Münster Cathedral (a.k.a. St. Paulus Dom or St. Paul's Cathedral) is the attractively unique cathedral of Münster, capital of the Westphalia region in northwest Germany. Built in the Transitional style of the early 13th century, the cathedral has a west porch filled with medieval sculptures and a unique nave with only two, ultra-wide bays.
History of Münster Cathedral
The cathedral of Münster was founded by a missionary named Liudger, who was sent out by Charlemagne in 793 as part of the emperor's comprehensive plan to convert and subdue the Saxons. On March 30, 805, Luidger was consecrated Bishop of Münster in Rome; construction on the first cathedral church began soon after.
Archaeological evidence shows that Charlemagne also established a city (then known as Mimigernaford, "ford over the Aa River") around the monastery Liudger established here shortly after his arrival. The city became known as Münster after the monasterium, and the words still used for monastic missionary churches in Germany and England - münster and minster - derive from this influential settlement in Westphalia.
Records indicate that Luidger's cathedral was destroyed by fire and replaced by an Ottonian cathedral in 1090, but almost nothing is known about the building. Excavations and other evidence suggest that it had three aisles and a west transept. It was also badly damaged by fire not long after its construction and was further devastated on May 7, 1121, when Lothar of Saxony stormed the cathedral stronghold.
Construction on the present Münster Cathedral began around 1225, during the Transitional period between Romanesque and Gothic. It was consecrated in 1264. The cloisters and Lady Chapel were added in 1390-95.
Significant changes were made to the cathedral throughout the Renaissance period, beginning with extensive renovations to the west front, walls of the aisles, and southeast transept in 1508-22.
A decade later, extensive damaged was caused during the two dramatic years (1534-35) in which radical reformers led by John of Leiden took the city by force and destroyed as many "idolatrous sculptures" as they could.
Extensive repairs and artistic embellishments took place in 1539-56, which included the addition of a rood screen, the famous astronomical clock, sculptures by Johann Brabender, paintings by Ludger and Hermann tom Ring, and the chapter house.
The period 1620-1700 saw further Baroque ornamentation, most notably the many sculptured altars and memorials that adorn the nave. Most of these sculptures were created in the workshop of the Gröniger family.
Münster Cathedral suffered extensive damage from World War II air-raids (1941-45) and was fully restored thereafter (1946-56). The most recent addition to the fabric of the building was the Domkammer (treasury), attached to the cloisters in 1981.
What to See at Münster Cathedral
A fine exterior view of Münster Cathedral can be had from the spacious plaza on its south side, which hosts a market on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The cathedral has a relatively short nave but an impressive overall size, thanks to the massive west work with twin towers, transepts at the east and west, and projecting choir with ambulatory and radiating chapels. The cloisters, chapter house, vestry and Lady Chapel extend from the north side.
The twin west towers are (repaired) Romanesque originals but the west front with its circle of windows is a controversial post-war replacement from the 1950s. The decision not to rebuild the west front faithful to the original was made by the bishop, who persisted in his decision for a new west front despite many letters of protest from Münster's citizens.
Rising behind the large porch on the south side is the south wall of the west transept, with two grand rose windows. The upper, six-part window features a massive head of St. Paul in the center and a smaller one of St. John the Baptist below. Further below, now partly obscured by the gables of the porch, is a twelve-part rose window.
Between the two windows are roundels of 1225-35 containing sculptures of a lion and a lamb, each holding a book. Inspired by Revelation 5:5-6, these continue the theme of eschatological Paradise exemplified by the porch below. Around the corner on the east wall of the transept are roundels from the same date depicting a howling wolf (representing evil) and a crane holding a stone (representing goodness and watchfulness).
Entrance to the cathedral is through the magnificent southwest porch or Paradise filled with sculptures dating from 1225 to 1235. It originally had three storeys topped by a dome, and was open to the south. In medieval times it was used as a law court and for ecclesiastical visitations, as was customary across Europe.
The monumental sculptures of the Paradise are larger than life and have their precedent at the great cathedrals of Chartres and Reims in France. The sculptural program evokes the Gates of Paradise. Enthroned in the center over the door is Christ in Judgment, with the Book of Life (Rev. 20:12) in his left hand. He was probably originally surrounded by the symbols of the Four Evangelists, which were destroyed by the radical Anabaptists in 1533-34.
