Top 10 Largest Cathedrals In Germany
Top 10 Largest Cathedrals In Germany

Whether you're making a spiritual pilgrimage or want to appreciate their majestic architecture, Germany's churches are some of the most spectacular sights the country has to offer. Steeped in history, cathedrals and churches in Germany tell their own story of the past; some churches stood the test of time and remained untouched for a thousand years while others wear the scars of war and are a vivid reminder of Germany’s turbulent history.

Located in different parts of the country, these churches and cathedrals have stood the test of time. While some have remained untouched since their inception, some have been victims of demolition and Germany’s brutal past. With high-rise spires, fancy stained-glass windows, and domes, Germany’s religious architectures deserve appreciation from every tourist that decides to visit Germany.

Here are the 10 largest cathedrals in Germany you should visit.

List of top 10 largest and popular cathedrals in Germany

1. Cathedral of Cologne

2. Berlin Cathedral

3. Speyer Cathedral

4. Dresden Cathedral

5. Frauenkirche

6. Aachen Cathedral

7. Augsburg Cathedral

8. Cathedral of Mainz

9. Freiburg Minster

10. Fulda Cathedral

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What are the largest and popular cathedrals in Germany?

1. Cathedral of Cologne - 7,290 m² (85,250.17 sq ft)

Photo: cityseeker
Photo: cityseeker

Cologne Cathedral is the largest cathedral in Germany with an area of 7,290 square meters (85,250.17 square feet). Not only is Cologne Cathedral one of the city’s greatest landmarks, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Construction of the Cologne Cathedral took over seven centuries, between 1248 – 1880, and was built in several phases.

The high altar inside of Cologne Cathedral is believed to be the largest in the world and is made of black limestone and was built in the early 14th century. Also dating from this time period are the Cologne Cathedral’s carved oak choir chairs, painted choir screens, the fourteen statues on the pillars in the choir, and the great cycle of stained-glass windows.

When finally completed in 1880—632 years after work had begun—Cologne Cathedral was the largest church in Germany. Its prominent double spires were surpassed in height only by the steeple at Ulm. Among the building’s treasures are the gilded sarcophagus of the Magi (claimed to hold their remains), the Milan Madonna (a wooden sculpture from 1290 depicting Mary and Jesus), and the Gero Cross (dating from 970, the largest wooden cross north of the Alps). The cathedral has 12 bells, the oldest dating to 1418. The 24-ton bell of St. Peter (Petersglocke) was cast in 1922.

Although the twin spires and the west face survived the Allied bombing of Cologne during World War II, the cathedral received multiple direct hits that caused severe damage to other sections of the structure. Restoration work was completed by 1956. Cologne Cathedral became a World Heritage site in 1996. (Adrian Gilbert)

The cathedral has eleven church bells, four of which are medieval. The first was the 3.8-tonne Dreikönigsglocke ("Bell of the Three Kings"), cast in 1418, installed in 1437, and recast in 1880. Two of the other bells, the Pretiosa (10.5 tonnes; at that time the largest bell in the Western world) and the Speciosa (5.6 tonnes) were installed in 1448 and remain in place today.

During the 19th century, as the building neared completion, there was a desire to increase the number of bells. This was facilitated by Kaiser Wilhelm I who gave French bronze cannon, captured in 1870–71, for this purpose. The 22 pieces of artillery were displayed outside the cathedral on 11 May 1872. Andreas Hamm in Frankenthal used them to cast a bell of over 27,000 kilos on 19 August 1873. The tone was not harmonious and another attempt was made on 13 November 1873. The Central Cathedral Association, which had agreed to take over the costs, did not want this bell either. Another attempt took place on 3 October 1874. The colossal bell was shipped to Cologne and on 13 May 1875, installed in the cathedral. This Kaiserglocke was eventually melted in 1918 to support the German war effort. The Kaiserglocke was the largest free-swinging bell in history.

The 24-tonne St. Petersglocke ("Bell of St. Peter", "Decke Pitter" in the Kölsch language or in common parlance known as "Dicker Pitter"), was cast in 1922 and was the largest free-swinging bell in the world, until a new bell was cast in Innsbruck for the People's Salvation Cathedral in Bucharest in Romania.

2. Berlin Cathedral - 6,270 m2

Photo: Wikipedia
Photo: Wikipedia

The magnificent dome of the Cathedral Church (Berliner Dom) is one of the main landmarks in Berlin’s cityscape – and marks the spot of the impressive basilica housing the city’s most important Protestant church. With its elaborate decorative and ornamental designs, the church interior is especially worth seeing.

Yet although the church is known as a cathedral, it actually has the status of a parish church – though not just any parish. This was a representative stage for the Hohenzollern dynasty, the rulers of Prussia and later the German Emperors. Today, as the High Parish and Cathedral Church, the church serves the Protestant community in Berlin and the surrounding areas. The congregation is not based on place of residence, but open through admission to all baptised Protestants in the region.

The history of the Berlin Cathedral goes back to the 15th century. The predecessor buildings were originally part of the Berlin City Palace.

