The St. Peter’s chapel of Spay


The chapel was first mentioned in a document originating from 1237, the original of this document is kept in the national archive in Wiesbaden. In this document it is explained that the knight Drabodo of Oberspay gave the chapel to the Cistercian Convent of Eberbach as a present. This document also references the previous owner of the chapel, presumably a relative of the Knight, on whose land the chapel was built. Until this time, the chapel would almost certainly have been open only for the use of knights. The monks of Eberbach appointed a priest, and from this point on, the chapel became accessible for the wider public.

Since 1980, because of the particular importance of the illustrations of biblical figures, and biblical events, the chapel has been under a preservation order as a treasure of the art history for the middle Rhine area.

Mural Painting

The artistic value of the chapel lies particularly in the illustrations. The frescoes originate from the first half of the fourteenth century. In the Middle Ages, only a few privileged people were able to read and write, the visual illustrations therefore, served to provide a transfer of knowledge and religious instruction to those who were illiterate.

The Frescoes of the Rhine side

In the lower illustration on this windowless wall the kiss of Judas, and therefore the arrest of Jesus, are depicted. The thugs, with their hands on Jesus, are dressed as contemporary knights.

Above this scene, the resurrection of the dead is presented. Four angels with trumpets announce the judgement of the world, depicting Christ as the judge of the world.

On one side of Christ stands Maria, the Mother of God, and on the other side stands Johannes, the Apostle and beloved disciple of Jesus. Together, Maria and Johannes act as the intercession of mankind.

The judgements of the disciples decided whether resurrected people deserved to belong to the groups of the blessed, or of the condemned.

On the right of Jesus, the blessed group await paradise, which is presented as a medieval castle with battlements from the heavenly Jerusalem. On entry, Petrus, acting as the porter of heaven, awaits them with the key to this paradise.

On the left of Jesus, the group of the condemned is depicted where their grief, and despair is expressed.

According to medieval opinion, the good are located on the right, and the evil on the left, of the judge of the world (as seen from the perspective of the judge).

The side doors were first broken after the painting of the wall.

The Frescoes on the side of the Choir

Above left:

At the worshipping of the Saints, 3 kings appoint the Christ child as the sovereign, consecrated in the womb of the Mother of God, who was serving as the throne for the son of God.

The honourable figures which can be seen here are dressed too elegantly for grooms. Furthermore, the knightly accompanying persons presented here express the class consciousness nature of the Middle Ages.

Above right:

Here an illustration of a rider, who is fully clothed for jousting, was found during the restoration work in 1950. According to an art historian at the University of Leiden, this refers to the depiction of Saint George, the patron saint of the knighthood. At the time this illustration was made, St. Peter’s chapel was in possession of the Cistercian Order, and Bernard of Clairvaux, the founder of the Cistercian Order, was a preacher for the crusades. Saint George is often portrayed as a crusader in Middle Ages.

The Alter Area:

Of the illustrated apostles in the choir, several show themselves to be proclaimers of the gospel on the gospel book in their hands.

The apostles act as messengers for Christianity, who are immediately appointed by Christ to witness testimony.

Christ appeared, resurrected, in front of the gates of Damascus to grant Paul (shortly to become Paul the Apostle) the order to proclaim the doctrine of Christianity. As a result, Paul was delivered to the other apostles. Saint Peter and Paul are marked more clearly in the illustration because they represent the first of the religious teachers.

The pedestal, on which the apostles are standing, represents the battlements of the heavenly castle of Jerusalem.

The frescoes on the side of the windows

The first picture above shows the process of the weighing of souls, thereby showing that people had to take responsibility for their actions by standing before the eternal court. Also illustrated are several little devils, who try to influence the outcome of the judgement and make the judgement of people to appear too easy.

In most cases, at the weighing of souls, Saint Michael the Archangel is presented.

The following illustrations of Saints function as role models.

The next illustration is of the division of the coat of Saint Martin, he used a sword to divide his coat into pieces, because to clothe a person was seen to be an act of mercy and compassion.

The oversized figure of Saint Christopher is firmly and frontally illustrated (this is Romanesque). On his left shoulder sits Christ as a child.

Saint Christopher is elegantly clothed and accompanied by two armed, secular figures. Through the nature of his clothing, he is represented to be of chivalrous origin.

The following illustration involves Saint Catherina, who is shown with her instruments of torture; the wheel and the sword. In the Middle Ages, Saint Catherina was a beloved female Saint who was part of the Fourteen Holy Helpers.

It can be assumed that the illustrations were made on behalf of a noble because the only Saints who are depicted, are those who are said to be of noble origin.


Translation: Alexandra Twemlow