Guided Views

The hidden details at Naumburg Cathedral

By State Chancellery and Ministry of Culture of Sachsen-Anhalt

State Chancellery and Ministry of Culture of Sachsen-Anhalt

Pulpit (15th century) by unknownOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

The Last Supper (a scene at the western rood screen)

The Passion - literally: the suffering - of Christ at the Westlettner begins with the last supper of Jesus with his disciples, because here the imminent betrayal of Judas is revealed. The Naumburg sculptor transposes the reports from two Gospels at once: "He who dipped his hand with me in the bowl, he will betray me." (Matthew 26, 23) "He it is to whom I dip and give the morsel." (John 13:26)

The betrayer Judas, as one of only five disciples depicted, takes his seat isolated on the left edge of the picture, his back turned to the viewer, with the folds of the tablecloth aimed at him like an accusing arrow. While the other persons are depicted in an unusually natural physicality and physiognomy for the Middle Ages, Christ, as in the other reliefs, appears emphatically static, frontally aligned and largely motionless. What is remarkable about the scene is the dramatically slanted table, which allows the viewer standing below to perceive every detail.

Pulpit, Luther figure (15th century) by unknownOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

Luther at the pulpit

At the cross or so-called lay altar in the middle yoke of the eastern rood screen, a significant event in the history of the Reformation took place in 1542, when Martin Luther inaugurated the world's first Protestant bishop, Nikolaus von Amsdorf, here. Amsdorf's inauguration took place against the wishes of the cathedral chapter, which was still Catholic at the time, and contributed significantly to the outbreak of the Schmalkaldic War. The memorable event is commemorated by a retrofitted figure of Martin Luther as the "fifth evangelist" on the medieval pulpit, which according to the inscription already dates to 1466.

Pulpit, Luther rose (15th century) by unknownOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

Starting from the staircase on the left, the reliefs show: St. Gregory with the tiara, the papal crown, St. Augustine as a scribe, the twelve-year-old Jesus in the temple, St. Jerome with the lion, followed by Ambrose with the beehive. The second, third and fourth reliefs are 15th century originals. Between the panels are also wooden figures of the four evangelists: Luke, Matthew, John and Mark.

Pulpit, Jesus in the temple (15th century) by unknownOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

Apel handrail in the Naumburg Cathedral, she-wolf (1972/73) by Heinrich ApelOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

Apel handrails

The two bronze handrails on the stairs leading up to the east choir were created in the 1970s and 1980s by the artist Heinrich Apel and depict the "Narrow Path to Paradise" (north side) and the "Sermon of St. Francis to the Animals" (south side) in scenes rich in symbolism and sometimes ironic. In addition to Christian motifs, there are also numerous allusions to stories of ancient mythology, such as the she-wolf with the Roman twins Romulus and Remus.

Apel handrail in the Naumburg Cathedral, Saint Francis (1972/73) by Heinrich ApelOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

At the top you can see a monk. It is Francis of Assisi. He is one of the most famous saintly figures of all. The mendicant order named after him established the poverty movement in the Church. Legend tells how the saint encountered a large crowd of diverse birds in a field near the Umbrian town of Bevagna. Fascinated by their trusting nature, he stepped into the midst of the flock of birds and began to preach. So here he stands with his hands raised, preaching to the birds.

It is worth looking for the details here: Above you will find a small hut: perhaps the hermit's resting place? You can also discover a pegged billy goat, and the owl of Athena, the she-wolf with the Roman twins Romulus and Remus, and some ancient temple remains. Is Francis here returning to antiquity, to the roots of Christianity? Or is he perhaps just turning his back on everything secular? We do not know. But we do see that he is in search of a path.

Apel handrail in the Naumburg Cathedral, goat (1972/73) by Heinrich ApelOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

The animals include a billy goat, ...

Apel handrail in the Naumburg Cathedral, owl (1972/73) by Heinrich ApelOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

... an owl, ...

Apel handrail in the Naumburg Cathedral, peacock (1972/73) by Heinrich ApelOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

... a peacock, ...

Apel handrail in the Naumburg Cathedral, snail (1972/73) by Heinrich ApelOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

... a snail, ...

Apel handrail in the Naumburg Cathedral, bird (1972/73) by Heinrich ApelOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

... and a bird.

Apel handrail in the Naumburg Cathedral, Adam (1972/73) by Heinrich ApelOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

For the handrail installed here in 1982/83, the artist Heinrich Apel chose to depict a scene that has become known as the "Narrow Path to Paradise". The path is formed by a snake: it is considered an early symbol of evil, as in the story of Adam and Eve. The two are, of course, cavorting in paradise in the upper part of the handrail.

