In the heart of Magdeburg you cannot miss the Magdeburg Cathedral, which bears the official name Dom zu Magdeburg St. Mauritius und Katharina. A visit is not to be missed during a stay in Magdeburg – there is much to discover here.
The history of Magdeburg Cathedral
The history of Magdeburg Cathedral begins, like so many other stories in the city, with Otto I. After he buried his wife in 946 in the Mageburg monastery of St.Mauritius, he also chose the city as his future burial place. Around 950 he had a new church built in the town and brought numerous precious objects to the town. There is no 100 percent proof of what the building looked like exactly, but it is assumed that it was a three-aisled, cruciform basilica. Otto was buried in this church.
After a fire destroyed Magdeburg and also the basilica and the neighbouring church extensively in 1207, Albrecht I had the foundation stone for the new building laid in the same year. Parts of the previous building were reused in the construction.
The construction must not have been easy. In some areas, the architecture looks as if changes had to be made for structural reasons. Otherwise, it is hard to understand why such different vault structures and pillar constructions can be found in the cathedral.
The entire church building is oriented towards the tomb of Otto the Great and has a modified construction axis compared to its predecessor. The tomb of Editha, Otto’s first wife, also found a place in Magdeburg Cathedral.
Over time, the money for the construction of the cathedral became scarce and in the second half of the 13th century, construction work was interrupted for several years.
A legend tells of how it was possible to continue the work:
In 1240, the shepherd Thomas Koppehele is said to have found a gold treasure while herding sheep. He donated it to the then Archbishop of Magdeburg so that the construction of the cathedral could continue. In gratitude, the bishop had the shepherd with his servant and the dogs mounted as a stone image at the northern entrance of the cathedral (Paradise Gate). He can still be seen there today.
Many more years of construction followed and the cathedral was finally completed in 1520.
During the Reformation, Magdeburg was one of the strongholds of Protestantism and Archbishop Albrecht of Brandenburg traded heavily in indulgences until his death. After his death in 1545, the cathedral closed its doors for 20 years and then opened as a Protestant place of worship.
After the Thirty Years’ War, in which a good 2/3 of the population and almost the entire city fell victim to the flames in Magdeburg, General Tilly had the cathedral cleaned and celebrated a Catholic service there. From now on, the archdiocese of Magdeburg was Catholic again.
Napoleon occupied Magdeburg from 1806 to 1814. It is said that the cathedral was used as a stable at this time. There are metal rings in the walls of the cloister, which are said to have been used to tie up the horses.
When Friedrich William III of Prussia visited the cathedral in 1825, he decided to have it repaired by Karl Friedrich Schinkel. Some of this work can still be seen today. Schinkel was particularly proud of the 89 stained glass windows installed in the cathedral until 1906/07 and the steam heating that was later installed.
During the Second World War, the cathedral and its interior were badly damaged. In September 1955, after restoration work, the church could be reopened. Since then, Magdeburg Cathedral has been open again for services and visitors and is one of the most visited sights in Magdeburg.
Little “secrets” in Magdeburg Cathedral
Every church has its secrets or places that are difficult to explain at first why they exist. This is also the case in Magdeburg Cathedral.
Why is there a hole in the stone slab?
If you go into the choir and look at the stone slabs in front of the seating, you hardly notice it, but there is clearly a circular hole in the floor.
The hole is more like a keyhole, because you can put a hook in here and lift the heavy stone slab with it. Underneath, the hidden world of the cathedral opens up. Here are the remains of the walls of the previous building and graves have been discovered.
But there must also have been people who dug there for other reasons. For example, there is an artificial room under Otto’s grave. There must have been grave robbers on the prowl.
Why is there a grate behind the altar?
If you walk around the altar in the High Choir, you will notice a grating on the floor (we could see it very well from the choir ambulatory). A rather unusual place for a gully – or is it something else? The grille itself is new, there used to be a stone slab there.
If you lift the grate, you will come to a stone staircase that leads into the depths. There you will find a secret treasure chamber. The marble altar is hollow on the inside and there is also a room under the altar. In the existing niches, you can still see that shelves were once attached there.
But what was hidden there? In the past, there were shrines with relics around the altar. These played an important role in the faith of the population and were very valuable. They were supposed to be protected from looting in this underground room.
The incredible journey of a baptismal font
The baptismal font in Magdeburg Cathedral is hard to miss. I was amazed at how simple this basin looks, I had seen much more ostentatious pieces in other churches.
