Tag Archives: Germany

The Cathedral in the City

This evening [last December] I attended Vespers and Benediction. I am stunned over the attendance. This evening was my third liturgical event in the Cathedral and my thoughts turned to my mother. She was with me in the summer of 1988 when she first saw the Cologne Cathedral. It was emotional for her because it was one of the last things her mother saw when she left Germany as a young teenager in the 1890s. My mother said her mother would tell her how beautiful it was and one day she would see the Cathedral. At these liturgical services I was thinking that my grandmother worshipped here since she lived in Cologne. I would look at the arches and art work and altars and think my grandmother looked at these same arches and art work and altars. Then thought how wonderful it would be if my grandmother could walk the streets of Cologne with me, knowing her love for her city.

As I was walking to my final reconstructed church I thought I wished my grandmother could be here to tell me what it was like when she saw them as a child. She could tell me the crucifix on the south wall of the church used to be on the rood screen and many other stories of the art salvaged from the wreckage

Gothic altar.

In my daydreaming I suddenly remembered that my mother said her mother always wanted to go back to Germany for a visit but after the war lost all desire do so. I never understood that but walking in the very small old city visiting all the Romanesque churches and looking at the pictures of before and after the bombings I understood. The city of her childhood that she loved had been reduced to rubble. Her Cologne no longer existed. I look at pictures of Cologne from 1875, the year of her birth, and yes it no longer exists. A modern city has emerged. Yet those churches so painstakingly reconstructed are an anchor in the past.


 

O Magnum Mysterium

During the 12 days of Christmas, we commemorate the great mystery, the Magnum Mysterium. The O Magnum Mysterium is a sublime chant that through the centuries many composers have set to music because indeed it speaks about the the mystery of the Incarnation. The unity of the seasons is spoken of so beautifully in this sublime text.

O magnum mysterium,
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
jacentem in praesepio!
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera
meruerunt portare
Dominum Christum.
Alleluia.
O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
Christ the Lord.
Alleluia!

Aposteln and Saint Agnes


Aposteln is one of the 12 Romanesque churches in the old city of Cologne that suffered from the bombings. I always like to look at the photos to appreciate the marvel of what had been undertaken to preserve these churches which are a vital part of our catholic patrimony.

    

Apse, after bombing

Tower, after bombing.

Tower, after bombing.7

When I look at the photos I think most people would say “bulldoze it down” but I thank the Lord for those talented architects and everyone who made a commitment to preserve our heritage so that the worship of God may continue for years to come.

 

Altarpiece

Altarpiece

I am awestruck by the decades of research and patience that went into reconstruction to preserve the original form and salvage as much as possible in the process and then to place the art in such a way that it feeds the spirit.

These saints at Aposteln are from the 14th century.

Cologne-130518 Cologne-130545

     

When I left the Aposteln church, I keep thinking about the canopy above the altar. With the art salvaged from the devastation of the bombing and set so beautifully in an austere setting, this canopy seemed jolting to me. I did not find myself attracted to it however it continued to be fixed in my mind’s imagination.

Later in the evening I attended a concert with a brass ensemble and organ. The church is a wonderful setting for such a concert of works by Purcell, Gabrieli, and Couperin. Since it was New Year’s Eve I was hoping that I would hear the Te Deum, that superb hymn of thanksgiving from the Catholic tradition. I was overjoyed when I saw that Jean Langlais Hymne d’Action de Grace, “Te Deum” would be performed. The image was right in front of me. The music was so powerful that all of a sudden the image appeared to be a powerful living presence. I continued to ponder that image of the Holy Spirit. I have seen so many churches in Cologne that were devastated by the bombings and in those bombings so much human life and priceless artistic treasures perished.

And earlier in the day along the river bank I had seen this sculpture that I found startling. It looked like a bird but also like a plane laden with destruction.

Yet the image above the altar that seemed so alien to me at first captured my imagination and spoke to me: From the rubble, ancient churches arise anew. What an incredible message of hope. Evil cannot diminish the power of God to bring about something new and unexpected snd beautiful. That is a gift for which my soul can sing: Te Deum, We praise you O God!

 

Saint Agnes

Saint Agnes is a Neo-Gothic church in Cologne. This is the Saint Agnes website.

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Cologne-210548

O Magnum Mysterium

During the 12 days of Christmas, we commemorate the great mystery, the Magnum Mysterium. The O Magnum Mysterium is a sublime chant that through the centuries many composers have set to music because indeed it speaks about the the mystery of the Incarnation. The unity of the seasons is spoken of so beautifully in this sublime text.

O magnum mysterium,
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
jacentem in praesepio!
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera
meruerunt portare
Dominum Christum.
Alleluia.
O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
Christ the Lord.
Alleluia!

