Brunswick Cathedral

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General view from Burgplatz, in the foreground the Brunswick Lion
Cathedral and lion
View from the southeast with apse on the right, choir in the center and towers in the background. On the right in the background the tower of Dankwarderode Castle
South side with rear of the westwork

The Braunschweig Cathedral , also the St. Blasii Cathedral Church in Braunschweig and formerly the Collegiate Church of St. Blasius and St. Johannis the Baptist , is the most important church in Braunschweig . It was 1173 when Kollegiatstiftskirche of Henry the Lion , Duke of Bavaria and Saxony , in relation to its Dankwarderode "in honor of St. Blasius' and St. John the Baptist donated" and from him to his grave Lege and his second wife Matilda of England determined .


Model of the cathedral on the tomb of Henry the Lion

After Henry the Lion returned from the Holy Land , where he had made a pilgrimage , the building of the church began in 1173. For the years 1182 to 1185, the time of Henry's first exile to England, construction can be expected to be interrupted. It can be assumed that the east side of the building was completed around 1188 (year of the consecration of the St. Mary's altar, which is still in the cathedral today ). Although the roof of the church burned down in 1195, the year Henry the Lion died, the work on the nave and parts of the tower floors are also likely to have been completed.

When Heinrich died in 1195, he was buried next to his second wife Mathilde, who had died in 1189, in the still unfinished cathedral. The common tomb in the cathedral was donated around 1230 and has been attested at this point since the Middle Ages .

The building was most likely given the name " Dom " as early as the 14th or 15th century. According to the medieval understanding, this was not so much the church of a bishop as that of a monastery . Until the 19th century, Braunschweig Cathedral was known as the "Stiftskirche" or the collegiate church of St. Blasius and St. Johannis the Baptist, some of which is still used today.

On December 29, 1226, the cathedral was consecrated and Thomas Becket was chosen to be the cathedral's third patron saint . The Brunswick Cathedral has been a Protestant church since 1543 .

Today the official name is the Evangelical Lutheran Cathedral of St. Blasii in Braunschweig .


Saxon west bar of the westwork in the evening light
Central nave (looking west). In the foreground the tomb for Heinrich the Lion and his second wife Mathilde Plantagenet .

Records of the beginning of the work on the Romanesque building and the commissioned builders no longer exist today. Only the consecrations of the numerous altars in the cathedral can be used as a guide, some of which documents still exist.

Originally designed as a three-aisled Romanesque pillar basilica in a bound system , with a transept , three apses , crypt , high choir and Saxon western bar (as found, for example, at the cathedral of Königslutter ) and built of limestone ( Elmkalkstein from the Elm and Braunschweig Rogenstein from the Nussberg ), the cathedral has been expanded and rebuilt several times over the centuries. The special architectural design results from the pillars and wall templates with edge pillars, cube-shaped capitals , raised groin vaults , continuous in the central nave as a barrel vault without belt arches . This simple vault shape, which dispenses with the division of the vault into yokes, is astonishing for a late Romanesque church.

The east side of the cathedral has been structurally the least changed over the centuries. On the north side, towards the Burgplatz , there is also the main portal of the church, above it the coat of arms of the Guelph Chancellor and Canon Ludolf Quirre and the year 1469. The two octagonal towers of the cathedral received a Gothic bell around 1300 , but have remained unfinished to this day .

Between 1322 and 1346 a further aisle was added on the south side. After the aisle on the north side had been demolished, a two-aisled late Gothic hall was built in its place in 1472 under Duke Wilhelm “the Victorious” . Its windows were adorned with glass paintings of dukes and duchesses (removed in 1687), so that it looked like a hall of fame of the Brunswick ruling house. What is unusual about this component are the windows with Tudor arches , which are typical of the Perpendicular Style , the English late Gothic style, as well as the twisted columns and figured ribbed vaults.

Major architectural changes took place under Duke Rudolf August around 1687 and his brother Duke Anton Ulrich around 1700. Between 1866 and 1910, the cathedral was completely renovated by, among others, the district builder Ernst Wiehe and redesigned in the style of historicism according to contemporary tastes.


Secco paintings

Secco paintings in the crossing: The heavenly Jerusalem
Medieval painter signature
The martyrdom of Thomas Becket
Secco painting in the chancel

The transept, the rear part of the nave and the apsidia were decorated with Secco paintings between 1230 and 1250 , around 80 percent of which are still preserved today. They were rediscovered in 1845 under overpainting, traced and then restored. In contrast to today's view of “restoration” as conservative preservation, it was quite common in the 19th century to carry out imaginative additions in the sense of historicism, which, however, had nothing to do with the original had to do.

The restoration and supplementary work spanned several decades. In this context Heinrich Brandes , the Braunschweig court decoration painter Adolf Quensen and August Essenwein should be mentioned by name . During this time, the paintings on the pillars in the nave were also added, which very likely did not exist in the Middle Ages. Some of the paintings on the pillars inconspicuously carry the note "Von Essenwein added 1880". However, according to the medieval tradition of painting Romanesque churches, only the sanctuary was painted, but never the nave.

In 1880/81, the cathedral was completely repainted, presumably largely taking over the object. In 1876 the saints had been created on the central nave pillars. Older photos show that the cathedral was decorated with ornamental and figurative paintings in the entire central nave.

Inscriptions with the name of the medieval artist can still be found on the northwestern nave pillar and in the crossing vault. In it, a “Johannes Wale” or “Johannes Gallicus” proudly refers to his work: “If these figures were among the living, they would rightly dwell with the gods.”

Both the paintings and the name Gallicus indicate an influence on the artist from France . The style of the paintings allows them to be dated to around 1230/50. In addition, there are clear references to the painting of the wooden ceiling in St. Michael in Hildesheim , the workshop of which was probably closely linked to that in Braunschweig. Continuum in the representations is the same angular treatment, especially of the lower folds of the garment. This angular form of representation was known as the "Zackenstil" and was very widespread in the second half of the 13th century.

The southern arm of the transept, which was painstakingly restored by restorer Fritz Herzig in 1954/56, gives the best impression of the original condition. He also examined the secco technique used by Johannes Gallicus.

