Thursday, December 10, 2015

2014 Germany Trip - Imperial Cathedral of Speyer (Der Kaiserdom zu Speyer) (UNESCO World Heritage)

Location: Speyer, Germany

Itinerary and full experience of my visit to Germany can be accessed through the link below:

Finally, I am writing about the focus of my visit to Speyer, a city that is barely mentioned in guidebooks, if mentioned at all. Strolling past the unmistakable Altpörtel (Old Gate), Maximilianstraße afforded me an unobstructed view towards Speyer Cathedral, an edifice listed in UNESCO World Heritage List for being one of the most important Romanesque building in Germany, a status well earned by being the largest Romanesque church still standing to date. Despite it being listed in the said UNESCO list and being hailed by the German National Tourist Board as one of the Top 100 Sights of Germany, it remains relatively unknown to most travelers.

Its official name is the Imperial Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption and St Stephen (German: Dom zu Unserer lieben Frau in Speyer), however it is a mouthful to call it by its full name every time one mentions it. Fortunately it is more commonly known as Imperial Cathedral of Speyer (German: Kaiserdom zu Speyer) or just Speyer Cathedral, a name which my post will use to save my poor hand from typing more.

Approaching from Maximilianstraße

Speyer Cathedral lasted close to an impressive millennium despite its multiple scars. This was the brainchild of Conrad II, an idea born out of his wish for the largest church in the then Christian Western world. He commissioned the church in 1024 and construction of one of the most ambitious project of the time began in 1030 on the site of a former basilica. Unfortunately neither he nor his son, Henry III, lived long enough to see the consecration of the church in 1061, although their bodies were laid at rest in it.

Ambitious reconstructions made later enlarged and expanded the church and it was relatively unchanged throughout the coming centuries. However the church and the town of Speyer was not spared from the horrors of multiple wars from 17th century onwards. Pillages and battles gutted the church thoroughly, some of its original structures collapsing in the progress. Parts of the church was rebuilt, then destroyed again in subsequent wars. The current visible form, from the frescoes to the Neo-Romanesque westwork, is a culmination of works from multiple artisans in the 19th century at the behest of King Ludwig I of Bavaria and his son, King Maximilian II.


Westwork view 2

Westwork view 2

Approaching from Maximilianstraße, my first sight of Speyer Cathedral was its Neo-Romensque westwork, an angular sandstone yellow facade which reminded me of Würzburg Cathedral but with a wider front. The main portal of the church was impressive in its own standard, a high vaulted ceiling over an embedded door and a pair of statues standing guard on each end of the arcade before entering the church.

Speyer Cathedral full view



Statue 1

Vaulted portal ceiling

More statues

Statue 2

My mind was completely blown away when I stepped into the confines of Speyer Cathedral. Its interior was spectacular to say the least, the view down its length of nave immediately commanded my attention. With an immensely high vaulted ceiling dwarfing any man and rays of light entering from cleverly placed windows high on the wall, it was hard for me to not see the grandeur and holiness of the cathedral. I personally enjoyed the way the windows directed sunlight to beam at the frescoes on the wall, highlighting their beauty as if worried that the visitor would not marvel at them.



Moving lights

High windows



A look down the side aisle

Candle stands

Sculpted beasts

The bronze crucifix

Edith Stein (also known as St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross), 1891 - 1942, a German Jewish philosopher who converted to Roman Catholic Church.

Double Chapel, where the top level and bottom level could function differently or to different saints. In Speyer Cathedral, the double chapel is for Saint Emmeram (St Martin) and Saint Catherine, both connected through an opening in the center.

Dove and candle


Touring the interior of Speyer Cathedral too no more than 1 hour. Despite its size, there was little I could do apart from snapping images from different angles of its nave and the choir. I find that its interior, while lined with fresco, was surprisingly bland for a church of such renown and magnitude. Awe inspiring stain glass windows and beautiful crafts showcasing the workmanship of past masters were considerably lacking compared to other famed churches.

I took a stroll around the exterior of Speyer Cathedral, trying to see the building from different angles. There was an open space next to the cathedral with a sculpture that was protected from the elements with a roof. With the shrine fenced up, I could barely see the sculpture depicting Jesus praying on the Mount of Olives (hence the name) on the night before his crucifixion, his disciples asleep around him. 

I read later that this was The Mount of Olives and what I saw was not how the original would look like. The open space was a cloister in the past, with the sculpture at its center, but was destroyed by the invading French troops in 1689 during the Palatinate War of Succession, with only rubble left in its wake. The cloister became the currently open space and the sculpture was supplemented later. 

The Mount of Olives beside the cathedral

Corner view of Speyer Cathedral

The Mount of Olives

Praying to St Michael

My stroll lead me further to the back and closer to the Rhine. The back of Speyer Cathedral, the eastern apsidal end, with an encircling gallery. looked significantly different than the Neo-Romanesque western facade. Interestingly there was a section of the original town wall with an adjoining tower further back, which was known as Heath Tower (Heidentürmchen). This marked the original boundary between city and the river Rhine, and the area in between were marshes called "heath" hence the name. Although this section no longer fulfilled its purpose, it made a good frame against the eastern end of Speyer Cathedral.

Heath Tower

Heath Tower closer look

Heath Tower and its section of wall only runs a short length

Eastern apsidal end


In my opinion the church that is Speyer Cathedral, while do inspire a certain awe, is not as awesome as some other cathedrals I have visited. Nevertheless it does help me check one entry off my UNESCO World Heritage List, and its scale and interior are worth the time to travel to Speyer to take a look for myself. If the reader is neither a UNESCO hunter nor one who love exploring off the beaten path, maybe you could skip visiting Speyer Cathedral (or Speyer at all). However if you do drop by for a curious look, you will at least rewarded with the next 2 churches which I will recommend next, making the trio of them an unforgettable experience for your visit.

Environment:         A UNESCO Heritage List building in the old town area
Suitable for:            History buffs, UNESCO hunters
Visit worthiness:       9/10 (only if you appreciate what you see, otherwise you may feel this score is higher than you would have given)
Historical value:        5.0/5.0 
Architectural value:  4.0/5.0
Photographic value:  4.0/5.0
Landmark value:       5.0/5.0

Entrance Fee:                  free
Opening Hours:             (Nov - Mar) 9.00 a.m. - 5.00 p.m. 
                                               (Spr - Oct)    9.00 a.m. - 7.00 p.m. 
                                               (All year)     12.00 p.m. - 5.00 p.m.
                                               Closed on 1 Jan, Shrove Tuesday, 24, 25 and 31 Dec
Best Moment to Visit: Early in the day when there are less people
Length of Visit:              1 - 2 hours (not inclusive of Court Gardens)


Contact:                    +49 (0) 6232 102 118
E-mail:             (Cathedral Tours)
Address:                   Residenzplatz 2, 97070 Würzburg, Germany

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