Naumburg Cathedral – Secrets of the UNESCO Heritage Site

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The Naumburg Cathedral is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful churches in Europe. This is even the very official opinion of UNESCO, which declared the cathedral a World Heritage Site in 2018. And the history of the cathedral is also unique. Around the year 1200, it is decided: We need a magnificent new cathedral for our diocese of Naumburg. This is the starting signal for one of the most imposing church buildings – not only in Saxony-Anhalt, but in the whole of Germany. First the towers were built. Through the diocese, the cathedral becomes a center of attraction for the spiritual and secular life in the region.

Uta von Naumburg figur in the Naumburg Cathedral

Uta von Naumburg – The most beautiful woman of the Middle Ages

The cathedral was donated by 12 noblemen, who are honored by the donor figures in the west choir. Their representation is uniquely human and realistic for their time. At the time the figures were created, the donors had been dead for almost 200 years, but they look very much alive. The most famous donor figures are those of Ekkehard and his wife Uta.

Uta was a countess from the House of Ballenstedt and is considered a symbol of Germany’s tradition of chivalry and nobility. She also stands as a symbol of Germany itself. Even today, she captivates visitors, as the selection of books about her in the cathedral’s bookstore attests. And the Italian philosopher and writer Umberto Eco once said about Uta:

“If you ask me which woman in the history of art I would go out to dinner and spend an evening with, first there would be Uta von Naumburg.”

Umberto Eco

Naumburg Master – The Unknown Superstar

Uta owes this grace and splendor mainly to the creator of the figures: the Naumburg Master. Research shows that the creator of this original German symbol came from France. The Naumburg Master is considered one of the best sculptors of the late Middle Ages and created one of the most beautiful works of art of that time with the west choir of the cathedral. In his time it was common that artists were not known by name. Therefore, even today historians do not know the real name of the Naumburg Master. However, through other works of art in cathedrals in France or Mainz, at least his career can be traced.

Naumburg Cathedral Iconostasis of the Naumburg Master

A rood screen in a protestant church

The Naumburg Master created many of the most important components of the cathedral. Among the works of art is the rood screen in front of the west choir. Only rarely are rood screens still found in Protestant churches. They limited the spiritual space from that of the laity. In the past, sermons were held behind the rood screens and later hosts were served in front of them. With the Reformation, the rood screens were removed in most Protestant churches. In Naumburg Cathedral, however, even two of them have been preserved until today. The rood screen at the west choir with its many figures and representations from the Bible is one of the most beautiful works of art of its time. The focus of the depictions relates to the Passion, i.e. the Passion of Christ.

Glass windows Naumburg Cathedral

Fascinating art – Stained glass windows

Especially the stained glass windows in the west choir are impressive works of art and illustrate the intentions of the artwork at that time: to convey religious views. Even people who could not read should thus be able to understand the pious message. Many of the stained glass windows were created during the time of the Naumburg Master and were created by painters who were very skilled in their craft. An international team has restored the windows in recent years. And there are also new windows in Naumburg Cathedral: the artist Neo Rauch designed three windows for the Elisabeth Chapel, which can now be seen there.

Towers of the Naumburg Cathedral

Towers at Naumburg Cathedral – High up into the Gothic period

The towers show the mix of styles of this unique cathedral. The east towers are Romanesque, while the well-known west towers are Gothic and Neo-Gothic. They are about 60 meters high. Looking at the towers, one might think they were both built at the same time. However, the northwest tower was begun during the time of the Naumburg Master and completed in the 16th century. The southwest tower, on the other hand, was not completed in its current form until 1884.

The sculptures on the northwest tower were made under the responsibility of the Naumburg master and not only animals show but also people. From the towers you’ll have a great view of the city.

Treasure of the Naumburg Cathedral

Crypt and Cathedral Treasure – Romanesque elements underneath the Gothic

In the vaults of the cellar there is a crypt. Here you can also find a Romanesque crucifix. It is very special not only because of its age, but also because of the look of Christ, who seems awake and alive despite death – a deeply Christian sign of life after death. The crypt is very photogenic and reminiscent of the one at Memleben monastery. Temporary exhibitions take place in the cathedral treasury.

Among other things, you can also see choir books. In the richly decorated parchment scripts, the authors inserted notes, which can be seen above the letters. They were located in the east choir and were there for the hourly prayers, of which there were seven prayers per day.

Martin Luther in the Naumburg Cathedral

Luther statue and evangelical church

Nevertheless, symbols of Protestantism have also found their way into Naumburg Cathedral. This includes, for example, the Luther figure. For in 1542, something monstrous for the time took place here: Martin Luther himself consecrated the first Protestant bishop, Nikolaus von Amsdorf, into office. Even though he is deposed shortly afterwards and has to make way for a Catholic, this event is still significant today. Finally, in 1564, the bishopric is dissolved and the cathedral gets a Protestant congregation. To this day, the cathedral is a living church where services are held.

Tips for visiting Naumburg Cathedral

Opening hours

March till October Monday to Saturday 9 am – 6 pm Sunday and church holidays 11-18 hrs

November till February Monday to Saturday 10-16 h Sunday and church holidays 12-16 pm

Admission to Naumburg Cathedral

There are two ways to visit the cathedral

  • With an audio guide: 7.50 € for adults
  • With a guided tour: 9.50 € for adults

Ascent to the towers

A guided tour to the towers is possible from Friday to Sunday and on church holidays at 3 pm and costs 3 € extra per person.

You can also find all the latest information on the Cathedral’s website (in English).

Book recommendation

Still not enough of the Naumburg Cathedral? No problem. Although there are not many books about the cathedral in English, there is one in particular we would like to recommend here.

It is about the Naumburg Master and his work. The rather short book is perfect for getting an insight into his work.

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There are several more books about the Cathedral available in English, which can be bought inside the church

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Peter Althaus is a journalist, author and blogger. In 2011, he founded the travel blog Rooksack. But his real love has always been Eastern Europe. He now lives in Lviv, Ukraine, where he runs a tour operator. But since he still loves to write, today there is Wild East – the Eastern Europe travel blog.

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