Frankfurt, a Day of Pilgrimage, Part 2

From there I went to the cathedral or Kaiserdom where the emperors from 1562 are consecrated and crowned at the crossing where the free standing altar stands.

 

 

When you walk in, the porch shelters the only piece left from the 18th century baroque interior. Today it is a lovely devotional chapel.

 

 

 

Then on entering the church to your left is a 1509 crucifixion by Hans Backoffen which makes a powerful statement of our hope in the Resurrection.

 

 

 

 

 

This scene is complimented by a beautiful 19th century Pieta in the chapel that houses the 18th century baptismal font.
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Walking a little further I looked to the crossing on the right and saw the organ.

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I planned to remain for the noon mass and thought I would hear the instrument. I was disappointed because it was not used however the congregation sang unaccompanied and it was stunningly beautiful. And the priest celebrated mass ad orientem at the magnificent high altar from the 15th century.

Frankfurt112243On the high altar is the Wahlkapelle where the the seven prince electors would elect the new emperor. I did not take a picture because today it is a chapel for eucharistic adoration. The church brochure requests that we pray before the Sacrament for justice and good politics in the world. The chapel is behind the Magdalene chapel.

There are many 19th century Neogothic altarpieces, however there is one from the 15th century that depicts the Dormition of Our Lady.

 

 

 

 

The cathedral was an invitation to linger and prayer through beauty to God and for me the crowning was Mass. The church can just be a beautiful museum however when you experience the Mass it becomes what is was built for: that is, a house for the worship of God.

From there I went back to Romerberg to visit Nikolaikirche from 1290. Today it is a Lutheran church that has many statues of Saint Nicholas.

 

 

 

 

 

Frankfurt131540From there I crossed the river to continue my pilgrimage to two more churches.  The first was the Church of the three kings from the 14th century.  In 1531 this church joined the Lutheran Reformation.

 

 

I had a strong determination to see the pulpit from which the pastor denounced the Nazi ideology and the church joined the Bekennende Kirche, that is the Confessional Church, a movement which opposed the national socialism of the Nazis. Such witness to the Gospel in the face of an evil that will murder you emboldens my faith in Jesus. Evil may murder the body but it cannot extinguish the freedom of the spirit of truth.

In the church I learned of Stolpersteine, that is stumbling stones, that are inserted into sidewalk pavement across Germany with the names of those Christians who were murdered by the Nazis. They are placed in front of their home. Over 40,000 in 800 cities have been placed over the past two or three years.

Rabbi Steiman prayed at the laying of one of these stones:

“People who were once violently driven from this place should be restored to where they belong by means of commemoration. Let us join hands and build a circle around these stones so the souls of those who once lived here may again be in our sight.”

The stumbling stones called to mind all the memorials to so many people that opposed the Nazis and were even murdered for their witness to the truth for the sake of the Gospel. Their witness demonstrates the power of the Resurrection of Jesus.

From there I walked to the Deutschordenskirche about I had read has the most beautiful nativity scene in Frankfurt. When I entered the church I turned around and the whole wall had been transformed into the nativity.
Frankfurt135000

 

 

 

Frankfurt134454Frankfurt134933The scene is remarkable not to be out done by the festive high altar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frankfurt135026Frankfurt134422These were two altar pieces that united it all.  One of the Sorrowful Mother holding Jesus after his death and one of the Annunciation. These altars show the unity of cross and crib and the serious demands confessing faith in Jesus makes. My thoughts immediately went back to the “Stumbling stones.”

 

 


Frankfurt130659The day was a day of pilgrimage from church to church in a city where church towers once dominated but are now overshadowed by towering buildings dedicated to commerce.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frankfurt140127

As I was looking at all these impressive modern structures reaching into the sky my eyes just happen to look at the pavement and behold a stumbling stone.

My heart and soul were overwhelmed. Did I just happen to stumble upon a srumbling stone or was it the the Lord’s way to sum up the meaning of my Christmas pilgrimage in Frankfurt?

As we read in the Gospel of John, “No greater love has a man than to lay down his life for his friends.” My thoughts turned to another stone set in pavement at Tyburn in London where men laid down their in resistance to the tyranny of state ideology. I stopped and looked at the stone again. The home of this faithful believer was leveled in the bombing of 1944; however in the words of Rabbi Steiman that this faithful believer who was driven from this place has been restored to this place. I looked up again at the towering financial and commercial structures reaching into the sky and then looked down again at the stumbling stone and heard a voice: “Blessed are the humble…. Blessed are those who are persecuted for my sake. Rejoice and be glad.”

Today was profound. It was more than admiring beautiful churches reconstructed after the horror of war; rather, today unexpectedly revealed to me a truth in the lives of these believers. In the face of the untold suffering unleashed by evil people often say, “Where is God?” The answer is powerfully given in all these stumbling stones.

