Even if you saw photos of the cathedral or even if you looked at the magnificent 360° views of the Kaiserdom virtuell (Imperial Cathedral, virtual) website, nothing will prepare you for what will capture you once you are inside the cathedral. For me this is definitely the grandest and most spiritual of all the churches I know. And yes, even or maybe especially compared to Cologne’s cathedral, St. Peter in Rome, Basilica San Marco in Venezia and a great many of the finest baroque and rococo churches in southern Bavaria. Maybe it is the splendid ratios of the building elements, the coloured sandstone, the few decorations – this cathedral captures everyone who enters. This is my experience with the many friends and former colleagues I took here until this day. In one of the books about the cathedral (written by the former cathedral dean Bruno Thiebes) I have read that the builders have used the golden ratio as well as Christian number symbolism. The length of the central nave is for example 444 (Roman) feet long, or 4 x 111 feet: 4 symbolising the length of human life on earth. For the height, for example the pillars separating the central from the side naves, the number 50 was used: 50 feet from ground to the middle capitals, 50 feet from there to the little windows: Pentecost is the 50th day after Resurrection of Christ. And then it is the numbers 6 and 12 who reappear: 12 pillars to each side separate the side naves from the central one, 6 of these have the extra capitals with semi-columns in the middle (the others not, you can see this in my main and the second photo). 12 stands for the 12 Tribes of Israel (Old Testament) and for the church and her fundament, the Twelve Apostles. And 6 symbolises the days of creation. Consequently, the seventh day, the divine rest, is being symbolised with the crossing, which is octagonal: 8 days, where the first and the last is being represented by Sunday.
(There is more symbolism in the choir and transept, but I will explain this in a separate album one day, otherwise I will never ever finish my task to revise my work about Speyer).
When you enter the cathedral, take into consideration that what you see inside is partly the result of an extensive restoration in 20th century. A major part of this was the idea to recreate the original structure as much as possible – the magnificent and mighty Romanesque cathedral. During the rebuilding under the Bavarian Kings in 19th century the cathedral was painted all over inside. This work was done by Johann Baptist Schraudolph, a Bavarian artist. But since his work is honoured in the recently opened Emperor’s Hall, and since his work has somehow a connection to Neuschwanstein Castle, I will cover him, his work and the connection separately. And yes, it is not a typing error: Speyer’s cathedral and Neuschwanstein Castle do have a connection, which I find very fascinating!
Take note of the so-called “Volksaltar”, the congregation altar, which is the one used for daily service. Next to it is the beautiful statue of St. Mary, which is a replica of the original one which was burnt by the French troops in 1794. Above it is an oversized replica of Konrad II’s burial crown, which can be seen in the Historical Museum of the Palatinate.
Walk around, take in the splendid holy atmosphere. Walk around and look at the almost magic symmetry inside the cathedral. I find this especially prominent in the side naves’ western walls (last photo).
April to October: daily from 09:00 to 19:00,
November to March: daily from 09:00 to 17:00,
except during service.
No entrance fee applies for the visit of the cathedral. However, there is an entrance fee for the ones who want to visit crypt, Emperor’s Hall and climb the towers.
Dress appropriately when visiting the Cathedral. Please refrain from screaming and shouting, also make sure that children remain at low level. After all, this is a place of worship.
Location of Speyer’s Imperial Cathedral on Google Maps
© Ingrid D., September 2006 (So please do not copy my text or photos without my permission.). Update December 2013: completely revised text.
Let’s continue our virtual walk through Speyer’s Old Town. On the last pictures, showing Cathedral Plaza, you already might have noticed a beautiful building with a lot of flower boxes in front of the windows.
This is the Stadthaus, or town house, built around 1720 by Palatine master builder Breunig in late Baroque style. It was here, where the city fathers had residence in 18 and 19th century. Nowadays it is Speyer’s district administration.
If you continue your walk into Maximilianstrasse, you’ll see its gorgeous southern façade with beautiful sculptures and the coat of arms of Kingdom of Bavaria above the impressive main entrance portal (photo 2). The sculptures are made of sandstone and represent field work (photo 3), industry (photo 4), craftsmanship (photo 5) and education.
Update May 2008:
The façade facing the Cathedral (= the one in my main photo) is currently being renovated and scaffolded. Sorry - Euromeet VTers who will join the Speyer tour cannot see it in the full glory :-(
Take your time before entering the cathedral through the main portal and admire the magnificent work of Heinrich Hübsch in the porch, called Großes Paradies or Great or Big Paradise. It is reference to the paradise we reach when we walk through the door into the cathedral. But like the western façade it is also reference to the Austrian-Bavarian rulers who have commissioned this work mid 19th century.
