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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.