depictions. The choice of topic and location of the cosmological reliefs will be explained in relation to the town’s socioeconomic and political developments that brought to substantial changes in the lives of the burghers.

Presenting these novel ideas to the medieval public in an ecclesiastic context suggests an important change in the intellectual history of the region in the late fourteenth century.

A Portal to Knowledge

Science on Public Display in the Holy Cross Parish Church at Schwäbisch Gmünd

in Nuncius

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    Figure 1

    The Creation of the angels on the first day: the first relief at Schwäbisch Gmünd

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    Figure 2

    The Creation of the Cosmos represented as an armillary sphere: the Holy Cross Church, Schwäbisch Gmünd (second half of the 14th century)

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    Figure 3

    The five towns in the Upper Rhine in which cosmological cycles can be found

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    Figure 4

    The Creation of the Luminaries. The sun and moon iconography is influenced by astrological manuscripts.

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    Figure 5

    Creation of the cosmos depicting the planets and orbs; a large Creator and a small cosmos. Freiburg im Breisgau minster, choir – north portal, mid-14th century.

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    Figure 6

    Ptolemy holding an armillary sphere, by Jörg Syrlin the Elder, choir stalls, Ulm minster, early 15th century

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    Figure 7

    The Day of Creation and the Day of the Birth of Christ as indicated by the armillary sphere

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    Figure 8

    A scheme of the celestial heavens as depicted in the relief: God’s palm is resting on the winter solstice, December 22

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    Figure 9

    The primordial substance becoming corporeal at the instant of creation, Schwäbisch Gmünd

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    Figure 10

    The Creation of the land and sea on the third day, Schwäbisch Gmünd

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    Figure 11

    The ceiling of the Holy Cross Church – the first hall church in the Upper Rhine, constructed by the Parler workshop

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