The baptismal font, however, has made a journey like no other. Originally, the baptismal font was not a baptismal font either.
This is actually the lower part of an inverted fountain that forms a hollow base. The fountain was made of Egyptian mons porphyrites from near Hurghada. It was transported to the Nile by cart and then sailed on a ship towards the sea. There the stone was loaded onto another ship that sailed across the Mediterranean and brought it to Rome. In Rome, it was worked and a fountain was created.
Otto I must have seen the stone in Rome and decided to bring it to Magdeburg along with another stone slab used as a base plate.
In ancient times, this very type of stone was only for the use of the emperor. He was crowned standing on a stone slab made of this material. Otto presumably wanted to demonstrate his claim to power in this way.
The great “secret” in Magdeburg Cathedral
Of course, there are also “secrets” that still occupy science today.
Why was Editha buried four times?
If you look closely, you will discover the date of death 947 on Editha’s tomb. In the 16th century, this false date was unwittingly perpetuated there. Today we know that Otto’s wife died in 946.
But if it were only that, the grave is still causing a stir.
In 2008, excavations took place in the cathedral. Until then, it was thought that the high grave was only an empty mock grave. Now, an empty stone coffin was found in the foundation of the high grave.
Today it is assumed that Editha was buried in this coffin for the first time and lay there until 1510. The high grave was built in 1510 as a monument to the queen. For a long time it was regarded as a monument only and was believed to be empty. Researchers assumed that the bones had disappeared.
In 2008, it was decided to explore the high grave with a camera and a metal box was discovered inside. When the stone lid was lifted, a lead box containing bones wrapped in cloth was found. In addition, linen and velvet velvet were found in the box, which bore the inscription EDIT REGINE SECUNDA (IA)M RENOVATIONE (Queen Editha already the second renewal) with the date 1510.
With this find it was clear that the queen had been buried at least 4 times. To keep track:
1st burial: stone sarcophagus in the Moritz Monastery
2end burial: sandstone sarcophagus in today’s cathedral from 1225-1250
3rd burial: lead coffin in the high grave 1510
4th burial: titanium coffin 2010
Visit to the cathedral
We visited the cathedral around noon. If you want to take photos, you need a photo permit, which you can buy at the entrance. We chose the time unconsciously, but it was a great choice. From Monday to Friday, the midday prayer takes place at 12 noon. Suddenly it becomes very quiet in the cathedral and all the visitors sit down on the chairs. The organ plays and a 15-minute prayer follows. A small moment of peace and reflection in the hectic time, we enjoyed it. Above all, the organ music was really beautiful. No sooner had the last note of the final piece faded away than the visitors were striving through the building again.
We, too, were drawn criss-cross through the nave. I quickly had to revise my first impression. When we entered Magdeburg Cathedral, my first thought was “unadorned and uninteresting”.
At second glance, I quickly realised that I had been mistaken.The three-nave basilica of the cross with its circumferential choir has many beautiful details to offer.
What beautiful epitaphs hang in the cathedral, true works of art. In the apse are ancient columns of porphyry, marble and granite. These are said to have come from Ravenna. Interesting ornaments and motifs can be found everywhere on the columns.
The pulpit with the small entrance door in front of the staircase is one of the most important Renaissance works of art in Germany. It is made of alabaster and shows St. John the Baptist, Christ as Saviour, St. Maurice, St. Paul and St. Catherine. Paul and St. Catherine. The pulpit staircase is decorated with a scene of the Fall of Man.
Directly next to it is a hexagonal chapel. Inside sits the ruling couple from the 13th century. According to popular belief, they are Otto I and Editha.
The Gate of Paradise is also not to be missed. Here there are ten sculptures of wise and foolish virgins in 13th century costume. You can distinguish the women quite well, the wise women look happy, the foolish women look sad.
Not to be forgotten: The tomb of Emperor Otto I is in the choir. I think it almost looks like an altar and, to be honest, we completely overlooked it. Yes, and of course you can’t miss the high grave of Editha.
Unfortunately, it was not possible to climb the 433 steps of the north tower to the viewing platform during our visit.
Yes, and when you leave the cathedral you should take a look at the door handle. Isn’t it beautiful?
Am Dom 1,
May – September
daily: 10 – 18 h
daily: 10 – 17 h
November – March
daily 10 -16 h
daily 10 – 17 h
On Sundays and church holidays, the cathedral is only open from 11.30 a.m., as church services are held beforehand.
If you would like to take a virtual tour, just click here.