My church is taller than yours

I always thought this “nanny, nanny who’s got the tallest building in the world” game began when New York built the Empire State Building a little bit higher than the Chrysler Building and then Chicago built the Sears (now Willis) Tower to be higher than the Empire State Building. The title went back to New York for awhile with the World Trade Center but then Chicago decided to make the antenna on the Sears Tower a bit higher. More recently the tallest building in the world honors have gone overseas to Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, Taipei, Mecca and now Dubai.

But then my wife and I went on a cruise down the Rhine River and we discovered that this game has been going on for more than a thousand years along the Rhine and elsewhere in Christian Europe with the building of cathedrals. The competition of who has the highest church often pitted bishop versus bishop and sometimes country versus country. And after the Protestant Reformation of the 1500s it became religion versus religion.

On Sunday afternoon, May 13, 2012, we climbed aboard the Avalon Felicity in Basel, Switzerland and began our cruise down the Rhine. On Monday morning we found ourselves in France and we toured the Cathedrale Notre Dame-de-Strasbourg, also known as the Strasbourg Cathedral.

The Strasbourg Cathedral dominates the city. That’s our tour guide in the white shirt waving a white sheet of paper. We are about two blocks away from the cathedral.

It took 700 years to build the cathedral and so it is a mixture of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architectures. From 1647 until 1874 it was the tallest building on earth (142 meters or 466 feet) and it is still the sixth tallest church in the world.

All of our ports of call in the next four days were in Germany, beginning with Speyer where we toured the Imperial Cathedral of Speyer (also known as Kaiser Dom) on Tuesday morning.

The Imperial Cathedral of Speyer, also known as Kaiser Dom, is the largest Romanesque church in the world. It also has the highest Romanesque vault (33 meters or 108 feet).

Speyer Cathedral at the foot of Maximilianstrasse.

We walked down to the end of Maximilianstrasse to see two more churches in Speyer, The Memorial Church of Protestation (Gedachtniskirche) and St Joseph’s Catholic Church. I must admit that I was inspired by the spires of Speyer.

The Memorial Church of Protestation was completed in 1904 and is dedicated to Martin Luther. It is 100 meters high (328 feet) and is the tallest church in the Rhineland-Palatinate. I think it looks a little like the Strasbourg Cathedral, especially its spire.

St Joseph Catholic Church. The Catholics of Speyer decided to build another church kitty-corner to the Memorial Church of Protestation in a more modern style that would look prettier than its Protestant neighbor.

We traveled to Heidelberg on Tuesday afternoon and toured the Castle ruins on the hill above the city and then walked down to visit the Church of the Holy Spirit (Heiliggeistkirche), probably the most famous church in town. For a couple hundred years a wall was built down the middle of the church and Catholics and Protestants shared the building. In 1936 the wall was taken down and the church is now completely Protestant.

The Church of the Holy Spirit (Heiliggeistkirche) from the castle ruins on top of the hill.

The interior of the Church of the Holy Spirit.

Another view of the interior of Heidelberg’s Church of the Holy Spirit (Heiliggeistkirche).

On Wednesday morning we visited the Mainz Cathedral (also called St Martin’s Cathedral or Mainzer Dom) but we skipped visiting churches on our trip to Rudesheim in the afternoon.

Mainz Cathedral (Mainzer Dom). They say that this church is a thousand years old but in actuality there have been many churches on this spot for more than a thousand years. The first cathedral was begun in 975 but completely burned down on the day of its consecration in 1009 when people came to attend Mass carrying torches.

We viewed zillions of castles and churches along the Rhine on Thursday morning (OK, it was more like 41 or 42 castles and about 25 churches) and arrived in Koblenz in the afternoon. Most people think that a cathedral is just a big church; but technically a cathedral has to be the home of a bishop. There are no bishops in this city and so there is no cathedral; but we noticed that one church was recently designated a minor basilica and thought that this was close enough. And so we visited St Kastor’s.

St Castor’s (Kastor’s) in Coblenz (Koblenz).

Interior of St Kastor’s.

On Friday we came to Cologne (Koln),  the largest city on the Rhine, and we were not surprised to hear that this city claimed the largest church on the Rhine, the Cologne Cathedral (Kolner Dom).

Cologne Cathedral (Kolner Dom) is the largest church on the Rhine. Construction began in 1248 and ended in 1880. It was the tallest building in the world from 1880 to 1884 (157.4 meters or 516 feet) and it still has the highest height to width ratio (43.3 meters or 142.2 feet) in the world. It is now only the second tallest church in Germany because the designers of Ulm Munster in Ulm, which is Protestant, wished to have their church taller than Cologne, which is Catholic.

The east side of Cologne Cathedral (the side that faces the Rhine).

The interior of Cologne Cathedral.

Another view of the interior of Cologne Cathedral.

We didn’t tour any more cathedrals on our cruise but we saw a few more on our own as we extended our holiday in the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium for another two weeks.  All in all, it was a fascinating history lesson involving priests and bishops and princes and architects and builders and everyday Christian people who built and maintained and worshiped at these churches during the thousand years between the Middle Ages and the Age of Skyscrapers.

I read the other day that the Saudi Arabians are planning to build a super skyscraper called the Kingdom Tower near Jeddah that will be taller than the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.  And the beat goes on.

About crowcanyonjournal

I am a family man with interests in family history, photography, history and travel.
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