Magdeburg Cathedral

Magdeburg, Germany

Magdeburg Cathedral is the oldest Gothic cathedral in Germany. It is the proto-cathedral of the former Prince-Archbishopric of Magdeburg. The 100m high steeples make it one of the tallest cathedrals in eastern Germany. The cathedral is the landmark of Magdeburg and also home to the grave of Emperor Otto I the Great.

The first church built in 937 at the location of the current cathedral was an abbey called St. Maurice, dedicated to Saint Maurice. It was financed by Emperor Otto I the Great, who was also buried to the church. The entire cathedral was destroyed on Good Friday in 1207 by the fire. The current cathedral was constructed over the period of 300 years starting from 1209, and the completion of the steeples took place only in 1520. Despite being repeatedly looted, Magdeburg Cathedral is rich in art, ranging from antiques to modern art. The old crypt has been excavated and can be visited by the public.

In 1631, during the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648) Magdeburg was raided, and only a small group of 4000 citizens survived the murdering, raping, and looting by seeking refuge in the cathedral. The cathedral survived the fires in the city. However, as Tilly's catholic forces left Magdeburg, the cathedral was completely looted, and its colorful windows were shot out.

In 1806 Magdeburg was given to Napoleon, and the cathedral was used for storage, and also as a horse barn and sheep pen. The occupation ended in 1814, and between 1826 and 1834 Frederick William III of Prussia financed the much-needed repairs and reconstruction of the cathedral. The glass windows were all replaced in 1900.

The frequent Allied bombings of World War II completely destroyed the windows of the cathedral. During the heaviest firebombing on January 16, 1945, one bomb hit the cathedral on the west side, destroying the wall, the organ, and some other parts of the building. Fortunately, the fire brigades were able to extinguish the flames on the roof structures in time, so damage to the cathedral was only moderate. The cathedral was opened again in 1955.

Architecture

The current cathedral was constructed over a period of 300 years starting from 1209, and the completion of the steeples took place only in 1520. Unlike most other Gothic cathedrals, Magdeburg Cathedral does not have flying buttresses supporting the walls. The layout of the cathedral consists of one nave and two aisles, with one transept crossing the nave and aisles.

A secondary building around a large non-rectangular cloister is connected to the south side of the cathedral. The cloister, whose south wall survived the fire of 1207 and is still from the original church, was parallel to the original church. Yet, the current church was constructed at a different angle, and hence the cloister is at an odd angle with the church.

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Address

Am Dom 1, Magdeburg, Germany
See all sites in Magdeburg

Details

Founded: 1209
Category: Religious sites in Germany
Historical period: Hohenstaufen Dynasty (Germany)

Rating

4.6/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Ulughbek Ruzibaev (2 years ago)
Wonderful place! If you came to Magdeburg, you definitely have to visit this Dom.
Flughafenkaiser (2 years ago)
Very beautiful and interesting Cathedral. It was very cold outside in early February and the church has no heating given its chronic shortage of funds. Don't know why , because in Germany because church goers pay "Kirchensteuer" from their salary for upkeep of churches it seems strange that the money does not reach the upkeep of the church. Despite this, it is well worth the visit to absorb the medieval athmosphere this East German church offers.
David Eagleton (2 years ago)
We missed a train connection and had 4 hours to spend. I had no idea at the historical significance of this spot. It is worth finding if you have the opportunity.
Amanda Llorens (3 years ago)
The cathedral is impressive with its height and also the exhibition in the back of the Jewish persecution. That's another reason why the cathedral is worth a visit.
HL RFareham (3 years ago)
Beautiful. Amazing that she survived the Thirty Years War and the bombing of January 1945. Stunning cathedral. Can be seen from miles away. Dominates the skyline. Highly recommend a visit to the Dom and Magdeburg in general
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Quimper Cathedral

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.