Germany News

Can Germany’s history of fire-ravished cathedrals offer hope to Notre-Dame?

Nearly every town and city has a place of worship devastated over the past millennia – we know of several early timber cathedrals that were utterly destroyed by marauders or lightning strikes in the early medieval period.

Poor Bremen was unfortunate enough to lose two cathedrals completely to war and lightning strikes – one of stone – before something that lasted was erected.

Bremen's Cathedral, which was burned down twice before being built in its current form today. Photo: DPA

Wars and accidents in the Middle Ages

Perhaps more significant was the blaze that consumed Cologne's cathedral in 1248 during construction work. As part of rebuilding part of the nave (the central part of the church), unwisely perhaps, fire was actually used to demolish and clear its second half – ironically to avoid demolishing it.

Predictably, the flames burned out of control, leaving a smouldering ruin. It was only through sheer bravery that the cathedral's holiest relic, the shrine of the Three Kings, was saved. The edifice we see today, Gothic in style, is the building begun after the embers had cooled.

Not unexpectedly perhaps, the period of greatest devastation for German churches and cathedrals prior to the Second World War, was the 17th century. The Thirty Years war not only led to the devastation of countless places of worship across the German lands, but depopulation, famine and economic crises led to many fine places of worship falling into disrepair.

Bremen's cathedral – again – experienced a devastating fire in 1660, two decades or so after losing one of its towers to a collapse. Speyer's cathedral was pillaged in 1689 and set alight by the French, resulting in the destruction of almost half the building.

Speyer's cathedral, situated in the southwest state of Rhineland-Palitinate and today an UNESCO World Heritage site. Photo: DPA

In 1662, Passau's cathedral was completely razed by flames, leading to the impressive edifice we see today. Consequently, the latter half of the century led to a boom in grand new baroque edfices, as decrepit, decaying churches could no longer remain standing.

Hit hard by the Second World War

Built, as they were, near large population centres, German churches were greatly endangered by bombing campaigns during the Second World War. In retaliation for the devastation caused in the English city of Coventry in late 1940, RAF bombers would use incendiary devices on urban centres during the remaining years of the war – churches caught in the inferno.

Perhaps the most well-known of the churches lost to wartime firestorms was the Dresdner Frauenkirche, devastated on February 13th, 1945. The stark ruins of the church were left as a memorial to the horrors of war by the GDR for decades, before the church was reconstructed in a mammoth construction, completed in 2005.

Alongside the ruined Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church on Berlin's Kurfürstendamm, another church devastated by sustained bombing was the city's cathedral. In 1944, an incendiary device lodged in the lantern – the cathedral's highest point atop the dome. Firefighters couldn't reach it, and subsequently much of the dome collapsed, leaving the church unusable for some time.

In Stuttgart, the city's magnificent Stiftskirche was another victim of allied bombs in July 1944. Fire engulfed the building as a combination of explosive and and incendiary devices rained down upon the city. A further raid later that year, in September, would flatten what remained. Luckily, however, many treasured statues were saved, and they take pride of place in the reconRead More – Source

[contf] [contfnew]

the local de

[contfnewc] [contfnewc]

Related Articles