St. Peter's Cathedral in Osnabrück is a late Romanesque building and dominates the city's skyline. The first version of St. Peter's Cathedral was built in the year 785, 15 years after the diocese was founded by Charlemagne. The Normans destroyed the church 100 years later, and the present version of the church developed only gradually after a fire around 1100.
The oldest parts of the present-day church are the Romanesque crossing tower, the northern facade and the Romanesque-Gothic west facade. The dome in the middle part of the three-aisled nave is as high as the pillars on which it rests.
The oldest pieces of equipment that have survived to this day are the baptismal font from 1220 and the triumphal cross from 1230. The broken rood screen from 1664 has also survived. Twelve statues received from the Münster sculptor Heinrich Brabender remain preserved to this day, including figures of the Christ and of the Apostles, and also a smaller number of statues received from Duke Erich II of Saxe-Lauenburg, Bishop of Münster. These are on display at the Diocesan Museum of Osnabrück.
Over the centuries, the cathedral changed in appearance - the interior primarily during the Baroque period, to which the altars, figures, and epitaphs bear testimony, and the exterior during the major restoration in 1882-1910 under Alexander Behnes through renovations and building of annexes. During the Second World War the cathedral roof with baroque domes and some church annexes were destroyed by incendiary bombs. The cathedral has since been rebuilt and is still a major attraction for the Christians of the city and the diocese as well as people interested in art history from around the world. The Osnabrück Wheel, which on September 13, 1944 fell from the larger of the towers due to bombing, has been re-erected at the side of the cathedral.
The cloister is attached to the church at south of the nave. It has open pillar-arcades on the remaining three sides. Cushion capitals, which correspond to those in the former west choir of 1140, are present in the east wing. The barrel vault in the eastern part of the cloister features lunettes but no belt bows; the vaults in the south and west wings are supported by belt bows and ogival arches (built in the second quarter of the 13th century). During the Second World War the cloister, which had been walled towards the courtyard, served as an air raid shelter.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.