Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Würzburg, Part IV— The Cathedral 1945 - 2008

…And then 1945.

On the night of 16 March 1945 226 Lancaster Bombers of the RAF reduced this magnificent house of God to rubble in 17 minutes. The medieval city center was engulfed in a firestorm which killed 5000 people in as much time. 90% of the city smoldered in ruins. Fortunately, some artwork was preserved— the bell of 1257 which was moved into the crypt, St. Kilian’s Book of Gospels which he brought from Ireland nearly 1300 years before (housed in the University Library) etc. Proportionately, Würzburg was more completely destroyed than Dresden to the east.

In another sickening twist of fate a month later…much of the state and ecclesiastical archives were moved for safekeeping to the castle at Wässerndorf (next to Seinsheim) in the country. Among other things, prosperous segments of the Diocese of Würzburg had kept exquisite and thorough sacramental records dating back to the beginning of the 16th century— exceptionally rare considering the Council of Trent did not mandate this practice until decades later that century. Following the death of an American officer USAF P-47 Thunderbolts firebombed the area and ground troops torched the castle on 5 April 1945. The building burned for days and most records were lost.

In the winter of 1946 most of the remaining sections of the Kiliansdom collapsed. Over the next two decades countless Trümmerfrauen (‘Rubble-women’) carefully rebuilt and replicated much of the historical city.

There were three reconstruction proposals for the cathedral. The winning bid was taken in 1960 and the building was completed in 1967 incorporating what it could of the previous structure. A splendid historically-informed organ by Klais arrived in the gallery in 1969.

The choir was set up as the presbytery, and the cathedra relocated in the apse. The remaining stucco was preserved and renovated, while the flat nave ceiling received modern painting by Fritz Nagel. A bulk of the responsibility and decision making for this courageous and pioneering design came from Bishop Julius Döpfner and builder Hans Schädel. And, finally…the main altar was relocated to the crossing!

As mentioned above, one bell survived WWII— the Lobdeburg bell of 1257. The others melted. In 1965 eleven new bells were cast by Schilling of Heidelberg. The largest bell at nine tons is aptly inscribed: “JESV CHRISTE - SALVATOR MVNDI VENI CVM PACE - ANNO DOMINI MCMLXV” (Jesus Christ - Savior of the world, come in peace - In the year of our Lord 1965). Since 2000 the bells have been controlled by a computerized system.

The last couple decades have seen some additional work: in 1987 Hubert Elsässer added paintings depicting the history of the Faith in Franconia and in 2006 a new bright exterior painting brought the exterior closer to its original color. The cathedral is today a unique mix of Romanesque, Baroque, and Modern elements.

2008 saw the 160th anniversary of the German Bishop’s Conference which first met in Würzburg in 1848 and quite appropriately reconvened there this year. On Monday 12 February more than 70 cardinals, archbishops, and bishops came together for Mass with Karl Cardinal Lehmann in the Kiliansdom. The outgoing Cardinal Chairman offered high praise for the diocese: "Wurzburg is a good place and a home for the Church in our country."

Also this spring eight new bells from the Rudolf Perner foundry of Passau were added, brining the total to 20. The Kiliansdom presently has the largest peal in Germany. It was dedicated on 22 May, this year. Check out this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eveLP_-_KIA

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