Generally, such medieval paintings follow a thematically defined picture program. Some of the pictures turn to biblical themes, mostly a distinctly Christological picture cycle; another part deals with the genealogy of the founder (s), another part deals with the history of the cartridge.

The sequence of scenes is briefly discussed here (from the choir to the crossing into the south transept): Root Jesse ( family tree of Jesus ), Heavenly Jerusalem (instruction), cycles of the finding of the true cross of Jesus by Saint Helena , the martyr legends of Saint Blaise , John the Baptist and Thomas Becket of Canterbury, the north transept was decorated with scenes from the life of Christ following its discovery in the 19th century; in the Middle Ages these walls were apparently unpainted.

In the central apse, the returning Christ Pantocrator is enthroned on a rainbow to judge the world. The twelve apostles watch in the gates of the painted wall wreath . Starting from the Lamb of God in the center, scenes are depicted that are shaped by the hope of new life: the birth of Christ, the women at the empty tomb of the risen Christ , the breaking of bread by the risen Christ with two disciples in Emmaus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost .

In the vault of the choir, Jesus' earthly descent from King David to Mary is shown, with multiple branches to other indefinable kings that fill the entire vault.

Opposite the former imperial loft in the south transept, i.e. at every service in the face of Emperor Otto IV , the legend of the discovery of the Holy Cross by Saint Helena is depicted. It refers to the pilgrimage of Henry the Lion to Jerusalem. Since Helena was the mother of Constantine, the first Christian emperor in Rome and can be seen on a shield of the warring troops of the imperial eagle, the frieze also manifests the Guelph self-image as the direct heir of the Roman Empire, as embodied by Emperor Otto IV. The portrayal of the imperial eagle is said to be its oldest rendering. This is also where the initiator of the painting of the Braunschweig Cathedral and his intention can be seen: Otto IV took care of the design of his burial place during his lifetime. The thematic structure of the painting is to be understood in connection with the further design of the cathedral as the overall equipment of an imperial burial place.

There is a coherent preserved continuum of wall painting. This shows - albeit partly alienated by the revision of the 19th century - the importance of wall paintings for medieval church building and the joy of storytelling. The viewer at the time was even more impressed than today's visitor by the colorful sequence of images and the magnificent, partly gilded scenes, which in their entirety are among the most extensive cycles on German soil.

Against the background of the planned basic preservation of the inventory, an extensive inventory has been carried out in recent years in preparation for a large-scale restoration of the paintings, whereby the medieval paintings must be exposed again from later overpainting.

In the south transept, around 40 percent of the original painting has been preserved, although these are the more intensely colored areas. The replicas of the various restorations, however, are rather faded. The Gothic idea of ​​letting as much light as possible into the church through large windows damaged the Romanesque paintings.

Imervard Cross

There are numerous historical works of art inside and outside the cathedral. In the north aisle is the so-called "Imervard Cross". There is evidence that this Romanesque cross is older than the Brunswick Cathedral - it probably dates from 1150.

It is a Romanesque four-nail cross , which is assigned to the Volto Santo type . In science, stylistic references are made to the cross of the Lucca cathedral. It is very likely a processional cross that was carried before a procession (maybe a crusade or a pilgrimage?). In the back of the head there is a small drawer in which relics were kept. The Latin inscription "IMERVARD ME FECIT" (Imervard created me) can be read on the belt of the crucified.

From a stylistic point of view, as is customary in the Romanesque period, there is no suffering Christ shown, but a triumphant Christ, without a crown of thorns, with a royal robe (Christ the King).

For stylistic reasons, it is certainly not a triumphal cross that was attached to a beam at the crossing.

Mary Altar

One of the many altars that adorned the cathedral over the centuries, is founded by Henry the Lion and his wife Mathilde Marie altar . Bishop Adelog von Hildesheim consecrated it on September 8, 1188, the day of Mary's birth . It consists of a polished stone slab (168 cm × 89 cm) that rests on five bronze columns (height 95 cm). The middle column contains a lead reliquary container and a Latin inscription, the translation of which is:

“In the year of the Lord in 1188 this altar was consecrated in honor of the Blessed Mother of God Maria by Adelog, the venerable Bishop of Hildesheim at the instigation of the famous Duke Heinrich, the son of the daughter of Emperor Lothar II, and his pious wife Mathilde, daughter of English King Heinrich II, the son of Mathilde, the Empress of the Romans. "

The Marienaltar is the only one that has "survived" the more than 800-year history of the cathedral. All other altars have disappeared.

Seven-armed candlestick

Another famous object is the seven-armed chandelier , which was probably made around 1190. In any case, it has been in Brunswick Cathedral since before 1196, as Ludolf von Volkmarode had committed himself to taking care of the wax candles for this candlestick in a deed of foundation that year.

The chandelier consists of 77 individual bronze parts, is almost five meters high, has a span of four meters and weighs over 400 kilograms.

In terms of design and religious symbolism , the Braunschweig chandelier is very similar to the menorah and the tree of life . Similar candlesticks can only be found in the Essen Minster , in the Milan Cathedral and in Kołobrzeg (Kolberg) in the Kolberg Cathedral .

Despite its resemblance to the menorah, the candlestick has little in common with it. It can be assumed with certainty that the founder wanted the cathedral to be understood as an image of the Temple of Solomon. However, this candlestick is more likely to be a grave candlestick (reference to the tree of life) that Heinrich the Lion probably donated for the grave of his wife Mathilde, who had recently died. The skyward, one-point alignment of the lily-shaped candle bowls is also significant, which in turn indicates a resurrection symbolism.

Tomb of Henry the Lion and Mathilde of England

Tomb of Henry the Lion and his wife Mathilde (2017)
Gravestone detail: Gothic church windows in the church model serve as a dating aid

The tomb of Henry the Lion and his second wife Mathilde , which represents both donors larger than life, is located in front of the Marienaltar .

It is not directly related to the life of the ducal couple, but was created a few decades after their death. The grave figures are idealized figures, but due to their excellent artistic quality they are able to gain the realism of images.

The duke couple is not depicted at the age of the time of their death, but as people of the same age in the prime of their lives. The social position and importance of personalities are emphasized by gestures and attributes.