First of all the colour scheme, red, yellow and beige sandstone bricks with beautiful patterns, is being repeated here. Two cenotaphs to the left and right side refer to the powerful rulers of Holy Roman Empire: Adolf, King of Germany and Rudolf I of Germany, both are buried in the cathedral crypt. All eight rulers who are buried in the crypt are also represented by statues in the wall niches. And above these, in the arches, are busts of seven rulers who were benefactors for the cathedral: Charlemange and Dagobert I (rulers of the days before Holy Roman Empire), Otto I as the founder of Holy Roman Empire, Rupert (both emperors of HRE), Austrian emperor Franz Joseph Iand the Bavarian rulers of Palatinate King Ludwig I and King Max II. This is a fascinating “reading” in my opinion and characterises the importance of Speyer’s cathedral during the many centuries very well.
Above the entrance portal is the first of once many frescoes of Bavarian artist Johann Schraudolph. In a way it is the beginning and the end of the description of the cathedral, which is devoted to Mary, mother of Jesus. And it is also a repetition of the statues and their reference to the cathedral which are on the western facade: Saint Stephanus and Bernhard de Clairvaux sit to the left of Mother Mary while St. John the Baptist is on her right. Archangel St. Michael is missing, but instead Schraudolph did something which is widespread among many artists: he painted himself to the right of St. John the Baptist. Although my photo (no 2) zooms in the scene, a better image of this fresco is in Wikipedia. Compared to the real image of Schraudolph, it is easy to identify him in this fresco. He is the only one without gloriole.
Compared to the hall, the entrance portal is quite new, of 1971. It shows the mysteries of Christian stories – the good herdsman and symbols of the seven sacraments.
Location of Kaiserdom/Imperial Cathedral, Great Paradise, on Google Maps
© Ingrid D., June 2006 (So please do not copy my text or photos without my permission.). Update November 2013: completely revised text.
Like for all churches in the Middle Ages also the main entrance of Speyer’s Imperial Cathedral faces west – while the apse faces east, to pray in the direction of the rising sun and let the interior be illuminated by the setting sun.
The western portal is very impressive, especially if one steps back and takes in the whole ensemble: built in red, yellowish and beige sandstone, with beautiful patterns. These alternating colours of the sandstone, as far as I have read, were typical for the Salian period. But remember that this western facade and the porch are a result of Heinrich Hübsch’s redesign mid 19th century, but based on the cathedral’s original exterior in 11th century. This redesign was commissioned by Bavarian King Ludwig I and Austrian Franz Joseph I (husband of Sisi) with the wish to create also a monument to the German Empire.
It has three entrance portals, the middle one being the largest, and I have read that this should represent the portals of New Jerusalem in the Apocalypse of St. John: twelve entrance portals, three to each side of the compass. Above the central, the middle, entrance are five statues representing the patron saints of the cathedral. From left to right: St. Stephanus (to whom the cathedral is dedicated to), Archangel Michael (as patron saint of the Holy Roman Empire and later of Germany), Mother Mary (as mother of Christ and because the cathedral is dedicated to her too), St. John the Baptist (because Speyer’s cathedral is the baptistery of the diocese) and Bernard de Clairvaux (in memory of his sermon at Christmas 1146, where he tried to convince the emperor to follow the crusades). The keystone below St. Mary, a double-headed eagle, is a sign for the Austrian Empire (see above).
Above these three statues is the magnificent rose window, with Christ in the middle, as the centre of the whole creation. In the corners of the surrounding square are the Four Evangelists, each represented by his symbol: Matthew by the angel, Mark by the lion, Luke by the ox and John by the eagle.
Also note the beautiful arches of the main entrance portal: on their impost rest statues which hold palm leaves. One of them has a special meaning, but that is a story for the local customs section
(BTW, what you might perceive as a failure in the picture is a fine golden coloured lattice laid over the rose window and the statues to keep away the pigeons).
Location of Kaiserdom/Imperial Cathedral, western portal on Google Maps
© Ingrid D., June 2006 (So please do not copy my text or photos without my permission.). Update November 2013: completely revised text.
Speyer's Imperial Cathedral is not only a historical landmark for the town but it also dominates the town and adds a very impressive atmosphere of splendour and history.
Salian Konrad II started construction of the cathedral in 1030 and dedicated it to Saint Mary and Saint Stephen. The first consecration took place in 1061. The cathedral went through several construction and reconstruction phases over the time, either as a result of demonstration of imperial power by the kings and emperors or destruction after wars. Especially the War of Palatinate Succession, initiated by French King Louis XIV and the French Revolution turned the cathedral partly in rubble. Following the latter, the cathedral should be completely demolished and Speyer’s diocese should be dissolved and integrated into the one of Mainz. Luckily, Mainz’s bishop could convince Napoleon that the cathedral has an important cultural meaning, so it was given back to Speyer’s Catholic inhabitants in 1806. It took a while until restoration of both interior and exterior was started, thanks to Bavarian King Ludwig I (grandfather of King Ludwig II, who commissioned Neuschwanstein Castle). Luckily, it was decided to restore its Romanesque origin, so that the overall impression today is quite homogeneous and grand. I highly recommend visiting the Historical Museum of the Palatinate to learn more about these building phases in general and about these reconstructions in photos, descriptions and boards with audio-visual information.
