Sometimes, an event echoes through history, its reverberations felt for hundreds of years and exploring one of those echoes, is a Carolingian architecture.
Charlemagne, the king of the Franks from 786 to 814, is one of the few major rulers in European history for whom there is an agreed stereotype.
According to this stereotype, he was a great warrior, with his conquests he expanded his realm from a region smaller than France to include most of what we now know as Western Europe.
He promoted Christianity, education, and learning. But most importantly, he is known for the reestablishment of a long lost culture, the period of which is called ‘Carolingian Renaissance’.
Using Constantine’s (first Roman emperor to convert into Christianity) the Christian empire as its model, Charlemagne penned two letters conveying his intentions of reformations-both morally and culturally.
His plans were not merely confined to the papers but soon developed a skeletal framework- thicker pillar, curvier arches, intricate designs, and immaculate art, thus constructing the sturdy house of Carolingian Architecture.
A Brief Overview About Carolingian architecture
Carolingian architecture is the North European style architecture stemming from the Carolingian Renaissance, during the eighth and ninth centuries when the Carolingian dynasty dominated Western Europe on all fronts.
Hailing as the precursor of Romanesque architecture, the Carolingians juxtaposed the early Christian and Byzantine architectural style with their own added innovative and aesthetic style and viola.
The gateway of the Lorsch Abbey (800 CE) demonstrates the Roman classical inspiration that the Carolingians drew for their architecture with a triple arch hallway and interspersed with classical columns.
Similarly, the Palatine Chapel in Aachen (792-805) demonstrates the Byzantine influence on Carolingian architecture. These and many others stand as a testimony that breathed inspiration into the Carolingian architecture.
Through an intensive study of craftsmanship, I have compiled the top 10 best monuments of the Carolingian architecture arranged in the descending order.
10. Corbie Abbey
Corbie Abbey, a former Benedictine monastery in Corbie, Picardy, France was founded by Queen Balthild, the wife of Clovis II and mother of Chlothar III and Childeric II in about 657-661.
Its importance is derived from the early Carolingian times where both the library and the scriptorium were celebrated.
The library is said to house catalogues of the eleventh and twelfth centuries.
Along with the patristic writings, it is regarded as the hub for the transmission of the works of Antiquity to the Middle Ages.
Another appendage of the Corbie is its scriptorium, which became the vortex of manuscript illumination at a time when the art was fairly new in Western Europe.
It is here where the Carolingian minuscule developed as well as the style of illumination. And for the same reason, Corbie was attributed to a laboratory for new scripts.
9. Chelles Abbey
Chelles Abbey (French: Abbaye Notre-Dame-des-Chelles was founded in the early medieval period (c. 658).
Initially intended as the monastery solely for women, it attracted an influx of men wishing to delve into the conventional lifestyle.
Later, accommodating the duality successfully formed a male community as well.
It was known for its scriptorium where nine prominent nuns used to transcribe documents and of course its nexus with the royalty of the then era.
Even though it is very little to no evidence of manuscript illumination, the remnants point out that it was in a particularly quaint style of writing.
All in all, the Chelles scriptoria are designated as the most prolific of the 8th and 9th century and the median of intellectuality.
However, it fell prey to the disestablishment of the Catholic Church in 1792 and was felled during the French Revolution.
8. Benediktbeuern Abbey
Claimed as the oldest and the most beautiful monastery in Upper Bavaria, the Benediktbeuern Abbey was established in 739.
There’s an anecdote as to how the name Benedicto-Burum was derived: before the 800s, Karl the Great had bestowed the right arm of the holy Saint Benedikt(a significant artifact). Hence the name developed. The cloister was known for its scriptorium in the Carolingian time.
Post the Hungary storm in 955 and the deterioration of the empire in the 10th century, the cloister was destroyed and the monastery ceased to exist.
Saint Ulrich of Augsburg was the one who refurbished the church and established a ‘Sakularkanonikerstift’. However, it was after Heinrich III regained the power that it reached its cultural climax.
Goldsmith’s craftsmanship fostered in the cloister and the semantics of the ‘Carmina Burana’ originated here.
