Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Monky business

As I said, it was originally forecast to rain during the entire Easter break, so we were actually relieved that it only rained on the Thursday and Saturday. Nothing like low expectations to make everybody happy. The Lake Constance area is pretty much built for outdoorsy activities, or at least that was what we had been looking forward to, so we had to come up with a Plan B. The original plan was to take a ferry trip to the "flower island" of Mainau, but since the weather really wasn't co-operating (and, also, it's really expensive, so you're even more keen to have a nice day for it), I suggested a drive to a different island - the "monastic island" of Reichenau.

There was much debate in the car over whether it was really an island or just a peninsula reached by a narrow isthmus, but you'll be happy to know that we did cross over about a foot of water to get there, so it has been declared officially an island by the Sandiego-Luxembourg household.

Not just any island, it is a World Heritage site thanks to its monastic history. A Benedictine monastery was founded here in 724, and you can visit its three main churches, built between the 9th and 11th centuries. In all honesty, I don't think two of the churches would be drawing visitors from far and wide - they're worth a look if you've already made it on to the island, but they're mostly riding the coattails of St George's. Modest and unassuming from the outside, its interior is decorated with early medieval wall paintings depicting Christ's miracles. In the summer, you can only visit at set times (I think once or twice a day) on a guided tour, as the number of visitors risks damaging the paintings, but luckily enough we were there just before the season started and we got to see the church all by ourselves.

Driving on to the island in dreary weather

Outside St. George's

Panorama of the interior of St. George's

Looking from the altar along the right-hand wall to the back of the church

This is what it looks like without the distortions of the panorama (which I think are kind of cool, for the record)

I think this is the raising of Lazarus - the 3D scroll pattern at the bottom is pretty cool too

Mummy Lazarus

This illustrates a misogynistic saying that women talk so much nonsense it wouldn't fit on an ox hide. When Jules read this, he informed me that the saying still exists in German, although they've dropped the reference to chatty women, so he didn't know where it came from
The wall paintings are not the brightest and most vibrant you'll ever see, of course, but their history and completeness is pretty awesome. It's a cool feeling to stand in the middle of this tiny church and have them surrounding you - much nicer than they look in the photos.

One good thing about Reichenau is that each church had its accompanying little visitors' centre, which explain what you will see inside the church as well as the history of the monastery and its activities. Two of these were free, while the main one charged a small fee. I was mostly interested in the main museum because it claimed to display medieval manuscripts from the monastery, but be warned, they turned out to be just facsimiles. Still, there was a lot of interesting information across the three sites, especially laying out the monastery's connections with the rest of Christiandom, including its role as a major artistic centre, sending those manuscripts all over Europe.

Tomb in the church of St Mary and Mark

Facsimile of one of the monastery's manuscripts, showing a remarkably passive piece of dragon-slaying

If you end up in the area on a rainy day, there are definitely worse things you could do with your time than a trip to Reichenau, although how much you get out of it will largely depend on how much you want to read about medieval times!


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks! I feel like I'm finally getting the hang of them :)

  2. Is Jules interested in Medieval stuff too?

    1. He likes castles, especially with drawbridges!


Feed the Comment Monster! Rawrrrr