Monday, December 22, 2008

Würzburg, Part III— The Cathedral 743 - 1945

Würzburg’s Kiliansdom stands as a lesson in stone— just leave buildings alone, even if you don’t like them. Architectural styles come and go and one often becomes the whipping-boy of the next. In the end, however, a building is a representation of its era. There is no timeless style. Architecture is temporal; it exists in time because it is physical. Having an intact structure as a humanistic record (if not a theological one as well) is far better than well-intended ‘wreck-o-vations’ or just plain out smoldering wrecks. This seems hard for some people to grasp in the US— we have had the luxury of stability and the good fortune of a relatively small span of Western heritage to preserve (a few hundred years on the coasts/southwest and much less for the rest of us). Our complicit lethargy engenders foolish quibbling. A brief turn about Dresden, London, Coventry, etc. anytime in the last 60 years will get one’s priorities in order!

Bishop Burkhard established the first provisional Cathedral of Würzburg at the preexisting Marienburg Church in 743. The first purpose-built cathedral followed four decades later. Bishop Berowelf (episcop. 769 - 800) dedicated the new Cathedral of Christus Salvator in the presence of Charlemagne in 788. The bones of the three city patrons, martyred 100 years before and venerated since papal approval in 752 (when they were found buried in a stable), were moved to the new church.

This Frankish structure was renowned for its size, much like Köln later. Sadly, on 5 June 855 a lightning strike burned down most of the building and a storm three days later caused the remaining walls to collapse. Bishop Arn (855 - 892) built a third cathedral which burned again in 918. This time the fire destroyed numerous liturgical artifacts and documents. Between 855 and 1045 this Carolingian church was redesigned several times.

Under Bishop Bruno (1034 - 1045) the cathedral was redone in 1040 using older parts. Inspired by the work at the Speyer Cathedral the expansion plans included a pair of towers flanking the choir, a reconstruction of the transept, and the building of a larger nave with square twin-towers in the west front as well as a triangular pediment between. Bruno died as a result of an accident at a dinner party during the time of the construction on the choir. He was later canonized.

The crypt was consecrated simultaneous with Bruno’s burial by Bardo, Archbishop of Mainz on 16 June 1045. Bruno's successor Adalbero continued construction until completion 1075. Due to its external dimensions and superb architectural quality the new Cathedral of St. Kilian was one of the most impressive monuments of the time. This Bruno-Adalbero cathedral retained mere fragments of the older church— two of the capitals from the portals were removed to the crypt.

Bishop Embricho (1127 - 1146) charged master builder Enzelin in 1133 to "restore and beautify" the cathedral— especially the roof which was "almost in ruins" (always a problem in big buildings)! Besides the restoration work he extended the west towers and transformed the choir adding vaulted spans which were still preserved under the 18th Century stucco.

Bishop Gottfried von Spitzenberg (1186 - 1190) had three altars built in 1188. Each served a different purpose and effected liturgical segregation. During the high Mass with choir they used main altar; during parish level celebrations they used their own altar. This practice persisted for centuries!

In 1225 Bishop Hermann von Lobdeburg (1225 - 1254) remodeled the eastern section— notably completing a central dome. By 1250 Würzburg’s Cathedral took its final shape.

At 105 meters this building was the fourth largest Romanesque structure in Germany; a masterpiece of Salian architecture.

If the Kiliansdom represented the Romanesque well then it was high time for Gothic! In 1500 the aisles were transformed with rib vaulting with elaborate caps. The middle pediment between the towers of the western front was heightened and crowned in 1507 with a dainty clock.

During the Counter-Reformation in 1610 the city council commissioned Michael Kern to build an elaborate pulpit on southern side of the nave. Under Prince-Bishop Johann Gottfried von Aschhausen (1617 – 1623) the rood screen was removed in 1619.

Then came the Baroque craze in 1701! Previous renovations were nothing compared to this. Prince-Bishop Johann Philipp von Greiffenclau (1699 – 1718) approved several proposals from the Milan-born plasterer and architect Pietro Magno. Michael Rieß and Johann Balthasar engaged numerous renowned artists and craftsmen to the task. They moved the choir from the crossing to the east end and crowned the altar with a wide and rich golden baldachin. The picture is a 1731 proposal by J.L. von Hildebrand. Good Lord!

Between 1879 and 1883 Friedrich Friedreich oversaw a Neo-Romanesque overhaul of the façade, focusing on the gable, pediment, and portals. The photo here comes from a postcard of 1904.

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