No matter where you are in the world — and Germany is no exception — know this: all cathedrals are churches, but not all churches are cathedrals.
Yeah, sounds cryptic — sure; but what’s the difference?
For starters, a cathedral is run by bishops; unlike an abbey that’s headed by an abbot (or abbess). Secondly, they’re usually found in larger cities — albeit not always the largest church in its district.
Whether they’re large or not, you know that Germany is bound to have some of the grandest cathedrals in the world.
All right, I know I’m jaded. But if you saw the Meißner Dom in the town of Meißen, built right next to Albrechts Castle, you’d understand why I said that. Not only does its tower soar 81-meters into the sky, but it’s been around since the mid-10th century — put here under the orders of Otto I.
You think that’s old? The Cathedral in Münster was originally built in 805 A.D. It’s most notably famous for its 15th century astronomical clock, and its not quite equal length towers. Yeah, they might look exact when viewing from the ground but, one is 57.7 meters, the other 55.5 meters. Go ahead, see if you can tell the difference. ;-)
A German cathedral’s spires might be impressive, like they are at Paderborn Cathedral (at 93 meters), however, it’s the Gothic high altar, the 16th century 3 Hares sculpture, and the relics of St. Liborius in its crypt that you’ll want to see here.
Another cathedral in Germany that housed relics of a saint (this time it’s of St. Gorgonius) is Minden Cathedral. It started simple enough (as a small Carolingian Church), going on to also house many art treasures. You can’t even tell it was destroyed by an air raid on March 28, 1945.
Air raid bombs hit another cathedral, this one possibly the most famous in the world — Cologne Cathedral. Yes, it’s towers are the 2nd largest in the world (157 meters), yet the most remarkable thing is that it took over 600 years to build AND the site has been a religious area from its days when it was a Roman Temple.
It’s not Romans that make an appearance at the next remarkable cathedral in Germany — it’s the Nibelungenlied; the basis of the Siegfried-Nibelung Route.
According to the story, Kriemhild (Siegfried the main character’s wife) and her sister-in-law Brünhilde argued over who had the higher rank — therefore entering the 2-domed, red sandstone, 11th century Worms Cathedral first.
The next four cathedrals worth mentioning have a bit of, um, how do I say it? OK, I’m not going to gloss it over… Madgeburg Cathedral, Erfurt Cathedral, Regensburg Cathedral, and Xanten Cathedral all have what’s known as a Judensau.
What it is, is an anti-Semetic ornamentation added to medieval churches. Seems out of place, considering you’ll find an amazing religious library at Xanten Cathedral, amazing art and the highest towers (104-meters) in eastern Germany at Madgeburg Cathedral, Regensburg Cathedral’s had a church here since 700 A.D. (and is most known for its Gothic artwork), and there are outstanding statues at Erfurt Cathedral — where Martin Luther was ordained back in the early 16th century.
Martin Luther wasn’t the only famous person to make a mark on one of Germany’s cathedrals. Henry the Lion is buried in Lübeck Cathedral, fitting since he put Lübeck on the map as the capital of the Hanseatic League. The cathedral doesn’t look too shabby considering it was partly destroyed during World War II — and it’s quite festive, often a venue for the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival.
If you like music go to Passau Cathedral, or Dom St. Stephen as it’s also called. The sounds of its massive organ are greatly enhanced by the ceiling frescoes, and the rest of the church’s gold and marble decoration.
Do you still think I’m jaded when I tell you Germany’s cathedrals are the most beautiful in the world? I know that after you’ve seen them, you’ll be saying the same thing.
More Cathedrals in Germany
- Speyer Cathedral — A grand example of Romanesque architecture; located in the Palatinate, honored by the UNESCO.