A City of Ruins is a Treasure for Holy Cross’ Art History Students

February 27th, 2013 by 


Students tour the world-famous Christmas markets in Cologne, Germany.


Students at the Ludwig Museum in Cologne, Germany.

For students in professor Virginia Raguin’s art history Senior Concentration Seminar, the German city of Cologne—where evidence of World War II bombings is integrated into the local architecture—served as a classroom last December.  Raguin, a professor of visual arts, traveled to Cologne with 12 students for a week to explore museums, cathedrals, and the famous Christmas markets and experience the city’s culture, Roman remains, and modern architecture.

“The trip to Cologne was especially great for the art history students because it allowed them to observe the juxtaposition of the new architecture and the past that remained from the bombings in World War II,” shares Raguin.  “The city was a part of the ‘economic miracle’ after the war, and now contains five world-class museums ranging from Roman antiquities, through global ethnographic collections to contemporary.”

Brittain Smith, the director of the College’s Study Abroad program, created the study tour program as part of the office’s initiative to establish more week-long trips abroad for students in advanced courses.

As students of art history, they found Cologne’s architecture to be an enriching tool to deeply appreciate building restoration. Many of the great 12th-century churches that populate the city show installations of modern stained glass sensitively attuned to the architectural space and the spiritual purpose of the building.  “Cologne was one of the most destroyed German cities after the bombing,” explains Liza Noone ‘13. “We got to see the comparison between modern architecture and older remains. When it is time to restore something, you would start to construct more modern architecture. Because of this, we got to see things here that we couldn’t in the United States.”

Cologne’s museums also have a unique appeal since they integrate both historic remains and modern-day architecture. Caroline Stanners ‘13 describes how one contemporarily constructed museum, Kolumba, was actually built over ruins, serving as a microcosm of the combination of the ancient Roman, medieval, and contemporary architecture that is seen throughout the entire city.  This museum houses the archdiocesan collection and displays religious art of the past and the most progressive contemporary works side by side. 

Raguin, whose recent research includes German stained glass of both the Middle Ages and the 19th- century, was excited to expose the students to her specialty. The students found many of the cathedrals to be distinctly intriguing due to the detail of the carefully crafted glass and stone. “We visited a lot of the older cathedrals and could see the glass and stonework in its original place. I really liked the concept. You can see it separated in a museum, but not usually together,” shares Meaghan Dunn ’13.

After taking in much of the stained glass and cathedral sights during the daylight hours, the group enjoyed the traditional Christmas markets at night. The world-famous markets are comprised of many vendors who sell food, drinks, ornaments, jewelry, and other arts. “A wonderful aspect of the markets is that the locals really enjoy them, despite the fact that they are a tourist attraction,” says Raguin.  

The weeklong trip to Cologne, a city of architecture gems, during Christmastime was for many the perfecting culmination to their art history education at Holy Cross.

“As a senior art history major, I felt that the Cologne experience was truly the pinnacle of my academic learning at Holy Cross,” reflects Noone. “With the knowledge that I had accumulated over the past four years in art history, I was able to be fully immersed in some of the world’s finest works of architecture, painting, and stain glass which served as an entirely new education in itself.”

For additional information, please contact Cristal Steuer at 508-793-2419.

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