Saturday, June 21, 2008

Worms: The city of myths and legends - part Two

After a second visit to the cathedral (to see the inside too as earlier the Sunday Mass was held and no tourists were allowed in), we headed off to see more historical sites. On our way through the old palace grounds (it does not exist today) we saw another strange bird looking us from a public building - could this be the town symbol? Could I take one home with me?

Eventually we found out that the town's symbol is the dragon (being the birthplace of the Nibelungen myth) - there were plenty around to remind you, here is the first we noticed:

We reached the main square, where one can see another example of the variety of architectural styles in Worms: the Dreifaltigkeitskirche (Trinity Church). A single-naved Baroque hall church with a five-sided chancel and a three-sided west façade influenced by French style which ends in the younger looking tower. It was built as a Lutheran town church from 1709-25 “at the place where Luther first professed his teachings” in place of the magnificent old town hall “Münze” (Luther actually stood in Bischofshof before Emperor Karl V).

It was designed by the Palatinate chief-engineer Villaincourt. Following the destruction of 1945, the interior was rebuilt according to plans from Prof. Otto Bartning, incorporating a more modern style. There is a cycle of 15 stained glass windows representing biblical scenes and the creed as well as a mosaic showing Luther in front of Emperor Karl V.

The Choir Door

What interested me at most were the amazing doors found at regular intervals around the church - the scenes depicted on them are incredibly designed and made.

The new City Hall is right next to the church, with a zodiac circle decorating it:

Another important church is St Martin’s chapter church. The buildings which once surrounded it have largely disappeared today. It is a three-aisled transept-less pillar basilica with a straight chancel end. The church has many typical architectural features of the 12th to 15th centuries, with red sandstone walls whose whitewash was recently stripped away. It is the tomb of the once influential Kämmerer family, known as the von Dalberg family, whose estates were situated in the neighbourhood of the church, in today’s Kämmererstraße.

Legend has it that there was a dungeon in the basilica, where St Martin was incarcerated in 357 since he had refused to fight in a battle for Emperor Julian.
St Martin’s church was probably endowed under bishop Burchard (1000–1025), who also had the Cathedral built, but there are hints that it may have been founded around the year 900. So todays building is definitely not the one St. Martin was incarcerated inside, but only shares the spot. The Romanesque church, along with the Dom and three others as well as the Romanesque old city walls, make the city Germany's second in Romanesque architecture only to Cologne.

Within the church one can see varied styles of decoration, from Romanesque to Modern. Impressive though are the statues of the evangelists, placed in pairs like this, with St. John and St. Marcus:

Out of the church (to go inside you have to pass through a small charming garden) and back in the city, we headed towards the Jewish neighbourhood, passing through the picturesque old city. To do that, we had to pas through the site of the Martinsporte, the wall gate through which Martin Luther entered Worms. Now there is a huge old building there (wall incorporated within) with a restaurant with the same name.

The Judengasse (Jewish quarter) is surrounded by the north east curve of the medieval town walls with its typical multi-storey houses. It was inhabited by Jewish people as early as the 10th Century. The first documented synagogue in Worms was built in the year 1034. The city is widely known as a former centre for Judaism. The Jewish Cemetery in Worms, dating from the 11th century is believed to be the oldest in Europe. Much of the Jewish Quarter was destroyed in the events known as Kristallnacht in 1938. Worms today has a very small Jewish community. and a recognizable Jewish community in Worms no longer exists. However, after renovations in the 1970s and 1980s, many of the buildings of the Quarter can be seen in a close to original state, preserved as an outdoor museum.

Photo of the Synagogue in Worms, from this blog.

A new synagogue was built in 1174/75 at the same time as the new Romanesque cathedral. Next to it's entrance is the original founder’s inscription fixed on the wall. The men’s synagogue was erected by workers of the cathedral guild. The architecture on the portal and the capitals inside the building are comparable with similar forms in the cathedral.