Heinrich, who is resting on the right-hand side in the direction of the grave figures, holds a model of the Brunswick Cathedral in his right hand, and in his left a sword wrapped in a sword belt as a sign of jurisdiction.

Mathilde grips a loop of her coat with her hands folded in front of her chest. The duke is portrayed as the lordly initiator of the building of the church and the duchess as a pious woman, whose prayer position corresponds to her contemporary designation as religiosissima femina .

The liveliness of the expression is particularly evident in the confidently wielded robes of the portrayed. They do not function primarily as a cover, but rather indicate the body parts close to nature and are even involved in the actions of the figures, as with Heinrich, who grasps the tip of a coat so as not to touch the sanctuary of the model.

Previously, with the earlier grave slabs, such as that of Rudolf von Schwaben from the 11th century in the Merseburg Cathedral , a conflict between the apparent standing and the actual lying of the figures had become visible.

A new naturalistic conception, which is closely related in time to the grave slabs of the Plantagenêts in Fontevraud Abbey , but in this area for the first time in these figures, overcomes this indecision. The robes sink in between the legs or envelop the bodies in a supple and flowing manner, from which they should actually hang if standing figures were meant. The church model also seems to lie more on Heinrich's chest than on his hand. This new type of design as an artistic achievement has remained at the center of interest in art historical research on the Brunswick tomb until very recently .

The date of origin of the tomb can be dated fairly precisely, as the first Gothic changes to the cathedral can already be read on the model of the church that holds the figure of Heinrich (breakthrough Gothic windows in the upper wall of the nave, probably for better lighting or staging of the tomb itself or created by Emperor Otto IV together with the seven-armed grave chandelier standing there). Nevertheless, the dates fluctuate between 1200 and 1260. Most likely the time shortly after 1227, the year of the death of Count Palatine Heinrich , when the situation in Braunschweig was uncertain and the breach of property rights should be avoided by reminding the memory of the great donor. An important historical source for dating the tomb are the annals of the Welf house chronicler Arnold von Lübeck from 1210, which mention a very remarkable tomb (satis memorabilis sepultura) of Heinrich and his wife Mathilde in St. Blasius. This source cannot actually be disregarded when dating the tomb.

Welfentumba in the north apse


In 1707, Duke Anton Ulrich von Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel had the remains of his ancestors buried in the nave exhumed and buried together in a monumental limestone tomb . This is covered with a bronze inscription plate on which u. a. Emperor Otto IV and his first wife Beatrix von Schwaben are mentioned. The tomb of the imperial couple was originally located in front of the tomb of Otto's parents Heinrich the Lion and his wife Mathilde, which is reminiscent of a plate placed in the floor in 2009.

Above the Welfentumba, a brass plaque reminds of the crypt for Duke Rudolf August von Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel and his wives, which was set up around 1700 in the northern arm of the transept , but which was removed in 1934.


Big sundial
Small sundial

There are four sundials on the cathedral that date from 1334, 1346, 1518 and 1723.

The two oldest clocks are only shaped as a semicircle according to the time. The clock from 1518 already shows various stages of development of this clock type. The large sundial on the southern tower was originally created by the Augsburg cabinetmaker Georg Hertel for the municipal mint on Kohlmarkt and was not attached to the cathedral until 1723 (possibly as early as 1716). You can not only read the time of day and some astronomical data on it , it can also be used as a calendar .


Cathedral organ from 1962 from the workshop of Karl Schuke

The oldest known organ in the cathedral was built in 1499 by the organ builder Heinrich Kranz. No further details are known about the instrument. It was converted into a baroque organ at the beginning of the 17th century and expanded over time. At the beginning of the 19th century the organ must have stood on a gallery at a height of about 4.50 meters and had a prospect that was about 12.50 meters high and 8.70 meters wide. In the course of the restoration of the cathedral from 1877 to 1895, a massive organ loft was built in neo-Romanesque style on which a new organ with 85 registers (5863 pipes) was installed; the instrument was connected to a remote unit in the choir.

Cathedral organ

Today's organ goes back to an instrument that was built in 1962 by the company Karl Schuke Berliner Orgelbauwerkstatt with 55 stops on four manuals and pedal . 1992 the same company built the slider chests -instrument to: The Positive received a Schwellvorrichtung, also a 64-fold were capture system installed and a Crescendotritt installed. In 2002/2003 the company Freiburger Orgelbau Hartwig Späth organ builder completely re- voiced the organ. In addition, the wind pressure was increased, some existing registers were exchanged for new ones, the swell was sealed with lead plates and insulating material, the crescendo step was replaced with a roller and a new setting system with an unlimited number of memories was added. Today the instrument has 57 stops on four manual works and a pedal. A special feature are the two breastworks, which can each be swelled. The game actions are mechanical, the stop action is electric. The organ has the following disposition :

I Swell C – g 3
1. Principal 08th'
2. Dumped 08th'
3. Black viola 08th'
4th Beat 08th' (N)
5. octave 04 ′
6th Coupling flute 04 ′
7th Forest flute 02 ′
8th. Fifth 01 13
9. Sesquialtera II
10. Mixture V
11. bassoon 16 ′ (N)
12. English trumpet 08th' (N)
13. oboe 08th'
II Hauptwerk C – g 3
14th Principal 16 ′
15th octave 08th'
16. Reed flute 08th'
17th octave 04 ′
18th Night horn 04 ′
19th Fifth 02 23
20th octave 02 ′
21st Flat flute 02 ′
22nd Mixture VI
23. Scharff IV
24. Trumpet 16 ′
25th Trumpet 08th'
26th Trumpet 04 ′
Morning star 0 (N)
Evening star (N)
III breastworkC-g 3
27. Wooden dacked 8th'
28. Wooden principal 4 ′
29 Principal 2 ′
30th Sif flute 1'
31. Terzian II
32. Scharff III – V 0
33. Hopper shelf 8th'
34. Singing shelf 4 ′
IV breastworkC-g 3
35. Quintadena 000 08th'
36. recorder 04 ′
37. Pipe whistle 02 ′
38. Decime II
39. Septade II
40. Cymbel III
41. Rankett 16 ′
42. Krummhorn 08th'
Pedal C – f 1
43. Pedestal 32 ′ (N)
44. Principal 16 ′
45. Sub bass 16 ′
46. Subtle bass 16 ′ (N)
47. Octave bass 08th'
48. Gemshorn 08th'
49. Choral bass 04 ′
50. Night horn 02 ′
51. Rauschpfeife III 0
52. Mixture VI
53. bassoon 32 ′
54. trombone 16 ′
55. Trumpet 08th'
56. Trumpet 04 ′
57. Cornett 02 ′
  • Coupling : I / P; II / pedal; III / pedal; IV / pedal; III / I (2003); IV / I (2003); Sub I / I (2003); I / II; Sub I / II (2003); III / II; IV / II; IV / III.
  • Playing aids : roller; Typesetting system (unlimited number of memories).
  • Remarks
(N) = newly built in 2003.
  1. Left breastwork
  2. a b Swellable.
  3. Right breast.

