Tuesday 23 May 2017

Furniture of the nonnenchor of Kloster Wienhausen

The highly painted nuns choir of Kloster Wienhausen. At the far end the seat of the abbess can be seen. Image from internet.

The nun's choir of Kloster Wienhausen in Germany is famous for the medieval paintings that cover the complete walls and ceiling. They date from thirteenth century. In contrast, the choir stalls look very humble, but they are certainly impressive as well. The choir stalls were dendrochronologically dated to 1277 and are still in use. They are even thought to predate the current choir, and have moved into it when the 'new' medieval building was ready. Indeed, at some places the choir stalls seem ill fitted in the room. The stalls consist of two rows of seats opposite each other at the north and south walls of the choir. There are no misericords present at the stalls. The armrests and backrests of the lower stalls consist of one piece of oak with a thickness of roughly a hands width. On the top of this oak piece at (ir)regular places holes are drilled. A few of them have an additional piece of wood with a drilled hole and some have remaining candle wax in them, providing a clue for their function: adding light at late or early hours of prayer. At some places the wood is darkened; here the candle was directly placed on the wood and burned it.

The armrest/backrest of the lower stalls is very thick and consist of one piece of oak. Image from internet.

The green arrows point to the irregular holes for the candles. The orange arrow shows a wooden candle still in place. The blue arrows show the beams supporting the backrest/armrest as it slightly leans backwards.

The higher stall chairs are all separated from each other by wooden boards - just like the boards that separate public men's urinals. The boards are set in a groove in the arms rests. In the wall behind the stalls small alcoves with a shelve can be found, one for each stall seat. The alcoves can be locked with a door. This provided a space were some personal belongings of the nuns, e.g. prayer books, glasses, etc. could be stored. It was under these storage spaces and choir stalls that many of the cloisters small (lost) treasures were found: several complete medieval glasses with leather and wooden frames, reliquary images, song-texts, weaving tablets and more.
 Left: The front row choir stall seats have been repaired to remain in use - below the seating some modern adaptation has been made. The back of the stall consist of roughly hewn pieces of oak. Image from internet. Right: A drawing of the back stall row with the dividing screen - decorated with a floral leaf. Image scanned from the book Kloster Wienhausen by Horst Appuhn.

The boards and alcoves are 'washed' in dull white and grey, a baroque style, and stands in sharp contrast to the colourful walls and ceiling. Most of the boards have been maimed, their floral decoration sawn off. The stalls next to the stall of the abbess still have their decoration.

The seat of the abbess, also from the same period as the choir stalls. Directly behind it, 
some whitewashed board that still have their floral decoration can be seen.

One of the short sides holds an altarpiece and a woodwork screen with latticework openings to the adjoining church. The nuns were thus able to follow the mass, without being seen by men. The other short end of the choir has a single row of seats. This one includes the high chair of the abbess, with a small armoire next to it. Five years ago this chair stood in a smaller chapel, now it has been restored to its original place. The armoire next to it is newly made, after a 19th century illustration of the original.

The chair of the abbess and the new armoire next to it. The emblem in the chair has been embroidered in klosterstich by Frau Daenicke. Directlty left to the chair of the abbess and above the first stall chair, a small door to a personal alcove can be seen. Each stall chair has such a storage space.

Left: At the back of the seat are two 'mickey mouse' ears, a type of decoration often found in this period on armoires. Right: The roof with a 'light' door in it. On the other side is a similar door.

The top decoration of the abbess chair with pinnacles and foliar leaves.

The stall of the abbess is much more ornate than the other stalls. The sides are decorated with foliar motifs. But most interesting is the 'roof' of the chair. This roof consist of two hinged doors, which can be opened, to allow for more light for liturgical reading. As far as I know, this is a rather unique feature for a abbess/abbots seat.

Left: the eternal lamp. Right: the Eastern lantern in the nonnechor of Kloster Wienhausen. Images scanned from the book Kloster Wienhausen by Horst Appuhn.

The nonnenchor also contains two wooden medieval lantarns - one six-sided dating  and one eight-sided - hanging with an iron chain from the ceiling. Both date from just before 1400. The six-sided lamp is a so-called eternal lamp with images depicting scenes from the resurrection. The octagonal lamp is a processional Eastern lantern. The bottom part shows angels playing various musical instruments painted on a gold background.

Angels playing music at the bottom of the processional Eastern lantern.
Image scanned from the book Kloster Wienhausen by Horst Appuhn.

Sources used:

  • H. Appuhn. 1986. Kloster Wienhausen. Pick Verlag Pfingsten, Celle, Germany. ISBN 3-9801316-0-2.
  • K. Maier. 2001. The convent of Wienahusen. An introduction to its history, architecture and art. Kloster Wienhausen, Germany. ISBN 3-9801316-7-x
  • Website: http://flotwedel.dorfspion.de and http://kloster-wienhausen.de


  1. This is wonderful; here one can see how a church would have originally been decorated. Most people see churches all white, or all in brick or stone, but this was not how they were made. It is true that much of this work is restoration, but it still gives a fairly accurate impression of an 'authentic' 12-13th century interior. Doubtless those 'whitewashed' panels and cupboards at the back were originally painted in a similar manner and the abbess' chair would very probably been gilded, or gilded and painted as the lanterns are.

    Thanks for sharing this

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