Though it might be mistaken for a fortress, Trier Cathedral (Dom St. Peter) houses an impressive collection of artworks, architecture and holy relics. It is also of considerable historical significance, as the oldest church in Germany. Today, Trier Cathedral remains a working Catholic cathedral and an important Catholic shrine that still receives pilgrims.
History of Trier Cathedral
Christianity first arrived in Trier as early as the late 100s AD, although local legend has it that the faith was established in the first century by a bishop sent by the apostle Peter himself.
The history of Dom St. Peter begins in Roman times, when a church was built by Constantine, the first Christian emperor, over the palace of his mother Helena. Construction began in 326 AD, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his reign. He also began St. Peter's Basilica in Rome to mark the occasion.
The Constantinian church was four times as big as the present-day cathedral, covering the area of the cathedral, the Leibfrauenkirche, the Cathedral Square, the adjoining garden, and the houses almost up to the Markt.
After extensive damage in the 5th and 9th centuries, the surviving part of Constantine's church was enlarged with major additions in the Romanesque style in 1035. Gothic and Baroque touches were later added, and the various styles blend nicely together, bringing a timeless unity to the interior.
In the Middle Ages, the Archbishop of Trier was an important ecclesiastical prince, controlling land from the French border to the Rhine. He was also one of the seven electors of the Holy Roman Empire.
The Empress St. Helena is known for her pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and pious legend has it that she brought back the Holy Robe of Christ from Jerusalem and entrusted it to her son's new church at Trier. The Holy Robe is the seamless garment said to be worn by Christ during the Crucifixion.
The Robe first makes an appearance in written documents in the 12th century. In 1512, the high altar of Trier Cathedral was opened and the Robe was found inside, along with other important relics from the Holy Land.
The Holy Robe was first displayed in Trier in 1512 for a period of 23 days, during which more than 100,000 pilgrims came to venerate it.
The next year, a wooden balcony was built onto the west front of the cathedral in order to display the Holy Robe and the other Trier relics to crowds gathered in Cathedral Square. It has been periodically displayed since then, attracting ever-larger crowds.
A copper engraving from 1655 (shown left), kept in the cathedral's Treasury, depicts the display of relics from the wooden balcony in great detail. It is covered with fine tapestries and a beautiful carpet hangs from the center.
Two vicars present the Holy Robe, which is attached to a wooden panel, while the cathedral preacher Cornelius Luttinghausen explains the relic exhibition to the pilgrims.
Next to him is a canon holding a cross reliquary and the Holy Nail. On the left, Archbishop Carl Casper von der Leyen (1652 to 1676) grants absolution to the pilgrims. Several men with torches stand behind the clergy.
An exposition of the relic for three weeks in 1933 drew 2 million pilgrims. After another exposition in 1959, the relic was sealed in a splendid shrine in its own chapel, where it remains today. The most recent exposition of the relic took place in 1996.
The next pilgrimage is scheduled for April 13-May 13, 2012, the 500th anniversary of the first exposition of the Holy Robe.
What to See at Trier Cathedral
The cathedral's interior combines a Romanesque structure with baroque decoration and Gothic vaulting and archways. It is laid out as a triple-nave, two-choir basilica with a transept and six towers.
Portions of Constantine's church can be seen in a central section, with the original walls rising up to a height of 26 m (86 ft). Just outside a door on the south side of the church is a huge piece of a granite column from Constantine's church.
Over the south door (on the inside) is a magnificent Romanesque tympanum depicting Christ between the Virgin and St. Peter. Other outstanding artworks include the tomb of the papal envoy Ivo (1144) in the south aisle, which has Romanesque carvings of a dragon-like creature and a human head peeking out, and the tomb altar of Archbishop Richard von Greifenclau (1531).
For pilgrims to Trier, the cathedral's central attraction is the Holy Robe (Der Heilige Rock) of Christ. The relic is enshrined in a reliquary housed in the specially-built baroque Chapel of the Holy Robe, located behind the altar. You can just get a glimpse of the large shrine, and much of the splendid Chapel remains hidden as well.
Another important relic is the Holy Nail, believed to be one of those used in the Crucifixion; it is on display in the Treasury. The Trier Cathedral Treasury (Schatzkammer), located on the south side of the choir near the Holy Robe, contains many important works of art. Among the exhibits are chalices, bishops' treasures, and the 10th-century St. Andrew's Altar, an unusual portable altar covered with gold and ivory.
Festivals and Events
The Festival of the Holy Robe (Heilig-Rock-Tage) is celebrated on April 28.
Quick Facts on Trier Cathedral
|Names:||Dom St Peter · Dom zu Trier · Trier Cathedral · Trierer Dom|
|Categories:||cathedrals; World Heritage Sites; pilgrimage destinations|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||49.756221° N, 6.643821° E|
|Hours:||Apr-Oct daily 6am-6pm; Nov-Mar daily 6am-4:30pm|
|Lodging:||View hotels near Trier Cathedral|
- Personal visits (December 26, 2005, January 2, 2008, November 9, 2010).
- "Trier Attractions." Frommer's Germany 2006 (December 2005).
- DK Eyewitness Travel Guide to Germany (2003), 326.
- Trier Cathedral - Historic Highlights of Germany
- Kevin Wright, Catholic Shrines of Central and Eastern Europe (1999), 135-37.
- Trierer Dom - official website (German only)
- Roman Monuments, Cathedral of St. Peter and Church of Our Lady - UNESCO World Heritage
- Diocese of Trier - Catholic Encyclopedia (1912)
- Holy Coat - Catholic Encyclopedia (1910)
- Festivals in 2006 - City of Trier official site
- Seamless robe of Jesus - Wikipedia
- Der Heilige Rock - Diocese of Trier
- The Pilgrimage of the Holy Robe - Visit Saarland
- Photos of Trier Cathedral - here on Sacred Destinations
Map of Trier Cathedral
Below is a location map and aerial view of Trier 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.