Choir Organ (2023)

Northern half of the future twin organ set up as a demonstration model (2017).

It is expected that in the summer of 2023 the cathedral will receive the first part of a choir organ , which will be built as a three-part instrument by the organ building workshop of Freiburger Orgelbau Hartwig and Tilmann Späth . The registers of the choir organ are divided into two mirror-symmetrical twin housings opposite one another; the main work is housed in the “north organ”, the swell and the solo work in the “south organ”. The two organ cases are modeled on the wings of an angel and flank the seven-armed chandelier. Both organ cases are designed to be swellable. The bass registers are located outside the two wings on the south wall of the transept.

The choir organ system will have a total of 31 registers (2260 pipes) sounding registers on three manuals and a pedal, plus 6 extended registers and 17 transmissions. The pedal itself only receives 2 real registers with 5 transmissions from these and 17 transmissions from the individual organ works. There are two digital effect registers in the solo work. The choir organ should be controlled together with the main organ from a freely movable console.

An organ building association was founded to finance the organ. The monument protection authority approved the construction, although part of the wall paintings in the choir are covered.


"Blasius major", also called "Salvator", with 4.8 t the largest and heaviest bell in the cathedral, cast in 1502 by Gerhard van Wou

The cathedral has twelve bells , including ten medieval bells, one bell from 1700 and one bell from 1990. The chime is one of the most important chimes in Germany.

The oldest bell is the so-called Adämchen resp. Blasius minimus . Because of its shape, it is believed that this bell dates from the 15th century; the founder is unknown.

The three largest bells of the peal ( Salvator , Maria and Johannes ) were cast in 1502 by one of the most renowned bell founders of his time, the Dutch master Gerhard van Wou . Van Wou may have also cast a fourth bell at that time, the Thomas bell , which however crashed in 1660. In its place as the fourth largest sounding body, a bell has been located since 1990, which was refilled in 1989 by the Rincker bell foundry in Sinn and reinserted into the cathedral bells under the name Thomas von Canterbury .

Six other medieval bells (bells five to ten) were cast in 1506 by van Wou's assistant Heinrich von Kampen . It is believed that von Kampen added one or two bells from the previous cathedral bells to the new cathedral bells - including the Adämchen . The small Gabriels bell was cast in 1700 by the Brunswick bell caster Arnold Grete from the material of a bell also created by Hinrik van Campen in 1506.

During the Second World War , all the bells in the cathedral were to be delivered and melted down. In fact, the three largest remained in the bell house. After the end of the war, the others were rescued from the “ bell cemetery ” and returned to their original location.

On April 23, 2006, the three largest bells in the cathedral ( Blasius major, Maria and Johannes ) left their traditional place in the belfry for the first time in over 500 years to undergo restoration work in the Lachenmeyer bell welding plant in Nördlingen . After completing their work, they came back to Braunschweig two months later, on June 23rd.

Bells were welded to fill in cracks that had arisen as a result of material fatigue. The cracks were first sawed out, then the bell was brought to high temperature, which, however, is still well below the melting point . The cracks were then filled with bronze made from the exact same alloy. Due to the high temperature, the atoms were also realigned on the non-welded parts of the bell, and any fatigued areas are then also “cast like new”.

In connection with the damage to the three largest bells in the cathedral, clear criticism has recently been leveled at the ringing practice, which so far has consisted of ringing these bells for at least ten minutes a day . A more careful handling of the 500 year old memorial bells has been urged several times to no avail.

Casting year
Foundry, casting location
( HT - 1 / 16 )
1 Salvator or Blasius major 1502 Gerhard van Wou 1935 4800 a 0 +100 below
2 Maria 1726 3300 h 0 −1 00
3 John the Baptist 1548 2400 c sharp 1 −5
4th Thomas of Canterbury 1990 Bell foundry Rincker, Sinn 1374 1578 d 1 ± 000 center
5 Anna or Dominikal 1506 Hinrick van Campen 1053 690 ice 1 +4
6th Blasius medius et minor or mountain bell 941 550 g sharp 1 −5
7th Maria or wolf bell 843 380 ais 1 +2
8th Thomas 796 320 h 1 +3 00
9 Kaspar, vespers or sacrificial bell 697 220 c sharp 2 +5
10 Catherine 643 180 dis 2 −1
11 Gabriel, tuning or tinkling bell 1700 Arnold Grete, Braunschweig 510 90 ice 2 +6 above
12 Adämchen or Blasius minimus ~ 15. Century unknown 390 36 dis 3 +4


Crypt: burial place of the Guelphs
Henry the Lion's Crypt. Left: sarcophagus of Henry the Lion, right: sarcophagus of his second wife Mathilde Plantagenet. In the background is a sarcophagus containing the remains of several Brunons, namely: Margravine Gertrude the Elder of Braunschweig, Margrave Ekberts II of Meißen, and Gertrude the Younger of Braunschweig, sister Ekbert II and great-grandmother of Henry the Lion.

In the cathedral there is a large crypt , the burial place of the Guelph princes of the Brunswick line from the 17th century to the 19th century.

The following people, among others, are buried here (in chronological and family order):

time of the nationalsocialism

Cathedral and lion on the 5 Reichsmark banknote from 1942 (reverse)

In 1942 the 5 Reichsmark banknote was issued with a picture of the cathedral with the Brunswick lion .

