Thursday, March 01, 2012

A German Penitence Cross in Ziegelhausen near Heidelberg

After posting only recipes for a while (I'm kind of imprisoned at home at the moment) I at least wanted to show you some local niceties. In Germany we have so-called penitence crosses ('Sühnekreuze' in German). They were monuments erected in medieval times as part of an expiatory penalty and part of an arrangement between two disputing parties. The reason for their dispute was mostly murder or manslaughter. Sometimes they were erected because the murderer couldn't be identified.

From the 13th to 16th century texts were rare on such crosses; sometimes the murder weapon or the victim's  tool of trade was depicted. In 1533 Charles V introduced the Carolina (Halsgerichtsordnung), the procedure for the judgement of capitol crimes, which was supposed to end private blood feuds and bring murder cases to court. However, penitence crosses survived into the 17th century.

Penitence crosses belong to the same category as wayside shrines ('Bildstock' in German) and could have also additional functions like way signs for pilgrimage and procession or to remind of special occasions (weather crosses, pestilence crosses).

The wayside shrine in Ziegelhausen near Heidelberg, not far from where I live, is a so-called 'Nischen Bildstock' (wayside shrine with a niche façade), often used as a monument for prayers etc.

It was originally built in 1478 and renovated in 1724. The lower part shows the incident that prompted the erection of the cross:

According to folklore, a man wanted to nut on a Sunday, but of course God wanted complete attentiveness of his charges and therefore caused the man to fall down the tree and die on the spot. Maybe his family built the cross to ask for forgiveness for this abhorrent act of profanity (to gather nuts on a Sunday ... tztz).

What I think is very interesting are the numerals used for writing the date. The numerals 4 and 7 are written like the 13th century Arabic (or rather Indian) numerals as de Sacro Bosco or de Roger Bacon would have written them:

Johannes de Sacro Bosco (John of Holywood; 1195-1256)) was an Irish scholar, monk, and astronomer who taught mathematics at the university of Paris. Roger Bacon (1214-1294) on the other hand sptent most of his time in Oxford teaching Aristototelean philosophy. The same way of writing numerals is also attested of Maximus Planudes (1260-1305), a Greek monk and grammarian who lived in Constantinople. In Germany, however, Arabic numerals appeared only in the mid 15th century. Which fits perfectly with our wayside shrine.

On the cross itself we can read the year 1784 which might be the date when the wayside shrine was expanded to a proper wayside shrine with a niche façade. During this time it was used as a sign of piety. Maybe people used it for a last prayer before they left civilization and walked up the hill and into the unknown forests  which lie between Ziegelhausen and Wilhelmsfeld. After all it is now sitting at a major crossway leading at one end to Ziegelhausen while the other two roads head for Heidelberg and Eberbach, respectively.

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