St Mary’s Cathedral and St Michael’s Church at Hildesheim
Just south of Hannover, is one of northern Germany’s oldest cities. Hildesheim may only have a population of less than 100,000 people but it can boast more important historic sites than you might expect from somewhere of its size. In a large part, you can give the credit for this to a man named Bernward.
He is now officially called Saint Bernward but back in the early part of the 11th century he was the Bishop of Hildesheim. In those days, the city was an important centre in the Holy Roman Empire and Bernward wanted to create monuments that were fitting of that status.
The first construction he set in motion was St Michael’s Church. It was built in the early part of the 11th century in the Romanesque style. Its double choirs, six towers and elaborate cross-vaulted crypt are all considered to be excellent examples of its historic decorative features. In fact, the design would go on to be quite influential in the construction of Romanesque churches in Germany.
However, the highlight of St Michael’s Church is the painted ceiling from the 13th century that shows a very abridged family tree of Jesus. It is the only flat church ceiling in Germany and the painting is extremely detailed.
The second building in his vision was the Cathedral of St Mary. It was built at a similar time, also in the Romanesque style. Although it is architecturally important, it is the treasures within the building that make it so exceptional.
The Christ Column is one such treasure. It is a four metre high column made of bronze that shows scenes from the New Testament of the Bible. It was cast around the year 1000AD and is regarded to be a masterpiece of Ottonian art.
The column complements one of the cathedral’s other famous artworks – the Bernward Doors. The bronze doors are almost five metres high and show scenes from the Book of Genesis on one side and from the life of Jesus on the other. Together they represent the fall of man and the salvation of man. Each of the two doors was cast as a single piece and weighs about 1.8 tonnes. The technology to make this artwork is considered to be extremely advanced for the time. The three-dimensional elements of the scenes are particularly impressive.
St Michael’s Church, the Cathedral of St Mary and associated treasures were listed as a World Heritage Site in 1985. The fact that, more than 900 years after they were originally conceived, they are still considered to be important and influential cultural heritage says something. It says that Bishop Bernward achieved his dream.
Visiting St Michael’s Church and the Cathedral of St Mary
Both buildings are easy walking distance to each other. In fact, most of central Hildesheim is easy to navigate by foot. The church and the cathedral are open to visitors during normal hours and when there are no religious services taking place.
Although the architecture of both sites is interesting make sure you also take time to appreciate the artworks. The ceiling painting in the church and the bronze doors and column in the cathedral are the highlights but there’s much more to see as well.
There are a number of other sites to visit in Hildesheim while you’re there. The historic market place is worth checking out and you might also consider the Roemer-und-Pelizaeus Museum which has a collection of ancient Egyptian and Peruvian exhibits.
All the things you need to know
Weekdays: 0800 – 1800
Tuesday: 1000 – 1800
Sunday: 1130 – 1800
Weekdays: 0900 – 1600
Tuesday: 1000 – 1600
Sunday: 1130 – 1600
The Cathedral of St Mary is open at the following times:
Every day: 1000 – 1800
For a lovely hotel with reasonable rates, I think a great option is Ibis Styles.
There is a wonderful design hotel called 1891 Hildesheim Boutique Hotel right near the train station.
And if you want to splurge, you can't go past the majestic Van der Valk Hotel on the historic market square.