Magdeburg, an early mediaeval settlement on the river Elbe in the heart of the Germanic countries, became important through the decision of King Otto I the Great, crowned Emperor in Rome in 962, who chose it as his favoured residence, and built the first cathedral (started in 955). Ancient marble columns were brought from Ravenna, and relics were placed in the capitals. In 1207 the building burnt down, and a new cathedral was built on the site, consecrated in 1363 but completed only in 1520. It was the earliest Gothic building in Germany, and was built in sandstone and limestone; a Latin cross plan with three-aisled nave, a French-type ambulatory with chapels around the choir, and two western towers. The lower part of the choir still reflected Romanesque principles, while the rest gradually became Gothic. The best known feature is the sculptured decoration, especially the Paradise porch with the Wise and Foolish Virgins. Decorations were also reused from the Ottonian building, and grouped mainly in the choir; here were placed the antique columns provided with capitals in the antique manner.
As soon as the cathedral was completed it had to face difficult times. Luther nailed up his theses at nearby Wittenberg, and burnt the papal bull. While Protestantism spread rapidly in Germany, Magdeburg remained Catholic, and this gave rise to conflicts and iconoclasm, breaking of images and mutilation of statues. The cathedral suffered from the troops of Maurice of Saxony in 1550-51, from General Tilly during the Thirty Years War in 1631, when it caught fire, and during the Napoleonic wars, when it was used as a store for groceries. In May 1814, the Prussians re-conquered Magdeburg and, on 29 May, a service of thanksgiving was held in the cathedral.
In 1819 the local government gave notification that that major repairs were needed in the cathedral. C. J. Costenoble, architect of the cathedral and author of Deutsche Architektur und ihr Ursprung (1812), made the first estimates in February 1821, but C. A. Rosenthal was chosen to supervise the project.24 Priority in the project was given to the restoration of the transept, the roofs, the 'lead tower', and the choir. The works started in April 1826. At the beginning it was proposed to demolish the so-called 'lead tower' over the crossing of the church, in order to save in maintenance costs, but this was objected to by the religious authority25 and by the General Directorate (Ober-Bau-Deputation). The tower was
considered of architectural importance as it articulated the otherwise long roof-line and indicated the point of the crossing.
The General Directorate discussed the project in Berlin on the basis of plans and reports without site inspection. The general impression was that these were well prepared although the work was complex. Considering the rather extensive and expensive repairs, it was thought too much for the State to care for all ornamental details. The General Directorate therefore observed:
To preserve for future generations all the excessive amount of small and more or less repetitive ornaments and details that cover these buildings, which only show an intricate play with monotonous patterns [em mechanischer Schematismus], and do not meet the real tasks of the Fine Arts to provide 'an ideal perception of the conditions of human beings and nature', would mean using enormous funds for the conservation of artistic features that only would serve to teach how not to do it!26
It was noted that most ornaments were actually independent of the structure, and could thus be 'left to their destiny'. It was recommended, for the sake of art history, to preserve a small part of them, but to leave the rest, which would still last for a long time; the decaying parts could be removed when they were about to fall, and the places treated so as to avoid weathering problems. The buildings might even gain, and provide further attraction 'to the imagination of such romantics who still were to like them in the future'. There were reservations, however; the Building Commission and the local authority emphasized the importance of rich ornamen
tation to the character of Gothic architecture. They insisted that ornaments were an expression of the builders' skill, an essential part of the building, augmenting the impression that such buildings give to an unprejudiced connoisseur and art lover due to the contrast with their imposing size. An agreement was finally reached with Schinkel, and during the restoration most of the external carved decorations were renewed and some original statues placed inside the church. The virgins in the Paradise Porch were conserved in their original condition although decayed stonework was extensively renewed in the porch itself.
