In the east German town of Wittenberg, the Schlosskirche (Castle- or All Saints’-Church) is one of four sites as part of the town’s status as UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996.
Elector Frederick III of Ernestine Saxony (1463-1525, also known as Frederick the Wise, Friederich der Weise) became the first patron of the Protestant Reformation with his support and defence of Martin Luther. On the site of the original city castle, Frederick the Wise authorized in 1489-1490 a renaissance palace with the entire north wing occupied by the Castle Church. The church was consecrated and inaugurated in 1503 as the castle and university church “Allerheiligen” (All Saints); Martin Luther taught theology as professor at the neighbouring university. The first Protestant service at the Castle Church was held in 1524-1525.
A significant portion of the church including the original wooden doors was burned and destroyed in 1760 during Europe’s Seven Years’ War (1754-1763). The 1770 replacement church was subsequently destroyed in the conflict against France’s Napoleon which ended with the town under Prussian control in 1815. With support and backing by Emperor Wilhelm II, a full renovation of the church took place between 1885 and 1892 with the west tower taking the form and shape we see today (see also below). The graves for Martin Luther, contemporary colleague and fellow reformer Philipp Melanchthon, and Frederick the Wise are inside the church. After three years of renovation and restoration work in time for the Reformation quincentenary in 2017, the Castle Church was reopened in the autumn of 2016.
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As the largest Gothic church in northern Europe, Cologne’s Cathedral gets a lot of love in words and pictures for its size and splendour. But the distinction of oldest Gothic church in Germany goes to Magdeburg. The church is the city’s landmark and the church’s benefactor is part of the city’s nickname as “Ottostadt”. The full name of the church is “Dom zu Magdeburg St. Mauritius und Katharina”, or Magdeburg Cathedral of Saints Catherine and Maurice, reflecting the history at this very location since the 10th-century.
Magdeburg Cathedral is important because:
- it’s the burial place for Otto the Great, the first German Holy Roman Emperor,
- it’s the first church constructed in Gothic style on German soil, and
- it’s the largest consecrated space in east Germany.
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Weimar is a compact town with a large number of buildings as a part of two UNESCO World Heritage Sites. As part of the “Classic Weimar” World Heritage listing, Herderplatz (Herder Plaza) in the northern part of the city’s old town is known most for the church with two spires and a dark grey roof. This is the Stadtkirche (City Church), known also the Church of Saint Peter and Paul.
The church dates to the middle of the 13th-century AD (CE) when town and charter were first established, although a settlement in the area goes further back to the beginning of the 10th-century AD. Built initially as late-Gothic and redesigned as Baroque, and what fires and war bombing couldn’t destroy, several phases of rebuilding and renovations were completed in 1953, 1977, and 2000.
Johannes Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) was German philosopher, writer, and theologian. From 1776 until his death, he lived and worked in Weimar as General Superintendent for the Saxon-Weimar Duchy, Court Chaplain, member of the church advisory council, and President of the Supreme Consistory. For his service to the city’s people and contributions to German philosophy and literature, and as the site of his burial, the church is also known as Herderkirche (Herder Church).
The Cranach Altar is an important testament to the history of the Reformation in the state of Thuringia. The triptych was started by Lucas Cranach the Elder in 1552, and continued by his son, Lucas Cranach the Younger, in 1554. Completed in 1555, the entire piece was installed over the main church altar by 1557. The paintings include portraits of Lucas Cranach the Elder and Martin Luther, and centre around “Christus am Kreuz” (Christ’s crucifixion). Christ’s blood streams out and touches Cranach the Elder’s forehead, symbolizing a direct relationship between God and people without the need for or the intercession of priests; more here.
Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1472-1553.
Martin Luther, 1483-1546.
Lucas Cranach the Younger, 1515-1586.
Johannes Gottfried Herder, 1744-1803.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1749-1832.
Friedrich Schiller, 1759-1805.
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