Friday, July 22, 2011

The Cathedral of Cologne and the Stonemasons of Germany

BY the general consent of architectural writers, the Cathedral of Cologne has been admitted to be one of the most beautiful religious edifices in the world. It is considered to be a perfect type of the old Germanic or Gothic style of architecture, and it has been deemed a central point around which have gathered the most important historical and artistic researches on the subject of the architecture of the Middle Ages.
So high did it stand in contemporary estimation, and so much were its builders valued for the skill which they had displayed in its construction, that, as Boisseree tells, the Master Masons of Cologne were often sent for to superintend the building of many other churches. Thus the continuation of the steeple of the Cathedral of Strasburg was intrusted to John Hultz, of Cologne. Another John of Cologne, in 1369, built the two churches of Campen, on the shores of the Zuyder Zee; and he adopted as his plan that of the Cologne Cathedral. The Cathedrals of Prague and of Metz were built on the same plan. In 1442 the Bishop of Burgos imported into Spain two stonecutters of Cologne to complete the towers of his cathedral.
To this prominent poison of the cathedral and of its builders in the history of medieval architecture must we assign the equally prominent position which has been assumed for it in the traditions of modern Freemasonry. The fabrication of that very popular, but altogether supposititious document, known as the "Charter of Cologne," is to be attributed to the fact that at the date assigned to it the Masons of Cologne were considered as the chiefs of the craft, and there was some apparent plausibility in assigning to them the duty of convening a Grand Lodge, whose representatives were brought from every part of Europe.
The present Cathedral is the successor of two others. The first is said to have been founded by St Maternus, who was Bishop of Cologne in the 4th century. That edifice, if the account of it is not altogether traditional, and perhaps mythical, must have been constructed in the Roman method and by Roman artisans, for the city did not come under the control of the Franks until the 5th century.
The second Cathedral, the history of which is also very imperfect, is said to have been consecrated in the year 873. Of its having been burnt in 1248 there is no doubt. This edifice does not seem to have met the growing needs or the increasing pride and wealth of the church, for before its destruction by fire, Archbishop Conrad is said to have had plans prepared for the construction of a new one, which should surpass all existing churches in magnificence. And Archbishop Engelbert had designed to do the same thing twenty-five years before, but was prevented from carrying out his plan by his assassination in 1225. The second Cathedral was burnt in the year 1248, and the new one was begun the same year. Larousse and some other writers state that the work was commenced in 1249. But Boisseree, upon whose authority one may securely rely, says that the foundation-stone of the new edifice was laid on the eve of the feast of the Assumption, August 14, 1248, by Archbishop Conrad, in the presence of the Emperor, Frederick II., and a concourse of nobility and ecclesiastics of every grade.
The solemn ceremonies which accompanied this event have been described at length by the historian of the Cathedral, Sulpice Boisseree.
The foundation-stone was deposited in the spot which was destined for the high altar, and where was temporarily erected a wooden cross.
After the preparatory prayers and canticles the Archbishop proceeded, with the assistance of the architect and by means of a chisel and mallet, to engrave the figure of a cross on the four angles of the stone. In the interior of the stone, in an excavation made for the purpose, was deposited an account of the ceremony, some images of saints made in consecrated wax, some coins, and other objects which bore relation more or less to the epoch of time in which the stone was laid.
Afterward the Archbishop blessed the stone, sprinkled it with holy water, and then delivered it to the workmen, who lowered it into the pit which had been prepared for it.
The Archbishop then descended, accompanied by several attendants, and after spreading some mortar with a trowel over the face of the stone, gave it a blow with a hammer and placed a second stone upon the first. The Emperor, the Pope's legate, and several princes and nobles imitated the Archbishop, and the trowel and hammer passed from hand to hand until it came to the architect, while the choir chanted the 87th Psalm, beginning "His foundation is in the holy mountains." (1)
The work was continued until 1509. During that period, the labours were often suspended in consequence of the sanguinary contests which took place in the 13th and 14th centuries between the city and the archbishops. Hence at the beginning of the 10th century, only the choir and the surrounding chapels had been finished. In succeeding wars the building suffered much, and would at length have been pulled down had it not been for the active exertions of a Fleming, Gerhard de Saint Trond, who caused subscriptions to be made and the work was resumed.
