The history of the cathedral on Berlin’s Spree Island began in 1465, when the St. Erasmus Chapel in the newly built royal palace of Cölln on the Spree was elevated to the stature of collegiate church. In 1536, Elector Joachim II moved the it into the former Dominican church, south of the palace.With Martin Luther’s support, the elector established the Reformation in 1539, and the church became a Lutheran. In 1608, the collegiate church was dissolved, and the Dom was declared the highest parish church in Cölln on the Spree. When Elector Johann Sigismund converted to Calvinism in 1613, the Cathedral became Court and Parish Church.
From 1747 to 1750, Frederick the Great commissioned Johann Boumann the Elder to build a new baroque building to the north of the city palace. After the coffins were transferred from the crypt, the old, dilapidated Cathedral was torn down. On the occasion of the union of Prussia’s Lutheran and Reformed communities, the interior and exterior of the Cathedral were renovated. The classicistic conversion by Karl Friedrich Schinkel was completed in 1822.
Planning for the new Cathedral building in the Lustgarten began in the 19th century. Between 1825 and 1828, Karl Friedrich Schinkel presented numerous plans for a new Cathedral building. In 1842, construction began on a voluminous five-aisled basilica, based on drafts by August Stüler. However, due to the builder’s hesitations and the limited financial means, building advanced slowly and was stopped in 1848, at which point only the burial place had been completed.
Not until the reign of King William I, who later became Emperor, were the plans for a monumental Cathedral building advanced again. In 1893, after the demolition of the old Cathedral, the foundations of the new structure were begun. The laying of the foundation stone took place on June 17th, 1894. The central building, a baroque-influenced Italian high Renaissance structure, was consecrated almost 11 years later, on February 27th, 1905. Flanked by four corner towers, the Cathedral’s dome rose 114 meters above street level. The interior and exterior of the Cathedral were ornamented with an extensive pictorial scheme illustrating the New Testament and the history of church reformation. Criticism of the building had already begun before the Cathedral was dedicated, and it still continues today. The Cathedral is accused of being too ostentatious, the expression of imperial “Byzantinism” and “showmanship”. Despite all of these discussions, the Cathedral has always found many enthusiasts, who find the architecture uplifting and festive. At the same time, it provides a place for stillness and prayer within the restless center of Berlin.
The most prominent damage to the Cathedral caused by an air raid in 1940 was the loss of the altar windows. In 1944, the impact of a liquid incendiary bomb struck the foot of the dome lantern. Because access to this location was so difficult, the fire could not be extinguished, and the entire dome construction was destroyed. Parts of the burning dome crashed into the church and through the floor, causing the fire to spread all the way into the crypt below. Within one night, the Cathedral had been transformed into a ruin. Vandalism and weathering caused further damage. Money for the necessary protection of the structural materials came slowly. The bells chimed again for the first time after the war’s end in November of 1948, and a provisional roof for the Cathedral’s dome was only built in 1953. During this period, services and church music took place in the crypt area beneath the memorial church.
With financial support from the German Protestant Church and the government of the Federal Republic, reconstruction of the still war-damaged Cathedral began in 1975. The memorial church on the north side and the imperial underpass on the south side of the Cathedral were torn down. The restored Baptismal and Matrimonial Chapel has been back in use for services and events of the Cathedral congregation since 1980. Construction work on the exterior façade of the Cathedral – with extreme alterations in the dome area – was essentially complete in 1983. Work on the interior began in 1984. On June 6th, 1993, the Sermon Church was reopened in a ceremonial service. The windows in the chancel and the mosaic paintings in the dome of the sermon church were reconstructed in the years that followed. In 2002 the last of the dome mosaics was festively unveiled.References:
The Porta Nigra (Latin for black gate) is the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps. It is designated as part of the Roman Monuments, Cathedral of St. Peter and Church of Our Lady in Trier UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name Porta Nigra originated in the Middle Ages due to the darkened colour of its stone; the original Roman name has not been preserved. Locals commonly refer to the Porta Nigra simply as Porta.
The Porta Nigra was built in grey sandstone between 186 and 200 AD. The original gate consisted of two four-storied towers, projecting as near semicircles on the outer side. A narrow courtyard separated the two gate openings on either side. For unknown reasons, however, the construction of the gate remained unfinished. For example, the stones at the northern (outer) side of the gate were never abraded, and the protruding stones would have made it impossible to install movable gates. Nonetheless, the gate was used for several centuries until the end of the Roman era in Trier.
In Roman times, the Porta Nigra was part of a system of four city gates, one of which stood at each side of the roughly rectangular Roman city. The Porta Nigra guarded the northern entry to the Roman city, while the Porta Alba (White Gate) was built in the east, the Porta Media (Middle Gate) in the south, and the Porta Inclyta (Famous Gate) in the west, next to the Roman bridge across the Moselle. The gates stood at the ends of the two main streets of the Roman Trier, one of which led north-south and the other east-west. Of these gates, only the Porta Nigra still exists today.
In the early Middle Ages the Roman city gates were no longer used for their original function and their stones were taken and reused for other buildings. Also iron and lead braces were broken out of the walls of the Porta Nigra for reuse. Traces of this destruction are still clearly visible on the north side of the gate.
After 1028, the Greek monk Simeon lived as a hermit in the ruins of the Porta Nigra. After his death (1035) and sanctification, the Simeonstift monastery was built next to the Porta Nigra to honor him. Saving it from further destruction, the Porta Nigra was transformed into a church: The inner court of the gate was roofed and intermediate ceilings were inserted. The two middle storeys of the former gate were converted into church naves: the upper storey being for the monks and the lower storey for the general public. The ground floor with the large gates was sealed, and a large outside staircase was constructed alongside the south side (the town side) of the gate, up to the lower storey of the church. A small staircase led further up to the upper storey. The church rooms were accessible through former windows of the western tower of the Porta Nigra that were enlarged to become entrance doors (still visible today). The top floor of the western tower was used as church tower, the eastern tower was leveled, and an apse added at its east side. An additional gate - the much smaller Simeon Gate - was built adjacent to the East side of the Porta Nigra and served as a city gate in medieval times.
In 1802 Napoleon Bonaparte dissolved the church in the Porta Nigra and the monastery beside it, along with the vast majority of Trier"s numerous churches and monasteries. On his visit to Trier in 1804, Napoleon ordered that the Porta Nigra be converted back to its Roman form. Only the apse was kept; but the eastern tower was not rebuilt to its original height. Local legend has it that Napoleon originally wanted to completely tear down the church, but locals convinced him that the church had actually been a Gaulish festival hall before being turned into a church. Another version of the story is that they told him about its Roman origins, persuading him to convert the gate back to its original form.
In 1986 the Porta Nigra was designated a World Heritage Site, along with other Roman monuments in Trier and its surroundings. The modern appearance of the Porta Nigra goes back almost unchanged to the reconstruction ordered by Napoleon. At the south side of the Porta Nigra, remains of Roman columns line the last 100 m of the street leading to the gate. Positioned where they had stood in Roman times, they give a slight impression of the aspect of the original Roman street that was lined with colonnades. The Porta Nigra, including the upper floors, is open to visitors.