The Speyer Cathedral – built in two construction phases 1030-1061 and 1082-1106 under Salier Konrad II – was once the largest building in the Christian world. The building had a great influence on the development of Romanesque architecture. The emperors and kings of the Salians, Staufers and Habsburgs found their final resting place in the hall crypt.
Speyer Cathedral: facts
|Official title:||Speyer Cathedral|
|Cultural monument:||Cathedral of St. Maria and St. Stephan, a four-tower basilica, nicknamed “Kaiserdom”, with a length of 133 m, the largest Romanesque church in Germany|
|Location:||Speyer, at the confluence of the Speyer brook into the Rhine|
|Meaning:||one of the most important Romanesque buildings of the Holy Roman Empire|
Speyer Cathedral: history
|1030-61||originated under the Salian Conrad II and for three centuries the burial place of the German kings and emperors|
|1041||Completion of the hall crypt|
|1082-1106||Remodeling under Heinrich IV.|
|1689||partial destruction of the cathedral by French troops of Louis XIV.|
|1772||Reconstruction as a baroque reconstruction|
|Middle d. 19th century||Redesign of the westwork in a historical style, painting of the interior|
|from 1957 to the 1960s||Conservation measures, remodeling of the interior|
|since 1996||Fundamental renovation work expected by 2015|
A lance for historicism
“The proud nave seems to move with the majesty of a warship from west to east, turning its splendid bow towards the Rhine itself.” his time about a church building that represents the imperial world feeling and its tragic course up to the recent German history like no other. The expanse of the room and the undisguised brilliance of the proportions convey a markedly sparse and – for modern eyes – extraordinarily sacred atmosphere. And yet, within its monumental wall shell, the Speyer Cathedral of today houses an almost painfully palpable vacuum. The passage of time has destroyed its original liturgical functionality with unusual thoroughness. All in all, this cathedral is the result of trial and error of several hundred years of monument preservation.
“The west building is a dismal restoration of the fifties of the 19th century, which is also responsible for the incomprehensible painting of the interior.” The characteristically low affection for the achievements of the immediate past can be heard from these words. Even a Pinder deliberately overlooks the fact that the Karlsruhe architect Heinrich Hübsch, one of the fathers of historicism, was a particularly controversial critic of the pure style copy. His “westwork” for the imperial cathedral in Speyer, perceived as a torso, is a unique document of the almost desperate search for the appropriate architectural style for the needs of his time. And building director Hübsch actually found what he was looking for, his »round arch style« was just beginning to develop its own dynamic.
What at first glance appears to be so Romanesque about the Speyer Westwerk, on closer inspection, has no direct medieval reference. The rhythmic facade design made of light and red sandstone layers boldly sets itself apart from the rest of the building. The unmistakable formal language of the historical westwork underscores the view that the Romanesque is the real German architectural style. The original baroque interim solution of the facade by no less a master builder than Ignaz Michael Neumann had to give way to this ambitious building project. This decision, which is as clear as it is controversial and clearly motivated by “monument conservation”, is remarkable because the excellent baroque reconstruction of the destroyed nave yokes was preserved.
The cathedral, which has meanwhile been “desecrated” – has become a tragic victim of its historical-political “monument function” due to partial demolition – had to accept an unusually large number of such rustic interventions in its substance. Only the spacious crypt was able to maintain its character as the burial place of the Salic emperors to some extent. The prestige of the German imperial cathedral, however, was deliberately abandoned to the hooves of French cavalry horses, and the former cathedral was rededicated as a stable and supply depot.
When, after the lost Second World War, the national sweep in the form of an “architectural wave of purification” swept across the West German churches according to topb2bwebsites, the undivided preference for the modern-looking white wall forced a “mass death” of historicist church paintings. The unreserved enthusiasm for the uncovering of the supposedly Romanesque substance only triggers an irritated shake of the head among modern preservationists. The “sins” of the wild seventies are still fondly remembered, and of course no one can predict today how the measures of the present will be judged after a few decades have passed.