Exploring Speyer Cathedral, UNESCO World Heritage Site in Germany

If there were any doubts as to the power and prestige of the German Empire, Speyer Cathedral (the Dom or Kaiserdom in German) would lay them all to rest.

Speyer Cathedral, Speyer, Germany (photo credit: Amy S Eckert, c 2013)

Speyer Cathedral, Speyer, Germany (photo credit: Amy S Eckert, c 2013)

Such was the goal of Conrad II, Salian King and Holy Roman Emperor, as he ordered construction of Speyer Cathedral in 1030. When Conrad’s ambitious building project was complete and consecrated in 1061, southwestern Germany became home to the largest church in the world.

Imperial Legacy

The Salian dynasty would last only 100 years. But its most significant legacy remained much longer. In spite of serious damage and the threat of demolition in the Palatine War of 1689 and by French Revolutionary troops in 1806, Speyer Cathedral survived. And the church defied the destruction of two world wars a century and more later.

In Your Bucket Because…

  • You want to visit as many UNESCO World Heritage Sites as possible.
  • Important history + a super-cute German town = your idea of a great vacation.
  • A great stop for those who love European history and architecture.

Some 1,000 years after its completion Speyer Cathedral remains the largest Romanesque basilica in all of Europe. But Speyer Cathedral garners attention not only for its size. The church also ranks as the world’s most important Romanesque church thanks to its medieval crypt.

Speyer Cathedral, Speyer, Germany (Photo credit: Amy S Eckert, c 2013)

Speyer Cathedral, Speyer, Germany (Photo credit: Amy S Eckert, c 2013)

Conrad II surprised no one by electing to be buried in his master work’s spacious subterranean crypt. The Salian kings and emperors who succeeded him followed suit. But other imperial dynasties would choose to be buried in Speyer, too.

Burial Place of Kings

My footsteps echoed as I made my way alongside a half dozen others into the cool, dimly-lit crypt of modern-day Speyer Cathedral—all of us very much alive, thank you very much. The spacious subterranean burial space lies almost entirely unchanged since its completion 1,000 years ago, the only additions being the tombs of a few more bishops and royals. Stone sarcophagi lie side by side, the final resting place of 300 years of German emperors.

Crypt, Speyer Cathedral, Speyer, Germany (Photo credit: Amy S Eckert, c 2013)

Crypt, Speyer Cathedral, Speyer, Germany (Photo credit: Amy S Eckert, c 2013)

Conrad II rests here along with succeeding Salian rulers. So do emperors of the Hohenstaufen, Habsburg and Nassau dynasties.

It’s a who’s who of imperial European history, if you’re up on that kind of thing. Even if you aren’t, it’s pretty impressive. These were the rulers who shaped Europe as we know it. The Christian church as we know it. The world as we know it, at least the Western half of it.

UNESCO was sufficiently impressed as well. The UN commission granted the cathedral World Heritage status in 1981 for its historical and architectural importance.

Practicalities

  • Speyer is 20 miles southwest of Heidelberg, Germany.
  • Speyer Cathedral is a walkable 1 mile from the city’s main train station (Speyer Hbf).
  • The cathedral’s official site, in German only. Opening hours are roughly sunrise to sunset daily. However, Mass is celebrated on Sundays and holidays. Entrance may be limited at those times.
  • Info about Germany’s UNESCO sites and Speyer Tourism.

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