While we were climbing to the top of every aviation and boat exhibit we were allowed in the Technik Museum of Speyer, we could see the Cathedral waiting patiently, a jewel box on the horizon. It certainly built the anticipation. The museum and the cathedral are close enough, and Germany is in general pedestrian-friendly enough, that it was an easy, safe walk from one to the other. One weird intersection with crosswalks and a street until you’re in the larger park leading to the cathedral.
Largest Romanesque Architecture
You could describe this cathedral as so many firsts, largest, best. Being a part of the UNESCO World Heritage List tends to suggest as much. Speyer Cathedral, or Imperial Cathedral of Speyer, Kaiserdom zu Speyer, is the largest example of Romanesque Architecture in the World, the first building constructed entirely from stone in Europe, the first to have an exterior gallery and system of arcades around the entire building, a pilgrimage site, the resting place of 8 Kings and Emperors, and was the biggest church in the western hemisphere at the time of it's completion in 1106. Phew! To say this is a very important building feels like an understatement.
But, how does it make you feel? Personally, it was a calming, solemn, space. Not in anyway creepy as some older European churches are. With minimal ornamentation and varying natural colors shining purely from the carefully placed red sandstone from the nearby Palatine Forest Mountains, this cathedral is the most naturally beautiful church I’ve seen. I have to wonder if the architect Antoni Gaudi hadn’t once visited the Speyer Cathedral? The smooth, soaring semi-circular columns offers the same feeling of being in a quiet forest, just as I had felt in Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain.
An Image Worthy of a Pilgrimage
A delicate, carefully painted standing Madonna statue quietly demands your attention at the front of the nave with fresh flowers at her feet and candles lit before her. This image, sculpted by German sculptor August Weckbecker, consecrated by Pius XI in Rome, was brought into the Speyer Cathedral in 1930. In doing so, the pilgrimage history for the Speyer Cathedral gained a new chapter to a centuries-long legacy.
Also in honor of the cathedral's patron saint, the Blessed Mother Mary, along the walls of the nave is a 24-part series depicting Mary’s story painted by Johann von Schraudolph in the mid 1800s. These frescoes were part of an even larger installment and collaboration with Joseph Schwarzmann that was unfortunately removed in the 1960s in an attempt to make the cathedral appear more ‘romanesque.’ Some of the frescoes that were removed have been restored and are now in a new display in the Emperor's Hall of the Cathedral.
The Mount of Olives
Beside the Cathedral in a leafy clearing, you discover the sculpture ‘The Mount of Olives’, once part of the cloister grounds that were destroyed in the fire of 1689. What survived from Hans Syfer’s original piece was incorporated into the present day replacement by Speyer sculptor Gottfried Renn in 1856. A roof was built above the statue to prevent further wear and tear. Not sure why the roof has a rooster on top. Puzzling, but charming.
Speyer Cathedral Bowl
Outside the western entrance of the Speyer Cathedral stands the Cathedral Bowl. Many, many years ago it was often used as a loophole for those hoping to escape prison sentences, as the bowl marks the separate bishop and city territories. Prisoners would make a run for the bowl in order to be out of the city's jurisdictional area, now being protected by the church. And historically, to welcome a new bishop, the bowl was filled with wine for the citizens to freely enjoy.
If you enjoyed this article, or these topics sound interesting to you, you'll love our weekly newsletter. You'll receive a free Germany Packing list for signing up, and you'll receive each week's newest posts every Friday. Thank you for reading!