The Scots church in Regensburg goes back to the monastery of St. James, which was founded around 1090 by Irish Benedictine monks. According to legend, a group of monks made their way from Ireland to Rome 20 years earlier. The leader of the small group, Marianus Scotus, decided to take a break in Regensburg. He wanted to visit another Irish monk, the hermit Mechterdach, who lived in a cell near the Obermünster. The monks stayed in Regensburg and were eventually given the land here to build a monastery. The construction of the current Scots Church with its famous portal was essentially completed around 1200; the portal was probably completed around 1185. These Irish monks were often popularly called “Scots”, after an ancient Irish tribe. Therefore, over time, the name “Schottenkloster” became common.
The Regensburg Schottenkloster achieved great importance in the 12th century: from here seven other Irish Benedictine monasteries were founded in southern Germany. After centuries of prosperity, the Scottish monastery began to impoverish after the Reformation and many monks left St James’s until Scottish clergymen in Rome asked to take over the monastery, which after some back and forth was granted. Even the former confessor of the Scottish Queen Maria Stuart Ninian Winzet worked here as abbot for a few years. He is buried here in the church. The monastery experienced a second heyday that lasted until the 19th century. Since those responsible for the monastery were all British nationals, St. Jakob initially escaped secularisation in 1803. However, they were forbidden to take in new novices, and since Carl von Dalberg forbade the taking in of new novices, the monastery slowly died. In 1862, Pope Pius IX. up the monastery. Since 1872 the monastery buildings have housed a seminary.
The Scots portal, which has been protected by a glass case for conservation reasons since 1999, is one of the most important works of Romanesque sculpture in southern Germany. The question of what is depicted here is hotly debated among art historians. There are around 70 interpretation attempts. We will now present one of them to you, but it does not have to be the only right one.
In the arch above the door you can see Jesus Christ, to his left the church patron and apostle Jacob, to his right his brother John, who is holding the book of the Secret Revelation in his hand.
The portal wall can be divided into three levels. At the top you can see the so-called “upper sky”. A judgment of the world is shown here: Jesus Christ sits in the middle, with six apostles sitting on either side. Two saints are seated on small thrones at either end: Charlemagne on the left, and Saint Patrick from Ireland on the right, indicating the origin of the builders.
The next level below the Last Judgment is the “Lower Heaven”. Here we see four figures on either side of the portal. On the left are the four cardinal points, on the right are the four elements of fire, water, earth and air.
The lowest level represents the earth. Here we have one to the left of the portal, the “good” side, while the right side is considered the “evil” side. In the middle of the good side is enthroned – unfortunately headless today – Mary with the baby Jesus. She embodies the good and pure in the church. She is surrounded by figures of doom who have not found the salvation of the church in a godless world: The dragon under the statue of Mary is supposed to represent Satan, who is biting a lion and crushing a biblical figure, Enoch, with his tail. The two-tailed mermaid symbolizes the community of heathens.
Also on the right, the “evil” side, a figure is enthroned in the middle: the demonic Antichrist. At the time the Scots Portal was built, this Antichrist had a very clear identity for many people: here you can see Sultan Saladin, the great opponent of Richard the Lionheart during the Third Crusade, who took the Holy City of Jerusalem away from the Christians in 1185. The stone reference to the crusades has a lot to do with the history of Regensburg. Since the Steinerne Brücke was the only safe Danube crossing between Ulm and Vienna for centuries, the German army units gathered here during the Second and Third Crusades. The Crusaders boarded the ships in Regensburg that took them down the Danube to the Black Sea. The participants in the Third Crusade were able to view the completed Scots Portal and prayed here for the success of their undertakings in the Holy Land.
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