The historical question, who was the architect that drew the plans and first presided over their execution has never been satisfactorily settled; while the fame of Erwin Von Steinback has been preserved as the architect of the rival Cathedral of Strasburg, the name of the surpassing artist who was the architect of that of Cologne has been, apparently, irrecoverably lost.
There is a legend in connection with this which if of no value historically, is of some interest as a romance.
The Archbishop had called upon the architects of Germany for plans for the construction of the Cathedral. Many were submitted, but none were satisfactory to the prelate, who rejected them all.
Among the rejected applicants was a young architect, who was so despondent at his want of success, that one day he repaired to the
(1) "Histoire et Description de la Cathedral de Cologne," p. 7. I have inserted this description to show how the spirit of symbolism was preserved in all things connected with the architecture of those medieval Masons, a heritage which they have bequeathed to their successors, the Speculative Freemasons. In the modern ritual for the laying of foundation-stones, it will be seen that some of the leading points have a very close resemblance to this Cologne ceremony.
banks of the Rhine and there meditated suicide. But before casting himself into the river, he tried, but in vain, to draw a new plan.
Suddenly the devil appeared before him as a venerable old gentleman, in black, and offered him a plan which he promised him should be accepted, but would not give it to the architect except in exchange for his soul.
The youth daring neither to accept nor to refuse the offer, asked for a day's consideration. To this Satan assented, and they agreed to meet again at the same place on the afternoon of the next day. In the interval the young architect consulted the Archbishop and the canons of the Chapter, and by their advice he repaired to the rendezvous at the appointed time.
The devil again showed the plan and renewed his offer of an exchange - the parchment with the plan inscribed, for the soul of an architect. The youth snatched the plan out of the devil's hand and placed it in his bosom beneath a relic of St. Ursula.
The devil, enraged, exclaimed: "This is a trick of the rascally priests; but mark me, the Cathedral, the plan of which you have stolen from me, shall never be finished, and your own name shall forever remain unknown."
In the struggle to get possession of the plan, the devil's claws had torn off a corner of the parchment, and thus mutilated the plan.
The young artist having attempted to invent something which should appropriately fill the missing part, and always, after many trials, failing to succeed, at length died of chagrin. His name has passed into oblivion, and the Cathedral, for six hundred years, remained unfinished.
The story of the unknown architect of Cologne and his unhappy fate, told in different way, has always been a favourite myth with the German poets. Thus Frederick Rickert:
"Der Maister, der's entwarf Baut es nicht aus, und starb; Niemand mocht' sich getraun, Seitdem ihn aufzubau'n, Den hohen Dom zu Koin."
The Master who designed the plan did not finish it but died; no one since has dared to build it up; the lofty Cathedral of Cologne.
There are but two names that have been proffered as claimants for the honour of being the architect of the Cathedral of Cologne - at least there are only two names whose apparent merits are such as to have secured any sort of consideration. These are the celebrated philosopher, Albertus Magnus, or Albert the Great, and a distinguished Mason known as Maitre Gerard.
Let us first dispose of the claims of the philosopher.
Albertus Magnus was born of an illustrious family at Laevingen in Swabia in the year 1193. At the age of sixteen he entered the Dominican Order, of which afterward he became the Provincial. Pope Alexander VI. appointed him Bishop of Ratisbon; but Albertus, having held the office for only three years, renounced the miter to reassume the cowl and retired to the convent of his Order in Cologne, and employed himself in giving public instructions in philosophy. He died in the year 1280 at the ripe age of eighty-seven.
Albertus's knowledge of the principles of natural science were so far in advance of the times in which he lived, and many of his experiments were of so extraordinary a nature that he obtained, in a credulous and ignorant age, the reputation of being a magician, and many wonderful stories were related of his power in the occult art.
Thus, for example, it was said that he had occupied thirty years in making an entire man of brass, which would answer all sorts of questions and would even perform domestic services. Another legend relates that on a certain occasion he invited William, Earl of Holland and King of the Romans, who was passing through Cologne, to a banquet in the open air. It was in the depth of winter, and the whole face of the earth was covered with snow. The king, however, was no sooner seated at table, than the snow disappeared, the temperature of the air rose to that of summer and the sun burst forth with dazzling splendour. The ground became covered with rich verdure, the trees were suddenly clothed with foliage, with flowers and with fruits; vines presented clusters of luscious grapes to the company. The table was loaded with dishes of exquisite food which was served by a train of gracefully dressed pages, who came, no one knew whence. But as soon as the feast was over, everything disappeared; all became wintry as before; the snow lay upon the ground, and the guests, chilled by the sudden change, gathered up the cloaks and mantles which they had previously thrown aside, and hurried to the fires in the apartments.
