UNESCO World Heritage Site #225: St Mary’s Cathedral and St Michael’s Church at Hildesheim

UNESCO World Heritage Site #225: St Mary’s Cathedral and St Michael’s Church at Hildesheim
UNESCO World Heritage Site #225: St Mary’s Cathedral and St Michael’s Church at Hildesheim

From the World Heritage inscription:

St Michael’s Church has exerted great influence on developments in architecture. The complex bears exceptional testimony to a civilization that has disappeared. These two edifices and their artistic treasures give a better overall and more immediate understanding than any other decoration in Romanesque churches in the Christian West.

The ancient Benedictine abbey church of St Michael, built between 1010 and 1022 by Bernward, Bishop of Hildesheim, is one of the key monuments of medieval art. Of basilical layout with opposed apses, the church is characterized by its symmetrical design: the east and west choirs are each preceded by a transept which protrudes substantially from the side aisles; elegant circular turrets on the axis of the gable of both transept arms contrast with the silhouettes of the massive lantern towers located at the crossing. In the nave, the presence of square impost pillars alternating in a original rhythm with columns having cubic capitals creates a type of elevation which was prove very successful in Ottonian and Romanesque art.

St Mary’s Cathedral, rebuilt after the fire of 1046, still retains its original crypt. The nave arrangement, with the familiar alternation of two consecutive columns for every pillar, was modelled after that of St Michael’s, but its proportions are more slender.

The church of St Michael and the cathedral contain an exceptional series of elements of interior decoration that together are quite unique for the understanding of layouts used during the Romanesque era. First come the bronze doors dating to 1015, which retrace the events from the book of Genesis and the life of Christ, and the bronze column dating from around 1020, the spiral decor of which, inspired by Trajan’s Column, depicts scenes from the New Testament.

There are some significant things to be found in Hildesheim.

The church of St. Michael (seen in image) was the model that was used by many romanesque churches and cathedrals throughout Germany and Europe.

Like Würzburg Palace, both churches in Hildesheim were gutted by bombs during WWII. The St. Michael’s you see today is very different than the church which existed before the war. Over the centuries, St. Michael’s had parts of the original Romanesque building removed and parts of other styles were incorporated into the design. After the war the decision was made to restore St. Michael’s to its original Romanesque design from the 11th century.

Oddly enough, the wooden ceiling in St. Michael’s is the original wood ceiling. It is a beautiful design that looks like it has undergone serious renovation. In reality, the only work done on it was scrubbing off a layer of grime.

St. Mary’s Cathedral was under renovation when I was there (a common thread in my travels) but the 1,000 year old column, chandelier and bronze doors were all on display in other churches or museums in town. The cathedral is scheduled to reopen on August 15, 2014.