The Churches of Gotland

ESKELHEM

There was an early church here, perhaps already at the end of the 11th century; the foundations have been found under the floor. About 1200 a new church was built of finely cut ashlars with an arch moulding, as can be seen on the facade; there are, too, traces of a blocked up portal. When the gallery tower was built in the middle of the 13th century, the framework of this portal was moved to the northern side, and the noble late Romanesque tower portal becarne the principal entrance. Not until the middle of the 14th century was the old choir with its apse pulled down and the present high choir built. The Holy Rood from about 1250 has its ring covered on the back with a flat piece (like the famous Rood in St Maria zur Höhe in Soest, Westphalia) with the figures of Ecclesia and Synagogue and angels swinging thuribles. To the oldest church belonged the baptismal font by master "Byzantios". The murals are most remarkable, the symbolism of which is concentrated to the two vaults of the nave. They are composed as ornamental baldachins. The eastern one is an abstract allegory of the Paradise represented by stylized palmettos and acanthus; in the middle is a medallion with an eagle with a cross-halo, a symbol of Christ. It is surrounded by the emblems of the evangelists. The western one shows in the middle an Agnus Dei and in the other medallions personifications of the constellations, thus a symbol of the Universe. Christ, the Virgin, St Paul and St Peter stand around. Together the baldachins form a unique decoration, iconographically as well as formally. The artist behind the work is the "Michael master", who has also, about 1270, painted the figure of St Michael fighting the dragon on the south wall. The tower vault is decorated with ornamental paintings from at least two periods of the 13th century. Rarely to be met with is the huge calendar painted on the northern wall.

Photo Hans Hemlin

Text Dr. Bengt G Söderberg


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