The 'Pagan Chapel': St Nicolas' Chapel at Nijmegen and Other Romanesque Rotundas regarded as Ancient Temples

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Early Modern antiquarians, artists and their patrons had serious difficulties in seeing any differences between Ancient and Romanesque architecture, as several contributions to this volume illustrate. Churches with a central hub (whether they were round, octagonal or otherwise polygonal) built before c. 1200 caused a particular set of misunderstandings. All over Europe, centralised churches, whether of Late Antique, Byzantine, Carolingian or Romanesque date, were quite often regarded as former pagan places of worship. Then case of the Pantheon in Rome, which indeed had been erected as a temple for the Olympic gods and only five centuries later had been transformed into a Christian church, was projected onto all ‘old’ centralised buildings. Sometimes, even the notion was lost that the Christian religion itself might in the past have found the circular plan a meaningful concept. Some antiquarians and architects regarded the circular plan as a primary characteristic of the pagan temple.

The second part of the paper focuses on the well-documented reception between the late fifteenth and the eighteenth century of the octagonal St Nicolas’ Chapel in Nijmegen. Built in the eleventh century in a medieval castle on the spot of a former Roman fortification, it gave rise to a specific series of misunderstandings. These misinterpretations were fuelled by the many Roman building materials which had been reused in the construction of its walls. Most especially, a former funeral stone, used to reinforce the entrance, was regarded as a key to the supposed former function of this building in Roman times: it was interpreted as a former Temple of the Underworld, as the mausoleum of a Roman military hero, and — because of its supposed pagan origin — used a coal shed.

The final part of the paper discusses the impact of such erroneous ideas about the origin of centralised Romanesque churches on seventeenth-century ecclesiastical architecture
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRomanesque Renaissance
Subtitle of host publicationCarolingian, Byzantine and Romanesque Buildings (800–1200) as a Source for New All’Antica Architecture in Early Modern Europe (1400–1700)
EditorsKoen Ottenheym
Number of pages36
ISBN (Electronic)978-90-04-44662-5
ISBN (Print)978-90-04-44661-8
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2021

Publication series

NameNIKI Studies in Art History
ISSN (Print)2542-5382


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