Below Christ is St. Paul, holding his attributes of the sword and book. He is later than the other statues, a product of the Brabender workshop in about 1540. He and Christ are flanked by ten monumental sculptures of apostles (except for Peter, who has gone missing), dating from 1225-35. Holding books, the apostles stand between pillars and beneath canopies that look like the towers of a city, representing the heavenly Jerusalem.
Four more sculptures occupy the side walls, dating from before 1264 and considered some of the finest German sculptures of the 13th century. Together they represent the church (bishop and saint) and the world (woman and knight).
On the right (east) wall are the cathedral's founder Bishop Dietrich (Theodor) III, holding the cross-inscribed foundation stone and a scroll describing the foundation ceremonies of the cathedral, and St. Lawrenceholding a miniature iron grill, the instrument of his martyrdom.
St. Mary Magdalene, holding her jar of a anointing oil, and a knight stand on the left (west) wall. Bishop Dietrich introduced the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene into his bishopric, choosing as its date the day of his consecration (July 22). He also happened to die on that day in 1226. The knight has not been certainly identified, but possibilities include the Blessed Gottfried von Cappenberg or St. Theodor, patron saint of Bishop Dietrich.
Running below the massive sculptures is a wonderfully detailed frieze of vines populated by busy human figures. Among the themes are King David with other musicians, stone-cutters and masons (a 19th-century addition?), the wine harvest, a hare hunt, and possibly the Labors of the Months. The large capitals of the supporting pillars are carved with foliage and animals, and panels of mythical creatures appear in the doorway.
The west work is the oldest part of the present cathedral, dating from the 1100s. A small, elevated west choir occupies the central area. The west wall with its round windows is a design of the 1950s, but the remainder has many historical features. The side walls are decorated with original blind arcades, the choir stalls date from the 16th century, and the fine Baroque altarpiece was made in 1619-22 by Gerhard Gröninger (it was originally the high altar).
Standing in the open area at the east end is an early 14th-century bronze font, shaped like a chalice and supported by lions. It is richly decorated with bronze reliefs, including Christ and the Apostles, the baptism of Christ, and the symbols of the Four Evangelists.
The west choir is flanked by two tower chapels. The Pieta in the north tower chapel was made in 1849 by Wilhelm Achtermann, but is a replica of a much older sculpture destroyed in the war.
The interior of Münster Cathedral is unique, with only two bays in the nave. These bays are very wide, giving the interior an open and airy feel. On a pillar opposite the entrance is a huge sculpture of the giant St. Christopher with the Christ Child on his shoulder, carved in 1627 by Johann von Bocholt. Across the transept from him is a sculpture of St. Catherine of Alexandria by Johann Brabender in c.1550.
The side aisles are filled with altars and sculptured monuments from the Baroque period. The Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament off the north aisle has a bronze door from c.1697 by Johann Mauritz Gröninger, depicting the three divine virtues of Faith, Hope and Love. In the northeast transept is a mural of the Crucifixion, which dates from about 1590 and is the only surviving painting by Hermann tom Ring.
The most famous feature of Münster Cathedral's interior is the magnificent astronomical clock, made in 1540-43. Not surprisingly for such a complex and beautiful machine, the clock was a team effort: printer Theodor Tzwyvel and Franciscan friar Johannes Aquensis made the astronomical calculations; wrought-iron craftsman Nikolaus Windemaker took care of the metalwork; Ludger tom Ring painted it in exquisite detail; and Johann Brabender probably sculpted the figures.
The primary purpose of astronomical clocks was to calculate Easter, a complicated business since the date is related to the phase of the moon and must be known six weeks in advance in order to begin Lent on time. But these clocks also reflect the great popularity of astrology in this period. Kings, emperors and popes all had court astrologers to assist them in important decisions.
But astrological predictions were understood as warnings, which could be heeded in order to change the course of fate. A poem dating from the early 1500s indicates the understanding of astrology's role:
Over 1,000 astronomical clocks are known to have existed from the late medieval and Renaissance periods, but only a few have survived. Another famous example can be seen outdoors in Prague. The Münster clock is the youngest of the survivors, but also the most beautiful and the one with the longest period of predictive calculations (532 years).
A Latin inscriptionat the bottom of the clock informs viewers:
At the top of the clock are small, animated figures. On the right are Death and Time, who strike the quarters of the hour. Death holds the arrow of death in his left hand and a hammer in his right; Chronos has a sickle of destruction and turns his hour-glass at every stroke of the bell. On the left side are those responsible for striking the full hour. The Tütemännchen ("little blower") sounds the hours on his horn while the woman at his side matches each note with a ring of the bell.
