Sunday, September 29, 2013

Chapter 32: Speyer Dom

The weather is cooling in Southern Germany with highs reaching into the mid 60s on most days. The trees are starting to rust a little--just a bit of browning among the green. A few varieties are beginning to flame with fall, but mostly the change is still subtle.

Yesterday, Lawna and I drove out across heavily forested hills along the autobahn, past the flat, fragrant wine country to Speyer, a city on the Rhine of about 55,000, most famous for its imperial cathedral, one of the finest Romanesque churches in Europe, a major station on the Saint James pilgrimage road to Santiago de Compostela in Spain,  and a registered UNESCO Heritage site.  The Palatinate had three imperial cathedrals that formed a geographical Trinity, and we previously visited another one in nearby Mainz. The construction is similar, though, since Speyer is a smaller city, its Dom (cathedral) seems to tower more impressively among the other buildings.
Speyer Dom

The day started pretty chilly. Lawna was decked out in layers and I was walking briskly to stay warm in my single layer fleece hoody. Later, of course, the afternoon would warm and we would be carrying around our wraps. Parking was hard to find, but once I found a spot, we walked through narrow streets until we emerged onto the vast, long town square. The center of town is marked by the Dom at one end and a tall town gate at the other. Between the two is a lengthy promenade filled with shopping on the gate end and cafes at the church end. That day, an expensive looking wedding was taking place at the Trinity Church (more on that later) with a Rolls Royce ready to whisk the couple away, and a television talk program was being broadcast from a giant outdoor stage framed with huge PA speakers and light towers. It was a busy Saturday, but the crowds were not annoyingly dense. We found plenty of room to move about.

wedding party

television stage
Thanks to its good location on the Rhine, Speyer was an important imperial center throughout the middle ages. In 1689, Louis XIV of France, the Sun King, burned most of the city to the ground in the War of the Palatine Succession, and Speyer never quite recovered its prior glory. Fortunately, it escaped most of the ravages of the two world wars, and the mix of medieval and baroque architecture is still on fine display. The inside of the Dom is remarkably plain, at least compared to most catholic cathedrals. Throughout its history it has been extensively damaged by fire and then restored. After Louis XIV laid waste to the town, the cathedral sustained further damage by the French during the Revolution. The interior was pretty much gutted of its fittings and the French revolutionaries tried to secularize it. At one point it was to be demolished and transformed into a triumphal park. Fortunately for Speyer and several other great churches that were on the revolutionary chopping block, the struggling Republic ran out of funds. Bringing down such an edifice is no easy task. After years of erratic restoration work, Ludwig I of Bavaria (the mad king's father) took up the cause of restoring the church. He commissioned two painters, Johann Schraudolph and Josef Schwarzmann, to decorate the interior with neo-romantic artwork that was fashionable at the time. The effect must have been quite breathtaking, but in the 1950s it was decided that these paintings clashed with the original Romanesque style and they were taken down and stored. Many of them are on view in the Rheinland-Pfalz Historical Museum, which we had the pleasure to visit. There are plans to restore some of them to parts of the church. The stations of the cross from Ludwig's ambitious, but possibly misguided art project still run underneath the upper windows. Otherwise, the ceilings are stark white. After extensive cleaning, the church looks brand new inside and out.

The remaining Schraudolph and Schwarzmann artwork
Dom sanctuary

Lawna in the Dom

Behind the church, we strolled though a pleasant garden park, punctuated by various styles of sculpture, traditional and modern, then eventually found our way to the Rheinland-Pfalz Historical museum where we saw artwork and historical artifacts from widely different periods. Although there were no English translations available, it was still a fascinating journey through the heritage of the area. Featured was a beautiful, digitally animated video of the Speyer Dom, recreating its probable appearance through the ages, including the giant murals commissioned by Ludwig.

On our way back across town to see the medieval Altpörtel (town gate), we stopped to visit the uniquely impressive Dreifaltigkeitskirche (Trinity Church). It is a baroque wooden church, and walking on its plank floors and hollow stairs raises a minor ruckus. The ceiling murals are a bit faded now, but still quite beautiful. It was modeled on a similar wooden church in Frankfurt, Saint Catherine's.

Dreifaltigkeitskirche organ

Dreifaltigkeitskirche (Trinity Church)
faded ceiling art
After taking pictures in the church, we headed back down the city promenade toward the town gate, side tracked briefly at an Eis Cafe for ice cream cones (the weather had grown warmer and we were now overdressed). Amusingly, the flavor of the dark chocolate scoops was named "Obama." That would not have gone over well in the U.S., but Germany does not carry the kind of racial baggage toward African Americans that we do, so they think nothing of such light humor. On the other hand, they have to be sensitive about any Jewish related humor.

Stadthaus (city hall)
We finally reached the Speyer Altpörtel, took a good look and a few pictures, then headed down a side street to find our car. A lovely visit!
Town Maypole

Stadthaus flower boxes

Stadthaus Doorway

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