In the early nineteenth century, Prussia’s leading architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel transformed the court church into a neo-classical building.

But fifty years on, tastes had changed. By the time Wilhelm II came to throne as Emperor of Germany in 1888, several designs had been proposed for a new church, though none had been accepted. The Emperor also found the Schinkel church far too modest, and insisted on a new monumental church in keeping with the imperial monarchy’s power and prestige. Architect Julius Carl Raschdorff was commissioned for the new church, but had to present three designs before Wilhelm II was satisfied. Raschdorff’s opulent, grandiose structure was for him Berlin’s answer to Saint Peter’s in Rome and Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London.

The old building was demolished in 1893, and the foundation stone for the new church laid in 1894. Eleven years later in 1905, the new church was consecrated. The church was severely damaged during the Second World War. After the division of Germany, the Cathedral Church was in East Berlin. The work on restoring the church began there in 1975, although in a simplified form.

The full restoration was only completed in 1993, four years after the Berlin Wall fell. Finally, in 2008, a new golden cross replaced the dome cross in need of renovation. Today, the old cross is located on one of the cathedral cemeteries in Liesenstraße 6.

The Cathedral Church is dominated by a monumental dome crowned by a lantern with a golden cross and flanked by four towers. Raschdorff drew his inspiration from the Italian High Renaissance and the more florid baroque style. With its lavish mix of ornamental mosaics, gold features and impressive statues, the interior is clearly informed by the late nineteenth century’s love of grand gestures and display. The most notable works of art are the marble and onyx altar, designed by Friedrich August Stüler, and the white marble baptismal font by Christian Daniel Rauch. In the Baptismal and Matrimonial Chapel, the monumental painting of the Descent of the Holy Spirit by Carl Begas in the style of Raphael is also well worth seeing.

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3. Speyer Cathedral – 5,038 m2

Photo: Wikipedia
Photo: Wikipedia

Speyer Cathedral, officially the Imperial Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption and St Stephen, in Latin: Domus sanctae Mariae Spirae (German: Dom zu Unserer lieben Frau in Speyer) in Speyer, Germany, is the seat of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Speyer and is suffragan to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Bamberg. The cathedral, which is dedicated to St. Mary, patron saint of Speyer ("Patrona Spirensis") and St. Stephen is generally known as the Kaiserdom zu Speyer (Imperial Cathedral of Speyer). Pope Pius XI raised Speyer Cathedral to the rank of a minor basilica of the Roman Catholic Church in 1925.

Begun in 1030 under Konrad II, with the east end and high vault of 1090–1103, the imposing triple-aisled vaulted basilica of red sandstone is the "culmination of a design which was extremely influential in the subsequent development of Romanesque architecture during the 11th and 12th centuries". As the burial site for Salian, Staufer and Habsburg emperors and kings the cathedral is regarded as a symbol of imperial power. With the Abbey of Cluny in ruins, it remains the largest Romanesque church. It is considered to be "a turning point in European architecture", one of the most important architectural monuments of its time and one of the finest Romanesque monuments.

In 1981, the cathedral was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List of culturally important sites as "a major monument of Romanesque art in the German Empire".

In April 1981, Speyer Cathedral was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List of culturally important sites. The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) justified the inclusion: "The cathedral of Speyer, with those of Worms and Mayence (Mainz), is a major monument of Romanesque art in the German Empire. It is, by virtue of its proportions, the largest and the most important; by virtue of the history to which it is linked – the Salic emperors made it their place of burial." ICOMOS also cites the building as important in demonstrating the evolution in attitudes towards restoration since the 17th century, both in Germany and the world.

4. Dresden Cathedral – 4,800 m2

Photo: IStockphoto
Photo: IStockphoto

Dresden Cathedral (Hofkirche) stands as one of Dresden's foremost landmarks. It was designed by architect Gaetano Chiaveri from 1738 to 1751. The church was commissioned by Augustus III, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland while the Protestant city of Dresden built the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) between 1726 and 1743. The Catholic Elector decided that a Catholic church was needed in order to counterbalance the Protestant Frauenkirche.

In the crypt the heart of King Augustus the Strong is buried along with the last King of Saxony and the remains of 49 other members of the Wettin family, as well as the remains of people who married into the family, such as Princess Maria Carolina of Savoy, wife of Anthony of Saxony.

The church was badly damaged during the bombing of Dresden of the Second World War and was restored during the mid-1980s by the East German government. Today it is the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Dresden-Meissen.

The cathedral features a carefully restored organ, the last work of the renowned organ builder Gottfried Silbermann. It also contains a Rococo pulpit by Balthasar Permoser.

In the crypts the heart of King Augustus the Strong is buried along with the last King of Saxony and the remains of 49 other members of the Wettin family, as well as the remains of people who married into the family, such as Princess Maria Carolina of Savoy, wife of Anthony of Saxony.

