Built in the 11th century and faithfully rebuilt after World War II, St. Michael's Church (Michaelskirche) in Hildesheim is considered the finest example of Ottonian Romanesque architecture anywhere. The imposing multi-towered structure, which crowns a hill in the west end of the city, is full of fascinating medieval art.
History of Michaelskirche
Construction on St. Michael's Church began in about 1010 (some sources say 1001) by Bishop Bernward, as a church for Benedictine monks Bernward brought from Cologne. The crypt was dedicated in 1015; the church was complete by 1033.
Bishop Bernward is believed to have contributed a great deal to the design of the church himself. The bishop visited Rome with Otto III in 1001, during which he stayed in Otto's imperial palace near Santa Sabina. That basilica's 5th-century carved wooden doors may have influenced Bernward's bronze doors for St. Michael's (1015).
In addition to his familiarity with Rome's basilicas, Bernward was subdeacon at Mainz during the contruction of Mainz Cathedral; some scholars see strong similarities between that imperial cathedral and the Michaelskirche.
St. Michael's Church underwent some later renovations, including repairs and additions in 1186 under Bishop Adelog after a fire. Additions in this period included new capitals in the nave and a stucco relief on the aisle walls.
After Bishop Bernward was declared a saint in 1192, many embellishments were made to his church and final resting place. The west choir and crypt were remodeled and a choir screen with stucco reliefs was added. The painted wooden ceiling was installed in 1230.
Like most buildings in Hildesheim, the Michaelskirche suffered severe damage during World War II. After the war (in 1950-57) it was rebuilt to its original design using many of the original materials. Further restoration is currently underway in the east end of the interior. The church was declared a World Heritage Site in 1985.
What to See at Michaelskirche
The Michaelskirche of Hildesheim exemplifies Ottonian Romanesque architecture, although it is unique in some ways as well. It is a two-ended basilica, with two choirs and two transepts. Each transept has a large square crossing tower and flanking round staircase towers. The west end also has an apse and a shallow crypt (1015), which is reached via the ambulatory around the apse.
Entrance was (and is) through two portals in the south side rather than the more usual west end. Thus the south aisle serves as a sort of narthex or porch.
In the nave and transepts, the crossing square (under both the large towers) is used as the basic unit of measurement: the nave is made of three of these squares, each of which has pillars at its four corners. This was a new idea that would later become the norm.
Between each square pillar are two round columns - this is the common Saxon arrangement, as opposed to one column between each pillar in the Rhineland. It can be seen also at Hildesheim Cathedral.
Above the nave arcade is a smooth flat wall leading seamlessly into a clerestory, whose windows do not align with the arches below. All of the arches have alternating red and white stones as a decorative feature. Both of these elements are characteristic of Ottonian architecture.
A few of the original capitals survive from c.1186. They are of the type known as "cushion capitals," a new development here that later became widespread in Romanesque churches. They are carved with foliage, creatures and human heads.
Bernward's famed bronze doors and bronze Easter column, both made for this church, are now kept in Hildesheim Cathedral.
The painted wooden ceiling of the nave is a rare and beautiful survival, dating from about 1230. It survives thanks to its removal in 1943, before wartime bombing destroyed much of the church. Comprised of 1,300 oak boards and stretching to 27.8m long by 8.7m wide, its theme is the Tree of Jesse (the family tree of Christ).
From bottom to top, the central panels depict:
The border is populated with 42 medallions of the ancestors of Christ.
Quick Facts on Michaelskirche
|Names:||Kirche St. Michaelis Hildesheim · Michaelskirche · St. Michael's Church|
|Categories:||churches; World Heritage Sites|
|Styles:||Romanesque; Ottonian Empire|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||52.152905° N, 9.943421° E|
|Phone:||+49 (0) 51 21 3 44 10|
|Hours:||Apr-Sep: Mon-Sat 8-6, Sun 12-6|
Oct-Mar: Mon-Sat 9-4, Sun 12-4
|Lodging:||View hotels near Michaelskirche|
- Personal visit (March 2, 2008).
- Kenneth John Conant, Carolingian and Romanesque Architecture 800-1200 (Yale University Press, 1993), 127-29.
- Rolf Toman, ed., Fiona Hulse, Ian Macmillan, trans. Romanesque: Architecture, Sculpture, Painting (Ullman & Könemann, 2004), 42-43.
- Ev.-Luth. Kirchengemeinde St. Michaelis Hildesheim - official website
- St. Michael - Hornemann Institut
- "Church of Saint Michael." Encyclopædia Britannica. 29 Sep. 2008.
- St Mary's Cathedral and St Michael's Church at Hildesheim - UNESCO World Heritage
- St. Bernward - Catholic Encyclopedia
- Photos of Michaelskirche - here on Sacred Destinations
Map of Michaelskirche, Hildesheim
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