St Marienkirche has perfectly symmetrical north and south sides (four gables and four high Gothic windows on each side). It took us three minutes to walk from the church’s south side on Mrktplatz to Domplatz to visit the Dom or St Peter’s Cathedral, a perfect example of a non-symmetrical half-Romanesque and Half-Gothic church. This was the last stop on our tour of historic Osnabrück with Carol Saint-Clair.
The Romanesque tower on the left (northwest) of St Peter’s dates back to the 13th century. I was told that the tower on the right (southwest) was once a twin but needed to be rebuilt in the 16th century in order to hold the heavy bells. So it is a Gothic tower and more than twice as thick as its northwest neighbor.
There are major differences inside the two churches, too. The pleasing color scheme of St Marienkirche — grey-white walls with dark rose organ and pews — contrasts with St Peter’s which is pretty much all beige with golden capitals crowning the pillars. St Marienkirche is also one long hall without transepts but St Peter’s has not only a large transept but also a third tower, called a lantern tower, where the nave and transept cross.
One can trace the existence of Osnabrück to as far back as the year 770 when Charlemagne defeated his Saxon archenemy Widukind nearby and decided to build a Christian settlement along the banks of the Hase River. Fifteen years later the first St Peter’s was built but was destroyed by Normans 100 years later. The church was again rebuilt around 1100. Most of the structure one sees today took place in the 13th century when the church was rebuilt with an octagonal lantern tower around the ruins of the second church’s dome. The slim northwest tower was built during this time. The rose window on the west facade was built in 1305. The late Gothic portal was added in 1531 and the wide Southwest tower was completed in 1543.
Inside the cathedral the baptismal font dates from 1220 and the triumphal cross from 1230. The eight pillars are adorned with statues of apostles dating back to the 16th century. There is no sign of the original altar, however. When the Swedes occupied Osnabrück duing the Thirty Years War they melted down the cathedral’s solid gold altar and minted gold coins to commemorate the death of their ruler King Gustaf Adolf.
The steel bells in the southwest tower were cast in 1954 by the Bochum Association. Click here if you would like to view and listen to the bells.
The church has two organs. The main organ was built by Kuhn Organ Builders of Mannedorf, Switzerland in 2003. It sits below the rose window at the west portal. The second organ is a smaller choir organ built in 1898 by Mutin-Cavaille-Coll and is placed along the north transept wall.
The cloister and courtyard are on the south side of the church. The courtyard is basically a cemetery for clergy associated with the cathedral.
St Peter’s was bombed during World War II on September 13, 1944 and its roof and tower-tops were destroyed. A six-spoked wheel is the heraldic symbol for Osnabrück and the Osnabrück wheel which once sat atop the southwest tower fell to the ground during the bombing and is now erected along side of the building.
Near the wheel is a statue of Ludwig Windthorst, the greatest Catholic statesman of Germany in the 19th century and a native of Osnabrück. Windthorst was Bismarck’s chief opponent in the latter’s plans to unify Germany and implement many anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish regulations. Windthorst became the primary spokesperson for the Catholic Centre Party, the nation’s largest with 38% of the total electorate. Gradually Bismarck realized that he could not adequately run the country without the support of the Centre Party and so he and Windthorst learned how to compromise and work together to get things done.
We visited 20 churches on our European vacation including seven Roman Catholic cathedrals. St Peter’s was the fifth. We visited the sixth cathedral the next day in Aachen, which will be the subject of my next posting.