"Women and Empore: The Issue of Gendered Space in Ottonian Architecture," by Matthew Sova


"Women and Empore: The Issue of Gendered Space in Ottonian Architecture," by Matthew Sova

Saint Cyriakus is a small convent located in the rural town of Gernrode, Germany. It was constructed in the tenth century under the direct patronage of Margrave Gero, an aristocrat with close ties to the Ottonian dynasty of Holy Roman Emperors. Although Saint Cyriakus exemplifies early Ottonian architectural style, it introduces an innovative architectural element: the Empore, a raised gallery space located in the western end of some basilica-plan churches. Scholars have considered the Empore at Saint Cyriakus to be the first constructed north of the Alps, promoting Gernrode to a prominent position among architectural monuments of medieval Germany.

Architectural historians have assumed that the Empore is an imperial space, functioning as a way to separate the rulers and their court from the common laity. However, the issue with this assumption lies in the lack of conclusive evidence for this phenomenon; there is no explicit link between imperial sites and the presence of an Empore. Also, there is little clear evidence that tenth-century convents were concerned with imperial authority. The connection between empire and Empore was advanced by German scholarship of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and was strengthened by the nationalist ideas circulating within the new German Empire. Imperial connotations greatly excited the intellectual and political leaders of Germany in this period, as it connected their own expansionist aims to an ancient ‘German’ past. However, the purpose of the Empore is more complicated.

This paper asserts that the Empore at Saint Cyriakus is a result of interactions between gender roles, religion, and aesthetics. Gernrode is a useful case study that challenges the assumption that the Empore is an inherent signifier of imperial status. Although the Ottonians were active in the region, the site was not constructed under direct imperial patronage. Rather, Saint Cyriakus was built by a local ruler and used by secular canonesses, noble-born women that did not take permanent vows. A comparison of Gernrode to the Ottonian abbey churches of Quedlinburg, Essen, and Groeningen, each of which contains an Empore, will be central to this paper. This comparison will highlight the diverse reasons for the construction of an Empore, including the housing of altars, security of canonesses, cross-cultural exchange with Byzantine artists, and an interest in verticality in architecture. This paper illuminates how modern collectivities have re-contextualized the past to legitimize their authority, but utilizes historical text, cultural studies, and archaeology to challenge these nationalist assertions.

More information about Matthew Sova can be found here

  • HAAARCH!!! 2015
  • Undergraduate Work