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German church remains faithful to its Irish roots

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
June 12th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The 12th Century church, the Schottenkirche St. Jakob, or Scots Church of St. James in Regensburg is a fascinating Romanesque church founded by Celtic missionaries. It is most noted for its north portal, and remains faithful to its rich northern heritage in its arts and architecture.  

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - An influx of Irish monks and missionaries into Germany in the 11th Century saw them setting up south of Regensburg's city walls. With the arrival of more monks, accommodations were found to be too small, and plans for a monastery were drawn up.

The monks began building their monastery around 1100. The east end of the Church of St. James survives is all that remains of this early building. Dedicated in 1120, the church was a three-aisled basilica with three apses and two east towers.

Under Abbot Gregor, the church was expanded around 1150. This second church, which remains today, was given a two-story transept at the west end, an elaborate north portal and a cloister to the south. Work was completed around 1185.

Regensburg became an important center for the missionary work of Irish monks in Europe. The St. Jakob monastery had strong ties with the monastic school at Cashel back in Ireland.

Shortly after the Scottish Reformation in 1577, a papal bull transferred the monastery from Irish to Scottish monks. The monastery was then in decline by that time, with a sole monk and one novice. The first Scottish abbot was Ninian Winzet (1518-92), an opponent of the reformer John Knox. Mary Queen of Scots ordered Abbot Winzet to train priests for Catholic missionary work in Scotland. The first priests were sent long after his death in 1623.

Most remarkably, the monastery avoided dissolution during the Napoleonic period. It was demoted to a priory in 1820, although monks remained until 1862, when the Bavarian government bought the property and turned it into a seminary for training Catholic priests.

A clear view of the Schottenkirche on account of tall trees on the north side and private buildings on the west and south sides. It is a basilica-style church with three aisles, twin east towers, and a two-story westwork.

The most interesting aspect of the Schottenkirche is certainly the "Schottenportal," a large and elaborately carved north portal dating from about 1180. Badly soiled due to pollution, it is protected from further damage by a large glass enclosure installed in 1999.

In a hallucinatory touch worthy of M.C. Escher, the figure on the inner bottom right jamb grasps the two solid grooves and pulls them around his neck like a scarf. The figure at top center right plays a stringed instrument; the one at bottom right holds a T-shaped staff associated with hermits, and the inner figure at top left holds a vessel draped with animal pelts.

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