The National Socialists tried several times to instrumentalize Heinrich the Lion and the cathedral ideologically and propagandistically in the sense of the National Socialist race and living space ideology. The Minister-President of Brunswick, NSDAP member Dietrich Klagges , who wanted to achieve the title of “Most German City” for Braunschweig , a title that Hitler later awarded Nuremberg , showed particular interest in this .

In view of his 1147 crusade against the Slavic peoples northeast of Brunswick (up to the Baltic Sea coast ), their resulting submission and the subsequent increased colonization in the East, attempted by National Socialist ideologues such as B. Alfred Rosenberg to let Heinrich the Lion appear as a pioneer of their ideology.

Between 1935 and 1940, the interior of the cathedral, which dates from the 19th century, was completely removed and the building was partially structurally and structurally changed in line with the regime.

Opening of the tomb of Henry the Lion


After Hitler was appointed Chancellor of the Reich , extensive activities began immediately to centralize the new Nazi state and concentrate power in Berlin alone.

Although the Free State of Braunschweig had its own Prime Minister Dietrich Klagges, a member of the NSDAP , he was subordinate to the Reich Governor of Braunschweig and Anhalt Wilhelm Friedrich Loeper , who resided in Dessau .

However, out of self-interest (planned NSDAP career), Klagges wanted to keep the state of Braunschweig largely independent of the Berlin dirigism. For this reason he had a still to be called "Gau Ostfalen " in mind with Braunschweig as the Gau capital and himself as Gauleiter . According to Klagges' ideas, Braunschweig was to become a model and model city for the Nazi regime, including new model settlements in Mascherode and Lehndorf .

Henry the Lion as a means to a political end

In order to be able to realize his ideas, Klagges tried to politically instrumentalize Heinrich the Lion for his own purposes by using him to draw the attention of the Reich and the “Führer” to Braunschweig - and thus to himself. In this way Heinrich gradually became the "vehicle" for Klagges' plans and thus he stylized himself as the "colonizer of the East" ; In 1934 the Lower Saxony Day took place in Braunschweig with the massive "presence" of Henry the Lion.

On May 5, 1935, on the occasion of an official state visit by Hermann Göring and Hanns Kerrl , Reich Minister for Church Affairs , in Braunschweig, Klagges announced his intention to convert the Braunschweig Cathedral into a "national memorial" and hoped for the Nazi celebrities corresponding backing in the Reich and with Hitler. In order to fully win the “Führer” over, Klagges even tried to put Hitler in line with Henry the Lion. In a speech on June 20, 1935, he said in Braunschweig: "We will not go wrong if we look at the policies of Adolf Hitler as a direct continuation of those folk and peasant policy that once the lion operated Henry of Brunswick and performed." This it was a fairly straightforward political calculation. Hitler was not impressed by this - on the contrary, as Klagges soon found out.

The grave opening

On June 18, 1935, Klagges informed the Braunschweig regional bishop Helmuth Johnsen that he, Klagges, was the host of the Braunschweig Cathedral and had therefore decided to open the grave of Henry the Lion for archaeological research in a few days .

The burial site had already been opened several times before, in 1640, 1814, 1880 and finally in 1935. The last time the burial site was opened in 1946 in the new crypt created in 1938 was to put the locks of hair removed in 1936 back into place.

On June 24, 1935, "privatissime" , so to speak, began with the uncovering of the grave of Henry the Lion and his second wife Mathilde. The grave was first explored by Eißfeldt (chief forest master by profession), whom Klagges himself had chosen for the task. In addition, the “excavation team” consisted of building officer Hartwig, Ernst August Roloff , the technical students Birker and Rieger (as photographers) and the regional archaeologist Hermann Hofmeister (who was subsequently called in) (who then took on the professional management of the further excavations).

Many decades later, an eyewitness of the excavations wrote: "The work was started without notifying the pastor or the cathedral priest or the regional church office ..." and "I did not get the impression that everyone involved was in great awe of the matter; I actually remembered that the archaeologist involved was sitting on the edge of the crypt and looking down at a loss ... ” .

Initially, only seven days were set for the excavation work, but after the management changed to expert hands (Hofmeister), this period was extended.

A stone sarcophagus

Sarcophagi of Heinrichs (left), Mathildes (right) and the Brunonen (in the background)
Henry the Lion's crypt in the overall picture

On June 27, 1935, a sarcophagus found in the crypt was opened. A largely decomposed corpse came to light , of which mainly bones of the lower extremities (including the pelvis) were still present. The head was hardly recognizable as such at first glance. The body was sewn into the remains of a leather cover. The measurement of the skeletal remains showed a body height of only 1.62 m. The build was described as stocky and stocky. Upon further examination, it could not be clearly established whether it was a male or female corpse.

Severe injury

The bones found very quickly showed that the person in question must have suffered from a severe disability, because the left leg was shortened by 10 cm.

This feature was interpreted as an essential indication of the sex and identity of the corpse, because it is documented that Heinrich the Lion had a serious accident in February 1194 (at the age of 65) on the way to Saalfeld. On an icy path near Bodfeld in the Harz Mountains , he fell from his horse and was injured so badly in the leg that he could not continue the journey.

In the Annales Stederburgenses it is noted:

"Ad quam (curiem Salefelde) cum ... dux esset in itinere, in arduo nemoris, cum appropimquaret, qui Botfelde dicitur, dux de equo corruit et ex cotritione tibiae an itinere, quod coeperat, impetitus est ..."
("When the Duke was on the march to the Königshof Saalfeld and approached a place called Bodfeld, he fell from his horse and was prevented from marching further due to an injury to the tibia.")

A thorough examination of the skeleton revealed the actual extent of the "injury": the left joint capsule of the pelvis appeared to be torn, and the left femoral joint appeared to have slipped out of the socket as a result . The scarring found on the left side of the assumed fracture and the partially healed but misshapen joint socket were regarded as indications that the person (Henry the Lion - as was assumed) must have lived a long time after the accident, but that their mobility was significantly impaired was.