It was only in approximately towards the end of the 16th century that the cloister was renovated with quintessential early Italian Baroque style in its entirety.
The church also dotted with a fresco of the life of Christ made by Hans Georg Asam(the father of the dexterous architect-interior decorator’s brothers). As of now, the cloister is a host of other functions such as conferences, concerts, and events.
7. Amorbach Abbey
Amorbach Abbey (German: Kloster Amorbach), formerly a Benedictine religious commune sits in Lower Franconia, Bavaria, Germany.
It is one amongst the other quadruplet of Carolingian foundations intended to establish Christian religion inhabits the Royal House of Leiningen, one of the oldest noble families in Germany.
The prolific years of the abbey soon ceased in the year 1525 during the German Peasants’ War and it was short-lived only until the early 16th century.
In the year the 1740s, the romantic-gothic style was replaced by late Baroque accents after its reconstruction.
It now stands as the median in the outstretched religious grounds harboring acoustics and instruments. One is awed by the grandeur of halls and a library; not to forget the beautiful lake and the garden.
Currently, Andreas Prince and Alexandra Princess own the royal abbey.
6. Abbey of St. Medard, Soissons
The Abbey of St. Medard sustains 1500 years of history, dating back to 560 when it was established to house the relics of the bishop of Noyon of the same name, Saint Medard.
Soon after it was founded, this Abbey was heralded as one of the chief centers of spirituality and polity of early Medieval France.
It also served as the crematorium of Clotaire and Sigebert, the son and grandson of Clovis respectively, founder of the Merovingian dynasty, which catapulted the abbey into great heights in terms of its significance.
The crowning of Pepin the Short as king of Franks took place in the same abbey, inaugurating the Carolingian dynasty.
Some of the main attractions are the impressive Crypt and royal Mausoleum, featuring ten chapels intertwined with arches, the walls containing gilded royal statues, the castle-like entrance, the Tower of Abelard and the Roman pillars.
5. Charlieu Abbey
Charlieu Abbey or St. Fortunatus’ Abbey (French: Abbaye de Charlieu) was an abbey of the order of St. Bernard perched at Charlieu, Burgundy in France.
Established in the year 872, the abbey was an homage to Saint Fortunatus and Saint Stephen, the patrons being Radbertus, bishop of Valence and his brother Edward, in the same location of ‘Carcus Locus’, which translates to ‘dear place’. The Holy See had explicit control over it.
The remnants uncovered at the site reveal that Gausmar, the first monk along with the others erected it themselves.
Similarly, the excavation is proof to the existence of two consecutive churches, one in the ninth century and the other in the tenth century and an eleventh-century church, whose remains can be found attributed to the Brionnais area.
Talking about the architecture, its roof was wooden and pencil towers encircled the corners of its exterior and the eastern end had a semi-subterranean ambulatory.
It is an ensemble of unique architecture including medieval houses, Philippe Auguste tower and the defensive dungeon.
It’s difficult to forget the Gothic cloister and the 15th century chapel with the chapter house that reveals a colonnade.
4. Abbey of Saint Gall
The Abbey of Saint Gall is a dissolved alley in the city of St. Gallen in Switzerland. Saint Othmar founded it in 719 on the spot where Saint Gall had erected his hermitage.
It is considered as the epitome of the great Carolingian monastery and owes largely to the construction campaigns of the 18th century, reflecting architectural development spanning several centuries.
Almost all the important architectural periods from the High Middle Ages to historicism have been emulated in a significant fashion.
It is an amalgamation of architectural brilliance consisting of different buildings regrouped around the main square of the abbey: the west side includes the ancient abbatial church (the present cathedral), bordered by two towers and the ancient cloister.
It currently houses the High baroque library which houses around 160,000 books (still in use today).
In the north lies the buildings of the 19th century: the ancient arsenal, the Children’s and Guardian Angels’ Chapel and the former Catholic school.
In addition to the exemplary architecture, the unparalleled cultural significance conserved here is exceptional.