Frankfurt, A Day Of Pilgrimage, Part 1

Since it is Monday [December 29th] and all museums are closed I decided to make my day a pilgrimage and walk from church to church in the old city. Over 90% of the old residential center of the city was leveled during the bombing so once again I marveled at the ongoing rebuilding and reconstruction of ancient buildings. When I see photos after July of 1945 I am stunned.

Photo of city after bombing. Notice the tower of the cathedral.

Notice the tower in the photo which stood even in the massive bombing.

Notice the tower in the photo which stood even in the massive bombing.

But even more chilling is this one from the tower of the cathedral.

Walking through the streets of the old town I have come to deep appreciation of all the efforts to restore what was destroyed because all this reconstruction and preservation keeps alive a vital part of our western cultural heritage. The Romer Platz was completely leveled however was painstakingly restored. These are of the Romer Platz that was leveled in the bombing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Church of Our Lady, Liebfrauenkirche (Frankfurt am Main)

 

The 17th century altar immediately caught my attention. Fragments of the high altar were salvaged and reconstruction began.

The church was so quiet and is an oasis on this busy part of town. And it was wonderful I arrived as daily Mass was beginning. On Monday there were a little over 100 in attendance and everyone sang accompanied by the 2008 Karl Gockel organ. Over these past few weeks I have grown to love the German hymnal but even more how German Catholics are serious when they sing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There were other pieces art that attracted my attention.

After Mass I walked over to what is called Romerberg after remains of ancient Roman settlements. This too was destroyed however this complex of buildings was restored.

 

 

O Come Let Us Adore Him

Epiphany, when the mystery of the Incarnation was made manifest to the kings!

A manger scene, or crèche, or presepio/praesepio, or, in German, krippe, can be found in most churches at Christmastime. I found that the city of Cologne has a pilgrimage where you follow the “stars” to visit the cribs, not only in churches but in some shop windows.

 

Sternsingers, "star singers," carrying the star, in Vienna.

Sternsingers, “star singers,” carrying the star, in Vienna.

Enjoy these cribs, from Bingen, Frankfurt, Cologne, and Vienna.



      

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The Lorelei and the Rhine

This morning [December 19] we left Mainz and drove to Rudeschein where we boarded a boat for a cruise on the Rhine river that the Germans regard as their river. The cruise gives a wonderful view of the many castles and towns that line the river.
Rhine101918 

The Lorelei rock has a legend that tells of a beautiful blonde woman who would lure sailors to their death. The fact is that this is the most difficult part of the river to navigate so in truth many boats shipwrecked because of strong winds.

Die Lorelei by Heinrich Heine (in German)

More about the Lorelei song, which has been set to music many times

More about the Lorelei cliff itself

There are many ruins of castles on the river and there is one castle named Pfalzgrafenstein, which was constructed in the middle of the river as a place where customs were collected. Although it dates back to 1325 its present look is due to the Baroque renovations of the 17th and 18th century.

Rhine105731

We finished our cruise of several hours and then took the bus back to Rudeschein. Once again the Christmas markets were much fun because of the festivity that surrounds it all. And the streets of Rudeschein were very medieval and highly decorated.

Towards late evening we had a wine tasting since the hillsides of this part of the Rhine are covered with vineyards. Then, back to Mainz in the late evening.

The tourist brochures speak of this cruise on the Rhine as a cruise of stunning vistas of hilltop castles, terraced vineyards, and villages of timbered framed houses. This is no exaggeration: the vistas are beautiful, with hilltop castles.

Frohweinachten aus Bingen, Germany

Blessed and Merry Christmas from Bingen, Germany

Last night was thrilling as I stood at the altar of St. Martin Basilica, concelebrating Christmas Eve  Mass in Bingen, the home of St. Hildegard.


At the beginning of Mass we processed to the Christmas crib for the blessing which was very moving. The church was illluminated with candles and the singing was vigorous. At the crib memories of all the Christmas cribs at the parishes where I have been assigned were very vivid. For almost 40 years preparing the crib with devoted parishioners has been a highlight for me.

Then at the altar I remembered in prayer all Christ’s faithful I have been priviledged to serve. Saint Augustine in Richmond, Saint John in Waynesboro, Saint Mary of the Annunciation, Saint Benedict in Richmond. The solemn celebration last night was a moment of thanksgiving for all the faithful people entrusted to my care.

During the Mass I prayed through the intercession of Saint Hildegard of Bingen to bless all those with whom I have celebrated this most holy night throughout my priestly ministry. 

As those beautiful words of the Christmas proclamation drifted through the air so heavily laden with incense my thoughts turned to all those entrusted to my care in ministry and I prayed the Christ child be born anew within their hearts on this most holy night.

