Essen Minster was formerly the collegiate church of Essen Abbey, founded in about 845 by Altfrid, Bishop of Hildesheim. The present building, which was reconstructed after its destruction in World War II, is a Gothic hall church, built after 1275 in light-coloured sandstone. The octagonal westwork and the crypt are survivors of the Ottonian pre-Romanesque building that once stood here. The separate Church of St. Johann Baptist stands at the west end of the minster, connected to the westwork by a short atrium – it was formerly the parish church of the abbey's subjects.
Essen Minster is noted for its treasury, which among other treasures contains the Golden Madonna, the oldest fully sculptural figure of Mary north of the Alps.
The modern Essen Minster is the third church building on this site. The first church on this site was erected by the founders of the Essen Abbey, Bishop Altfrid and Gerswid, according to tradition the first abbess of the order, between 845 and 870. It was destroyed in a fire in 946, which is recorded in the Cologne Annals.
The individual stages of next construction are uncertain. The new parts, presumably built at the order of the abbesses Agana and Hathwig, were an outer crypt, a westwork and a narthex and an external chapel of St John the Baptist. This building can be reconstructed from archaeological finds and did not have a long existence, because a new church was erected, perhaps under the art loving Abbess Mathilde, but maybe only under Abbess Theophanu (r. 1039–1058). Possibly, a new building was begun under Mathilde and completed under Theophanu. Significant portions survive from the new Ottonian building.
The next extension of the church complex was an attachment to the southern transept in the 12th century. The upper floor of this very large building contained the sectarium, where the order's papers and acts were kept and which also served as the treasury chamber. Underneath it was the open hall, which was closed at a later time and was used for judicial purposes by the court.
In 1275, the Ottonian church burnt down, with only the westwork and the crypt surviving. In the rebuild the architect combined aspects of the old church with the new Gothic style. The whole new building was consecrated on the 8th of July, probably of 1316.
In the 18th century, the church was transforme in the Baroque style. In the interior a large part of the old interior decoration was removed and replaced, so that only a few pieces of the gothic decoration have survived, which are no longer in their proper context. In 1880 the fashionable view of the gothic as the uniquely German architectural style reached Essen and the baroque additions were undone, as far as possible.
The Minster caught fire and suffered heavy damage in the bombing raid of Royal Air Force in 1943. The rebuilding was begun in 1951.
The Minster possesses a Cathedral Treasury, which is open to the public. The most important treasure of the church, the Golden Madonna, has been found in the northern side chapel since 1959. This is the oldest fully sculptured statue of Mary, the patron saint of the diocese, in the world. The 74 cm high figure of gilded poplar, dates from the period of the abbess Mathilde and depicts Mary as a heavenly queen, holding power over the Earth on behalf of her son. The figure, which was originally carried in processions, was probably placed in Essen because of Mathilde's relationship to the Ottonian dynasty. The figure, which is more than a thousand years old, was comprehensively restored in 2004.
In the centre of the westwork the monumental Seven-arm candelabrum now stands, which the Abbess Mathilde had made between 973 and 1011. The candelabrum, 2.26 metres high with a span of 1.88 metres is composed of 46 individual cast bronze pieces. The candelabrum symbolises the unity of the Trinity and the Earth with its four cardinal points and the idea of Christ as the light of the World, which will lead the believers home at the Last Judgement (Book of Revelation).
Other remarkable items in the Cathedral treasury include the so-called Childhood Crown of Otto III, four Ottonian processional crosses, the long-revered Sword of Saints Cosmas and Damian, the cover of the Theophanu Gospels, several gothic arm-reliquaries, the largest surviving collection of Burgundian fibulae in the world and the Great Carolingian Gospels.References:
The Château Comtal (Count’s Castle) is a medieval castle within the Cité of Carcassonne, the largest city in Europe with its city walls still intact. The Château Comtal has a strong claim to be called a 'Cathar Castle'. When the Catholic Crusader army arrived in 1209 they first attacked Raymond-Roger Trencavel's castrum at Bèziers and then moved on to his main stronghold at Carcassonne.
The castle with rectangular shape is separated from the city by a deep ditch and defended by two barbicans. There are six towers curtain walls.
The castle was restored in 1853 by the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. It was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1997.