The Irish manuscripts of the 7th and 8th centuries, the illuminated manuscripts of the St. Gall School of the 9th and 11th centuries, documents concerning the historical origins of the Alemannic Switzerland provenance as well as the outlines of the convent during the Carolingian era.
The only manuscript of the then era in the whole world, preserved in its authentic state, representing the monastic organization concept of the Benedictine order.
3. Montier-en-Der Abbey
This former Benedictine monastery was founded in about 670, on the banks of river Voir by an Abbott named Bercharius.
The site was a part of Bercharius’ inheritance, located in the forest of Der. Consequently, it was named as Montier-en-Der; the same name being given to the community that flourished thereinafter.
Albeit its obscurity during the 8th century, it was rebirthed as a Carolingian property in the 9th century and that’s when it drew the attention, much of which was pivoted by Hauto in about 827 C.
No sooner had it been entertaining cognizance, than the Vikings invaded ferociously, leaving the monks as fugitives.
However, there was a revival in the 930s when it came under the Gorze reform and later, under the Cluniac reform.
It was Adso who rebuilt the church in stone in the 998, exempting the roof which still was wood-laden as a sign to the visitors that all churches did not have stone vaulting.
It replaced the Gothic style nave of the 12th and 13th centuries with Carolingian style with varnished glass windows that enhanced it all together.
The wealth and prestige of the Montier-en-Der are cascaded opulently by the codex diplomaticus, compiled during the 1120s as it projects the west Francian provenance; also the charters have good documentation of the then rulers and the obligations of peasants and the overall monastic reforms.
2. Abbey of Echternach
St. Willibrord, the patron of Luxembourg, founded this Benedictine monastery, in the town of Echternach in eastern Luxembourg, in the 7th century.
Charlemagne directed the abbey after the death of Beornrad, the third abbot of Echternach. The works at the abbey were under the profound influence of Willibrord’s roots in Northumbria and Ireland.
Echternach cultivated prominent scriptoria in the Frankish empire. Mostly known for decorative paintings in gold in Romanesque symbolism and producing four gospels: the Augsburg Gospels, Maaseik Gospel, Trier Gospels, and the Freiburg Gospel book fragment, the manuscripts produced here are known to have been both insular and Roman half-uncial scripts.
It played a central role in the development of the early Carolingian Renaissance under the patronage of Pepin the Short and Charlemagne.
During their reign, Alcuin compiled the two styles into the Carolingian minuscule, which predominated the coming centuries.
It entertained a time of great celebration and power- both spiritually and temporally. However, the civil war toppled the Frankish states along with the power of the abbey.
In modern times, around the middle of the 19th century, it was re-established in a neo-roman style, and now the abbey museum, located in the vaulted cellars of the former abbey, includes the St. Willibrord Basilica and also a secondary school, which can be visited.
1. Faremoutiers Abbey
Regarded as a bridge between the Merovingian Frankish Empire and the southern Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, Faremoutiers Abbey was a Merovingian Benedictine nunnery; founded in about 620 by Burgundofara.
It incorporated both the monks and nuns parallelly and became a double monastery, a pioneer of its kind in France.
Faremoutiers Abbey (French: Abbaye Notre-Dame de Faremoutiers) ran according to the stringent Rule of Saint Columbanus. Originally, it was known as Evoriacum, which was renamed to Faremoutiers (Fara’s monastery) in her honor.
The abbey thrived in two periods: the first during the Middle Ages marked mainly by saints and during the second period, the abbesses, appointed by the King, were eminent women: Francoise de la Chatre and her niece, Jeanne de Plas.
It was abolished during the French Revolution and the buildings were destroyed. Then Bishop Gaillard of Meaux recovered the possession of this property and in 1931 he reestablished the Faremoutiers, with Benedictine nuns from the priory of Amilis, which remains to this day.
Thus, in culmination, the emperor, Charlemagne was able to consolidate his powers and over the generations, he is ruling the vast expanse of Europe.
During the period of his reign, there were only the vestiges of the Roman Empire, which were replaced by this significant restitution of the Carolingian Renaissance, which remains embedded in the history of the origin of most of Europe that we still study till date.