Archeological excavations on the site show that the original foundation of Thomaskirche dates back to around year 1160, when it served as an altar sanctuary of Romanesque style. Later, this was rebuilt year 1355 into a Gothic style. Today’s Thomaskirche is however the result of another reconstruction in 1482, on order by the local bishop, Thilo of Trotha. The 68 meter high steeple was added later in 1537.
As mentioned earlier, the architectural style of St. Thomas Church is Gothic, with several smaller spires pointing sharply upwards. This typical Gothic feature was a way to try reach up and connect to the heaven. A special feature of Thomaskirche is its exceptionally steep angled roof. With a main-roof angle of 63°, the roof is the most steeped roof in all of Germany’s churches.
Thomaskirche houses one of Germany’s most famous and oldest boys’ choirs; the Thomanerchor. During the Medieval time, the boys sang on every occasion; city celebrations, the installation of bishops and even during executions. Today, Thomaskirche continues to serve as the Thomanerchor’s home.
The choirboys still follow an almost medieval regime within a distinctive subculture. The choir was founded in 1212 and has been lead by many well known composers and musicians. The most noted one is Leipzigs most famous inhabitant and one of the greatest composers of all time; Johann Sebastian Bach.
Thomaskirche was already 500 years old by the time Bach became church’s cantor. Bach remained the cantor and choir leader from 1723 until his death in 1750 – 27 seven years in total. Even though Bach was a noted composer and cantor, the great music Bach wrote during his Leipzig years commanded little attention in his lifetime. When he died, he was given a simple grave in the city’s cemetery.
In 1894, an effort was made to find where the great composer lay buried. After a thorough search, his coffin was found and removed from the local cemetery to the Johanniskirche.
Thomaskirche was however attacked and destroyed during the Second World War. After the destruction of the church, the remains of Johann Sebastian Bach were moved from there to its current location in Thomaskirche in 1950.
With that, Bach finally found his resting place in the church he surely would have selected himself: inside Thomaskirche. Today, his grave is under the church floor, just in front of the altar. A massive bronze statue of Bach was raised outside the church in 1908, to honor the man for his works. There is also a stained glass window on the south side featuring Bach himself, as well as another known visitor of the church, Martin Luther.
The Christian reformer Martin Luther preached here on Pentecost Sunday in 1539, signaling the arrival of Protestantism in Leipzig. Other well known people who have connections to Thomaskirche are the German theatre director Richard Wagner and the composers Felix Mendelssohn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who both performed in the church.
Bombings and restoration
During the Second World War, Thomaskirche suffered severe harm. During an allied bombing raid in 1943, the steeple got heavily damaged. After the war had ended, the damaged caused to the church by the war was repaired.
After the reunification of West- and East Germany 1990, the Thomaskirche underwent a total restoration process badly needed after 100 years of more or less neglect. The project was finished on July 28th year 2000 – the commemoration of the 250th anniversary of Bach’s death.
Why visit Thomaskirche ?
Even though Thomaskirche is not as grand as the Cologne Cathedral or the Notre Dame de Paris, many people find Thomaskirche more engaging and alive. Maybe it’s because the church’s interesting and warm, charming architecture or because of its rich musical history. For every Bach enthusiast – this place is a definite must.
Imagine this: in front of the altar is where Bach is buried, the church houses the same boys’ choir he sang in, composed for and directed for 27 years still they perform the pieces he wrote for them. The place is in other words a sanctuary for Bach fans and many people who love classical music visit the church due to its deep connection with Bach.
The musical traditions can also be found in Thomaskirche’s bell tower. The tower houses four finely tuned bells. The name of the largest bell, which is used on days of celebration, is “Gloriosa”. The bell was cast by in 1477 and weighs a massive 5200 kg with a diameter of 2.04 meters, striking the pitch of a°. The second largest bell was cast in 1574 and has a strike note of c°. The third largest bell is called either the Monks’ or Confessional Bell, which has a strike pitch of d°. This bell was cast in 1634 and it is the bell that serves as the hourly bell. The fourth bell was cast in 1585 and has a strike note of f°.
Thomaskirche is located in Leipzig, Germany. The church is situated in central parts of the city. For the exact location of Thomaskirche, check out the location map to the right.