Station: [8] Crypt

F 2: Beneath the high choir is a vaulted crypt. This basement area is clearly separated from the body of the church. In the Middle Ages, it would normally have served as a burial place – for the canons, wealthy benefactors and other dignitaries. But that wasn’t possible in Jerichow. That’s because when the foundation was established, the River Elbe essentially lapped up against the walls of the monastery. The river bed only shifted further to the west some time later, so these days, it’s about a kilometre or two thirds of a mile away. But that explains why it was impossible to bury people in the crypt in medieval times. The groundwater level was simply too high. The gravestones found in the crypt today were moved here in later times. Nobody is actually buried here.

M 1: Perhaps you’re wondering how the canons used this space, with its groin vaults and the columns dividing it down the middle? During the monastic period, it was probably used for services on special days throughout the liturgical year. The especially splendid decoration of the capitals would certainly suggest it. In medieval times, capitals were traditionally an architectural feature on which images of humans and animals, mythical creatures and monsters, foliage and other motifs from the natural world were permitted. Here, every capital is different. Decorations include a man-eating beast, an eagle, sun symbols or scallop shells – the emblem of Saint James, patron saint of pilgrims. Their respective message may not be clear, but perhaps the intention here was to show the canons the secular world with its hardship and cruelty, from which Christianity offers the only escape. The final column, the one farthest from the stairs, is quite special. Its shaft, made of quartz-diorite, was taken to Magdeburg from the forum in Rome by Emperor Otto the First in the 10th century. From there, it made its way here to Jerichow. The capital, with the terrifying face of a monster in the act of devouring a human being, was probably added by stonemasons in Magdeburg.

Foto: © Stiftung Kloster Jerichow