Freezing temperatures are not an excuse to miss out on an adventure. Today I went to see the 9th century ruins of the Limburg Abbey in Bad Dürkheim. We took the long way up the mountain and it was quite a hike but the cold sore and numb toes were worth it. I was amazed at the size of it! I can only imagine what it looked like when it was intact. Abbey in the Oakland by Caspar David Friedrich is one of my favorite paintings and it was part of the reason I decided I needed to see a ruined abbey particularly in the winter, with an empty sky above and the complete absence of life, to emphasize the architectural beauty of trees surrounding ruins.
The other reason is that a passage in Emerson's Essays expressed so eloquently the experience, that I had to have it too. These are Romanesque ruins, not quite Gothic. The Romanesque style developed into Gothic later. When he uses the word "Gothic", "Romanesque" would do just as well. His references to the "Saxon" and the "English" can be inconsequentially substituted with "Frankish" and "German". The concept of cathedrals built to resemble trees themselves (intentionally or not) is the important part.
The Gothic Church plainly originated in a rude adaptation of the forest trees, with all their bought, to festal or solemn arcade; as the bands about the cleft pillars indicate the green withes that tied them. No one can walk in a road cut through pine woods, without being struck with the architectural appearance of the grove, especially in winter, when the barrenness of all other trees shows the low arch of the Saxon. In the woods in a winter afternoon one will see as readily the origin of the stained glass window, with which the Gothic cathedrals are adorned, in the colors of the western sky seen through the bare and crossing branches of the forest.
Nor can any lover of nature enter the old piles of Oxford and the English cathedrals, without feeling that the forest overpowered the mind of the builder, and that his chisel, his saw and plane still reproduced its ferns, its spikes of flowers, its locust, elm, oak, pine, fir and spruce.
The Gothic cathedral is a blossoming in stone subdued by the insatiable demand of harmony in man. The mountain of granite blooms into an eternal flower, with the lightness and delicate finish as well as the aerial proportion and perspective of vegetable beauty.
I might as well mention that the German photographer Karl Blossfeldt also saw the connection between architecture and plants. This post is already big but I recommend his images to anyone who might not have thought of ferns as being particularly Gothic. I think he might have had some fun exploring ruins too.