Construction workshops: European cooperation since the Middle Ages

Naumburg Cathedral

Naumburg Cathedral , © dpa

19.04.2019 - Article

The architectural heritage of the Middle Ages requires constant conservation work or restoration in the event of a disaster. For centuries, construction workshops (known as “Bauhütten”) have preserved the traditional craft techniques for this as well as knowledge handed down and customs and rituals. 

A highly modern approach to the Middle Ages in everyday practice

Construction workshops stand for a highly modern approach to the Middle Ages in everyday practice. A range of different craftspeople work together in an interdisciplinary manner at the highest level to construct and preserve ancient buildings. Dozens of experts generally collaborate under the direction of a master craftsman (known as “Hüttenmeister” in German), including stonemasons, sculptors, joiners, carpenters, scaffolders, roofers, blacksmiths, goldsmiths and silversmiths, metal restorers, electricians, stone restoration specialists, glass restorers, stained glass artists and glass painters, as well as tower wardens and construction assistants. State-of-the-art technology is deployed in order to preserve this architectural heritage. Even more important still are the ancient craft techniques that are being kept alive.

Tradition of European cooperation

The major construction sites of the Middle Ages were, even at the time, international centres of technology where knowledge was shared between craftsmen and artists. These medieval construction workshops drew on expert knowledge from throughout Europe. This was the only way for these monumental projects to be completed. One example of this is a sculptor: the Naumburg Master most likely completed his apprenticeship in northern France, before working in Noyon, Amiens and Reims, and later on perhaps also in Metz. There is evidence showing that he went to Mainz prior to creating his greatest masterpiece at Naumburg Cathedral, Germany’s most recent UNESCO World Heritage site, namely the west choir with the statue of Uta, who donated to the Cathedral. The construction workshops in Europe continue to work together closely to this day.

Intangible cultural heritage worthy of protection

In order to preserve this living tradition, the Federal Government, together with France, Norway, Austria and Switzerland, nominated these construction workshops for UNESCO’s Register of Good Safeguarding Practices for preserving intangible cultural heritage in March 2019. Thirteen construction workshops from Germany were part of the nomination: Aachen, Bamberg, Passau, Mainz, Lübeck, Soest, Dresden, Ulm, Cologne, Freiburg, Regensburg, Schwäbisch Gmünd and Xanten. Construction workshops in Strasbourg, Trondheim, Vienna and Basel are also involved.


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