Worms Synagogue interior model

The men’s synagogue is an east-facing hall with two naves, divided by two pillars which support the vaults. The impost of the eastern pillar bears the inscription 1174/75. These capitals were counted as the most beautiful example of the so-called Worms or Strasburg capital.
The original pillars were destroyed during the devastation of the Third Reich but the portal is still the original one. We visited the synagogue, my first time ever in such a place. I must say it did not inspire to me the same feelings of awe and serenity that sacred places of worship do (whatever their vocation is), but it was thrilling none the less. We had to don a kippah or yarmulke to go inside, respecting the Jewish tradition - although the attendant there did not wear one until he saw us inside...

Men's Synagogue model

Then it was on to the ritual bath - the Mikvah, created in 1185/86. The supports here have simple square capitals. It is underground, next to the Synagogue, and the steep steps leading to the water pool inside are tricky to handle. As my camera's battery was playing tricks on me, I will use another blogger's photo of the bath, taken about a month before my trip there:

The Synagogue and the bath are near the Jewish Museum, which houses an impressive collection of models of Jewish buildings and important ceremonies, as well as documenting the history of the once thriving Jewish community here. I loved the artefacts on display, most of them impossible to see otherwise for one not of this faith. Below you can see how a typical Jewish house looked during Yom Kippur in the 18th century.

The Judengaas is near the old wall, still in good condition in some parts:

After a small walk, we discovered another church: St. Pauluskirche. The chapter church of the Dominican Monastery of St. Paul, it was built from 1002 on the remains of the Salian castle which Bishop Burchard had pulled down. This has been proven by excavations in the 1990s by Dr. Gruenewald and it is also well documented. The chapter church was originally built as a three-naved buttress basilica. The stone dome-shaped helm roofs of the towers that were built in the 13th century in the Byzantine-early Christian style of the burial church of Jerusalem are a visible monument to these times.

The chapter church with its Romanesque style was almost completely destroyed in the fires of 1689. But by 1717, the church was rebuilt, this time as a Baroque hall church with ceiling paintings showing scenes from the life of St. Paul. Spiritual life here was extinguished in the year 1797 with the advent of secularisation. St. Paul’s chapter was dissolved and profaned. Over the following decades it was used as a warehouse, a barn and finally from 1880 as a municipal museum. In the 1920’s, the order was interested in re-establishing itself and on 16th May 1929, the place of worship that is now the Dominican monastery was officially opened. During the bomb attacks of 21st February 1945, large parts of the monastery church fell to dust and ashes. Through the great support from the local population, the church was able to be rebuilt (with a new organ installed) and was once again in use by 1947.

The impressive new portal, cast in bronze, is the newest addition to the church (but not the most charming as you will later see). Made in 2007, the portal, a copy of the Bernwardstür of Hildesheim Dom replaced the previous cast iron one, due to war damage and the ageing and corrosion process of the material.

And lo and behold, there it was! Our third encounter with species of the flying kind cast in metal in Worms, this little chap was stuck on a pole in front of the church. I wonder what do the birds mean to Worms (since the dragon is the official mascot of the city). If anyone can find out more about them, please contact me. Strange little fellow!

Then we were on to the Luther monument, in a big park near the Dom, on the site of the former town moat. It is one of the best places in the city to rest for a while, with a nice little cafe (with delicious pastries) inside the park. Unfortunately only one wretched photo survived the battery dying and here it is:

Created in honour of the Reformer Martin Luther by Ernst Rietschel and unveiled on 25 June 1868, the Luther Memorial is the world’s largest Reformation Memorial. Here, the history of the Reformation is presented from its very beginning into the pre-Reformation era and on to the 19th Century. Martin Luther is placed in the centre with the pre-Reformers sitting at his feet. On the outer wall are important contemporaries of Luther. Between the wall and the statue of Luther are the names of other towns which also played an important role in the Reformation. It is like reading a whole history book, going around the memorial, seeing the names of all the people and cities that played a part in this important event.

Of course this is the city of the Nibelungen. I am sad to report we did not have time to visit the Nibelungen Museum (next time!). The city is the place of the Nibelungen Festival, with amazing celebrations and dramatisations of the myth taking place each year, centred on this fascinating German myth. There was a nice bronze monument inspired from the saga, decorated with effigies of the protagonists and verses from the lied inscribed on it.

I hope you liked this tour of Worms as much as I did. I will be coming back, ideally to watch the Nibelungen Festival and see all the things I missed (and the impressive Rhein bridge!).

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