The church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Rosheim is one of the classic examples of Alsatian Romanesque. The church experienced a great deal of destruction in its day. The first version of record was built in 1051 and destroyed in 1132 during the fight between Frederick of Swabia and Bishop Gebhard of Strasbourg. It was rebuilt between 1140-1190. Despite many other alternating campaigns of destruction and restoration, the church looked in good shape when Henri Le Secq took this picture for the Missions Héliographiques and the behest of the Commission des Monuments Historiques.
Less than a decade after Le Secq’s photo was taken, the French architect Antoine Ringeisen restored the church. Ringeisen was born in the region, a mere 30 kilometers from Rosheim, but worked in Paris for the first part of his career. While practicing architecture in Metz, he became the Patrimoine architect for the Colmar region. Rosheim was one of the 114 communes under his supervision and he restored the Eglise Saint Pierre et Saint Paul. In the 18th century, the church was made over in the contemporary style. Under Ringeisen’s direction the post-Romanesque additions were removed, the whitewashed walls restored to their original unpainted state, and the Baroque furnishings removed.
The church is built of yellow and red sandstone and in the form of a latin cross. The nave is divided into two double-bays separated by heavy cruciform piers and thick solid walls with a single column in the middle. The walls are massive – almost a meter thick – but seem in proportion to the rest of the structure. The vault over the double-bays allows for clerestory windows that provide ample natural light for the nave. The transepts are fairly short and the crossing is topped with an octagonal tower.
The harmonious proportions of the nave are carried over to the side aisles, topped with groin vaults. Each of the monolithic arcade columns has a finely carved capital.
The most famous of these capitals is on the north side aisle – the chapiteau à têtes features 21 realistically carved heads ranged in a circle around the column. Each of the heads features a nimbus, so these probably represent 21 saints.
A great deal of the sculpture of the church has been lost over the years, but some fascinating items still remain. One of the most interesting is this exterior sculpture at the base of the crossing tower. The figure is life-sized and beautifully carved. The sculpture has been variously described as a “Jew holding a money purse” and a beggar, but nobody knows for certain. There is a paired statue on the other side of the church featuring an old man stroking his beard.
We found Rosheim to be a beautifully proportioned structure, lovingly maintained by the community. There was nobody in the church during our visit, which is a rarity, but the flowers on the pews indicated that there was going to be a wedding in the near future. For us, they might have been garlands for Peter and Paul, and the figure on the roof was toasting the saints with the fine local wine.
Location: 48.496809° 7.470680°