Externsteine, Germany

Externsteine area map

     On August 6th, 2017; I explored Externsteine, Germany.

Detailed map at Externsteine, Germany

The age and original function of the features at Externsteine remain a matter of dispute to this day. As early as the 16th century the theory was mooted that a heathen sacred place at the Externsteine had been transformed into a Christian one.

Today, the view is still held that the Externsteine rocks were a Celtic or Germanic holy place. However, there is no archaeological evidence to back this. The art-historical research tends towards the view of the site as a medieval reproduction of the holy sites in Jerusalem, with the tomb of Christ, the grotto of the Discovery of the Cross and the rock of Golgotha.

     This shrine is carved high up in one of the many natural rock pillars that form the Externsteine, near Detmold in Germany.

Looking south at the Externsteine

     Reached by a precarious footbridge, it has a circular window orientated towards the midsummer sunrise, (pictured below).

Looking east from atop the West Pillar at the circular sunrise window.

     The shrine is roofless now, but it would once have been a place of darkness, broken by the sunbeam as it illuminated a niche on the facing wall. To this day, no one can say for certain who carved this sacred light-box, but all the evidence-suggests prehistoric origins among a people who regarded the midsummer solstice as a vital astronomical event.

Looking West from the East Pillar at the solar-niche in the wall from atop the West Pillar.

     The medieval rock relief which Cistercian monks carved on to the side of the Externsteine symbolizes the domination of Christianity over the former pagan religion, (pictured below). To reach Jesus and remove his body from the Cross, Nicodemus stands on the bent form of the pagan world-pillar, irminsul, the backbone of the universe. To the left and right Mary and John the Baptist mourn.

In the heavenly sphere sun and moon are draped in mourning. God the Father grants the salvation his blessing.

Medieval Rock Relief carved on the side of Externsteine

Pictured above, in the lower section the devil surrounds two people—-perhaps Adam and Eve?—–in the form of a beast. The overall composition stands as a symbol for the original sin which was brought into the world by Adam and Eve and redeemed by the death of Christ on the cross.

The majority of art historians date the above relief back to the 12th century. It belongs to one of the most important works of this kind in NW Europe.

Looking Southeast at the tombs found on the side of the Externsteine.

Pictured above, the distinctive rocks rise up to a height of 40 m. Both the observation platform with stairway dating from the 19th century and the medieval grotto bear witness to the varied history.

Looking North at the Externsteine

The Externsteine are part of the middle mountain chain of the Teutoburger Wald which was formed mainly from sandstone of the Early Cretaceous age. As a consequence of the shifting of the earth’s crust more than 70 million years ago, enormous pressure gradually pushed the sandstone layers up vertically.

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