I was speaking with a friend the other day when she asked me what most inspires me in cities I visit. While it is difficult to limit my inspiration to simply one situation, I explained that I love literally standing in history. That is, I like not only seeing history but feeling its pulse, its energy. Any place can make me feel this energy -- anything from an old lane to a palace garden and anything in between -- so long as it was in some way monumental. And, by standing in that space, I can not only see but feel the energy of that history.
Basically, this energy is what happens to me when I stand contemplating the life of a space -- all the good and bad times through which it has lived.
Ultimately, the discussion with my friend evolved into a discussion about Germany's many grand cathedrals. Because those are spaces that almost always inspire me, and standing in the midst of any one of them gives me an undeniable buzz.
So, here's my list of three fantastic cathedrals in HHOG's cities and just a sample of what I am thinking about when I stand in awe of them.
ERFURT CATHEDRAL: St Mary's Cathedral
Anyone following my German travels knows that it is very easy for me to
talk about Erfurt. It’s a city whose genuine charm makes it absolutely dear to
my heart. And while I could literally babble on for hours about the city,
whenever I mention Erfurt to someone new, I usually start by detailing the merits of
its grand cathedral.
In existence since around the 14th century, this particular cathedral is one for the world
history books. Martin Luther was ordained in the Erfurt Cathedral in 1507, after
living in Erfurt for nearly a decade as a student. And it was upon becoming a
priest that he went on to his most notable accomplishments.
Also worth noting is the fact that when you wander into the
cathedral, you will likely hear its powerful organ music. Behind that music
will quite likely be Silvius von Kessel, or one of his students. To say his
music is impressive would be a criminal understatement. Mr. von Kessel, the
current Organ Master in Residence at Erfurt Cathedral, gained his training at Notre Dame de Paris and is one of Germany’s
foremost Bach experts.
Much of Bach's direct family lived in the Erfurt area -- his
parents having even married in Erfurt -- so many Bach family members have been associated with Erfurt Cathedral. So, clearly, listening
to organ music here is an experience all its own.
On a lighter note, if you like fairytale settings, you cannot beat the Erfurt
Christmas Market in front of Erfurt Cathedral. In fact, friends viewing my
Erfurt Christmas photos almost always comment that the setting -- Erfurt
Cathedral’s beautiful night lighting -- is so stunning that 'Disneyland would
be jealous.' I agree. Trust me, Christmas at Erfurt Cathedral is a must see! With or without snow, it’s my favorite
Christmas Market in all of Germany simply for its picturesque location. (I
should clarify: ALL of HHOG’s other cities boast wonderful Christmas Markets.
For me, though, Erfurt’s is the most “picture perfect.” Closer to Christmas,
I’ll devote another entire post to all of HHOG’s great Christmas markets.)
TRIER CATHEDRAL: Cathedral of Saint Peter
Any talk of Germany’s impressive cathedrals would not be complete without
mention of the oldest cathedral in the country. Trier Cathedral is said to
have been begun around 314, when it was first mentioned during Constantine the
Great’s reign, a time when he was building the city up as the capital of the
Roman Empire (outside of Rome). A small excavation site at the base of the church testifies
to the age of the cathedral’s foundation. Over the year’s, the building expanded to
include four basilicas, a baptistery, and numerous other connected structures. As a
result, this complex became one of the largest church complexes of the 4th
century. Subsequent remodels, reconstructions and additions have been added to
this already massive structure. Now, as you wander around, the many seams where these
various stages in history intersect are not only highly unusual but also inspiring visual reminders of Trier Cathedral's epic life.
Not surprisingly, in 1986, Trier Cathedral became a part of Trier’s UNESCO
World Heritage listing.
Trier Cathedral is also the stuff of legends. According to legend, Constantine
the Great’s mother, Helena, discovered the “Holy Robe” during a trip to the
Holy Land in roughly 328. She then had the robe transferred back to Trier (then called Augusta Treverorum). While
some parts of the story -- the robe's origin along with how and when it arrived in Trier -- are controversial and heavily debated by historians,
the fact remains that to
this very day this supposedly historical robe is stored at Trier Cathedral, contained in an altar that was consecrated on May 1, 1196, by Archbishop
Johann I of Trier. Thousands of devoted worshipers from all over the world make pilgrimages to Trier every year simply because of this "Holy Robe."
While I am not personally highly religious, I do not have to be to appreciate the incredible history of these structures. And the sheer magnitude of the Trier Cathedral as well as the depth of its storied history -- so clearly evident in its highly
varied construction -- could surely awe even the greatest cynics in the crowd.
FREIBURG CATHEDRAL: Freiburger Münster
The story of Freiburg Cathedral is one of astonishingly intricate details, and of astounding strength and resilience.
Before even entering the cathedral, you'll be floored by the layers of details just in the entrance archway.
And virtually all of this incredible structure, which happens to be the only Gothic church tower in
Germany that was completed in the Middle Ages, survived the November 1944
bombings when nearly all of the buildings surrounding it crumbled to the
ground. Thanks to someone’s great foresight, the windows were taken out of the
spire so that they would not suffer any vibrational damage. Consider this: one of the
special qualities of theses windows is that some of them are red… and this red color
is not from dye but rather from the phenomenal result of suspended solid gold nano-particles
within the glass.
Today, Freiburger Münster is so near and dear to Freiburgers that they established an
organization to look after its well-being. The Freiburger Münsterbauverein
("Freiburg Association for the Structure of the Minster") invests
several million Euros each year in building maintenance.
In 2011, the reigning Pope excited locals with a personal visit to Freiburg Cathedral.