A Visit to the Minster at Freiburg

Before planning a visit to the Minster at Freiburg, I knew two things about it: the spire is regarded as the most beautiful of Gothic spires, and the four organs sound magnificent. There is a wonderful quadraphonic recording of E. Power Biggs playing the 4 organs simultaneously. The sound reverberates long after the organist has released the keys. A similar visual reverberation lingers in my memory long after my visit earlier this year. The history of this church is available from many websites and books, but being there in person is a completely difference experience to reading about it.

There is at once a sense of age and freshness about the church that invites examination and investigation of details. Though it was built, and rebuilt in stages over several centuries it was completed during the Gothic era and thus retains the elegance of the age without too many distracting emendations of later times.

Time plays havoc with these monuments however and they are in constant need of maintenance. I had the misfortune to see the spire covered in scaffolding. The spire is undergoing a major renovation, including replacement of several massive cornerstones that bear the enormous weight of the, only-apparently, delicate structure.

The church was begun in the Romanesque style in the early 13th century. The chancel, transepts and part of the nave had already been finished when it was decided to complete the church in the Gothic style. The chancel and transepts were initially kept as is, and the nave as we see it today was completed in the Gothic Style. Afterwards, most of the original Romanesque structure was replaced in a late Gothic style. The more complex and higher vaulting in the present chancel was the result.

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Nave looking east
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High Gothic Chancel

Below is a view of the nave from the choir. One organ is in the loft at the rear and another on the upper right-hand wall. The second photo shows an organ in the north transept. The fourth organ is behind the choir. All four can be played from the console in the lower left of the first photo below.

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In the north aisle, one chapel contains this life sized depiction of the Last Supper. The figures are in stone carved by Franz Xaver Hauser in 1806.

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The St. Nicholas chapel is the oldest portion of the church above ground. The round arches and carving are indicative of its Romanesque origin. It is easily overlooked because it is used primarily as a passageway from the south transept to the south aisle of the chancel.

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Blind arcade in the Nicholas chapel.

The exterior view of the south transept shows the round arches and flat aspect of the Romanesque construction. The cock tower, as it is called, partially visible at the right, is Romanesque to the second tier of windows. The upper stories are later, Gothic, construction. The porch is more recent but was completed with round arches. _D6A8742_007_600 There are numerous details on the exterior indicative of the various stages of construction. The flying buttresses on the nave (first photo below) extend from the wall to the pier in a solid arch. The later choir side (second photo below) has very delicate buttresses by comparison.

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Gothic windows and buttresses of the nave.
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High Gothic windows and buttresses of the chancel.

There are many interesting details in the exterior carvings. A number of the carvings have been replaced with replicas over the years. The flowers on the main tower were a nice touch. They were not there on my first visit but showed up a day or two later. _D6A8755_013a_600 The central door under the tower has colorful and detailed carvings. _D6A8997_014_600

There are dozens of chapels, wonderful windows and many more carvings and furnishings. I hope to return some day for a more thorough visit.

Some of the information in this blog was derived from “The Minster at Freiburg im Breisgau” 4th edition, by Heike Mittmann, Kunstverlag Josef Fink, 2012.

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