Kaiseraugst again – the show room under the church St. Gallus

Whenever I return to Augusta Raurica, I find something that is new to  me. Recently I have discovered the Roman sewage channel and the nearby the show room under the Church St. Gallus.

It was by looking at the brochure about treasure hunting for children, that I found out about the Roman sewage channel. 

Source: “Finde den Schatz – Schnitzeljagd im Kastell Kaiseraugst”, brochure for children acquired in the museum of Augusta Raurica

When I visited the sewage channel in June 2021, I also found the entry to the show room with the bath and rests of the church from late antiquity.

 

The Roman sewage channel

The sewage channel emerges from the fortification wall above the Rhine river, near the church.

Berger (p. 335) and the panels say that the sewage channel was built for the Roman Castrum in the late 3rd century AD.

In Roman times, the smell might not have been too welcoming  here.

Steps invite visitors. To the left of the sewage channel exit, I see a door. I enter and I am in the show room under the church and under the adjacent church garden.

 

Overview of the show room with bath and remains from early Christianity

On my first visit, I saw just ruins and heard Roman street noise and some church music. I returned later, after having read in Berger (p. 335ff). The following two on site panels help me understand best, what I see: The ground plan shows the area of the show room in faint pink, and the upright projection gives a perspective view of the ruins in front of the “reconstructed” model of the early Christian church from around 400 AD (late antiquity).  

Source: Two panels in the show room (it is amazing, how everything is documented carefully, take your time to go through it).

In the show room we see the private bath (black/red 1-4 and a,b,c) and remains related with the early Christian church St. Gallus and with Christianity (dark blue, 5,6, X; we do not see 7). The sewage channel (purple, 8) runs through the show room, before reaching the exit in the fortification wall.

 

The bath – the private bath of the bishop?

Why a bath, so close to the church? The panels explain that the bath has been built after 400 AD, when “normal” people could no longer afford a private bath. Perhaps it was the bath of the bishop and of the clergymen (see panel in the show room). This hypothesis is supported by the fact that the early Christian church St. Gallus from the late 4th century AD was large and hence important. If there was a bishop, he would have lived behind the fortification wall on the right hand (western) side of his bath. However, though some sources mention bishop Justinian around 400 AD, the first proven bishop is Ragnacharius around 600 AD (Facciani, p.173 and 178f); it might well be that he moved his seat from the Castrum to Basel. A lot of guessing. What seems pretty sure is that the pool (c) in the bath was not a baptismal font, as some archaeologists suggested earlier. Facciani rejects the hypothesis of a baptismal font based on plausible arguments (Berger, p.337f). For instance, there is no direct access from the church to the font, very impractical. 

This is room number 4. According to the panels it was a corridor; Berger (p.337) says, it could also have been the changing room of the bath, called Apodyterium.

In the corner we can see the sewage water channel (8).

From the corridor (4) people entered the Tepidarium (warm room, 1) using the door marked by the black gate; the threshold (a) has been preserved. Very difficult for me to see the threshold, but I trust the archaeologists.

Next comes the Caldarium or hot room (2). Two columns and tubes of the floor heating remain in the right hand edge. As a matter of fact, we stand on the base of the floor heating today; the “real” floor was above the pile of tiles (pilae). 

I am puzzled. Only now I notice the labels under the ceiling. So far, I had just looked at the ruins below me and not at the signs above me… 

As the label indicates, we see a wonderfully preserved duct (b) that takes heat from the heating room (Praefurnium) into the hot room (2). I stand, where the heating room must have been before. 

Behind the hot room (2) and the heating conduct (b), there is the water tank or pool (c). There have been debates about this pool that in the 1960-ies was identified as a baptismal font, but this hypothesis was rejected by Facciani later. 

 

The remains related with the early Christian church

The use of the site as an early Christian church started at the latest after 400 (as the panels say).

This is the northern annex to the apsis of the early Christian church (5). The sewage water channel (8) can be seen here as well. 

Part of the marl ground of the annex has been preserved (see above in the left hand lower corner and below).

From 700 AD onwards, people were buried next to the church. A grave from the 8th/9th century reaches into the show room.

Only now I notice the description on the left hand side. The curators of Augusta Raurica think of everything carefully.

 

The exhibition on the east wall of the bath (X)

The exhibition on the east wall of the show room explains the early days of Christianity, shows examples of tomb slabs from the necropolis outside the castrum and tools as well as jewellery from early Christianity.

A Christian community existed in the Castrum already in the 4th century AD (The Roman emperor Konstantin had legalised Christianity in 313 AD). Until about 700 AD, the people were buried in the necropolis outside the city. This is one example of a tomb slab from the 7th century, with a cross engraved.

The combined tooth picker and ear spoon with the sign for Christ belonged to a Roman officer (about 350 AD, part of the silver treasure of Augusta Raurica). I imagine him using this tool…

 

Good-bye Castrum for now

I leave the show room through the door, where the Rhine appears full of water after the heavy rain falls of this summer 2021. 

I feel like reading in Berger about what I have seen. I find a table in the restaurant Adler in the main street of Kaiseraugst. 

The crowned eagle of the Habsburgians decorates the entry, as Kaiseraugst has belonged to Vorderösterreich until the Congress of Vienna (1815).

The meal served at the restaurant Adler is delicious: Risotto with Taleggio cheese and pears and a Greek yoghurt with nuts, figs and honey. Sure, I will return to this restaurant and also to Kaiseraugst and the Castrum.   

We will visit more “remote” sights of Augusta Raurica in my next blog.

Sources:

  • Website of Augusta Raurica
  • “Salve – Plan”, Augusta Raurica 2019.
  • Guido Facciani et alii: “Die Dorfkirche St. Gallus in Kaiseraugst. Die bauliche Entwicklung vom römischen Profangebäude zur heutigen christkatholischen Gemeindekirche”, Forschungen in Augst, Band 42, Augst 2012.
  • Ludwig Berger (Editor), “Führer durch Augusta Raurica”, Schwabe Verlag Basel 2012; contributions by Thomas Hufschmid, Sandra Ammann, Ludwig Berger und Peter-A. Schwarz, Urs Brombach
  • Panels on site in the show room

2 thoughts on “Kaiseraugst again – the show room under the church St. Gallus

  1. Christopher and Ann Teale says:

    Dear Petra,

    We hope that you are keeping well and having an enjoyable Autumn.

    Finally some of the travel restrictions for getting out of, and being allowed back into England, are being relaxed so Ann and I have decided to visit Carl and Katha in Zeiningen from 24 September until 5 October. Our first trip outside England for almost 20 months!

    Whilst in Switzerland, perhaps we can meet up for a coffee and cake, or maybe a visit to one of your travel blog sites? Are you free to meet at anytime in that time window?

    Stay safe. Our warmest best wishes, Chris and Ann

  2. Christopher and Ann Teale says:

    This is fascinating Petra. Thank you so much for sharing.

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