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Merovingian architecture

A gold chalice from the Treasure of Gourdon. Baptistry of St. Jean, Poitiers Entrance to the ancient Baptistery of St. John.
Panorama of baptistery and cathedral Baptistery St. John, Poitiers Interior
The baptistery is near the cathedral, like other Paleochristian examples. The Baptistery of St. John from the south. Interior of the baptistery, looking south.
Baptismal tank
East wall of the baptistery, with ancient frescoes. Fresco of Christ and the Four Evangelists in the apse vault. Octagonal tank for baptism, in the center of the interior.
Entrance porch, with Merovingian tombs scattered about. Carved corbels on the southwest exterior  
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Merovingian art and architecture

Merovingian art and architecture is the art and architecture of the Merovingian dynasty of the Franks, which lasted from the 5th century to the 8th century in present day France and Germany.

The advent of the Merovingian dynasty in Gaul in the 5th century led to important changes in the field of arts. Sculpture regressed to be little more than a simple technique for the ornamentation of sarcophagi, altars and ecclesiastical furniture. On the other hand, gold work and the new medium of manuscript illumination integrated "barbarian" animal-style decoration, with Late Antique motifs, and other contributions from as far as Syria or Ireland to constitute Merovingian art.


The unification of the Frankish kingdom under Clovis I (465 – 511) and his successors, corresponded with the need for the building of churches, and especially monastery churches, as these were now the power-houses of the Merovingian church. Plans often continued the Roman basilica tradition, but also took influences from as far away as Syria and Armenia. In the East most structures were in timber, but stone was more common for significant buildings in the West, and in the southern areas that later fell under Merovingian rule. Most major churches have been rebuilt, usually more than once, but many Merovingian plans have been reconstructed from archaeology. The description in Bishop Gregory of Tours' History of the Franks of the basilica of Saint-Martin, built at Tours by Saint Perpetuus (bishop 460-490), at the beginning of the period and at the time on the edge of Frankish territory, gives cause to regret the disappearance of this building, one of the most beautiful Merovingian churches, which he says had 120 marble columns, towers at the East end, and several mosaics: "Saint-Martin displayed the vertical emphasis, and the combination of block-units forming a complex internal space and the correspondingly rich external silouette, which were to be the hallmarks of the Romanesque".[1] A feature of the basilica of Saint-Martin that became a feature of Frankish church architecture was the sarcophagues or reliquary of the saint raised to be visible and sited axially behind the altar sometimes in the apse; there are no Roman precedents for this Frankish innovation.[2]A number of other buildings, now lost, including the Merovingian foundations of Saint-Denis, St Gereon in Cologne, and the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés in Paris, are described as similarly ornate.

Some small buildings remain, especially baptistries, which fell out of fashion and were spared rebuilding. In Aix-en-Provence, Riez, and Fréjus, three octagonal baptistries, each covered with a cupola on pillars, are testimony to the influence of oriental architecture (the baptistry of Riez, in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, recalls that of St. George, Ezra', Syria). Very different from these Provençal baptistries, that of St. Jean at Poitiers (6th century) has the form of a rectangle flanked by three apses. The original building has probably undergone a number of alterations, but preserves in its decoration (marble capitals) a Merovingian character.

Among the very many crypts, numerous due to the importance of the cult of saints at the time, only those of St. Seurin, Bordeaux, St. Laurent, Grenoble, and the abbey of Jouarre (7th century) survive.

Other arts

By the 7th century, the abilities of Merovingian craftsmen must have been well regarded, as they were brought to England to re-introduce glass making skills, and Merovingian stonemasons were used to build English churches.[3] Merovingian masons also employed the opus gallicum extensively and are responsible for bringing it to England and bequeathing it to the Normans, who brought it to Italy.

Very few Merovingian illuminated manuscripts survive, of which the most richly decorated is the 8th century Gelasian Sacramentary in the Vatican Library, which has geometric and animal decoration, less complex than that of the Insular art of the British Isles, but like it derived from metalwork motifs, with some influence from Late Antiquity and the Near-East. The principle centres were the Abbey of Luxeuil, an Irish foundation, and later its daughter house at Corbie Abbey.

A large Merovingian art collection in Berlin was taken by Soviet Occupiers to Russia, where it remains to this day.

^ V.I. Atroshenko and Judith Collins, The Origins of the Romanesque (Lund Humphries, London) 1985, p. 48. ISBN 085331487X
^ Werner Jacobsen, "Saints' Tombs in Frankish Church Architecture" Speculum 72.4 (October 1997:1107-1143).
^ Bede. The Lives of the Holy Abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow.