One of the principles in the restoration, as stated by von Klewitz, was 'the duty to remain, in every way, faithful to the original'.27 Clemens insisted on the importance of a coherent policy in decisions regarding the restoration. The choir of the cathedral was surrounded by an ambulatory as in French Gothic which was understood to have been originally covered by a terrace in sandstone slabs; a roof had been built over it at the end of the eighteenth century. It was decided not to rebuild the roof but to restore the terrace instead, as it had not existed originally, and because the choir would have a better appearance once the windows were freed, the illumination of the interior would improve and the cost was the same. The use of cement would now eliminate problems that might have existed in the past (Clemens, 3 October 1827). The gables over the south aisle, originally blind wooden gables, were rebuilt in stone and brick in a simple vertical division, drawing on the rich decorative patterns of the northern gables. The restoration was carried out respecting the original form, but when the plans were published, there was criticism about the symmetry, which was found 'disturbing' in an otherwise asymmetrical elevation.
Repairs in the interior were organized so that the cathedral could still be used. Many of the 64 altars and monuments of different ages (especially Renaissance and baroque) were removed, but some were considered 'beautiful' and preserved. The seventeenth- and eighteenth-century furnishings, 'irregularly placed and most disadvantageous to the understanding of the sermon, box-like, white-yellow painted, formless . . . worm-eaten, and dilapidated', were removed and replaced with pews in an 'appropriate style'.28 The thirteenth-century altar in the middle of the nave was considered an obstacle for the regular arrangement of the pews; so was the thirteenth-century Chapel of the Holy Tomb with statues of Otto I and his wife, which was removed to a side chapel.
The mediaeval lime rendering was completely renewed, and the painted ashlar imitation copied on the new plaster; the wall paintings of the mediaeval chapel at the west entrance were repainted as copies; floors were rebuilt, the tombstones taken out to the cloister and fixed on the wall; important inscriptions were re-carved on the new floor. On the exterior, sculptured ornaments were mostly recarved, while, in the interior, the originals were in good condition and were kept. Structural reinforcements in the interior were made with visible devices; iron bands were used for the piers; the central rib of the choir vault was reinforced by fixing a cast-iron element under it. A number of interesting objects were found in tombs, but were put back, respecting the last will of one of the bishops. Casts were made, however, of the most interesting ones. The tomb of Otto I, built in ancient marbles, was carefully studied but left in place and surrounded by a decorative iron fence. All the tiled roofs were relaid in slates, which were lighter and better suited to the style of the building although it made the church look more austere. Much of the stonework of the southern tower had to be renewed. The finial of the northern tower was consolidated, but it was decided that the fact that the south tower was missing its finial should be respected as a 'historic monument' and not be rebuilt.29
Once the cathedral was restored, attention turned to its surroundings. Some buildings from the south-eastern corner had already been demolished in 1826 to free the building. Now the surrounding areas were planted, and iron railings constructed around the cathedral. French troops had damaged the Lmdenalleen, the tree-planted streets surrounding the square
on the north side. On the completion of this 'most beautiful monument' of the Fatherland, a marble inscription was fixed in the church, and, on 18 January 1835, the Bishop held a service of thanksgiving for the successful completion of the work.
Although Schinkel, as a member of the General Directorate, had not favoured the restoration of sculptural ornaments in this or similar buildings, he had still contributed to saving the lead tower in its original form. In the interior, various 'inappropriate' monuments were destroyed or removed in order to open a free perspective through the building as had become fashionable in England. Here, too, Schinkel helped to protect the fifteenth-century choir screen, considering it appropriate in somewhat relieving the empty and naked feeling, so easily received in newly restored churches. Having the interior newly rendered and painted in relatively light colours made the space look full of light; this effect was only intensified by the plain glass windows. In 1832, Franz Kugler, professor of art history, criticized this 'dazzling white' and the excessive light, and lamented that 'the magic semi-darkness, that speaks to us like a beautiful pious saga of bygone times, and fills the breast with a quiet longing, and which is like a shadow of the holy martyr-glowing window-pictures; that historic spell has been robbed!'30 The cathedral suffered in the Second World War and has since been extensively restored.31 The policies that resulted from the above-described early examples of restoration in Prussia were summarized in a circular by the king. This circular of 12 December 1843 ordered the authorities to report on any changes in historic buildings, and in no case to destroy anything of historic, scientific, technical or artistic value. It should never be the aim of restoration to cancel minor defects, which contributed to the character of the structure as traces of the past. Instead of worrying about the surface, it was the restorer's responsibility to concentrate on problems of stability. The most complete restoration would be one where the improvement would not be noticeable at all. Gardening and finishing off the surroundings were mentioned as well.
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