A Neighbor's Thoughts about the Church's West Gable

"When stones speak ..."

by Hermann Ripke

Outside the windows of my house rises the massive and impressive west gable of St. John's Church.  Depending upon the angle, I may see either only isolated sections of the west front or, the entire gable.  The lower portion, stoutly built, is divided into pillars and niches.  It carries the upper portion with its narrow, up-reaching arches and stepped gable.  There the year 1691 is plainly visible in forged numerals which were crafted long ago by some Lüchow blacksmith using forge, anvil, and hammer.  The gable is crowned with the weather vane.  That, too, is probably the work of a local blacksmith.

While the upper part of the gable presents a unified impression, the west wall below displays many different facets.  Part of the wall is built of field stones.  Here, to be sure, is the oldest part of the wall.  On one side it was bounded by a buttress.  On the other side, portions are built of fieldstone construction which was altered at a later date.  These incongruent elements of construction are broken up by a window in the middle of the west wall.

Other parts also bear indications of the many changes made to the wall during past centuries.  Still visible are traces of former window openings.  Some are completely walled up and have become part of the outer wall.  In other places only the window alcoves are bricked over, leaving the window openings and rounded stone transoms in plain sight.  The outline of the door which was formerly the west entrance is clearly visible.

What is most apparent is the effect of the centuries on the masonry itself.  Beneath the field stones are bricks which are laid up in a cloister arrangement.  These still display many traces of their manufacture.  Each brick had been hand-cast into the mold and fired after drying.  Thus no one brick looks exactly like another.  The tone of the brick is the result of both its place of origin in the clay pit and of its firing in the oven.

Because there was no electronic temperature control,  the firing of bricks was based mostly on experience in determining the correct temperature - with an element left to chance.  That is why almost all the bricks are of various tones of red.  This variation provides a unique and vibrant quality.

Later years brought with them slightly different brick shapes.  At first there was a preponderance of hand-made bricks, but more recent repairs have utilized machine-made bricks of uniform color and size, but of lesser structural interest.

The west gable presents me with a view that is ever new and changing.  I often think about the people who built it.  At times I wish I knew more about them.

Around St. John's Church
Around St. John's Church
The north portal as sketched in 1990 by Dr.-Ing. Dieter Langmaack, architect
The north portal as sketched in 1990 by Dr.-Ing. Dieter Langmaack, architect