The History of the Naumburg Cathedral

The cathedral as a mighty witness to over 1000 years of history

By State Chancellery and Ministry of Culture of Sachsen-Anhalt

State Chancellery and Ministry of Culture of Sachsen-Anhalt

Naumburg Cathedral, towers east (13th-16th century) by unknownOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

The history of the city of Naumburg does not begin with the cathedral, but with the construction of the so-called Nuwenburch by the family of the Ekkehardins around the year 1000. The important Thuringian family provided the Margraves of Meissen at the time of the first Christian millennium, which made them the most powerful family on the eastern border of the empire. The Margrave brothers Hermann and Ekkehard II endeavored to further expand the new foundation of Naumburg. The highlight was the transfer of the bishop's seat, founded 60 years earlier in Zeitz, 30 kilometers away, to Naumburg in 1028. With extensive endowments from their own property, the margrave brothers laid the foundation stone for the first Naumburg cathedral church, which was consecrated before the year 1044.

Excavations revealed that the 11th century church was only slightly more than half the size of today's cathedral and measured only about 50 by 26 meters. It was a cruciform three-nave basilica with a square main choir in the east. The choir, as well as the two transept arms, closed off to the east with a semicircular apse. The western end was formed by two towers, between which a straight west wall extended, behind which a small indented choir with a crypt below was located inside. Soon, outstanding donors of the Thuringian-Saxon nobility were buried in front of the altars of the church, including the margravine Uta.

Naumburg Cathedral, lithography (1828) by Friedrich August Weidenbach (draughtsman)Original Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

This first, early Romanesque cathedral existed more or less unchanged for about 150 years until the end of the 12th century. In the meantime, Naumburg had developed from a small fortified settlement under the protection of the nearby castle into an important market town with several suburbs. Also in the second half of the 12th century, the increased importance of the cathedral chapter became apparent. The small cathedral church from the time of the relocation of the bishop's seat was now no longer sufficient to meet the demands of an important cathedral and trading town like Naumburg, which is why plans for major structural changes matured in the second half of the 12th century.

The starting point was most likely the installation of the crypt under the east choir of the church. At first, the new construction of the eastern parts of the cathedral still seemed to be oriented towards the dimensions of its predecessor. But only a few years later, at the turn of the 12th and 13th centuries, the decision must have been made in favor of a ground plan that was significantly enlarged in the longitudinal axis. An attempt was made to integrate the components that had already been built by then into the new concept in as pleasing a manner as possible.

Naumburg Cathedral, coloured steel engraving (around 1850) by Hildburghausen Bibliographic InstituteOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

Nevertheless, the change of plan can still be seen today in the conspicuous expansion of the crypt and in the system of the eastern nave piers.

Crypt (13th century) by late Romanesque workshopOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

The crypt consists of a total of three parts. With the construction of the central crypt, which had its own altar place in front of an apse, the new construction of Naumburg Cathedral probably began as early as the last quarter of the 13th century, although it was interrupted several times and its construction plan was significantly changed at least once. When a significantly enlarged east choir was built above the crypt in the first decades of the 13th century, the crypt as the basement of the choir room also had to be extended to the east and west. To this day, the different construction periods of the room sections can be seen in the different vaults and the design of the pillars, columns and capitals.

Crypt, crucifix (13th century) by unknownOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

With the crucifix you face a special conception of that time: Jesus appears as triumphant. He stands above death: upright, head raised, eyes wide open, arms horizontal, no stigmata, and legs parallel.
The now more familiar depiction of "Jesus as Man of Sorrows" did not prevail until the Gothic period. You can see this transformed image of Christ later on the crucifix of the Westlettner.

Crypt, Kuzio window right (2014) by Thomas KuzioOriginal Source: https://www.vereinigte-domstifter.de/de/uebersicht/

The newest works of art here in the crypt are the two windows in the apse. They were made in 2014 by the artist Thomas Kuzio.

Crypt, Candlestick (1980) by Heinrich ApelOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

The two sconces also catch the eye. Created by Heinrich Apel in the early 80s of the 20th century, they show on one side a prophet and on the other ...

Crypt, Candlestick (1980) by Heinrich ApelOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

... a female angel!

Crypt, cubiform capital (13th century) by late Romanesque workshopOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

The cube capitals above the squat single columns, typical of the Romanesque period, are also worth a look. And above the capitals arches with high round arches a typical Romanesque groined vault.

Nave, vault transition cross ridge-ribbed vaults (13th century) by late Romanesque workshopOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

It was built from east to west. This is quite typical for church buildings. If you look at the arcades between the central nave and the side aisles, you will see that they become more and more pointed towards the west, i.e. in the direction of construction: The arches become more and more Gothic.
You can also follow this development above, in the vault: The eastern bays are still formed by Romanesque groined vaults. There, an exceedingly massive wall takes up the ceiling load. On the opposite side of the cathedral, things are different: the western bay and the west choir are already spanned by Gothic ribbed vaults.

