Strasbourg Cathedral history
The site of the current Strasbourg Cathedral has for a long time been the location for religious buildings. At first, a Roman temple, dating back to the Roman occupation, was built on this site. Later in the 7th century, the bishop of Strasbourg had a cathedral, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, built on the site.
Engulfed by flames
This cathedral was later replaced with a larger one, completed under the reign of Charlemagne. This cathedral caught fire several times but survived until year 1007, when it was totally engulfed by flames during a large fire. The new cathedral built on site stood around 150 years, until it also was destroyed during by fire as the naves were covered with a wooden framework.
After this disaster, it was decided that a new, even grander, cathedral would be built. This time the foundation of the cathedral would not include any wooden framework. This was probably a wise decision, as this new cathedral is the one still standing today.
The construction of the current Strasbourg Cathedral began in 1176 and finished almost 250 years later. The Strasbourg Cathedral started as a typical Romanesque cathedral; a rather simple architectural style with basic shapes. As time passed and the construction continued, the wave of gothic architecture that swept over Europe also affected Strasbourg cathedral.
The result is what one can see today; an architectural style with many arches, spires and detailed sculptures. The typical sign of gothic architecture is that many features on the building, be it smaller details or the building itself, point upwards towards the sky. This was seen as a way of trying to reach up and connect with heaven.
Another thing that makes the Strasbourg Cathedral stand out is the pink hue of the walls. This is due to the fact that the cathedral is built using sandstone from the Vosges, which has this red-pinkish color.
A single spire
The Strasbourg Cathedral is also highly unique due to the fact that it only has one spire. The north spire was completed in 1439, but the planned south spire was never built. Why the south spire never got built is still under debate. What is known however is that the single spire of the Strasbourg Cathedral quickly became a landmark of the region, which is probably one of the reasons they keep it in its asymmetrical form.
Dedicated to the Virgin Mary
Today, the Strasbourg Cathedral is a Roman Catholic cathedral. During the Reformation in early 16th century, the cathedral became a Protestant church and remained that way for more than 150 years. After the incorporation of Strasburg into France in 1681, the cathedral was returned to the Catholics and dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
Saved from revolution
During the French revolution, the Strasbourg Cathedral, together with many other religious buildings, became the target of the revolutionists’ anger. The new regime had plans to tear down the single spire, as it “hurt the principle of equality”.
When the citizens of Strasbourg heard about the plan, they placed a large Phrygian cap over the spire – the cap which was a symbol of the revolution. This flattery obviously worked, as the spire was saved and still stands glorious today.
Why visit Strasbourg Cathedral ?
“Cathédrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg” is widely known as one of the most beautiful gothic cathedrals in all of Europe. Standing at the heart of the historical center of Strasbourg, the superb Strasbourg Cathedral dominates the cityscape with its massive height of 142 meters.
The Strasbourg Cathedral is today the sixth tallest in its class, and was the world’s tallest building for more than 200 years. This “gigantic and delicate marvel”, as the writer Victor Hugo described it, can be seen all the way from the Vosges Mountains in the southwest to the Black Forest on the other side of the Rhine.
While the outside of the Strasbourg Cathedral is magnificent, one shouldn’t forget its inside. Inside visitors will find a most striking vault, the grand organ, the beautifully sculptured pulpit and more. The most famous of all is however the astronomical clock.
The astronomical marvel
The Strasbourg Cathedral’s south transept houses an 18 meters high astronomical clock, one of the largest in the world. The cathedral has a long tradition of housing an astronomical clock, and the one existing today dates back to mid 19th century.
Today, tourists mainly see the remarkably decorative shell of this clock, but behind there is an exceptionally well functioning mechanism.
The clock is basically a mathematical marvel. The clock has a mechanism which makes it able to determine the computus, which is the date of Easter in the Christian calendar, as well as foreseeing upcoming leap years. The clock also show the official time, it indicates solar time, the day of the week, the month, the year, the sign of the zodiac, the phase of the moon and the position of several planets.
To top it all off, the clock has animated characters launched into movement at different hours of the day. Simply put, it is quite an amazing clock and a must see when visiting the cathedral.
The Pillar of Angels
Just in front of the clock stands a decorated pillar known as the Pillar of Angels, representing the Last Judgment. In the very same room, visitors can find a statue of a man resting his elbows on the railing.
The legend has it this was a rival architect to the one who built the Pillar of Angels. The rival had said that a single pillar could never support such a large vault, and that he would wait to see the whole thing come crashing down. Luckily, he is still waiting.
Throughout the history, Strasbourg has been a city of great independence. The Strasbourg Cathedral, with its single tall spire, has become a symbol for this proud city. It is also possible to take the stairs up to an observation platform, which will provide a stunning view over Strasbourg. However, the 300 steps are no easy match, so be prepare for a tough climb!
Strasbourg Cathedral location
For the exact location of Strasbourg Cathedral, check out the location Map to the right.