St. Mary's Church

Wismar, Germany

The 80 m high tower church of St Mary (Marienkirche) is the only remainder of the original Brick Gothic edifice, built in the first half of the 13th century. It suffered heavy damage in World War II, and was deliberately destroyed in 1960 under the East German Communist government.

St. Mary"s Church stands in the immediate vicinity of the market square and town hall, and was appropriately enough Wismar"s main parish church and the church of the town council. The initial church was a hall-like building dating back to the thirteenth century, but from 1339 construction began under the master builder Hans Grote of a three aisled basilica based on the designs of contemporary French cathedrals. In 1375 the nave was completed and in c.1450 the tower was raised three storeys to reach a height of 80m. The dials of the tower clock have a diameter of 5m, and the clockwork chimes with one of fourteen hymns every 12, 3 and 7pm. After an air raid in the dying days of Second World War, the three-aisled basilica and cathedral-like circumambulatory received heavy damage, with only the tower surviving relatively unscathed. Most of the surrounding "Gothic Quarter" - one of the Baltic Sea region"s finest - suffered such extensive destruction too, that centuries-old buildings such as the Alte Schule (Old School), the archdeaconry and part of St. Georgen Church were reduced to rubble. In 1960, on the orders of the town council - an organ of the then centralized communist government - the ruins of the basilica were demolished by controlled explosion, and thus today only the tower of this once great church remains.

In 2002 the permanent exhibition Wismar"s Red Brick Gothic opened in the church tower, giving visitors the chance to experience the techniques used in Gothic brick construction and mediaeval craftsmanship using St. Marien as an example. The highlight of the exhibition is a 3D film presentation in which Bruno Backstein ("Bruno Brick") takes visitors on a fascinating tour through history, guiding us through the virtual construction of St. Marien Church: from the survey of the site to the production of the brick used, from the erecting of the scaffolding through to the construction of the walls and vaulting.

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Founded: 1339
Category: Religious sites in Germany
Historical period: Habsburg Dynasty (Germany)

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