The question of whether this is sufficient as proof of the identity of the corpse has been raised critically on several occasions. According to a more recent finding from 1974, the bones in the sarcophagus belonged to a dark-haired woman of smaller stature who suffered from a congenital hip anomaly.

It is said about Mathilde that she was always carried in a sedan chair - possibly an indication of a physical handicap that made walking difficult.

The children's coffin

During further investigations of the crypt, surprisingly another, but much smaller stone sarcophagus came to light - obviously a children's coffin.

Here, too, it seems that the identity was quickly clarified. Henry the Lion and his first wife Clementia had a son named Heinrich. According to tradition, his wet nurse should have let him fall from the table when he was a child, and the child died. Due to the skeleton size of 70 cm, the child should have been two to three years old.

A third coffin

The remains of an almost completely rotten wooden coffin were then discovered between the children's sarcophagus and the large sarcophagus. In it was found a sack-shaped leather cover with a length of 2.05 m, sewn with a thick cord, which enclosed a skeleton.

The large corpse, identified “clearly” as female in 1935, was interpreted as Mathildes, Heinrich's second wife, who had died in 1189 at the age of only 32 and was the first to be buried in this crypt. In 1974 this result was revised when it was reinterpreted and the wooden coffin with the skeleton located there was identified as the grave of Henry the Lion. After assessment of the find, the remains of the two adults were transferred to zinc coffins and these in turn were placed in the old and a new stone sarcophagus.

According to current knowledge, the ascertained difference in size of 1.62 m to 2.05 m is attributed to the fact that the wooden coffin was crushed by the heavy stone cover of the grave over the centuries and thus pressed in length. There is no simple inference from the length of the body to the gender of the people found.

The excavation work finally came to an official end on July 6, 1935.

Visit of Hitler

After Klagges succeeded in bringing Heinrich the Lion, Brunswick Cathedral, the excavations and thus himself into the spotlight of the (political) public, Hitler made a lightning visit to the excavation site on July 17, 1935.

However, the visit did not go in the direction of the Braunschweig Prime Minister, because after the visit, Hitler declared that from now on only he himself would decide on the type and scope of the construction measures for the transformation of the Braunschweig Cathedral into a National Socialist "consecration site". As a result, all work orders that had been issued by Klagges up to that point were canceled. To Hitler's great annoyance, however, the news of his actually secret presence in the city quickly spread among the population, so that he left Braunschweig after a few hours and never entered again.

Hanns Kerrl was later given sole decision-making authority by Hitler regarding all measures in connection with the cathedral - de facto a disempowerment of Klagges, because he had to have everything approved by Kerrl or Hitler. The Reich contributed to the costs and “the Führer would appear as a donor” in public.

Criticism and conclusion

The "archaeological" work of summer 1935, if you want it as described as such, are considered by experts to this day as controversial because they lacked the one hand any scientific base and (was withheld so there was, for example, by the end of World War II no Discussion of the excavation findings among experts), on the other hand, the excavations raised more new questions than they solved old ones.

After the work was finished, the NSDAP quickly became surprisingly quiet about Heinrich the Lion. For example, the official excavation report (eleven pages of text with 56 photos) by the state archaeologist and excavation director Hermann Hofmeister, which he wrote shortly before his death in 1936, was not published during the Nazi era. It was not until 1978 that a slightly shortened version appeared with considerably fewer photos (see below under “Literature”).

After the end of the war, a sometimes heated scientific debate arose about the actual identity of the bones, which questioned the correct allocation of the remains or rejected it as ideologically motivated wishful thinking. So it is still not clear whose bones were found in Braunschweig Cathedral at the time.

The original arrangement of the figures on the tomb, which was changed due to the (deliberate) misinterpretation of the National Socialists in 1936/38 and was only reversed after the restoration of the Tumba, can be used as an indication of the assignment of the remains .

In addition, this arrangement of the graves (Mathilde in the stone sarcophagus, Heinrich in the wooden coffin) is in line with the Steterburg annals that Henry the lion is buried in dextero latere uxoris suae ("on the right of his wife"). Here, grave slabs made directly after the death of the ruling couple should have been a means of identification.

Redesign of the cathedral inside

A new crypt for Henry the Lion

As early as August 14, 1935, the architects Walter and Johannes Krüger (the builders of the memorial and the Hindenburg crypt near Tannenberg ), selected by Hitler, were commissioned to design a crypt for Heinrich the Lion that was appropriate to its political and historical significance. The drafts were completed on November 25, 1935 and presented to Hitler on December 11, 1935 for assessment and approval.

Regional Bishop Johnsen protested to Klagges and Kerrl against the renovation measures - in vain, because Klagges referred to his role as host and declared that there was no “cathedral parish” in the legal sense; insofar there is no interference with the free exercise of religion or internal church matters.

Lion head by Arno Breker

Since the Braunschweig Cathedral was owned by the state of Braunschweig and not by the regional church , the National Socialists did not even need an expropriation to carry out their ideologically justified renovation measures . Construction began in 1936 and was completed in 1938.

The design by the Krüger brothers envisaged a massive, almost square crypt made of Odenwald granite . Above the entrance to the crypt, the keystone of the vault is a stylized lion head by the sculptor Arno Breker, who was preferred by the National Socialists . On the four sides of the new burial place are the coats of arms of the cities of Munich , Lübeck and Lüneburg founded by Heinrich the Lion and his residence in Braunschweig. The west wall showed a stylized swastika that was removed after the war.

In a kind of “reliquary niche”, two versions with an alleged lock of Heinrich's hair and a band of fabric found in Mathilde's alleged grave were exhibited until 1945 .

Transformation of the interior of the church

The National Socialist race and habitat ideologues intended to make the Braunschweig Cathedral an object of their propaganda . For this purpose, it was planned to rob the cathedral of its function as a place of Christian religious practice and to instrumentalize it by, on the one hand, profaning it and, on the other hand, “filling” it with Nazi symbols and characters. The aim was to create a “national place of worship” or a “folk consecration place” for “devotion to the entire German people”.

