Bardowick: Cathedral of St. Peter & Paul, Bardowick
How did Bardowick come to have a cathedral? And why does the church have such an unusual appearance, with its two low towers that barely project beyond the high nave roof?
How long the cathedral of St. Peter has actually existed cannot be proven, but it is probable that the first church was founded by Charlemagne in the 8th century. Whether the King intended the aspiring Bardowick to become the episcopal seat, or whether this was a short-term development prior to the episcopal seat being moved to Verden an der Aller as a result of Bardowick’s precarious border location, is a matter of debate in the literature. In any case, the name ‘cathedral’, denoting an episcopal church, was retained.
St. Peter's is first mentioned in a document dating from 1146 and the cathedral chapter was granted immunity by the Bishop of Verden in 1162. This meant that the chapter, whose members lived a communal life similar to that in a monastery, had ecclesiastical jurisdiction in the area surrounding the monastery. Following the destruction of Bardowick by Henry the Lion in 1189, various documents and letters bear testimony to the damage to the church. Nonetheless, the oldest parts of today's cathedral building date back to the period before 1189. The architecture and ornamentation correspond to the styles of the mid-12th century. Thus, it could very easily have been Henry the Lion who had the impressive western portion of the building constructed in the Romanesque style.
The gypsum stones used in the construction were sourced from Lüneberg's Kalkberg gypsum mine. The towers with their figurative decoration would originally have been much higher. Between them is an opulently decorated entrance, above which is a spacious galleried hall. It appears that the nave was in poor condition by the mid-14th century. Canon Dietrich von der Berge, who died in 1347, donated funds for the construction and fitting of a new chancel and in 1368, the chapter declared its intention to found a brickyard. However, the start of the building work was delayed. In 1371, Bardowick and the area around the cathedral in particular, became the site of military conflicts during the Lüneburg war of succession, during which, the nave was damaged repeatedly. Money to reconstruct the church’s nave was subsequently collected through endowments, indulgences and charges by the church's canons, and the building work was completed during the 15th century. The towers were removed and replaced by low brick octagons. The entrance, onto which the chapel of St. Stephen was built in 1353, was also altered. Finally, in 1488, the low towers were given lead roofs. The building has undergone further alterations over the centuries, but has essentially retained its 15th century appearance.
The oldest part of the building is the Romanesque western end with its two towers. The ground floor of the towers and the entrance hall between them has groined vaulted ceilings. The hall in the upper floor opens out into the church's nave, although the large arched opening is today closed off by the organ. Up to here, the western part of the building is constructed of gypsum from Lüneburg’s Kalkberg mine, but the octagonal towers above it are built from brick. On the outside of the north tower, we can still see how the walls were divided up by rounded arches, each of which has a different design on the console.
What was formerly the external entrance owes its well-preserved condition to the chapel of St. Stephen, which was built onto it, thereby protecting the soft gypsum stone against the effects of weathering. The walls of the entrance with its rounded archway are divided up into two. Pillars stand in the corners, which continue through into the archway as rounded rods. The sharply defined profiles of the bases and the capitals with acanthus ornamentation suggest models from the Rhine and Westphalian regions. The actual opening for the door is spanned by three small graduated arches. The masonry in this area seems very uneven; it is possible that the opening was altered after construction, perhaps being made smaller. The exterior of the brick-built nave is divided up by buttresses and pairs of narrow windows. In the polygonal chancel the windows are wider. Inside, round columns with four ribs support the vaulted ceiling in the central nave, which is divided up into four bays. The vaulted ceiling of the side aisles rises up to the central nave, giving the space a homogeneous feel. The vaulting continues through the chancel, which is the same length as the main nave. Between the windows, the wall is broken up by compound columns formed from the ribs of the vaulting and the barrel vaults. In the chancel, the ribs terminate in figurative consoles on the same level as the windowsills. The original chancel, where the clergy used to gather, was separated off from the relatively short nave, intended for the local community, by a rood screen. Today, there is an unobscured view through to the bright apse in which the altar is housed. In stylistic terms, the three-nave hall church is reminiscent of Lüneburg’s St. John's and St. Michaelis churches. The interior decoration of the cathedral is particularly impressive.
Bought in 1367 and probably made in Lüneburg, the bronze font is the oldest item of furniture in the church. The magnificent altar of Our Lady was created in 1430, but the doors of the polyptych have sadly been lost. It is attributed to Lewin Snitker from Lüneburg and follows in the tradition of Master Bertram. In the centre is the Madonna on a crescent moon, flanked by two rows of apostles and saints, each housed in a richly decorated niche. The choir stalls, which were carved in 1486/87, probably in Lüneburg, have survived in their entirety. With 54 seats, they are the largest choir stalls in northern Germany.
The pew ends are carved inside and out with representations of the saints. Three stone gravestones, set against the walls, date from the 15th and 16th centuries; the brass lights from the 17th century, and the pews, chancel, galleries and organ case from the 19th century. Two bells hanging in the south tower date from around 1150; another dates from 1250. The two bells in the north tower were cast by Master Ulricus in 1325.
Separated off from the rest of the city by walls and gates, an area surrounding the cathedral was granted immunity and fell under ecclesiastical jurisdiction. This area was home to the cathedral’s canons, some of whom lived in impressive houses. The oldest surviving canon’s house dates from the early 17th century and now houses the cathedral tavern.