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Highbrow and popular: liturgy, devotion and design in Santini Aichel's Nepomuk Church in Zd'ar

Dirk De Meyer (UGent)
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Abstract
By the late 17th and early 18th centuries the techniques of re-Catholicisation in Bohemia and Moravia turned more subtle, after the often harsh and mostly foreign, Jesuit-led Counter-Reformation. Cistercian and Benedictine monasteries, with their century-old autochthonous establishment in the region, would be at the heart of the new approach. The abbots’ prestigious publications and building campaigns complemented refined methods for promoting the resurgence of Catholicism rooted in local traditions, both liturgical and architectural. With his hybrid architectural fusions and spatial compositions, which combine Italianate Baroque with Bohemian late-Gothic references and regional traditions, the Prague architect Johann Santini Aichel could become a principal actor of their campaigns. In 1719, he designed the pilgrimage church of Saint John of Nepomuk for the Cistercian abbey of Zd’àr (now in the Czech Republic). It expressed the abbot’s determination to reinstate the medieval importance of his monastery by preserving local traditions of devotional practice as well as building typology — while incorporating his fascination with exuberant baroque allegory. At the time of a growing demand for the canonisation of the Bohemian martyr, the building’s expressive forms and star form shape were intended to appeal to both erudite clerics and to large sections of the local populace. The church is the result of an intense and life-long collaboration between the abbot and his architect. A number of eighteenth-century documents indicate that the abbot’s contribution extended beyond the usual drafting of an iconographic programme into the conception of the overall form of the church. Furthermore, the sermon given at the consecration of the church, with its meticulous descriptions, is an exceptional document of liturgy and emblematic Baroque thinking in Central Europe. Based on research in libraries and archives in the Czech Republic, and supported by various written sources, including letters, the arguments for the canonisation of Nepomuk, up to remarkable memorabilia such as chronostic birthday greetings sent by the abbots, this paper will expose the multiple layers and possible keys for an understanding of this small pilgrimage church: a formal experiment that originated in local building traditions and in an abbot’s learned divertissements; that was intended to fuel a thriving Nepomuk devotion, and to captivate both erudite interest and popular imagination – for which it recycled practices taken from Counter Reformation liturgy, popular devotion and pagan traditions.
Keywords
Central-Europe, Santini Aichel, Bohemia, Czech Republic, Baroque, architectural history, architecture, 1700, Nepomuk, 18th century, Zd'ar, liturgy, devotion

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Chicago
De Meyer, Dirk. 2012. “Highbrow and Popular: Liturgy, Devotion and Design in Santini Aichel’s Nepomuk Church in Zd'ar.” In Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference of the European Architectural History Network, ed. Heynen Hilde and Gosseye Janina, 245–250. Brussels, Belgium: Koninklijke Vlaamse Academie van België voor Wetenschappen en Kunsten.
APA
De Meyer, Dirk. (2012). Highbrow and popular: liturgy, devotion and design in Santini Aichel’s Nepomuk Church in Zd'ar. In H. Hilde & G. Janina (Eds.), Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference of the European Architectural History Network (pp. 245–250). Presented at the 2nd International Conference of the European Architectural History Network, Brussels, Belgium: Koninklijke Vlaamse Academie van België voor Wetenschappen en Kunsten.
Vancouver
1.
De Meyer D. Highbrow and popular: liturgy, devotion and design in Santini Aichel’s Nepomuk Church in Zd'ar. In: Hilde H, Janina G, editors. Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference of the European Architectural History Network. Brussels, Belgium: Koninklijke Vlaamse Academie van België voor Wetenschappen en Kunsten; 2012. p. 245–50.
MLA
De Meyer, Dirk. “Highbrow and Popular: Liturgy, Devotion and Design in Santini Aichel’s Nepomuk Church in Zd'ar.” Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference of the European Architectural History Network. Ed. Heynen Hilde & Gosseye Janina. Brussels, Belgium: Koninklijke Vlaamse Academie van België voor Wetenschappen en Kunsten, 2012. 245–250. Print.
@inproceedings{2961116,
  abstract     = {By the late 17th and early 18th centuries the techniques of re-Catholicisation in Bohemia and Moravia turned more subtle, after the often harsh and mostly foreign, Jesuit-led Counter-Reformation. Cistercian and Benedictine monasteries, with their century-old autochthonous establishment in the region, would be at the heart of the new approach. The abbots{\textquoteright} prestigious publications and building campaigns complemented refined methods for promoting the resurgence of Catholicism rooted in local traditions, both liturgical and architectural. With his hybrid architectural fusions and spatial compositions, which combine Italianate Baroque with Bohemian late-Gothic references and regional traditions, the Prague architect Johann Santini Aichel could become a principal actor of their campaigns. In 1719, he designed the pilgrimage church of Saint John of Nepomuk for the Cistercian abbey of Zd{\textquoteright}{\`a}r (now in the Czech Republic). It expressed the abbot{\textquoteright}s determination to reinstate the medieval importance of his monastery by preserving local traditions of devotional practice as well as building typology --- while incorporating his fascination with exuberant baroque allegory. At the time of a growing demand for the canonisation of the Bohemian martyr, the building{\textquoteright}s expressive forms and star form shape were intended to appeal to both erudite clerics and to large sections of the local populace. The church is the result of an intense and life-long collaboration between the abbot and his architect. A number of eighteenth-century documents indicate that the abbot{\textquoteright}s contribution extended beyond the usual drafting of an iconographic programme into the conception of the overall form of the church. Furthermore, the sermon given at the consecration of the church, with its meticulous descriptions, is an exceptional document of liturgy and emblematic Baroque thinking in Central Europe. Based on research in libraries and archives in the Czech Republic, and supported by various written sources, including letters, the arguments for the canonisation of Nepomuk, up to remarkable memorabilia such as chronostic birthday greetings sent by the abbots, this paper will expose the multiple layers and possible keys for an understanding of this small pilgrimage church: a formal experiment that originated in local building traditions and in an abbot{\textquoteright}s learned divertissements; that was intended to fuel a thriving Nepomuk devotion, and to captivate both erudite interest and popular imagination -- for which it recycled practices taken from Counter Reformation liturgy, popular devotion and pagan traditions.},
  author       = {De Meyer, Dirk},
  booktitle    = {Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference of the European Architectural History Network},
  editor       = {Hilde, Heynen and Janina, Gosseye},
  isbn         = {9789065691026},
  keyword      = {Central-Europe,Santini Aichel,Bohemia,Czech Republic,Baroque,architectural history,architecture,1700,Nepomuk,18th century,Zd'ar,liturgy,devotion},
  language     = {eng},
  location     = {Brussels, Belgium},
  pages        = {245--250},
  publisher    = {Koninklijke Vlaamse Academie van Belgi{\"e} voor Wetenschappen en Kunsten},
  title        = {Highbrow and popular: liturgy, devotion and design in Santini Aichel's Nepomuk Church in Zd'ar},
  year         = {2012},
}