Pots in the walls

A friend of mine gave me some scans of articles printed in some old publications (from 1950-ties). I have no title nor number of the periodical, only the said scans.

The texts are about acoustic holes in the walls of medieval churches.  Not much has been said and written about this particular way of magnifying voice in the Middle Ages. Probably because of the lack of general knowledge about this, or rather – because it is not a “serious matter” as one of the scholars told me 😉

An acoustic hole in fact is a … pot embedded into the wall. Such pots were placed in the walls of the orthodox churches in Russia but also in what is today Poland.  The opening of the vessel embedded in the wall was directed into the interior of the temple (or room, as this has been used not only to magnify the voice in churches)… According to the article – the oldest mention of such vessel comes from the 11th century and is about the use of pots during the construction of the church of St. Basil in Ovruch.

Next, the article says that in 1340 during the construction of the cathedral of Wloclawek, Bishop Matthew of Gołańcz ordered the builders to mortar four pots into the walls around windows; two under the arch of the chancel, and two slightly below.

Added to this were the pots above the entrance and in the vaults. For this reason the cathedral of Wloclawek was allegedly called a “thundering cathedral”.

Could it be that from those days comes the saying about the “thundering” or “roaring” voices of the then priests?

As it can further be read in the article, such pots were made of clay with an admixture of graphite.
The production of such vessels was held by potters in Bohemia and Russia, but also in our country (question: what does the author mean by “our country”, and hence: WHERE?).

Embedding of such vessels into (not plastered) walls gave the room an appropriate reverberation, while the echo was somehow suppressed, so as the spoken words acquired clear sound. In the 19th century the restorers plastered the holes in the walls not knowing their importance, and considering them redundant.  Suddenly then – the church chancels lost their acoustics, and the voice of the priest was less heard.

The measures of such vessels were often very strict.

And so – the depth= 18 in., diameter of the hole = 4 in. According to a book on Polish Geometry from 1683 – 1 inch = 12 grains of barley.

There was also the other use of such pots – they were used as air bricks to build vaulted ceilings.

In the second article one can find out that during the maintenance of the polychromy in one of the churches a ceramic spool was found under the plaster.

„… during the exploratory works dark circles quite regularly placed in the original mortar were found. After their exposure and attempt to remove, it appeared that they were spools with a hole inside, embedded in ruble in a cylinder of the same material and color.  After removing and careful examination of one of them it occurred that they were ceramic spools of black clay, 105 mm long, with the diameter of 51,5 mm from one side , and 38 mm from the other, narrowing towards the center up to 26 mm, and with  16mm diameter internal bore through the length of it . The weight of such spool was 172 g. These spools lay in the necks of urns embedded horizontally, holes inside the church. For a closer look at the vessel, which seemed to be oval in shape, and to get the exact dimensions, we unveiled in one place on the northern wall two vessels lying side by side, one of which was laid there already cracked. The height of the vessels vary from  43,5 to 48 cm, diameter of the bottom ca. 20 cm, diameter of the biggest bulge from 28,5 to 39 cm, the narrowest place in the neck  8 cm, outlet 10 cm. The thickness of the wall at the neck 10 -11 cm.”

As noted hereinafter – the number of these vessels in the vicinity of vault arches – ranged from 5 to 7. It was believed that these pots were used either to improve the acoustics, or to protect from moisture inside. Strange about this is the wall thickness of those vessels, especially that in the outlet which is 10 cm; this is an unheard wall thickness, with regard to such vessel.

I am pasting photos of such pots, or spools or however we might call them…

These are the vaults of summer and winter Refectories in Malbork castle, and the vaulted ceilings of  St. Peter and Paul in Reszel, and the walls of the church in Morąg (also St. Peter and Paul…). I also add Torun’s St. Jacob’s church.

I wonder whether the devils in Orneta did appear by accident as the ideological exercising of these holes  Just in case… whenever the thoughts of the faithful would wan to wander away – the devils were (are there) to catch them and scare them back to the brains, where they belong…  The history about Tutivillus is wonderfully matches here. But this is just my wishful thinking and I need to double-check it. Indeed, why only Orneta has such a symbolism? And since it was called the Holy Warmia, why the devil had to keep watch here? Well, in addition Orneta for some time was the seat of the bishop of the Holy Warmia… Maybe the position of the Catholic Church really was not that strong then…

I am pasting some pictures of my favorite Orneta devils – especially this one in the nightcap. I’m also pasting in the photos from Oliwa. From the former Cistercian Church –  now Cathedral. There are some in the vaults, but in the sixteenth century they have been covered with stars. Other holes – mysterious ones – are located on the north wall of the ambulatory. Maybe thanks to them the floor is always dry there – unlike the floor of Frombork cathedral…

1 Comment

  1. Could you please get in touch with me? I am researching sound pots in medieval churches & chapels in the Netherlands. And I would like to know more about the Polish research. Thank you!
    best wishes,

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