Situated on the Michaelshugel at the western edge of the historic core of Hildesheim, St. Michael’s Church (Michaelskirche) was built between 1010 and 1031 as the abbey church of a Benedictine monastery. Bishop Bernward, a tutor and adviser to Otto III, founded the monastery, and is believed to have had a strong influence on the architecture of the church. Bernward travelled to Rome in 1001 as part of Otto’s entourage, and stayed in his palace near the Early Christian basilica of Santa Sabina on the Aventine hill.
St. Michael’s Church has both eastern and western chancels, and two transepts. Square towers at both the east and west crossings and cylindrical turrets at the four transepts, combined with apses at both ends of the church create a harmonious, yet very sculptural and dynamic massing. As two entrances are located on the south side of the church, an unusual arrangement, the south aisle functions as a sort of indoor narthex. The structure is conceived in a geometrical relationship of parts to the whole so that the nave is three times as long as the square crossings, and the aisles are about two thirds of the nave in width. Square piers at the third points of the length of the nave alternate with two cylindrical columns between the piers, endowed with very simple cubical capitals, a characteristic of Ottonian architecture in the Lower Saxony called Dreiachsigem Stutzenwechsel.
This photograph from the north aisle looking toward the raised western chancel above the crypt, clearly conveys the complexity of the interior organization. It also shows the contrast between what remained after the bombing in March, 1945 and what was rebuilt after the war, as well as the most recent renovation to coincide with the thousand year celebration in 2010. To the credit of the German experts for the post-war rebuilding, Bernward’s original design had been restored where possible to the spiritual spatial ambiance experienced today.
The choir screen at the crossing of the north wing of the western transept shows some original stone carving dating from Bishop Adelog’s rebuilding after the fire of 1186, some obviously new plastering within round arches and contemporary cabinet work.
The western chancel is the more spacious, with ambulatory which is screened off to the general worshippers. Bernward died before witnessing the completion of his grand enterprise in 1022, and his successor, Bishop Godehard transferred his remains to the crypt after the consecration of the church in 1033. The view from the raised western chancel toward the east conveys the feeling of a solemn spatial quality of the quintessentially Ottonian Romanesque St. Michael’s Church.
Today, the main altar is located in the eastern chancel at the crossing. When the Reformation was adopted in Hildesheim in the mid-16th century, St. Michael’s Church became Lutheran, although the Benedictine monastery continued its existence until the beginning of the 19th century when it became secularized. This photograph shows the elevation organization of the north transept clearly. Set in front of the center column is the bronze “Column of Christ,” one of the treasures of Michaelskirche.
The photograph shows a prominence given to the apsidal chapels at the eastern end. The double story chapel terminating the north aisle looks as significant as the central chapel on the axis.
Another of the treasures of St. Michael’s Church is the painted oak ceiling over the nave measuring 8.7 by 27.8 meters, dating from around 1230, named the “Root of Jesse,” a genealogical tree of Jesus. It is made of over 1,300 oak planks, painted with meticulous craftsmanship, marvelously restored in time for the millennial celebration in 2010.
Photographic note: All pictures were taken with the 21mm Super-Angulon for Leica on Canon 5D with an adapter.
Location: 52.152970° 9.943703°
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