European Commission: Raphaël Programme. The Normans, a European people: The Norman heritage, 10th – 12th century. Architectural Heritage: Italy — the Molise §8 Fortifications and castles: Fortifications — The opus gallicum in the fortifications. 2004.
Gilbert, Edward. "Brixworth and the English Basilica." The Art Bulletin, Vol. 47, No. 1. (Mar., 1965), pp 1–20.
Bede. Lives of the Holy Abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow.
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Forgotten Symbol of Jesus

The Roman Legion and Barbarian Hordes

In the year 400A.D., Barbarian hordes of Germanic tribes including the Almanni, Franks, Gauls, Vandals, Visigoths and Lombards fought for control of the northern Roman Empire.   The sword scabbard belt buckle, shown below, was created in the year 400A.D., and found in the year 1885 inside the tomb of a Barbarian warrior.  The Romans referred to the people living beyond their borders as Barbarians, but often employed Barbarians as mercenary soldiers to safeguard the Empire border.  The Barbarian warrior stationed in the Roman province of Gaul, now known as Vermand, France, was a high ranking military leader fighting as a member of the Roman Legion. The buckle in the photograph below should be viewed at a 45 degree angle, as it was supporting a belt that was draped over one shoulder. Thus, one point would be facing upward.

Vermand, France is an essential location in the study of the Morning Star. For Vermand or Vermandois is the home of the oldest Morning Star symbol (Vermand Treasure, NY Metro Museum of Art), and it is the land of Hugh of Vermandois discussed on this webpage under the Crusades.

Sword Scabbard Belt Buckle made in 400A.D., Vermand Treasure - Courtesy of and permission from the New York Metro Museum

New York Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Franks 4th to 7th century A.D.

The Frank Kingdom was a confederation of ancient Germanic Barbarian tribes in northern Europe.  The Franks were ruthless warriors and became allies with the Romans to defeat the Huns and protect Europe from Attila's wrath.

In the year 506A.D., Clovis became King of the Franks by uniting the tribes in Gaul.

Clovis founded the Merovingian dynasty of Frankish Kings and set the stage for feudalism and saved Europe from the emptiness of Pagan idolatry and fractious infighting.

The Morning Star symbol was displayed by the Clovis and the Franks as a sign of Christ's ascension, and life ever after.

The Frankish Empire included legendary Knights like Charlemagne.    Born April 2nd, 742A.D., Charlemagne was blessed with a brilliant intellect, mental stamina, and exceptional physical strength.   He united most of Europe during his reign as King.    The brutal campaigns he fought were the Lombard war, Aquitanian war, Saxon war, Spanish war, Slavic war, Huns war and Danish war.   

Charlemagne was crowned the Emperor of the Holy Roman Church and Europe in the Cathedral of St. Peter in Rome on Christmas night 800A.D.    In the name of Charlemagne, ferocious Frankish Knights, known as the Black Lions of the North, took up the sword against Pagan devils and laid waste to all who opposed the King, assuring the name of Charlemagne would echo in eternity.

Throughout Europe, Charlemagne's conquering warriors built Abbeys and carved the Morning Star symbol above doorways as a reminder of the Christian Knights of Charlemagne.  The symbol of the Morning Star can still be seen on Churches and Chrisitian objects in the territory conquered by Charlemagne.   His Kingdom was the basis for Medieval Europe between the years 700A.D. to 1200A.D.

The photograph below is the Casket of Mumma.  Gilt copper repousse on wood reliquary.  It was created in the middle part of the 7th century A.D., and is from the St. Beniot sur Loire Abbey Church. It shows the Twelve Apostles and below them the Morning Star symbol denoting ascension.

Casket Bronze - Courtesy of and permission from the University of Alabama Birmingham

Art History on the web

The Lombards 6th century to 774A.D.

The Lombard Kingdom was Christian and located in southern France and northern Italy.    Lombard meant long beard, Longobardo.    The Merovingian Franks conquered the Lombard Empire by 590A.D.    A period of stability in the Lombard Monarchy was attained through marriages between Lombard Monarchy and Frankish Nobility.    The Lombards retained their Monarchy under the Franks.

Below is a stone carving.  It was made in Europe during the 8th century.

The photograph below is a Lombard marble altar closure slab of Magister Ursus, in honor of Duke Ilderic of Spoleto, 8th century, from Ferentillo, S. Pietro in Valle. Observe the Morning Star symbol placed in several locations on the marble altar.

Marble Altar - Courtesy of and permission from the University of Alabama Birmingham

The symbol was handed down, from generation to generation, as an icon of Christianity and cultural. It was the Morning Star of ascension and resurection of life, a sign of life eternal.

Cathedral of Pisa Italy, built between 1060A.D. and 1118A.D. (below)

There are two common designs between the Byland Abbey Mosaic and the Cathedral of San Paolo Al'Orto below.
Visit the Byland Abbey Mosaic at The British Museum.
Cathedral of San Paolo Al'Orto in Pisa Italy, completed in 1086 A.D. (below)

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