Apel handrail in the Naumburg Cathedral, Eve (1972/73) by Heinrich ApelOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

On the back of the snake, several people try to enter paradise as well.

Apel handrail in the Naumburg Cathedral, Sysiphus (1972/73) by Heinrich ApelOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

Immediately on the handrail you see a man struggling with a heavy stone. Perhaps you recognize him? It is Sysiphus struggling in vain to roll a heavy stone up to the top of the mountain. But the stone rolls back down the slope every time. Here, at the railing, the longed-for goal lies directly in front of Sysiphus: the entrance to paradise. And again an animal stands as a guard.

Apel handrail in the Naumburg Cathedral, king (1972/73) by Heinrich ApelOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

Further up, we follow a king and a bishop on their arduous journey to paradise.

Apel handrail in the Naumburg Cathedral, worker (1972/73) by Heinrich ApelOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

The closest to the goal seems to be a figure in which you can recognize a worker.

Apel handrail in the Naumburg Cathedral, scholar (1972/73) by Heinrich ApelOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

The person closest to hell is depicted with glasses and a book. It is a scholar. Near him you can also recognize various instruments of torture, with which the sinners are tormented.

Apel handrail in the Naumburg Cathedral, devil (1972/73) by Heinrich ApelOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

At the bottom, the devil reigns in hell. He rides on the serpent whose dangerous mouth is devouring a poor sinner.

Apel handrail in the Naumburg Cathedral, billy goat (1972/73) by Heinrich ApelOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

This billy goat is a scapegoat. According to biblical tradition, priests symbolically transferred the accumulated sins of all people to a goat on a high Jewish holiday. The goat was sent into the desert with the heavy load. This act of purification was performed anew every year.

Nave, organ (1983) by organ building company Eule from BautzenOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

Opposite the pulpit, in the northern aisle, you can see the cathedral organ. It has 28 stops and over 2,000 pipes. It was built in 1983 by the organ building company Eule from Bautzen. It is played in concerts and, of course, during church services.

Nave, tomb Rudolf von Bünau (13th-16th century) by late Romanesque workshopOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

On the walls of the side aisles you can see tombs, some of them elaborately designed. Many of them were once scattered all over the floor of the cathedral. They still run today over the remains of the deceased. Their tombstones, however, were placed on the walls of the side aisles or pillars in the 19th century to protect them from further wear and tear.

Nave, tomb Dietrich III. von Bocksdorf (13th-16th century) by late Romanesque workshopOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

Southern side aisle, tomb lattice (1684) by unknownOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

The elaborately forged grate belongs to the burial complex of the von Berbisdorf family and was created around the year 1684. The background is probably the burial of the Naumburg cathedral dean Friedrich von Berbisdorf in 1684 and his wife Rosine, who had already died in 1680. Berbisdorf, who died at the age of 76, was a canon for over 50 years and cathedral dean in Naumburg for 32 years.

The overall complex consists of a walled crypt, a presumably original pavement, a memorial stone set into it with the inscription:
"F. V. B. D.
1608
1684"
as well as the grave lattice.

Not preserved is a large black inscription on the west wall behind the grate, which is from the prophet Isaiah. The burial lattice consists of two wings and a recessed door. It consists of partly filigree figures and numerous foliage. Individual plates show the remains of paintings on the theme of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. Inscriptions have survived on individual bands and shields. Older traditions allow an almost complete reconstruction of these inscriptions, most of which are verses of the Psalms and letters on the theme of death.

Main portal (around 1200) by late Romanesque workshopOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

It is a late Romanesque portal, made at the beginning of the 13th century. You can recognize it by the ancient flat relief in the tympanum, in the arch above the portal. The columns of the portal also date back to the Romanesque period.

Main portal, eagles (around 1200) by late Romanesque workshopOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

A careful look at the capitals shows: There are eagles biting and clawing their way headfirst into the neck rings of the columns! The eagle is a symbol of Christ. And the ring has neither beginning nor end, it is infinite. In this combination eagle and ring add themselves in their picture language to the statement: "God is eternal".

Main portal, Jesus in the mandorla (around 1200) by late Romanesque workshopOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

In the tympanum above the doorway is depicted the Ascension scene. Two angels carry Christ, hovering in a mandorla, in an almond-shaped halo.

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