With its multiple towers and hilltop site overlooking a river, the Limburger Dom looks like a Romantic castle. Located at the top of the attractive city of Limburg an der Lahn in the Rhineland, the painted church was built in the 13th century and only became a cathedral in 1827. It is well preserved in its original form and contains a multitude of murals and early medieval sculpture.
History of Limburg Cathedral
The unique position of the Limburger Dom — at the edge of town on a rock rather than in the city center — is due to its origins as a castle chapel dedicated to St. George. The castle was probably built in Merovingian times (8th centur or earlier) and the chapel added in the early 9th century.
In 910 AD, Count Konrad Kurzbold (cousin of the future King Konrad I) founded a collegiate chapter of 18 canons, who lived according to the rule of Bishop Chrodegang of Metz, on the hilltop site. The original castle chapel was torn down and a three-aisled basilica was built in its place. The foundations of this basilica have been found beneath the present floor.
Construction on the Collegiate Church of St. George and St. Nicholas began around 1190 and was consecrated by the Bishop of Trier in 1235. The new church was funded in large part by the wealth acquired by Limburg merchants during the Crusades. Work continued on the west towers until about 1245.
The dual patronage of the church derives from its dual purpose - it was the parish church of the citzens of Limburg, whose patron saint was Nicholas, and the collegiate church of the canons, whose patron saint was George. Each saint had his own altar and the clergy and laity were separated by a large choir screen until about 1600.
The interior was destroyed by Swedish soldiers during the Thirty Years War (1618-48) and reconstructed in a late Baroque style in 1749. The Baroque renovation was heavy-handed: the surviving medieval stained glass windows were replaced; all the murals were covered up; the ribs of the vaults and columns of the arcades were painted blue and red; the capstones were gilded; the original high altar was replaced. The colorfully painted exterior was coated in plain white and the central tower was extended by 6.5 meters.
The collegiate chapter of Limburg was dissolved in 1803 during the Napoleonic period, but then raised to the rank of cathedral in 1827 when the bishopric of Limburg was founded. Some renovations in contemporary style followed: the walls were coated white, the windows were redone in blue and orange (the heraldic colors of the Duke of Nassau) and towers were added to the south transept (1865).
Further changes came after Limburg was incorporated into the Kingdom of Prussia in 1866. It was now the Romantic period and the cathedral was accordingly restored to an idealized vision of its original Romanesque appearance. The exterior stonework was stripped of all its plaster and paint, to better conform with the Romantic ideal of a medieval church growing out of the rock. The Baroque interior was stripped away and the wall paintings were uncovered and repainted.
Further renovations came in 1934-35, enlightened by better knowledge of the original art and architecture. Art Nouveau stained glass windows were also added. A major restoration in 1965-90 included replastering and painting the exterior, both to restore it to its original appearance and to protect the stonework, which was rapidly deteriorating while exposed to the elements.
What to See at Limburg Cathedral
Limburg Cathedral belongs to the last phase of the Romanesque period and incorporates a few early Gothic elements. The exterior has a fairy-tale like roofline with seven towers and spires and a vibrant orange, white and yellow color scheme. The paint dates from a restoration beginning in 1965, but is quite likely to represent the original appearance; it was based on traces of paint found on the walls and on others buildings erected at the same time.
The interior is covered in medieval frescoes dating from 1220 to 1235. They are magnificent and important survivals, but time has not been terribly kind to them - they were whitewashed over in the Baroque period (1749) and uncovered and repainted with a heavy hand in the Romantic period (1870s) before finally being restored more sensitively in the 1980s.
In the nave, the frescoes in the the blind arcades depict the Twelve Apostles as well as Old Testament figures and Sybils. The corners of the triforium are decorated with the personified virtues.
The south transept was once the baptistery and is decorated with frescoes reflecting the theme of baptism. John the Baptist presides from the clerestory while a giant, long-haired Samson tied to a tree on the ground floor may represent the strength of faith bestowed by baptism. In the arcade is a vividly painted Crucifix.
On the east wall just below the central cupola is a mural of the Majestas Domini - Christ enthroned as the judge of the world, flanked by the church's patron saints Nicholas the bishop and George the knight. The golden throne and halos are separate pieces that have been affixed to the wall.
There are some later murals to be seen as well, most notably the fine Tree of Jesse in the north transept. It dates from the Late Gothic period and was heavily restored in the 17th century. In the southern aisle is a 16th-century Renaissance mural of the martyrdom of St. Erasmus.
The church is home to two real gems of medieval sculpture. The first is a Late Romanesque baptismal font (c.1230) in the Chapel of St. Erasmus in the south aisle. It is alive with intriguing allegorial sculptures, the meanings of which are mostly unknown. Look for a kissing pair adorning one of the feet.
The second sculpural treasure is the tomb of Konrad Kurzbold, founder of the collegiate church (910 AD), in the north transept. The sculptures on the six supports date from the 11th century and depict four comical clerics along with a lion and a bear symbolizing strength. The tomb slab dates from the 13th century and features an effigy of Konrad in the court costume of that period.
Other notable works of art in the cathedral include the Late Gothic tabernacle (1496) on a pillar of the nave and the Late Gothic rood cross (c.1500) above the high altar.
Down Domstrasse a few steps is the Diözesanmuseum, which contains several notable religious treasures. Highlights include the Staurothek, a cross-shaped Byzantine reliquary brought back from the Crusades by a local knight and the 11th-century lead reliquary from the high altar of the Limburger Dom's predecessor church.
Quick Facts on Limburg Cathedral
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||50.388705° N, 8.067173° E|
|Address:||Limburg an der Lahn, Germany|
|Lodging:||View hotels near Limburg Cathedral|
- Personal visit (December 27, 2007).
- Joachim Pick, The Cathedral of Limburg. Pamphlet bought on site.
- The Rough Guide to Germany 6 (April 2004).
Map of Limburg Cathedral
Below is a location map and aerial view of Limburg Cathedral. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.