Such an extravagant legend shows what was the reputation of Albertus among his contemporaries, who did not hesitate to ascribe to him the possession of an almost illimitable amount of learning.
It is not surprising therefore that to him in the uncertainty of who was the real architect, should have been ascribed the honour of devising the plans of the Cathedral of Cologne, especially since the erection of that stupendous edifice was commenced during his residence in the city.
To him, too, has by some writers been ascribed the invention of the Gothic style of architecture, of which the Cathedral of Cologne was one of the earliest and most magnificent specimens.
Those who have believed that he invented the plans for the construction of the Cologne Cathedral, have founded their belief on the profound symbolism of the plan, and on the supposition that Albertus was, according to the views of Heidelof, (1) the one who restored the symbolic language of the ancients and applied it to the principles of architecture.
But this seems to be but the exchanging of one conjectural hypothesis for another. It would be as difficult to prove that Albertus was the discoverer of the principles of symbolic architecture, which certainly does constitute, or at least among the medieval Masons did constitute the distinguishing element of their style, as it would be to prove that he was the deviser of the plans for the construction of the cathedral.
If either of these hypotheses were satisfactorily proved, it would give much plausibility to the other, but, unfortunately, the required proof is wanting.
Hence Boisseree, who has carefully discussed the question, refuses to adopt the opinion which attributes the plan of the Cathedral to Albertus. (2) He does not believe that ecclesiastics alone were the possessors of symbolic ideas, but he is sure that an architect only could give expression to those ideas.
He therefore supposes that the plans of the Cathedral must have been devised by an architect. But Albertus Magnus, though justly
(1) In his "Bauhutte des Mittelalters," quoted by Findel. (2) "Histoire et Descrip. de la Cathedral de Cologne," p. 12.
venerated for his vast erudition, never practiced architecture, and could not therefore have made the plans or superintended their execution.
The other person to whom has been ascribed the honour of being the architect of the Cathedral of Cologne is one Maitre Gerard, or Master Gerard.
"Historians," says Boisseree, "are silent concerning this Gerard, as they are concerning all other architects of the Cathedral. I, however, consider him as being the first of them and consequently as the author of the admirable plan which is not less bold than it is ingenious. If the plan had been furnished by another architect, we must suppose hat he died at the very beginning of the work, and this we have no reason for believing.
"There is still less reason for supposing that the plan was the production of some man of genius, versed in the knowledge of the art but not himself a professional architect; for the plan of an edifice so immense, of a composition so rich and bold, calculated with so much wisdom in its minutest details and with such a due regard to the execution, could have been invented only by an artist who, to great experience, added the most exact knowledge of all technical methods and the certainty of being able to realize in practice his happy conceptions." (1)
Hence it is that he declines to attribute the position of first architect of the Cathedral to Albertus Magnus, and assigns it to Master Gerard.
In the volume of the proces verbaux, or reports of cases of the Senate of Cologne, commenced in 1396, there is a list of the founders and benefactors of the Hospital of St. Ursule at Cologne, the name of Master Gerard is found and he is there described as the Werk-Neister von Dom, or "Master of the Work of the Cathedral" (2)
The Livre Copial of the Chapter of Cologne is preserved, says Boisseree, in the archives of the city of Darmstadt. On page 92 of this book is a copy of a charter in which the Chapter grants to Master Gerard a spot of ground on which he had erected at his own expense a house built of stone, in consideration of the services performed by him.
(1) Boisseree, ut supra, p. 10. (2) Ibid., p.12
In this charter he is styled "a stonecutter, the director of our Cathedral." (1)
As the date of the charter is 1257, which is only eight years after the commencement of the Cathedral, it is, as Boisseree has maintained, not probable that there had been an earlier architect who had died or been dismissed. And as the charter distinctly calls him a lapicida, a "stonecutter," and designates him as the rector fabricae, "the director, or ruler of the Cathedral," I think the question may be considered as settled that Gerard was the name of the first architect of the Cathedral of Cologne and that he was a Mason by profession.