The ancient builders were masters indeed and have even developed new concepts in context to the enlargement of the cathedral: a dwarf gallery (photos 4 and 5). As far as I have read, this type of exterior decoration and static element was used by the builders here for the first time, and later brought to Italy, like at San Michele in Lucca. The gallery is leading around the whole cathedral, the pillars are approx. 3 metres high, almost unbelievable when you stand at the bottom of the cathedral and look up. But this dimension gives one a good feeling of the monumentality of the whole building. Photo 5 though might lead to wrong assumptions: the gallery is not open to the public. But we were lucky when we have booked a private tour through the cathedral: we were allowed to walk up there, but could not get onto the gallery, because peregrine falcons were nesting there.
Nowadays the surrounding of the cathedral is not urbanised; the buildings once part of the complex in the Middle Ages were never rebuilt. But it is surrounded by trees and lawns which all add to the light and airy feeling. It lets one understand the original idea of Konrad II, to build the grandest cathedral in Christendom at that time. To me that is what it is still today.
However, on the cathedral ground are some remains of the former building phases, such as the large statue of Mount of Olives (Ölberg), and a part of the old town wall, the so-called Heidetürmchen. Also, tucked in a corner are monuments to the founders of the cathedral: the Salian Kings and . But let us leave these for later – first it is time to see more of the cathedral.
Location of Kaiserdom/Imperial Cathedral on Google Maps
© Ingrid D., Sept. 2006 (So please do not copy my text or photos without my permission.). Update November 2013: revised text.
In the 19th century the artist Johannes Schraudolph and his atelier were commissioned to add heavy neo-Romanesque decorative paintings and historical panels in the interior of the church. These were largely removed in and after 1957 as part of the restoration of the cathedral to its original form. Some of these painted walls were carefully removed and transferred across the square to the Musem and are on display today. If you see the relocated panels, you will get a good idea of how much work went into removing and transporting them safely.
A series of beautiful paintings depicting the life of Mary are a feature around the sides of the nave of the Cathedral.
I've been putting off writing about Speyer Cathedral as, to be quite honest, I don't know where to start! Well here goes:
For three centuries the Cathedral was the burial place for the German emperors. The Romanesque Basilica was considered to be one of the most important monuments which emerged from the Roman Empire. It boasts four towers and two domes and dates back to the 11th century. Towards the end of the 12th century it was remodelled. It is regarded as an important work of Romanesque art.
There are a number of churches and cathedrals in Germany today which feature a gallery encircling the entire exterior, however this same feature in the Speyer Cathedral was the first of its kind, as were a number of arcades which together with the gallery, were added during the reign of Henry !V.
As is often the case in Europe, the cathedral stands in pride of place in the main square facing down the main street of the city and along with its close neighbour the Museum of Speyer, it makes for a very majestic and imposing sight.
I have already referred to this statue as that of St James the Apostle who walked to Santiago de Compostela almost two thousand years ago thus giving birth to a time honoured tradition which is still popular today. In many towns and cities in Europe you can see statues similar to this or images of scallop shells (the pilgrim's symbol of the Camino). These are all places that over many centuries were passed through by pilgrims making their way to Santiago de Compostela.
To be perfectly honest, I can't say for sure if this is indeed a statue of St James or simply an image of a pilgrim heading for the Camino. Today it is most common for the pilgrimage to start near the French Spanish border in the area of St Jean Pied de Port at the foot of the Pyrenees in the south west of France or Ronscavelles on the Spanish side of the same mountains. I find it extremely exciting to discover some of the far removed places all over Europe where in centuries gone by, it was common to begin the momentous trek. What an adventure!
I know, it is quite unfair to place this as a tip for Speyer, as only once a year it can be done – nevertheless, it is a breathtaking experience:
Once a year (Heritage Day, 2nd Sunday in Spetember), the Cathedrals’ officials open the towers to the public and offer guided tours onto the very top of the church. When I was here in 2006, this was quite a crowded affair and I decided to check the crowds at the proposed last entry time (16:30). I was lucky to have not only not that much masses with me, but also a guide, who spent more time with us than with the previous groups. He was extremely knowledgeable, pictured the Cathedrals’ history in a very colorful and funny way. We could see the central nave from as high as the organists’ point (photo 1) – very much impressive ! I felt as if I could touch the huge Schraudolph paintings (photo 2), and their dimension became quite obvious from this point high above.
