Germany is full of beautiful churches.
I am not sure if “beautiful” is the correct adjective. The actuality is both more sublime and more disturbing. Centuries ago, in towns of just a few thousand people–what prompted those in command to dedicate so many lives and fortunes to these buildings? They seem to me to be the ultimate Gesamtkunstwerke (Total Works of Art), equal parts piety and hubris, reverence and power, shaped in turn by religion, music, politics, Zeitgeist. As much celebrations of human creativity as places of worship.
Here is the Marienkapelle in the center of Würzberg, surrounded, oddly enough, by the local farmers’ market. The inside, as in all the churches we have visited, is ever cool and still, a forest or a whole universe of stone, light, and glass.
Many of the churches have an odd mixture of old and new artwork, as many original structures were destroyed in World War II. For instance, the windows here below date from the restoration after the war. They are stunning, but look somehow out of place with the old architecture.
Neumünster, also in Würzburg.
Below, one of the many gorgeous organs. In München, we found a cathedral where someone was playing Bach high above our heads, far behind us. When I went to the mass in the Frauen Kirche, the choir and organ sent vibrations through the stone floor and wooden pews. Such music is somehow more than tone, more than sound–something one can feel in the air, almost touch.
Michaelskirche, München, where we heard the Bach.
Asamkirche, München. This one was truly insane, as Rococo as they come–all fine metal work, dense murals, gilt, and twisted stone columns of some sort of red polished marble. The effect was ultimately one of claustrophobia, of the walls closing in above one’s head. The building dates from 1746, when the Baroque movement was in its last and most extreme stages.
This last church, especially, raises interesting questions. I know people (ahem…Dr.G…) who dislike various late-Romantic artists and composers because they are too bombastic. But isn’t this, dating from the early 1700s, just as “bombastic” as, say, Wagner? Or even Thomas Mann, whose novels aren’t exactly examples of restraint and minimalism? Isn’t this earlier artistic spirit just as over-the-top, though of course very different aesthetically?
And if we are discussing music, check out the marvelously insane Cecilia Bartoli below, singing a piece from roughly the same Baroque/Rococo period. It sounds like the Asamkirche.
Bombast? Beauty? The sublime? Or all together?