God’s Bass Drum; Spreading the Word the Romanesque Way

by bria4123 on February 1, 2012


The city of Worms by the upper Rhine River is a hallowed place in German history. Key events in German epics from pagan times took place there. So it was choice real estate for another great Romanesque cathedral. The building gave me a revelation.

I explored its interior until closing time. Then I walked around the east end, outside of the apse, where I took the above photo. The bells in the towers began to clang. They created one of the most powerful sounds I’ve ever heard, and I’m a seasoned hard rock lead guitarist.

The sound was so deep and resonant that I felt as though vibrations were coming from the building. Peering up at the towers from close range was a little frightening–the cathedral looked and sounded like a battery of energy that could have disintegrated me.

People in the 12th century (when Worms Cathedral was begun) must have had similar feelings. Cathedrals were in the centers of towns, and the mechanical clock didn’t become common until the fourteenth century. The cathedral bells thundered at all significant times all day.  They synchronized everyone in the same temporal order (as Romanesque architecture ordered everyone in the same spatial configuration).

The 12th century was only beginning to develop the rich artistic media that began to grace Gothic cathedrals–stained glass windows and realistic sculpture. Without these new visual media, people must have been more focused on hearing. Sublime sounds must have moved people more than they do today. The powerful cathedral bells signified God’s power, and the melodious Gregorian chants carried His grace.

Romanesque cathedrals’ interiors were usually darker than the profusely windowed Gothic masterpieces. People couldn’t see as much of the Mass, but the singing, bells and liturgy must have reverberated through naves, transfixing everyone.

Romanesque cathedrals thus probably appealed to a different mixture of senses. Modern Westerners are often biased towards vision, but the ears were at least as important then. Perceive them with both senses, and you’ll appreciate one of the most profound statements about God’s majesty.

And watch your behinds, Uli Roth, Michael Schenker and other rock guitarists.



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