Sunday, February 2, 2014

Going Medieval

Part of living alone over here in Europe means I have to find things to do to amuse myself. I'm supposed to work 12 hours a week, but usually it ends up being less than that. Last week I think I only worked for 4 hours haha. 

This post is dedicated to the little things I come up with to do in all of my free time. Because as tempting as it is to watch Netflix in my pajamas, it's probably for the best if I get out and do things while I'm here.

The tram stop here in Strasbourg that's just a few blocks away from my apartment is called 'Ancienne Synagogue.' In French that means 'former synagogue,' which made me curious enough to google it and find out just how 'former' it was. It turns out that it was one destroyed by the Nazis, and I also saw online that there was a small memorial. Last weekend I walked over.

This line represents where the walls of the synagogue used to be. From the pictures it looks like it was a beautiful building, too! It's been replaced by some pretty ugly modern buildings. Architecture: not what it used to be.

My favorite part of the memorial was this plaque that says "The French Republic pays hommage to the victims of racist and anti-Semitic persecutions and crimes against humanity committed under the authority of the government of the French state."

France happened to be the only Western European country to help the Nazis kill Jews, and they didn't outright admit to that until the 1990s, so this was cool to see.

So back to the ugly buildings behind this memorial that replaced the synagogue...I went inside. And it was a huge mall! It's only a 5 minute walk from where I live, and I never knew about it. I didn't buy any clothes on this trip, but I did find a French scrapbooking store...which I had no idea existed. The official Jerusalem scrapbook is now officially underway.

And back to the synagogue thing. I'd seen Strasbourg's new synagogue before, but never up close. So I walked over there next. It's called Synagogue de la Paix (synagogue of peace).

It's a gigantic building, so I'm guessing there's a pretty big Jewish community in Strasbourg. They should be my friends, I miss speaking Hebrew!

On a different note, one of my goals while I'm living here is to visit every old pretty church in the city. I don't know if other people find all of these churches as interesting as I do, but I LOVE visiting them. This weekend, I visited two with the same name: Saint-Pierre le Jeune (Saint Peter the Young). One is Catholic, and one is Protestant. To make things more confusing, there's also a church in Strasbourg called Saint Peter the Old. And that one's a combined Catholic and Protestant church. Apparently Strasbourg is very committed to Peter at all stages of life.

This is the Catholic one- it's from the 1800s, so it's not very old. Since the dome is cool, that makes me like it more even if it's not very historical.

And then here's the Protestant one, which is so old it did used to be a Catholic church. You know, back before Protestants were a thing. I was very surprised when I walked in to this one because of how old and colorful it is. The walls are covered in frescoes that are disappearing because they're so old. That gave this church a cool vibe. I looked it up afterwards, and most of church is from the 1300s, but parts of it are from the 1000s. 


I love that church so much. It has character.

On a similar medieval theme, last Friday I went to the medieval art museum that's right next to the cathedral. The cool thing about it is that it has all of the original sculptures, stained glass, and other artwork from churches all over the Alsace region that are too old and valuable to stay in the churches. Especially sculptures from the outsides of churches, and stained glass...because apparently it's not healthy for things made in the 1200s to stay outdoors for that long. It does rain in this city like every freaking day, so I get that.

Also, the museum itself is in a medieval building, so that was kind of fun. Random courtyards, slightly terrifying staircases, the usual.

In this sculpture room, you can see how old the building is.

In this sculpture courtyard, you can get a shock to your system by basically having a heart attack when this thing lays eyes on you.


If it looks that scary in picture form, please imagine seeing this in person when you're the ONLY person wandering through the museum.

So moving on... my favorite thing in the museum (the the reason why I came here, actually) were the original sculptures from the facade of the Strasbourg cathedral. Because, if you remember correctly, that cathedral is my best friend.

These are some of the 'wise virgins' looking all smug about having enough oil.

Like the nose-less statue above, I thought these ones were also terrifying. Look how evil their faces are! And what makes it better is that they're standing on men.

There wasn't an information plaque about them, but wow, I wish I knew that story. 

The main event at this museum was seeing the famous Ecclesia and Synagoga statues. We learned about them in our Judaism class last summer. I've been looking for them on the outside of the cathedral, but apparently they're covered up right now because they're in a section that's being renovated.

Here's the Ecclesia statue- she represents Christianity so she looks triumphant and powerful.

And then the Synagoga statue represents Judaism. She's holding a broken spear, her eyes are blind, and she's dropping the Torah.

There was a long information plaque about these statues, since they're well-known. I was expecting it to mention something about Christian anti-Semitism since...hmmmmm medieval theology about Jews led to a lot of hatred and persecution so it seems like something that should be addressed. You have to feel pretty bitter about something to carve a statue showing it's inferior, so this is a good demonstration on what the Church thought about Jews at the time.

However, the plaque only talked about the "delicacy of the flowing drapery" of their dresses and the "refined profiles that hearken back to the statuary of classical antiquity." So I guess we're glossing over that part of history :)

Anyways, one last thing I liked in the museum was this Madonna and Child statue. It's the first one I've seen where Jesus has a TOY to play with! And Mary seems to be playing keep-away. Interesting. Don't you love my professional art criticism?

To end my Friday, I had the BRILLIANT idea to climb to the top of the cathedral tower to get a cool view of Strasbourg. It may seem like a good idea unless you're aware that I'm afraid of heights. I am well aware of this (it's well-documented too, I have a picture of me crying while riding a roller coaster and everything), and yet I still made the decision that I could do it. 

The Strasbourg cathedral used to be the tallest building in the world for centuries. It's definitely the tallest church I've ever seen. It was about 350 steps up. And the steps were all on an extremely narrow, extremely steep, essentially open spiral staircase. If there wouldn't have been huge open windows going all the way up I probably would have been fine.

I don't know how far I got (maybe 2/3 of the way?) before I couldn't go any further. I really wanted to keep going because I might have been almost there, but there was no way that was going to happen. I wanted to at least take some pictures. I managed to get one at the height I was at, and it's not that great.

But hey, you can see Saint Peter the Young Catholic church! This wasn't a good view because it's not of the old town. I wasn't in a situation where I could take my hands off the railing to get one of the other side, so this is what I've got.

As I was coming down (yay!), I also took this one. This was when I was less terrified because the staircase wasn't as unstable looking right here, and it wasn't very high.

On the left is the palace, and on the right is the medieval art museum!

So long story short...I'm NEVER climbing up to a top of a church again. I thought my love of this cathedral could conquer my fears, but it could not. If anyone wants to come to Strasbourg, I'll pay your entrance fee to go up the tower so you can take some pictures for me :) I was still all shaky as I was walking home, so I treated myself to a trip to my favorite jewelry store. It was basically like how you need chocolate after you see dementors. Same concept.

Well, that summarizes my recent wanderings around Strasbourg. My next post will be about my trip to Switzerland!

1 comment:

  1. Yes, I love your professional art criticism, and the fact that you were brave enough to attempt that huge open tower climb with your strong fear of heights! Love reading about and seeing pictures from your adventures!