Mainz Cathedral

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Things to do


Date of travel

August, 2016

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The red sandstone Cathedral towers above the Market Place and represents the high point of Romanesque Cathedral architecture in Germany. Although much of the city was destroyed by Allied bombing during the Second World War, the cathedral escaped damage apart from the roof.

A cathedral was built here in the C10th but was destroyed by fire. The present building dates from the beginning of the C11th and it was the largest building church on the Rhine. German Kings and Queens were crowned here. Only the small round towers at the east end and the bronze north door survive from this building as the rest was again destroyed by fire at the end of the C11th.

Rebuilding began in the C12th with the east end followed by the nave, St Gotthard’s Chapel (recognisable from the outside by its paler coloured stone) and then the west end.

In the C13th the cloisters were rebuilt and Gothic chapels along the outer walls of the side walls were added. The city nobility donated the altars, giving them the right to be buried in front of them.

The west tower was replaced in the C18th after being struck by lightning. By the C19th the cathedral was in a poor state of repair and there was a massive restoration project. This included strengthening the foundations, replacing the east tower by a neo-Gothic tower and building a new crypt under the east choir. The wall paintings above the arches of the nave arcade date from then.

The cathedral is unusual as it has two choirs. The reason for this is not entirely clear, although there is a suggestion that two choirs were very common in parts of Germany from the C8th to C11th. The two are very different in style. The east choir dedicated to St Stephen is Upper Rhine in style. The west choir dedicated to St Martin is similar to churches of the Lower Rhine and the walls are covered with elaborate memorials.

Entry to the cathedral is through the north door from the Market Place. This is a simple Romanesque doorway with God in Majesty on the tympanum. The bronze door with the massive lion head handles dates from the early C11th building.

Inside, the cathedral has the WOW factor. Every pillar of the massive arcade separating the nave from the side aisles has carved statues of elector prince bishops. Their badges are displayed in the stained glass windows in the aisles.

The paintings above tall arches separating nave and side aisles, date from the C19th restoration and show the life and work of Christ.

The side aisles are lined with Gothic altars, all have impressive reredos.

St Gotthard’s Chapel off the north transept was the Archiepiscopal Chapel and is pure Romanesque architecture. Four massive square pillars support an upper storey entered from the Bishop’s Palace. The Bishop and his retinue sat here.

The Romanesque crypt beneath the west choir contains a gold reliquary box containing the relics of C14th saints.

The cloisters are off the south side of the Cathedral and at the far end is the Diocesan Museum housing a collection of religious art, including reliquaries and medieval sculpture.

The Cathedral is open daily from 9-6.30 in the summer and 6-3.30 during the winter months. It is definitely worth visiting. The English guide book costs €3 but is impenetrable, although does have some nice pictures. There are more pictures “here.”:


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