In the center are the enthroned Virgin and Child, who are adored by a procession of the Three Magi at noon every day, accompanied by a carillion of bells. The Magi are an appropriate choice for an astronomical clock, of course, since they followed a star to Bethlehem. Painted at the top are 16th-century observers, including the painter himself, Ludger tom Ring, wearing a black beret and red coat on the left side. The other figures are probably his sons and assistants.
The beautifully painted clock face features the symbols of the Four Evangelists in the corners. Each holds a scroll with a Latin verse that mentions aspects of the clock while also representing four phases in the life of Christ. The scroll of the winged man (Matthew) reads: "Behold there came wise men from the east" (Incarnation); the winged ox (Luke): "There was a darkness over all the earth (Crucifixion); the winged lion (Mark): "They came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun (Resurrection); the eagle (John): "Are there not twelve hours in the day?" (Ascension).
Unlike modern clocks, the Münster clock is divided into 24 hours, runs counterclockwise, and indicates hours and minutes simultaneously. Since the clock faces south, the hands thus follow the actual course of the sun. The main hand, decorated with a silver sun and a rainbow, indicates the time. Each red and white line within the circle of Roman numerals represents four minutes. Five minor hands indicate the position of the planets Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Saturn and Mercury, while a silver ball (half painted black) represents the moon in its phases.
Running vertically on either side of the clock are boards painted with the gods/planets that rule the day; these change at midnight. They ascend on the right and descend on the left and the ruler of the first hour (labeled IN 1 HO REGIT) is shown on the bottom right. This is the ruler of the day, after which the day is named. To learn what day it is, switch the Latin names and Roman gods for the Germanic ones:
The four points of the compass are written on banners at the edges: Septentrio (north); Oriens (east); Meridies (south); Occidens (west). Behind the clock faces is a map of the world.
Beneath the clock, a bit hard to see behind a wrought-iron fence, is the round calendar and Easter chart. Impressively, the years listed on the calendar are 1540 to 2071. In the center is a figure of St. Paul (c.1540); the current day is pointed out by a soldier with a rod on the lower left. The outer circle lists the days and the saints associated with them. The inner circle has twelve medallions painted with the Labors of the Months.
The chapels that radiate from the east ambulatory were added in 1663 by the Prince Bishop Christoph Bernhard von Galen. The southernmost chapel houses the altar of St. Sebastien (1588) and tomb of the suffragen bishop Maximilian Gereon Count von Galen (1705).
The easternmost chapel, the Chapel of St. Ludger (founding bishop of Münster), centers on the tomb of Clemens August Cardinal von Galen, the "Lion of Münster." Beloved for his determined opposition to the Nazi regime, he died in 1946 and was beatified in 2005. A quote from Pope John Paul II is inscribed in brass in the floor; opposite the chapel in the ambulatory is a bust of the cardinal by Edwin Scharff (1951).
Next is the Chapel of St. Joseph, which houses the grandiose Baroque tomb of Prince Bishop Christoph Bernhard von Galen (builder of these chapels), carved c.1678 by his court sculptor Johann Mauritz Gröninger. The bishop is shown kneeling on a large base of black Belgian marble.
The cloisters, entered through a door in the north aisle, were added to the cathedral in 1390-95. They now contain various sculptures, monuments and memorial slabs formerly located in the cathedral. The life-size statues of the Wise and Foolish Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) originally stood on the west portal of the cathedral, which was replaced after World War II. The courtyard of the cloisters is home to the Canons' Cemetery, which was given its present appearance after the war. A door in the northeast corner of the cloisters leads to the new (1981) Domkammer, the excellent treasury of the cathedral.
Quick Facts on Münster Cathedral
|Names:||Münster Cathedral · Münster Dom · St. Paul's Cathedral · St. Paulus Dom|
|Styles:||Romanesque; Transitional Style|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||51.963030° N, 7.625703° E|
|Phone:||02 51/9 27 60|
Sundays and holidays: 6:30am-7:30pm
|Lodging:||View hotels near Münster Cathedral|
- Personal visit (February 13, 2008).
- Géza Jászai, trans. Brita Püschel, St. Paul's Cathedral Münster, 3rd ed. (1995). Booklet purchased at the cathedral.
- St.-Paulus-Dom - German Wikipedia
- Photos of Münster Cathedral - here on Sacred Destinations
Map of Münster Cathedral
Below is a location map and aerial view of Münster 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.