East choir, Choir stalls (1235) by in the surrounding of the workshop of the Naumburg MasterOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

The east choir was the liturgical center of Naumburg Cathedral and still houses the main altar of the church, which is under the patrocinium of the two apostolic princes Peter and Paul. The architectural design of the room represents a remarkably harmonious combination of Romanesque and Gothic styles. With its expansion, the east choir also received the six new large Gothic tracery windows, whose current stained glass dates from the 14th to the 21st century.

East choir, Choir stalls (1235) by in the surrounding of the workshop of the Naumburg MasterOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

The two-row choir stalls with magnificent carvings were built from the 13th to the 16th century. This is where the canons usually met seven times a day for services and also for important consultations with the bishop. The three-seat was reserved for the highest ecclesiastical dignitaries.

East choir, Reading desk (1580) by unknownOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

The two large reading desks in the form of a birdhouse date from around 1580. Two large choir books were placed on each of these desks, so that it was possible to read from these large manuscripts from both sides of the choir stalls.
Here you can see a faithful facsimile, an original of these choir books is on display in our cathedral treasure vault. Each volume had a size of 81 by 63 centimeters and a weight of up to 45 kilograms. The choir books contain liturgical texts that served as the basis for both the mass and the hourly prayers.

East choir, Bishop's tomb (1250) by workshop of the Naumburg MasterOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

Approximately in the center of the east choir is a tomb with a pictorial representation of a bishop. Whichever bishop may have found his final resting place here, the fact is that this tomb is one of the outstanding sculptural works of the "early Gothic" period around 1250 and is attributed to the workshop of the Naumburg Master. A few years ago, the tomb was examined and the well-preserved mortal remains of a bishop in regalia and with a crozier were discovered. The bishop's curved crook can be admired today in the cathedral treasure vault.

East choir, crucifix (13th century) by unknownOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

East choir, Deacon (13th century) by Naumburg MasterOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

The statue represents a deacon - a clergyman who assisted the priest at mass. The Naumburg master created it in the middle of the 13th century as a stone lectern. Many Atzmen have survived from the late Middle Ages, but the Naumburg one is the oldest in the world!

East choir, monkey capital (14th century) by unknownOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

Two monkeys sit at the table and play chess. According to legend, the last Catholic bishop of Naumburg Cathedral, Julius Pflug, said in the 16th century:
"Ere this church finally becomes Lutheran, my two pets are playing chess."
When he came home one day, he found his two monkeys playing. In fact, Julius Pflug was not only the last Catholic bishop, but the last Naumburg bishop ever.
Despite the "beautiful" legend, it remains to be noted that this capital was created with the expansion of the east choir in the 14th century.

East choir, altar of the Virgin Mary (1510) by unknownOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

In the east choir there is also the main altar of the church. On it is one of the few altarpieces preserved in the cathedral: a carved altar from around 1510, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The artist is unknown, but one suspects a Thuringian workshop. In the center appears Mary with the infant Jesus. On the left is St. Catherine and on the right, holding the chalice, is St. Barbara. And in the side wings you can see the twelve apostles.

East choir, high altar (1567) by unknownOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

The magnificently designed altar back wall in a rare stylistic combination of late Gothic and Renaissance dates back to a donation by the Naumburg Cathedral Dean Peter von Neumark in 1567.

East choir, choir book (2015) by Helmut StabeOriginal Source: https://www.vereinigte-domstifter.de/de/uebersicht/

Here you can see a faithful facsimile, an original of these choir books being shown in Naumburg Cathedral's treasury vault. Each volume had a size of 81 by 63 centimeters and a weight of up to 45 kilograms. The choir books contain liturgical texts that served as the basis for both the mass and the hourly prayers.

Eastern rood screen (13th century) by late Romanesque workshopOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

The east gallery of Naumburg Cathedral is also the oldest German hall gallery and was built in the course of the new construction of the cathedral by a late Romanesque workshop in the first decades of the 13th century. In contrast to the Gothic west gallery, which formally corresponds to a wall, the three bays of the east gallery, which are of equal height and thus designed as a hall, form a room of their own. The Romanesque semicircular arch is an essential element of the structure. It determines both the arcature of the first floor and forms the frame of the picture fields on the rood screen with the depiction of Christ and the twelve apostles.

In the center is the altar of the cross or lay altar, which played an important role in the Easter liturgy. In addition to its function of separating the choir as a place of the monastery clergy from the nave, which was also accessible to the laity, the rood screen also fulfilled another function, which is connected with its name. The German word Lettner (rood screen) is derived from the Latin lectorium, which refers to a reading desk or stage from which a clergyman could address the laity in the nave.

