Oppenheim and Katherinenkirche

Oppenheim is a village about halfway between Mainz and Worms. It’s well known for its underground tunnels and the Katherinenkirche (St. Katherine’s church, which was my main objective).

Finding parking was a minor challenge as the streets are very narrow. We drove completely through town (which took all of 5 minutes), before circling back. We found a carpark on the other side of this medieval gateway just before a convoy of Fiats drove up.

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We took a quick look around, grabbed a cup of coffee at a cafe, and ate lunch before heading up the hill to the main attraction.

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Katherinenkirche was built as a convent church and is now an evangelical (Lutheran) church. It was built in stages that can be clearly identified from the south elevation. The pink towers from the Romanesque era are the oldest visible elements. The darker, elaborate stone on the right shows the pointed arches, flying buttresses and tracery windows of the high Gothic era. The left, though plainer, is of later Gothic construction.

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From the inside the windows are spectacular. Though much of the original glass has been damaged through the centuries, periodic restoration and replacement of portions has kept them looking great.

 

Even though the above window was dark colored, there are so many windows that the interior is brilliantly lit. This is the nave of the high gothic section of the church.

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The graceful piers, with each shaft supporting a separate arch in the ceiling, create a rhythm and texture that keeps the eye in content motion.

This next image shows the rear of the nave with the organ.

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The west section has a raised area in the apse that shows it was once used as a second choir for the convent which was located on the north side. The entire church was severely damaged by fire in 1689. The nave and east choir were restored in the 18th century. The gift shops sells a set of postcards from 1876 that show the west choir as a roofless shell with large trees growing inside. This end was restored only in the 1880s after being a ruin for 200 years. Today it is empty of any furniture as there is some renovation taking place in the apse just below the level of the large windows.

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A few more images from the church and around town.

 

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The Cathedral of St. Martin, Mainz

Dominating the Skyline

The Mainzer Dom or Cathedral of St. Martin looms over the relatively small city of Mainz. The staircase towers on the east, shown below, date to 1009. The  east choir and nave were complete by about 1137. East Front

Though the building has too often suffered from fire, neglect, war and now the ravages of modern civilization, it remains in use as a center of Christian worship. As a point of comparison, by the time the Roman monuments were 1000 years old, they were ancient ruins, looted for their stone and their original purposes of little interest to the new residents of Rome. In addition to its age, the size of the building is hard to grasp. It is 109m (357ft) long and the nave is 28m (98ft) high. With the aisles the church is 32m (104ft) wide. Though a bit smaller than its Gothic successors, it till whelms the senses. Western Dome

The core of the building is in the Romanesque style, marked by round arches and heavy, thick, flat walls. The windows are small, letting in but little light. The overall effect has been considered gloomy, but I’m not sure that gives proper credit to where this style fits in the development of architecture. If one had never seen a gothic church, with its skeletal frame and glass walls, this would seem spacious and light enough. Beam of Light

The blind arcade between the nave arches and the clerestory windows, which is adorned with paintings from the Gospels, was an innovation at the time. Triforum and Clerestory

The original building had a flat ceiling. The ribbed vaulting was installed in the late 12th century. This innovation seems to have come late to the Rhine churches. Such vaulting was already in use as early as the 11th century in England. The half-cylinder columns added to the inside of the rectangular columns support the vaults. Ribbed Vaults

A number of german churches built in this time period had chancels/apses on both the west and east ends. In the case of Mainz the more elaborate chancel, is in the west and the pews face that direction. West Chancel

The Romanesque core has been obscured somewhat by later accretions. Numerous monuments and decorative additions come from the high gothic and baroque ages. The transepts especially have numerous memorials in later styles (note also the early 21st century push-broom resting against the column in the background). _D6A5852

Chapels, funded by noble patrons who wanted to memorialize themselves, were added in the 13th century with large gothic windows, seen from the cloister in the image below, but many of these are shaded by buildings around the cathedral and do not add much light to the interior. This issue of patronage also gives one pause to consider the mixed personal and religious motives of donors.Cloister and Gothic Windows

Still today there are further additions, including a number of modern colored glass windows that to my eye clash a bit with the older elements. _D6A5701

Most other large churches from this age in western Europe were replaced at one time or another with newer, gothic structures. Together with Speyer and Worms, this church is a special representative of an important architectural style and a testament to the faith of those who built and rebuilt it.

Information Sources:

  • Ernst Gall, Cathedrals and Abbey Churches of the Rhine, NY,  Abrams, 1963
  • St. Martin’s Cathedral, Mainz, ISBN 978-3-7954-4383-5
  • http://www.mainz-dom.de

Mainz

Ancient history and modern life go hand in hand in Mainz. Close to the Frankfurt airport, it is a low-key and more personal alternative to the big city. The depredations of war have left only a few reminders of the past, but those are magnificent.

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Statue of St. Martin looks over the old city.

Some features date to Roman times. This wall from the 4th century was excavated near our hotel. You can clearly see that the exterior surfaces are well fitted, rectangular ashlars while the nearly 6 foot space between is filled with irregular rubble and mortar.

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Roman wall from circa the 4th century.

The Cathedral of St. Martin, much of which is 1000 years old, dominates the skyline. The marketplatz around the Cathedral is filled with fruit, vegetable and flower vendors. There are plenty of tourists, but residents are fully represented.

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Ancient cathedral looms over the marketplace.

To the immediate north of the cathedral is a modern shopping area. To the south is a surviving quarter of older buildings filled with boutique shops. Any way you turn, there are cafes and restaurants where you can take a break and watch the rest of the world go by. Much of the old city is pedestrianized and bicycle travel is popular. Keep an eye out for buses and street cleaners though. They can go where automobiles are prohibited.

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Augustinerstraße with shops and cafes.

There is a walking/bike path along the river enjoyed by runners, bike riders and sedate strollers.

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Rhine River with city skyline and riverwalk.

On holidays you are likely to see revelers out as well. The riders of this “bier bike” provide motive power while the bartender keeps them from getting thirsty.

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If you fall off the wagon, you can ride this one.

There is plenty of interesting architecture. These fancy slate roofs remind me of dragon scales. _D6A5672 Martin of Tours is the patron saint of the cathedral. This statue on a terrace overlooking the city was made for the cathedral. Another statue that from the ground looks identical stands on the roof ridge of the west choir. This modern statue of Martin depicts the soldier dividing his robe to give to a beggar. Click on the thumbnails to see bigger images.

Boniface, the Anglo-Saxon missionary to the german lands in the 8th century was the first Archbishop of Mainz. His statue stands outside a 1000 year old chapel next to the cathedral. Gutenberg was born here and there is a museum dedicated to him. His printing press however was developed in Strassburg after his family was forced to emigrate, probably for political reasons.

There are lots of other curiosities around town.

There’s lots more. We spent hours at the cathedral and at St. Stephen’s Church but this is enough for now.