Then we were lead on top of the central nave’s roof, all covered by wooden planks to walk on (photo 3). This was also a very exciting moment, to be aware that I was walking on and could touch such old constructions ! We were lead to the east and continued our climbs, into the Eastern Towers for exceptional views of Speyer and it’s surroundings (photos 4 and 5).
Given the perfect weather on that Sunday, it will always be an unforgettable memory.
BTW: admission fee was 3 € (September 2006).
Update, October 2012:
Fantastic news! Speyer's officials made an announcement: the King's Hall, the room above "Paradise" is now renovated and nine additional frescoes of Schraudolph adorn the walls. Moreover, from there one can climb the southern west tower up to a viewing platform. Open though only from April to November (closed in winter).
Mon - Sat: 9.00 - 17.00 Uhr (last admission: 16.00)
Sun & holidays: 12.00 - 17.00 Uhr (last admission: 16.00).
Tickets for King's Hall and tower can be purchased at the ticket centre inside the cathedral.
adults: 6 Euro,
kids and teens until 18 and handicapped people: 3 Euro,
families with kids: 15 Euro
The Stadthaus or Town House stands on the square in front of the Imperial Cathedral. It is a very attractive building which is now used by the government for various reasons. It is beautifuuly presented with lots of lovely window boxes full of red flowers. It also features some very interesting carvings.
Looking towards the Cathedral near the right wall stands a beautiful sculpture known as the Mount of Olives. At one time the sculpture was located amidst the cloisters of the cathedral in the 15th century but was destroyed and later recreated by Gottfried Renn, a renowned Speyer sculptor, in the 19th century. It was relocated to the south side of the cathedral.
In front of the cathedral stands the Domnapf. This is a huge bowl or font which has a capacity of 1560 litres of water. It was originally used to mark the division between the municipality of Speyer and the Catholic diocese. Apparently there were differing laws applying to both sides and the font made a clear distinction between the two.
Just across from the cathedral stands the Bishop's House which is bedecked with fresh flowers and bears the insignia of the Bishop in residence.
The interior of the Protestant church is mind boggling to say the least. This was one of the first buildings to be replaced after a fire during the Nine Years War seriously damaged much of the city.
The rich gold trimmings and beautiful paintings and frescoes have to be seen to be truly appreciated.
The pulpit and organ are both important features of the interior design and the nave as a whole is truly magnificent.
The best description I can give about this church is that it is magnificently sumptuous. A real eye opener. It is a 300 year old baroque gem and its rich, dark opulent interior stopped me in my tracks. i was bowled over.
Apart from being able to enjoy the magnificence of this place of worship, you can also enjoy some really sensational organ music if you are lucky enough, as I was, to be in Speyer on a particular Saturday at around 11am when such a recital is happening. Entrance is free, but I can assure you that you will feel compelled to place an offering in the box on your way out to show your appreciation.
Maximilian Street (Maximilianstrasse in German) is the pedestrian area in the heart of Speyer. It starts at the Speyer cathedral and ends at Altpörtel (Old City Gate). There's almost always something fun happening on Maximilianstrasse, so there will never be a boring minute. A large number of street festival are held there, to name just a few: the famous Pretzel Festival, the Emperor's Dinner (usually held in the summer), the Farmer's Market (fall), Christmas Market (winter - you guessed it), plus boatloads (or should I say bicycleloads because in addition to pedestrians the street is open to cyclists) of other festivals, for example open-air concerts, and so on.
If you happen to visit on one of the few "regular" days without anything special going on (although the regular days ought to be the festival days, lol), I guarantee that you still won't be bored, as there are many nice street cafés and small restaurants begging the hungry and thirsty traveler to sit down, rest, eat, drink, and watch the happy and colorful crowd drift by on foot, bicycle, roller-blades, or in strollers. Maximilianstrasse is an absolute must when you're in Speyer. It's a great place to be, especially during fine weather.
Our man Jorg had keys for everything. We were in rooms, out of crypts, up and down dizzying staircases. At times I had to remind myself just where I was.
The whole tour took 3 hours. When was the last time you were in a church for three hours and never heard a sermon or an organ? Information was forthcoming at such a rate I only managed to glean a small portion of it. Just as well Trekki's got it covered in her pages!
I was fascinated by the slabs on the stairs with Roman writing. There was no great mystery. The Christians simply used their funary slabs, slightly reshaped, as stairs.
We climbed through the bell tower. I was getting excited. We were going to get to the very top and I would get unique views over Speyer.
Sadly, my hopes were dashed when we came to a sign that said you weren't permitted to go any further due to nesting peregrine falcons. It was one of the few times in my life I wished some wildlife would just go away.
Still, we got to walk in the ceiling and see some of the places few other get to.