The parish church of St. Peter and Paul is better known in Görlitz as St. Peter’s Church. It stands above the Neisse valley and its distinctive spires provided me with an ideal orientation aid in the old town.
I spent my first night in Görlitz, which marked the end of my pilgrimage on the Via Sacra, in a small hotel below St Peter’s Church. The distinctive spires and copper roof immediately attracted me and I set off on a little discovery tour.
St Peter’s Church – a bit of history
Around 1230, a basilica already stood on the elevation above the Neisse River. The construction of the present church began at the beginning of the 15th century. The foundation stone of the choir was laid in 1423 and the church was completed around 1497. With a length of 72 metres, a width of 39 metres and a nave height of 24 metres, the church is quite impressive. To this day, it is one of the largest and most important hall churches in eastern Germany.
A town fire (1691) destroyed a large part of the inventory, such as 36 altars. In the course of repairs after the fire, the church was refurbished in the Baroque style.
From 1702, the well-known composer and musician Christian Ludwig Boxberg was organist in St. Peter’s Church. In addition to numerous musical works, he also published a description of the sun organ, which is still in the church today.
In 1889 and 1891, the two towers were raised to 84 metres. Additional upper storeys and concrete spires were added, which still make up the distinctive appearance of the church today. Because of the different colouring, I think it is easy to see that the spires were added later.
Tragically, the stained glass windows and parts of the roof were destroyed in May 1945. A blast from the Old Town Bridge, triggered by the German Wehrmacht, caused an enormous shock wave that led to this damage. It took several years before the damage and other areas of St Peter’s Church could be restored.
When you enter St Peter’s Church, you stand in a large five-nave hall church. The slender pillars are striking, which merge into a net vault in the side aisles and a star-shaped vault in the nave. I am amazed at how “light” and filigree it appears.
In the northern aisle, the beautiful windows with fish-bubble tracery stand out. The windows of the church are very high and the light shines through. This makes the entire interior bright and friendly.
The altar catches my eye. It is made of sandstone and polished stucco marble. It stands in front of large bright windows, is richly decorated with figures and does not seem too overloaded to me. It is a beautiful altar, which seems rather small due to the size of the church. But it fits very harmoniously into the overall picture of the church.
The pulpit, on the other hand, I find too pompous. It dates from 1693 and is predominantly white with lots of gold. The staircase and the pulpit are decorated with plant ornaments and are supported by life-size angels.
Above the angels is a coat of arms that reminds us of the founder. In addition, the four evangelists, various apostles, prophets and saints are depicted. I don’t know why the pillar behind the pulpit is blue, but I think it doesn’t really fit together.
I particularly liked the three wooden confessionals. I have not seen confessionals of this kind before and was impressed.
Having just seen the epitaph treasure in Zittau, the numerous epitaphs in St Peter’s Church immediately caught my eye. Some are really very magnificent and beautifully crafted.
The baptistery of St Peter’s Church is located in the west bay of the north aisle. A wrought-iron grille separates the baptismal font from the church visitors. The baptismal font is very colourfully designed. I particularly like the fact that the walls in the background are shown as they survived the Second World War.
Clocks in St Peter’s Church
Somewhat hidden, I discover a moon clock from the sacristy that dates back to 1507. The moon clock showed the church servant when it was time to ring the bells and the order of service. The display of the phases of the moon was a popular gimmick at the time the clock was made.
There is another clock in St Peter’s Church. The so-called pulpit clock hangs in the southern gallery at the “stonier choir”. It enables the preacher and the congregation to watch over the length of the speech.
Görlitz Sun Organ
The organ of St. Peter’s Church is something very special. It was built by the imperial court organ builder Eugenio Casparini in 1703. In 1997/2004 the organ was renewed by a Swiss company.
The sun organ has 88 stops with 6,095 sounding pipes distributed over four manuals and pedal. Spread across the front, the so-called shelf, are 17 suns, around which organ pipes of equal length are arranged as optical sun stems. 12 of these suns sound, 4 are silent.
Something very special is also the spectacular register of the sun organ, which e.g. lets animal voices sound.
It is not only during services that you can listen to the beautiful sound of the organ. There are some special times when the organ is played. Fortunately, during my visit I was able to listen to some notes and they sounded really beautiful.
Bei der Peterskirche 9,
Monday – Saturday 10 – 18 h
(January and February closed)
Sunday/holidays 11.30 – 18 h
(January and February 11.30 – 14 h)
Church service: Sunday 10.00 h
Organ Point (Playback of the Sun Organ):
Sunday and public holidays: 12 h
April – October
Tuesday, Thursday, Sunday:12 h
Photo permit: €1.50