This morning we returned to church for the Solemn Mass of Christmas Day. There was a men’s Gregorian choir and mixed choir. It was stunning. The men chanted the propers in latin and the mixed choir augumented the singing and also prepared some choral selections. The high point was the chanting the Creed in Latin which so beautifully unites us in a faith that transcends language and culture. At the altar I felt so close to everyone in the church and when I distributed Holy Communion with the invitation, “Der leib Christi,”  the body of Christ, I was so drawn into the mystery of the Incarnation.

Frohweihnacthen! Merry Christmas!

Dresden, Dec. 6

Before departing Berlin for Dresden I took a morning walk to Saint Hedwig, the Catholic cathedral in Berlin.

Saint Hedwig's Cathedral, in Dresden

Saint Hedwig’s Cathedral, in Dresden


The ride to Dresden was brief so I had a whole day to enjoy the city. Dresden was noted as one of Germany’s most beautiful cities; however it was completely destroyed when the Americans and British mounted a vast carpet bombing the night of February 13 and 14 in 1945. I had no idea of the devastation except there are photos and it gives me an appreciation of the meticulous renovation that is still in progress, to restore the historical center to its former glory.

I immediately went to the Zwinger, a beautiful Baroque palace built by August the Strong in 1709 to 1732. The art gallery houses works by Raphael, Dürer, Rembrandt, Van Eyck and Vermeer.  I was anxious to see Raphael’s Sistine Madonna which Pope Julius commissioned. This image was very popular in old missals and much beloved.

The Zwinger, a palace in Dresden

The Zwinger, a palace in Dresden

The Zwinger at night.

The Zwinger at night.

In the late evening I walked by the Staatsoper which is a landmark of Dresden. Then to the Hofkirche which is a monumental Baroque Catholic cathedral in Protestant Saxony.  Then to the Frauenkirche with its shining dome. This too was completely destroyed but now reconstructed.

Then to the Kreuzkirche for Advent vespers featuring works of Melchior Franck, Bertali, and Handel performed by the Dresdner Chor der Sächsischen Posaunenmission Bautzner Bläserkreis. The Lutheran minister preached towards the end of the performance followed by congregational singing of the hymn, “Savior of the Nations Come.” It was thrilling to hear 400 hundred people singing. To commemorate its destruction the interior has not been restored as the exterior to its Baroque glory. Everywhere there are memorials reminding one of the destruction but always with the exhortation to peace and reconciliation.

A few Christmas Market pictures:

Christmas Market, Dresden

Christmas Market, Dresden

Christmas Market, Berlin

Christmas Market, Berlin

Christmas Market, Berlin

Christmas Market, Berlin

Greetings from Berlin

When we were landing in Berlin I began to think about my first visit in December of 1976 when it was still divided into east and west. Today when I passed by a portion of the wall I recalled with great vividness that day I crossed from west to east Berlin to visit the Pergamon Museum. There is still a little of Checkpoint Charlie where I crossed over that day. The city is so different and lively. As soon as I arrived in the city I spent a full day touring. The Marienkirche and the Berlin Protestant cathedral were highlights. The churches testify to the sovereignty of the state over religion which was the hallmark of German Protestantism.

Berliner Cathedral

Berliner Cathedral

Organ at Berlin cathedral

Organ at Berlin cathedral

Organ at Marienkirche

Organ at Marienkirche

Marienkirche

Marienkirche

Alabaster pulpit, designed in 1762, at Marienkirche

Alabaster pulpit, designed in 1762, at Marienkirche

 

The cathedral houses the crypt of the Hohenzollern dynasty. Walking across the Schloßbrucke designed by Schinkel in 1821 I looked back and imagined the incredible destruction of the city during the bombings. Berlin was an imperial city with magnificent buildings and very few remain. However with photos you can get a grasp of the city in its former splendor.

The bridge connects Schloßplatz with the Unter den Linden. This is one of the most famous streets in Berlin which was once the route to the royal hunting grounds. Then at the end of the street is the Brandenburg Gate.  When I was here before you could not get to the gate because it was in no man’s land; however today it stands in all its neoclassical beauty. And then around the corner is the Reichstag that is the Parliament which witnesses to a unified Germany.

Brandenberg Gate

Brandenberg Gate

Reichstag

Reichstag

Then on to Charlottenburg palace which was the summer home of Sophie Charlotte who was the wife of Friedrich III. Once again it sustained incredible damage during the war; however with its restoration it once again displays its unequaled elegance.

Charlottenburg Palace

Charlottenburg Palace

Charlottenburg

Charlottenburg

Detail from Charlottenburg Palace (click to enlarge)

Detail from Charlottenburg Palace (click to enlarge)

Porcelain room at Charlottenburg

Porcelain room at Charlottenburg

Organ at royal chapel at Charlottenburg palace

Organ at royal chapel at Charlottenburg palace

At the end of the day I explored a Christmas market and enjoyed some great food from the stalls. I look forward to more markets that lend such festivity to the Christmas season.

Christmas market in Berlin

Christmas market in Berlin