To achieve this goal, the interior of the church was brought back to its medieval "original state" (as the Nazi propagandists understood it) by removing everything that did not come from the time of Henry the Lion, that is, all items of equipment such as crosses, epitaphs and other furnishings such as the chairs and the like, but also paintings from the 19th century, were completely removed. The cathedral was “gutted”, so to speak.

Then new, large fire bowls were set up to illuminate the room and the tomb of the duke and his wife was surrounded by granite.

The Braunschweig folklore expert Werner Flechsig , who was head of the folklore department of the Braunschweigisches Landesmuseum from 1950 until his retirement in 1973 , enthusiastically welcomed the Nazi redesign of the cathedral in 1940:

“... We therefore only perceive the ingredients of the 19th century in our old cathedrals as an inartistic discord, which, due to the inability to create their own style, resorted to feeble imitations of older forms [...] Here there was no longer real life, but paralysis. […] We are allowed to add images of our style and spirit to the Dome of Henry the Lion, like the tomb of the duke and the frescoes in the 13th century, the Gothic aisles in the 14th and 15th centuries, the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries 18th century added more tombs and epitaphs ...

... The high definition of the Brunswick Cathedral as a national sanctuary requires a corresponding picture content. In a room which, according to the Fuehrer's will, should serve the devotion of the entire German people, the artistic decoration could not possibly have been determined by a completely different tradition. […] The consecration place of Henry the Lion had to be adorned with depictions of the work through which this man is immortal, the eastern colonization. These representations are intended to captivate visitors to the cathedral as soon as they enter the room [...] Thanks and admiration for a man who paved the way for our people three quarters of a millennium ago into a great present and an even greater future. […] What was previously only an expression of unfulfilled longing, today it is becoming reality under the leadership of Adolf Hitler. [...] "

New painting of the nave

In 1937 the National Socialists selected the young Berlin painter Wilhelm Dohme to paint the nave , who immediately began his work and painted the cathedral using the sgraffito technique. Interrupted by Dohme's deployment as a soldier in World War II, eight monumental images were created, aligned with the east end of the cathedral, extending across the entire nave and thematizing the "conquest of the east" by Henry the Lion.

Without background paintings on rough plaster, these paintings showed scenes in connection with the life of Henry the Lion. All figures shown are oriented towards the east. In terms of content, the murals clearly reflected National Socialist ideas, but the formal language corresponded more to the New Objectivity of the 1920s. The aim was to portray Heinrich the Lion as the "ancestor" of Hitler and "pioneer" of the nationalist movement . The work was completed in 1940 after several interruptions.

Dohme's sgraffiti, like the other structural and design changes in and on the cathedral, contributed in their entirety to the fact that the cathedral received the new meaning intended by the National Socialist rulers as a national place of pilgrimage and consecration. The Brunswick Cathedral was now the "State Cathedral".

At a ceremony on November 23, 1940, on the occasion of the cultural and political conference of the German Community Day , at which the cathedral was open to the public for the first time in many years, Rosenberg “consecrated” it as a “national place of worship” and “Hall of Henry the Lion” “, As the cathedral was also called in the following.

War and Post War

Crossing of the cathedral seen from the east (left in the background the towers of the Martini church )

The Braunschweig Cathedral was only insignificantly damaged by the more than 40 heavy and heaviest air raids on Braunschweig in the years between 1940 and 1945 compared to the up to 90 percent destroyed city center in which it is located. Only the vaults of the northern porch, roof and windows were affected.

After the end of the war, the structural and design changes from the National Socialist era were largely reversed, and the Braunschweig Cathedral was once again able to serve as a Protestant church.

Through a state church treaty concluded in 1954 between the state of Lower Saxony and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Braunschweig , the cathedral and all its art treasures were transferred to the property of the St. Blasius Cathedral Foundation in Braunschweig , administered by the regional church office . Since then, the legal representation of the cathedral has been incumbent on the foundation, which also has the cathedral cemetery and the other buildings (cathedral cantor house, house of the cathedral singing school , cathedral cemetery gardener's house) in its care.

In the 1960s, the cathedral was completely renovated. On this occasion, the heavy damage to the foundation that had been caused by the construction of the crypt for Henry the Lion in 1936 was repaired. In 2005 the entire exposed masonry made of Elm limestone was painted over with a shiny, acrylic-like paint.

Today, an average of 350,000 people visit Braunschweig Cathedral every year. This makes it one of the ten most visited Protestant churches in Germany and Switzerland. Today the Domsingschule is the largest institution for Protestant church music in Germany.


The lion's scratches on the portal
Cannonball from 1615

Scratch marks on the lion portal

The so-called "lion portal" is located on the northeast side of the cathedral. It is the only surviving cathedral portal from Roman times and is known for the " scratch marks " in the stone door jambs . According to legend, they are said to come from the lion of Henry the Lion. When the dead duke lay laid out in the cathedral, the lion tried to get to his master by scratching the portal.

The actual cause of these "scratch marks" is likely to be that soldiers sharpened their weapons, such as swords and lances , there for sharpening, which over the centuries left deep indentations. Another explanation is that this portal is the only one from the time the cathedral was built and is therefore probably the portal "whose stones Henry the Lion saw". In the Middle Ages and the Late Middle Ages, stones were therefore given a special (healing) power and attempts were made to extract powder from them. By taking this powder, one promised to participate in the legendary power of Henry the Lion. Oral tradition says that another reason for the population to scrape off parts of the stone could be that Saint Blaise, to whom the cathedral is consecrated, is the patron saint of those with throat diseases. Ingesting the powder should bring healing.

Cannonball in the east wall

In the east side of the cathedral there is a cannon ball in the wall. It is said to come from one of the numerous sieges of the city in the 17th century. Under the ball is in Roman numerals “20. August 1615 “carved. This points to the siege by Duke Friedrich Ulrich's troops of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel in the summer of 1615.