As to the influence which this building and the artists, engaged in its construction had upon the organization of the fraternity of Stonemasons of Germany, historical records are silent, and we are left mainly to conjecture.
It is said by Winzer that Albertus Magnus altered the constitution of the Fraternity and gave them a new code of laws. But as at the same time, and almost in the same passage, he ascribes to the same person the deigning of the plans for the Cathedral, we may be inclined to give no more credit to the one assertion than we do to the other.
But as the Cathedral is one of the grandest and most elaborate of all the works of Gothic architecture, and as that style was, it is admitted, the invention of the Freemasons of the Middle Ages, we arrive at the legitimate conclusion that the workmen who were members of that Fraternity, which came into Germany about the 10th century from Italy, but of the nature of whose organization, of the customs they practiced, and of the laws which they adopted for their government we have no documentary evidence, until the 15th century, when we find the ordinances of the Stonecutters adopted at Strasburg in the year 1459.
We have documentary evidence of the existence of guilds in Germany before the middle of the 12th century. "At that time," says Mr. Fergusson, "all trades and professions were organized in the same manner, and the guild of Masons differed in no essential
(1) Magistro Gerardo, lapicede (says the charter), rectori fabrice nostre, propter meritoriae obsequia nobis facta, unam aream latiorem et majorem aliis prout ubi jacet, et comprehendit magnam domum lapideam, quam idem Magister Gerardus propriis edificavit sumptibus, duximus concedendam, etc.
particulars from those of the shoemakers or hatters, the tailors or vintners, all had their Masters and Past Masters, their Wardens and other officers, and were recruited from a body of apprentices who were forced to undergo years of probationary servitude before they were admitted to practice their art." (1)
There is no doubt that this statement is substantially correct, although there were some important differences between the guilds of Masons and those of other crafts, to one of which (the nomadic character of the former) he subsequently alludes.
We have a right, therefore, to conclude that at Cologne, during the construction of the Cathedral, the Freemasons who were engaged in that labour were already organized as a corporation and had their regulations, usages, and laws, though they have not been preserved to us in a written form.
But as it has been observed by a writer on this subject, (2) we have no reason to doubt the existence of such associations even before the 12th century, because we have no positive documentary evidence of the fact in the transmission of written constitutions; because it was not until they had succeeded in obtaining formal recognition, and when they were desirous of obtaining some special privilege that the necessity of a written Constitution was felt, so as to give it, as it were, a superior sanction.
Hence, though the Cathedrals of Cologne and Strasburg and some others of less graiadeux were begun in the 12th century, the earliest extant written Constitution is that of Strasburg, whose date is about the middle of the 15th century.
Whether these Statutes of the Strasburg Masons were enacted for the first time in 1459, which is wholly improbable, or whether they were only confirmations of other regulations, are questions which will be mooted in a subsequent chapter.
This much, however, I think has been determined as historically plausible, even if not historically demonstrable.
The most important essay of the Freemasons of Germany as a corporate guild, in the development of their peculiar style of architectural symbolism, was the Cathedral of Cologne. This fabric must then at that time have been the central point of German
(1) "History of Architecture in all Countries," vol. i., p. 2. B. II., chap. viii., p. 477 (2) Winzer, "German Brotherhoods of the Middle Ages," quoted by Findel, " History," p. 57.
medieval Masonry. Nineteen years afterward the Cathedral of Strasburg was begun. Then it is probable that the jurisdiction was divided and both Cologne and Strasburg became the separate centers in Lower and in Upper Germany whence other bauhutten, guilds or lodges emanated.
In time, however, probably from the suspension of the labours on the Cologne Cathedral in 1509, that Cathedral was shorn of its importance as a Masonic head, (1) and the power and jurisdiction of the Fraternity was concentrated in the Haupt-Hutte or Grand Lodge of Strasburg, which in 1549 modified the old regulations and preserved them in the form of a written Constitution which has been handed down to the present day.
(1) This decadence of Cologne as a Masonic power affords another argument against the genuineness of the Charter said to have been issued in 1535.

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