Eastern rood screen, door Peter (13th century) by late Romanesque workshopOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

The two doors to the right and left of the altar lead into the east choir and allowed the spiritual community to enter directly into the respective blocks of the choir stalls during processions and other prominent ceremonies. The wooden doors are additions of the period around 1500 - with paintings of the dompatrons Peter and Paul.

Eastern rood screen, door Paul (13th century) by late Romanesque workshopOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

Western rood screen (around 1250) by Naumburg MasterOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

The west gallery, whose large elaborate portal is the only access to the west choir, was built after the completion of the latter. It corresponds to the type of a masonry gallery and can only be reached from the choir interior via two spiral staircases. Although from a formal point of view it is only a wall, its architecture is captivating due to a sophisticated construction plan and a remarkable deep and rich articulation. The portal is preceded by a large porch, vaulted in two bays, whose pointed gable even rises above the upper level of the rood screen.

While the level of the portal itself is occupied by a crucifixion scene, the gable above it contains a large quatrefoil painting of a so-called Majestas Domini, in which Christ is depicted sitting on a throne as judge of the world on the last day. The rood screen itself is divided to the right and left of the portal by cloverleaf arcades with central quatrefoils.

Western rood screen, Jesus (around 1250) by Naumburg MasterOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

The focus of his rich pictorial program is the Passion story, the Passion of Christ: from the Last Supper to the Crucifixion and - in the quatrefoil - the returning Christ in the Last Judgment.
It is incredible how realistically the figures are portrayed in the individual scenes. Above all, the facial expressions and gestures and the individual features of each figure speak directly to the viewer.

Western rood screen, Virgin Mary (around 1250) by Naumburg MasterOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

On the left, next to the crucified, stands Mary. She wears all her suffering openly on her face. Her right hand she places on the heart, and her left points to the dying son. Mary is depicted in this scene as a grieving mother, not so much as a saint. The attributes of holiness recede into the background here in favor of human pain.

Western rood screen, John (around 1250) by Naumburg MasterOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

And on the right side, John, the favorite disciple of Jesus: he turns away from the event to the viewer, filled with pain, and thus invites him to sympathize.

Western rood screen, angel (around 1250) by Naumburg MasterOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

In the pediment of the portal there is a quatrefoil. The depiction in it contrasts sharply with the crucifixion group. The fresco shows Christ as the enthroned judge of the world.

Western rood screen, Last Supper (around 1250) by Naumburg MasterOriginal Source: https://www.vereinigte-domstifter.de/de/uebersicht/

In the relief on the left, Jesus is holding the Last Supper with his disciples on Holy Thursday. Actually, there should be twelve disciples. But the Naumburg master has included only five in the picture, because otherwise the figures would have become too small. So they sit here with bread and wine, and Jesus predicts his imminent death.

Western rood screen, payment of silver coins (around 1250) by Naumburg MasterOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

In the second picture, Judas receives his traitor's reward. "Then one of the twelve, named Judas Iscarioth, went to the chief priests and said: 'What will you give me? I will betray him to you.' And they offered him thirty pieces of silver."
But Judas does not take this blood money into his hands here; rather, he holds out the cloak. Do you hear the silver ringing? Yes, it is ringing coin! But it is dirty money. The situation is decidedly unpleasant for all involved.

Western rood screen, capture of Christ (around 1250) by Naumburg MasterOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

The next scene takes us to the capture of Christ.
Judas said, "Whomsoever I shall kiss, that is he; seize him. And straightway Judas came up to Jesus, and saluted him, and kissed him."
Thereupon the soldiers want to capture Jesus. In the scene, you can clearly see them reaching for him.
Peter is the only one at this moment who tries to defend Jesus: He draws his sword and strikes off the right ear of the servant Malchus.

Western rood screen, denial left (around 1250) by Naumburg MasterOriginal Source: https://www.vereinigte-domstifter.de/de/uebersicht/

The next scene is divided by the pediment. To the left and right of the pediment you see the denial of Peter.
On the left Peter and the maid, ...

Western rood screen, denial right (around 1250) by Naumburg MasterOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

... on the right two armed servants.

Western rood screen, judgment (around 1250) by Naumburg MasterOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

The following relief is the last preserved original. It shows Jesus before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor in Judea.

Western rood screen, flagellation (18th century) by unknownOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

The last two original reliefs of the Naumburg master with the flagellation and the carrying of the cross are no longer preserved. They fell victim to the cathedral fire in 1532 and were only completed in wood in the 18th century.

Western rood screen, cross bearing (18th century) by unknownOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

When comparing the 18th century figures with those of the 13th century Naumburg Master, one will notice that the proportions are not quite right. Above all, their facial features seem nowhere near as lively as those of the Naumburg Master's figures. Moreover, the figures here do not wear the fashion of the 13th century, but that of the 18th century.

Western rood screen, four-pass (around 1250) by Naumburg MasterOriginal Source: Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg und des Kollegiatstifts Zeitz

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