  • Elmar Arnhold: Collegiate Church of St. Blasii (cathedral). In: Medieval metropolis Braunschweig. Architecture and urban architecture from the 11th to 15th centuries. Appelhans Verlag, Braunschweig 2018, ISBN 978-3-944939-36-0 , pp. 84-103.
  • Reinhard Dorn : Medieval churches in Braunschweig. Niemeyer, Hameln 1978, ISBN 3-87585-043-2 .
  • Hermann Hofmeister : Report on the discovery of Heinrich the Lion's crypt in Braunschweig Cathedral in the summer of 1935. Abridged version. Archiv-Verlag, Braunschweig 1978.
  • Horst-Rüdiger Jarck , Gerhard Schildt (ed.): The Braunschweigische Landesgeschichte. A region looking back over the millennia . 2nd Edition. Appelhans Verlag, Braunschweig 2001, ISBN 3-930292-28-9 .
  • Wolfgang Kimpflinger: Monuments in Lower Saxony. Volume 1.1 .: City of Braunschweig. Part 1 (=  monument topography Federal Republic of Germany ). Hameln 1993, ISBN 3-87585-252-4 , pp. 54-60.
  • Jochen Luckhardt , Franz Niehoff (ed.): Heinrich the lion and his time. Rule and Representation of the Guelphs 1125 to 1235 (3 volumes). Hirmer, Munich 1995, ISBN 3-7774-6690-5 (catalog of the exhibition in Braunschweig 1995).
  • Cord Meckseper (Ed.): City in Transition. Art and Culture of the Bourgeoisie in Northern Germany 1150–1650 (4 volumes). Ed. Cantz, Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt 1985, ISBN 3-922608-37-X (catalog for the Lower Saxony state exhibition in Braunschweig, August 24 to November 24, 1985).
  • Martin Neumann: Sundials on old buildings in Braunschweig. Friedrich Borek, Evangelical Cathedral Parish Office, Braunschweig 1991.
  • Adolf Quast : The St. Blaise Cathedral in Braunschweig. Its history and its works of art. Self-published, Braunschweig 1975, DNB 1191707199 .
  • Tilmann Schmidt: The burial place of Heinrich the lion in the cathedral to Braunschweig. In: Braunschweigisches Jahrbuch. 55. 1974, pp. 9-45.
  • Monika Soffner-Loibl, Joachim Hempel: The Brunswick Cathedral. 2nd, modified edition. Kunstverlag Peda , Passau 1999, ISBN 3-89643-499-3 .
  • Gerd Spies (Ed.): Brunswiek 1031 - Braunschweig 1981. The city of Henry the Lion from its beginnings to the present (2 volumes). Städtisches Museum Braunschweig, Braunschweig 1982 (catalog for the historical exhibition from April 25, 1981 to October 11, 1981).
  • Gerd Spies (Ed.): Braunschweig - The image of the city in 900 years. History and Views (2 volumes). Städtisches Museum Braunschweig, Braunschweig 1985 (catalog for the city history exhibition in the old town hall from 24 August to 24 November 1985, Städtisches Museum Braunschweig).
  • Frank Neidhart Steigerwald : The tomb of Heinrich the Lion and Mathilde in the cathedral of Braunschweig. A study of figural art of the early 13th century, especially sculptural art (=  Braunschweiger Werkstücke , Volume 47). Waisenhaus-Buchdruckerei und Verlag, Braunschweig 1969, DNB 482625376 1971 (Dissertation Technical University Braunschweig 1972, 134 [32] pages, 89 illustrations, DNB 730097064 ).
  • Mechthild Wiswe : In the crypt of the Brunswick Cathedral. The final resting place of the Guelph princes. Ed. Evangelical Cathedral Parish Office. Orphanage printing house, Braunschweig 1990.
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Web links

Commons : Braunschweiger Dom  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Sebastian Wamsiedler: The bells of the collegiate church St. Blasius and St. Johannis d. Baptist (Brunswick Cathedral). (PDF) March 19, 2013, accessed on July 13, 2018 .
  2. The Brunswick Cathedral. Retrieved July 13, 2018 .
  3. Hans Josef Böker : The late Gothic north hall of the Brunswick cathedral. In: Low German contributions to art history. Volume 26, 1987, pp. 51-62.
  4. ^ Friedrich Berndt : The shape of the organs in the St. Blasii Cathedral. In: , originally as an article in the Festschrift for the consecration of the organ, 1962 (PDF) .
  5. ^ The organ in the Brunswick Cathedral: data. In: (PDF).
  6. The Brunswick Cathedral receives its second organ. In: Braunschweiger Zeitung. January 28, 2020, accessed January 30, 2020 .
  7. ^ Orgelbauverein am Braunschweiger Dom eV - Disposition of the new choir organ. Accessed January 30, 2020 .
  8. Information about the organ on the website of the organ builder
  9. ^ Orgelbauverein am Braunschweiger Dom eV. Accessed January 30, 2020 .
  10. Audio file of the full bells of the Braunschweig Cathedral on ( plenary )
  11. Ernst-August Roloff : Hitler's lightning visit seals rift with Klagges. In: Braunschweiger Zeitung -Special (Ed.) No. 3: How brown was Braunschweig? Hitler and the Free State of Braunschweig. 2nd Edition. Braunschweig 2003, p. 33.
  12. Werner Flechsig: Symbols of History, To Wilhelm Dohmes murals in the Brunswick Cathedral. In: Art in the German Empire. 4th year, episode 3, March 1940, ed. by the Führer’s agent for the supervision of the entire intellectual and ideological training and education of the NSDAP, Munich 1940, pp. 86–93.
  13. The titles of the eight murals were: Dispute between Emperor Barbarossa and Heinrich the Lion about Ostpolitik , soldiers moving to the east , farmers moving to the east , Henry the lion as leader and victor , battle for new land , clearing and plowing in the Eastern settlement land , harvest and thanks of the settlers to Heinrich the Lion and border guards to the east .
  14. Rosenberg's address in the cathedral. In: The cultural-political conference of the German Municipal Assembly as part of the 7th Reich Labor Conference of the Office of Reichsleiter Rosenberg in Braunschweig on November 23 and 24, 1940. Wilhelm Hesse (Ed.), Verlag Appelhans, Braunschweig 1941, pp. 19-25.
  15. Ev.-luth. Cathedral Parish Office: Cathedral Foundation. In:
  16. Do you know the Braunschweiger Domsingschule? In:
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on October 24, 2005 .

Coordinates: 52 ° 15 ′ 51 ″  N , 10 ° 31 ′ 27 ″  E