Built in the 1300s on the site of earlier cathedrals, Regensburg Cathedral (Dom St. Peter) is the finest Gothic building in Bavaria. Its harmonious exterior, alive with interesting medieval sculptures, has recently been fully cleaned. Inside are even more sculptures along with an extensive collection of medieval stained glass.
History of Regensburg Cathedral
The first record of a cathedral in Regensburg dates from about 700 AD; the Diocese of Regensburg was officially established by St. Boniface in 739. In the late 700s or early 800s, a Carolingian cathedral replaced the original building. In the early 11th century, the cathedral was extended westward in the Romanesque style, including an atrium and twin west towers.
After more than one damaging fire in the 12th century, a new cathedral was planned in the High Gothic style. Begun shortly after 1260, it was built over the site of its Romanesque predecessor and incorporated some of the earlier structure. The first altar was consecrated in 1276, probably in the south choir. By about 1320, the altars at the east end were sufficiently completed for consecration and liturgical use.
The south tower was built between 1341 and 1380. After some houses and a church were destroyed to make room, the north tower and west facade were built (1385-1487). The main portal was done by 1410 and the nave was finally roofed in 1442. Contruction came to a stop, although the cathedral was not completed, sometime around 1520. The cloisters, however, were built in 1514-38.
The cathedral received the usual Baroque makeover in 1613-49, consisting mainly of new furnishings and the addition of a dome over the crossing.
The middle of the 19th century was another busy period of construction work at Regensburg Cathedral. First, King Ludwig I ordered a general restoration and a reversal of the Baroque additions in 1828-41, which included replacing the Baroque dome with a Gothic-style ribbed vault. In 1859-69 the transept gable and crossing spire were added, finally bringing the cathedral to completion.
The 20th century saw some archaeological excavations in the nave, during which a burial crypt for bishops was added (1984-85). The Sailer Chapel altar was dedicated in 2004 as a place for services and private prayer.
In the last few years, extensive cleaning of the west facade has been underway and (as of 2008) is almost complete. Another ongoing project is to replace the greenish limestone blocks (from 19th-century restorations) with white stone blocks from the Czech Republic to better match the original work. As of our visit (March 2008) the new blocks could be seen stacked behind the east end.
What to See at Regensburg Cathedral
The twin spires of Regensburg Cathedral can be seen from all over the city. The great Gothic edifice stands in the heart of the Old Town near the Old Stone Bridge, flanked by a road on the south and the Domplatz on the west. Various buildings, including the Bishop's Palace (now the Treasury Museum), adjoin the north side.
The west portal (1410) is richly ornamented with arches, canopies, and sculptures of biblical scenes, saints, kings and creatures. Just inside the door are intriguing sculptures of the Devil (left) and the "Devil's Grandmother" (right). One of the tympanums depicts the Resurrection of Christ, with an angel taking Christ by the hand and helping him out of what looks like a sandcastle.
There are also weathered sculptures on the buttresses of the south side, unfortunately including an example of the Judensau ("Jews' sow") that faces the former Jewish Quarter. The sculpture is quite damaged, but shows Jews suckling on a large sow (female pig). This image - intended to be degrading and insulting since the pig is unclean in Judaism - was widespread in German-speaking lands. Another infamous example of a Judensau is at the City Church in Wittenberg, which was mentioned with approval by Martin Luther in his anti-Jewish writings.
The floor plan of the cathedral is simple and compact, with no real transept and no ambulatory. A small, fairly low gallery runs around the interior walls, unfortunately blocking part the lower parts of the stained glass windows. The vault dates from about 1442.
The three west portals lead into three aisles, which culminate in the Altar of St. Ursula (left/north aisle), the choir and High Altar (nave), and the Sailer Chapel with the Nativity Altar (right/south aisle). Flanking the apse at the east end, which contains the High Altar and organ, are the rectangular sacristy (left/north) and winter choir (right/south). There are several altars in the side aisles (especially the north), housed in small niches rather than side chapels.
