Saxony-Anhalt’s Naumburg Cathedral
I recently spent time exploring the Romanesque Route in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany with TRANSROMANICA, an international association whose focus is promoting the common Romanesque heritage of Europe.
The TRANSROMANICA cultural heritage route traces the Romanesque heritage through nine European countries, from Portugal all the way to Eastern Europe. Our blogger trip explored the Romanesque Route’s many sites in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. Please take a look at our 5-day itinerary for Saxony-Anhalt.
Today, I want to highlight the Naumburg Cathedral, in Naumburg Saxony-Anhalt, which has recently become one of Germany’s UNESCO Sites.
Naumburg is located in Central Germany along the Saale River. The nearest large city is Leipzig. Naumburg lies in the eastern part of the Thuringian Basin at the confluence of the Saale and Unstrut Rivers.
It was first settled in the early 11th century and grew as a significant trading center during the 12th and 13th centuries.
Naumburg Cathedral is one of the most important Romanesque heritage sites in Germany, as well as on the heritage route. Because of its importance in both this region and in the whole Romanesque heritage culture, the Naumburg Cathedral was voted as a new UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2018. It is now listed as one of Germany’s UNESCO Sites.
The cathedral was built in the 13th century on the site of an earlier 11th-century church and crypt. While construction began in the early Romanesque architectural style, later renovations gradually shifted into the late Romanesque/early Gothic style.
In the mid-12th century, an early Gothic choir was added on the west side, while a high Gothic choir was added in the 14th century, requiring the destruction of the Romanesque apse. There are two pairs of Gothic towers, each flanking the two choirs. This amalgam of styles demonstrates the exceptional stylistic transition between late Romanesque and Gothic.
In the 16th century, a fire destroyed the cathedral roof and the chapel dedicated to Mary; at this time more modifications altered the exterior look of the cathedral. Around the mid-18th century, the interior was turned into a Baroque church, but this was undone just 100 years later and the interiors were restored to the Romanesque/Gothic.
The cathedral was initially consecrated as a Catholic cathedral, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, but during the 16th century Reformation, it became the see of the first Protestant Bishop. The Catholic diocese was dissolved in the late 16th century. Today, Naumburg Cathedral is still a Protestant parish.
What to see at Naumburg Cathedral
The interior of the Naumburg Cathedral is rich and ornate. The double-choired, three-aisled basilica is entered from the sides; the main entrance is through the cloisters and gatehouse on the south side of the church.
Visitors to the church can view one of the masterpieces of early Gothic sculpture, the Stifterfiguren. These twelve life-size figures (eight men and four women) depict the founders of the cathedral. Among them are the Margrave Ekkehard II of Meissen, the son of the founder of Naumburg, his wife Uta and his grand-nephew Konrad. Uta was considered the most beautiful woman in medieval Europe, and to this day her sculpture is one of the most important sculptures to come from this era.
The sculptures date to the 13th century and are crafted from local sandstone. Two of the sculptures are freestanding, while the others are merged with the walls. They were originally painted, but the colors we can see today date to restoration work done between the 16th and 19th centuries.
Rood screens divide the choirs from the nave, and these are exceptional works of carving. The western rood screen features carved scenes from the Passion of Christ. Experts agree that the same carver (known as the Naumburg Master) crafted both the rood screen and the Stifterfiguren. These are considered the most important, and most well-preserved, works of early Gothic sculpture in Germany.
Other important works of art include the statue of St. Elisabeth of Thuringia, in the Elisabethkappelle, and the stained glass by Neo Rauch and Thomas Kuzio. The statue of St. Elisabeth is the oldest known sculpture of the saint and dates to 1235. Neo Rauch is a contemporary artist who created a series of windows for the Elisabeth chapel.
The Naumburg Cathedral treasury houses some other works of medieval and Renaissance art, including Lucas Cranach the Elder’s painted altar wings.
The Domgarten, or cathedral garden, is also open to the public and is where you will see the foundations of the former church, the bastions of the medieval wall, and the foundations of some houses. The native flora served and inspiration for the Naumburg Master and much of the indigenous German plants and flowers are noticeable on the West Choir rood screen carvings and in the choir. Nearly 150 original capitals feature the botanical carvings with incredibly precise detail.
How to get to Naumburg Naumburg Saxony-Anhalt
Naumburg is located in Naumburg Saxony-Anhalt, Central Germany. Naumburg has a small rail station with intercity trains to Leipzig, Berlin, Munich/Nuremberg, or Frankfurt and regional trains from across Saale-Unstrut. The two nearest airports are Leipzig or Erfurt.
Having a private car is the easiest way to get around, as it allows for flexibility in your schedule. A car is the best way to see the entire TRANSROMANICA route since some of the sites are slightly off the beaten track.
When Does Naumburg Cathedral Open?
Naumburg Cathedral is open daily in the summer and closed on Saturdays in the winter. Tours are available daily and tickets can be purchased at the box office. Tickets include a visit to the cathedral gardens and the treasury.
For travelers exploring the Romanesque Route, there are combination tickets for other cathedrals available. Naumburg Cathedral is still a working parish church; mass times are listed in German on the cathedral’s website.
I highly recommend visiting Naumburg Cathedral on your visit to Central Germany. The architecture and history are fascinating and it was one of the highlights of the TRANSROMANICA road trip through Saxony-Anhalt.
Saxony-Anhalt’s Naumburg Cathedral was written by Chrisoula Manika from TravelPassionate for EuropeUpClose. Chrisoula was invited by TRANSROMANICA on this trip around Saxony-Anhalt. She has a ton of useful Europe content on her blog and you should definitely check it out.