Käppele is the commonly used name for the church Wallfahrtskirche Mariä Heimsuchung in Würzburg. It was built following plans by Balthasar Neumann in the mid-18th century in Rococo style. It serves as a pilgrimage church and until 2014 was attended to by members of the Capuchins.
The name Käppele is derived from the German word Kapelle (chapel). Originally, a local fisher erected a pietà in what was then a vineyard in 1640. About ten years later, four miracle cures were reported in connection with the statue. Around 1650, a first chapel was built around the pietà. Together with some other reported phenomena, the cures began to attract pilgrims to the site, especially around pentecost. In 1690 and 1713, the original chapel was increased in size. Balthasar Neumann, architect of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Würzburg Residence, then drew up plans for a new church which incorporated the older chapel as the Alte Gnadenkapelle. The foundation stone was laid on 5 April 1748. Construction took until 1750 but the interior furnishings were not finished until 1821. The new chapel was officially inaugurated only on 21 September 1824, due to earlier disruptions caused by securalization of 1803. However, the capuchins already began holding services in 1754.
A way of the cross with 14 stations of the cross marked by small chapels leads up to the Käppele. These were based on an idea by Neumann, but completed only in 1799. The live-sized statue groups (77 figures) were created by Simon and Peter Wagner.
The church's double-towered front and the roof with its cupolas and roof lanterns give it an unusual appearance that distinguishes it from the other churches of Würzburg. The interior features ceiling frescos by Matthäus Günther from 1752 and 1781 and stucco work by Johann Michael Feuchtmayer the Elder. The side altars date to 1768. The neoclassical high altar was made in 1799.
The organ dates to 1752, made by Christian Köhler from Frankfurt. Votive offerings in the Mirakelgang reflect local devoutness and tastes of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Apart from being a tourist attraction, the Käppele remains a popular pilgrimage site, especially at pentecost.References:
From 1239, Raynaud, the Bishop of Quimper, decided on the building of a new chancel destined to replace that of the Romanesque era. He therefore started, in the far west, the construction of a great Gothic cathedral which would inspire cathedral reconstructions in the Ile de France and would in turn become a place of experimentation from where would later appear ideas adopted by the whole of lower Brittany. The date of 1239 marks the Bishop’s decision and does not imply an immediate start to construction. Observation of the pillar profiles, their bases, the canopies, the fitting of the ribbed vaults of the ambulatory or the alignment of the bays leads us to believe, however, that the construction was spread out over time.
The four circular pillars mark the start of the building site, but the four following adopt a lozenge-shaped layout which could indicate a change of project manager. The clumsiness of the vaulted archways of the north ambulatory, the start of the ribbed vaults at the height of the south ambulatory or the choice of the vaults descending in spoke-form from the semi-circle which allows the connection of the axis chapel to the choir – despite the manifest problems of alignment – conveys the hesitancy and diverse influences in the first phase of works which spread out until the start of the 14th century.
At the same time as this facade was built (to which were added the north and south gates) the building of the nave started in the east and would finish by 1460. The nave is made up of six bays with one at the level of the facade towers and flanked by double aisles – one wide and one narrow (split into side chapels) – in an extension of the choir arrangements.
The choir presents four right-hand bays with ambulatory and side chapels. It is extended towards the east of 3-sided chevet which opens onto a semi-circle composed of five chapels and an apsidal chapel of two bays and a flat chevet consecrated to Our Lady.
The three-level elevation with arches, triforium and galleries seems more uniform and expresses anglo-Norman influence in the thickness of the walls (Norman passageway at the gallery level) or the decorative style (heavy mouldings, decorative frieze under the triforium). This building site would have to have been overseen in one shot. Undoubtedly interrupted by the war of Succession (1341-1364) it draws to a close with the building of the lierne vaults (1410) and the fitting of stained-glass windows. Bishop Bertrand de Rosmadec and Duke Jean V, whose coat of arms would decorate these vaults, finished the chancel before starting on the building of the facade and the nave.
Isolated from its environment in the 19th century, the cathedral was – on the contrary – originally very linked to its surroundings. Its site and the orientation of the facade determined traffic flow in the town. Its positioning close to the south walls resulted in particuliarities such as the transfer of the side gates on to the north and south facades of the towers: the southern portal of Saint Catherine served the bishop’s gate and the hospital located on the left bank (the current Préfecture) and the north gate was the baptismal porch – a true parish porch with its benches and alcoves for the Apostles’ statues turned towards the town, completed by an ossuary (1514).
The west porch finds its natural place between the two towers. The entire aesthetic of these three gates springs from the Flamboyant era: trefoil, curly kale, finials, large gables which cut into the mouldings and balustrades. Pinnacles and recesses embellish the buttresses whilst an entire bestiary appears: monsters, dogs, mysterious figures, gargoyles, and with them a whole imaginary world promoting a religious and political programme. Even though most of the saints statues have disappeared an armorial survives which makes the doors of the cathedral one of the most beautiful heraldic pages imaginable: ducal ermine, the Montfort lion, Duchess Jeanne of France’s coat of arms side by side with the arms of the Cornouaille barons with their helmets and crests. One can imagine the impact of this sculpted decor with the colour and gilding which originally completed it.
At the start of the 16th century the construction of the spires was being prepared when building was interrupted, undoubtedly for financial reasons. Small conical roofs were therefore placed on top of the towers. The following centuries were essentially devoted to putting furnishings in place (funeral monuments, altars, statues, organs, pulpit). Note the fire which destroyed the spire of the transept cross in 1620 as well as the ransacking of the cathedral in 1793 when nearly all the furnishings disappeared in a « bonfire of the saints ».
The 19th century would therefore inherit an almost finished but mutilated building and would devote itself to its renovation according to the tastes and theories of the day.