Seckau Abbey, or Another Stop on the Romanesque Trail

Remember how, back in August, I was so infatuated with the amazing photos of Romanesque architecture on the Via Lucis Photography blog that I just had to go and look at some actual Romanesque buildings myself? As you probably recall, I ended up going to this place called Bad Deutsch Altenburg which, I believe, is the best location to get your fill of Romanesque within half an hour’s drive from Vienna. But, like all addicts, I soon craved for more and, a week or so later, I found myself en route to the Styrian mountains to visit what as far is I know is Austria’s largest Romanesque church:

Having read this post’s title you won’t be surprised to learn that this is the church of Seckau Abbey which is 21 m wide and estimated to have been c. 64,5 m long in its original state. When I say that the original length of the church can only be estimated, it is because both the facade and the apse were entirely rebuilt in the 19th century. These ‘restoration’ works were done in a Neo-Romanesque style, so they blend in rather nicely with the still extant 12th-century nave.

Seckau Abbey was founded in 1141 as a convent of canons regular of St. Augustine, and the construction of the church was begun immediately. The nave must have been completed by 1218, the year in which a two-towered western facade was added. In that same year an episcopal see was founded at Seckau, as suffragan to the Archdiocese of Salzburg. This may seem a bit strange considering that Seckau Abbey was and still is situated pretty much in the middle of nowhere, but during the Middle Ages it was something of a cultural hotspot – let me just say that it is one (of the two) candidates considered as the likely place of origin of the famous Carmina Burana manuscript. And of course the church’s impressive architecture is testimony to the abbey’s glory in its medieval heighday too.

Built on a basilical plan, the nave arcades are borne by massive piers and columns with richly decorated cushion capitals. While the carvings on the capitals are ornamental rather than figural, they still are quite remarkable and add an extra touch of chic to the otherwise plain stereometry of the architecture:

Originally, the nave was covered by a flat wooden ceiling, but at the end of 15th century an elaborate late-Gothic rib-vault was added. Admittedly, this is a bit of show-stealer and it dramatically changes the impression of the space, so Romanesque purists may not be too happy with it. In my opinion, though, its visual richness creates a fascinating and aesthetically pleasing contrast with the monumental simplicity of the Romanesque arcades and walls…

But then, as wel youl know, if I had to pick sides I’d still go for Team Gothic rather than Team Romanesque, so my personal opinion might not be objective in this case…

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2 Responses to Seckau Abbey, or Another Stop on the Romanesque Trail

  1. These are such fine photos of Seckau Abbey, thank you for posting this.

  2. The combination of walls and vault is a bit strange. They needed to install some grotesques crowding round the top of the piers to get some more ornament in the lower stages, I reckon. Lovely building though!

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