Among several notable sights in the interior is the "Smiling Angel" on the southwest pillar in the crossing, which is part of an Annunciation group (the Virgin Mary is across the nave on the northwest pillar). It was sculpted in about 1280 by the artist known as the Master of St. Erminold. The angel looks very cheerful and is quite popular with visitors. The brochure published by the Diocese describes it as "the visible expression of the Gospel - the good news of the love of God become man." The east pillars of the crossing have 14th-century statues of Sts. Peter and Paul.
There are said to be nearly 100 images of St. Peter, to whom the cathedral is dedicated, throughout the exterior and interior. Notable examples include an elegant stone statue in the south aisle and the St. Peter Window above the south portal (c.1320). As in virtually all medieval images of St. Peter, he is recognizable by the oversized key he carries. On the south transept wall is a 16th-century crucifix containing real human hair, which legend has it will grow to knee-length when Judgment Day is imminent.
The Sailer Chapel occupies the southern area next to the chancel and is set aside for private prayer. It is named for the tomb of Regensburg Bishop Johann Michael von Sailer (1751-1832), which was erected by King Ludwig I in 1837 in honor of his former tutor. The canopied Nativity Altar in the chapel dates from c.1415-20.
The cathedral's boys' choir (Domspatzen - "Cathedral Sparrows") are highly acclaimed and can be heard during Mass at 10am on Sundays and holidays.
An impressive number of medieval stained glass windows have survived in Regensburg Cathedral. Most date from between 1320 and 1370, but there are even some survivors from 1220-30. The west windows date from the 19th century. Several windows were installed in 1967-68, designed by the artist Professor Oberberger, in the clerestory, north chancel, and south transept.
The stained glass windows of the chancel have survived from the Middle Ages fully intact. Most were donated by canons and citizens of Regensburg between 1320 and 1370. The windows have an unusually complex arrangement consisting of two layers of frames. The top level of windows occupy the innermost frame while the lower windows fill the outer frame. Accomplishing the transition in the middle is an arcaded triforium, also filled with medieval glass. The dates and subjects of these windows are as follows:
The windows in the south aisle date from between 1325 and 1370 and are notable for their subtle use of color. From left to right (east to west), they depict:
The south transept wall has a huge window of nine lights installed around 1330, which is filled with even older glass. Dating from around 1230, these Romanesque panes depict fragments of a geneology of Christ along with an Annunciation, Nativity and Crucifixion. Some Gothic stained glass (c.1370) can also be seen in this window, the most notable of which is the richly colored Madonna and Child.
The windows of the north aisle date from the 1300s and 1400s, with some modern replacements. From left to right (west to east), they depict:
Quick Facts on Regensburg Cathedral
|Names:||Dom St. Peter · Regensburg Cathedral · Regensburger Dom|
|Categories:||cathedrals; World Heritage Sites|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||49.019444° N, 12.098581° E|
|Phone:||0941 298 6278|
|Hours:||Apr-Oct: daily 6:30am-6pm|
Nov-Mar: daily 6:30am-5pm
|Lodging:||View hotels near Regensburg Cathedral|
- Personal visits (March 18-19, 2008).
- Maria Baumann and Werner Schrüfer, St. Peter's Cathedral, Regensburg (official cathedral brochure).
- Prof. Dr. Achim Hubel, Cathedral of Regensburg, 3rd. rev. English ed. (Regensburg: Schnell & Steiner GmbH, 1999). ISBN 3-7954-6162-6.
- Prof. Dr. Achim Hubel, Die Glasmalereien des Regensburger Domes (Regensburg: Schnell & Steiner GmbH, 2002). ISBN 3-7954-5012-8.
- Regensburger Dom - official website
- Regensburger Dom - German Wikipedia
- Regensburg: The Dom - Rough Guide to Germany
Map of Regensburg Cathedral
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