With Mainz and Speyer, Worms is home to one of the three great imperial cathedrals on the Upper Rhine. Worms Cathedral (known variously in German as the Dom, Kaiserdom, Wormser Dom or Dom St. Peter) is one of the finest examples of High Romanesque architecture in Germany.
For nearly 1000 years, the unique and majestic Worms Cathedral has risen above all the other ancient buildings of the city, dominating the skyline even from a distance. Its original Romanesque architecture and splendid carvings are still exceptionally well-preserved.
The origins of Worms Cathedral go back to early Christian times. The first Bishop of Worms was Berthulf, in 614 AD; his cathedral was much smaller than the present one.
Under Burchard (1000-25), the most notable Bishop of Worms, a new Romanesque cathedral was built on the site. It had similar measurements to today's cathedral and some of the original parts survive. The cathedral was a burial place for the Salian royal family, who had a castle in Worms well into the 11th century. These can still be seen in the crypt.
A century later, Burchard's building was replaced by the present cathedral, an even more splendid High Romanesque structure. The east section was the first part to be built, in 1125-44. The nave was constructed 1160-70 and the chancel was mostly completed by 1181, when the cathedral was consecrated. The west end was the last to be built, at the end of the 12th century.
During the Middle Ages, numerous visits from the Emperor and many important events, some with serious political consequences, took place in the cathedral and it surroundings.
Around 1300, the Nikolaus Chapel in the cathedral was replaced with a Gothic chapel and the south portal was re-carved in an impressive Gothic style. A Late Gothic cloister was carved with scenes from the life of Jesus around the end of the 15th century; these now stand in the north nave.
In the late 17th century, after the town was badly damaged during wars against the French, a Baroque high altar by Balthasar Neumann was added to the cathedral.
What to See
Worms Cathedral has a highly distinctive appearance from the outside, with its two domed choirs and four corner towers. It is also quite unified in its architecture: only a few Gothic additions were made to the original Romanesque structure.
One notable Gothic addition is the main entrance, the Südportal, which is a veritable Bible in stone. Unusually, and thankfuily, the sculptures from the former Romanesque portal were preserved on the wall immediately inside.
On the north side is the Kaiserportal, where, according to the German epic Nibelungenlied, Kriemhild and her sister-in-law Brunnhild had a quarrel about who had the right to enter the portal first - leading eventually to the murder of Siegfried and the collapse of Burgundy.
Inside, the oldest section (1132) is the east choir, which became the prototype for a distinctive trick of local architecture: the walls are straight on the outside but rounded inside. The arcades are decorated with fearsome lion statues to frighten off the devil. Look for the figure of a workman with a monkey on his shoulder — this is probably a self-portrait of the master mason (the workman, not the monkey).
The highly decorative west choir is the culmination of the building program towards the end of the 12th century. It includes splendid examples of typical Romanesque features, including rose windows, zigzag arcades and rich moldings.
The high altar is a Baroque extravaganza by the famous 18th-century architect Balthasar Neumann. This opulent work of gilded wood and marble was so large that there was no place for a proper transept. It features awe-inspired Saints Peter and Paul with two angels pointing at the Madonna and Child, who seem to be coming right at you.
Worth a look is the highly decorated 14th-century Niklauskapelle (Chapel of St. Nicholas), off the south aisle, with its Gothic font, relief of three virgin martyrs, and new stained-glass windows. It is divided down the middle by pillars like a monastic refectory.
The north aisle contains five late Gothic tympana — a Tree of Jesse and four scenes from the life of Christ — which once adorned the now-demolished cloister.
The cathedral crypt is austere, dark and eerie. It serves as the resting place of five generations of the Salian dynasty.
Quick Facts on Worms Cathedral
|Names:||Kaiserdom; Worms Cathedral|
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|Coordinates:||49.630130° N, 8.360016° E (view on Google Maps)|
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Map of Worms Cathedral
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