The oldest of four crypts, the Founders' Crypt, holds the tombs of King Augustus III of Poland, one of very few Polish Kings to be buried outside the Wawel Cathedral in Kraków, and last Queen of Poland Maria Josepha. It is also burial place of the heart of King Augustus the Strong, whose body was interred in the Wawel Cathedral, and of Polish ruler and first Saxon King Frederick Augustus I of Saxony. Polish princes and princesses are buried in the Founders' Crypt and the Great Crypt.

5. Frauenkirche – 4,188 m2

Photo: Swedish Nomad
Photo: Swedish Nomad

Munich Cathedral, officially "Dom zu Unserer Lieben Frau" or the Church of Our Dear Lady, is most commonly known as Frauenkirche. Built on top of a Romanesque church that dated back to the 12th century, the enormous Gothic-style Cathedral was completed in 1488, with the domes crowning its towers in 1525.

The Cathedral itself is a red-brick construction, and has a very simple design, in part due to a lack of funds while it was being built. It was only in 1525 that its towers - which are easily visible throughout the city at 99 metres (325 feet) in height - were finally covered with peculiar green domes.

Much of Frauenkirche's interior was destroyed World War II, but what survived has been carefully restored, and the Gothic nave, several original stained-glass windows, a collection of 14th to 18th century artwork, and the tomb of Holy Roman Emperor Louis IV are major attractions.

One of the Cathedral's most striking details is the so-called "Devil's Footprint", Teufelstritt in German, a black mark that looks like a footprint, and around which many mysterious legends revolve!

It may not be the most extravagantly decorated of churches, but Frauenkirche's location in the heart of the city centre - and its skyscraping towers - make it unmissable!

6. Aachen Cathedral – 2,000 m2

Photo: Trip
Photo: Trip

Aachen Cathedral was included into UNESCO World Heritage List in 1978 and got one of the top sites of the list due its unique history enriched by legends and myths and luxurious treasures kept in the cathedral.

Construction of this palatine chapel, with its octagonal basilica and cupola, began c. 790–800 under the Emperor Charlemagne. Originally inspired by the churches of the Eastern part of the Holy Roman Empire, it was splendidly enlarged in the Middle Ages. The construction of the chapel of the Emperor at Aachen symbolized the unification of the west and its spiritual and political revival under the aegis of Charlemagne. In 814, Charlemagne was buried here, and throughout the Middle Ages until 1531 the Germanic emperors continued to be crowned here. The collection of the treasury of the cathedral is of incalculable archaeological, aesthetic, and historic interest.

The special value of this church was given by its author, the legendary Emperor Charlemagne. It is said that Charlemagne was born in Aachen, the German Western boundary town (the town borders Belgium and Netherlands ), and created the central Northern Europe cultural and politic headquarter at his native place. Besides Charlemagne’s outstanding political activity and lively deeds directed to Christianity religion and Roman culture development he was credited by erection of one of the largest and most significant construction of the Middle Ages – Aachen Cathedral.

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7. Augsburg Cathedral – 4,520 m2

Photo: Wikipedia
Photo: Wikipedia

The land upon which Augsburg Cathedral is built was first used for a church back in the year 882. Although the site has remains of a 4th century building as well, but it isn’t sure whether this was a church. The current structure was constructed by Bishop Henry III in 1043 and took 22 years to build. The towers took a further 10 years to complete. Over the years, many additions and modifications were made to the church in different contrasting styles, giving the building its unique character. From the outside, the building is a mixture of Gothic and Romanesque architecture.

The entrance in front of you as you approach the cathedral is the southern portal. This is one of the most elaborate examples of Gothic design in the entire building. On the other hand, the tower right next to it is typical Romanesque architecture.

As you enter the cathedral, the interior appears to be mostly simple. During the Protestant Reformation, most of the heavy artwork was removed. While some of it was later returned, the cathedral has remained mostly plain inside compared to other churches in Bavaria. The sections that do have heavy decorations were converted to the Baroque style in the 17th century. Later on several neo-Gothic pieces were added as well. The eastern choir is a good example of this. Among the art pieces, the stained glass is perhaps the most appealing work; especially the clerestory toward the side where we entered the building. These five windows are in fact the oldest stained glass samples in all of Germany. Historians think that these were part of a larger collection which was either lost or destroyed over the years.

The cathedral also has a museum which hosts an interesting collection of items from medieval times, including the original bronze door of the building. Take your time to look around the museum.

8. Cathedral of Mainz – 3,080 m2

Photo: Flickr
Photo: Flickr

Built in the style of St Peter’s in Rome, the imperial cathedral in Mainz has been the most striking building in the city for a long time. At 110 metres long and 28 metres tall, the massive red sandstone cathedral has been extended over the centuries and is now the most famous landmark of the capital of Rhineland‑Palatinate. The tallest tower stretches a whole 80 metres into the sky.

Archbishop Willigis, friend and advisor of Emperor Otto II and deputy to the pope, had the cathedral built to underline his ecclesiastical and earthly power as the imperial prince and territorial lord of the whole Mainz archdiocese. The cathedral burnt seven times, seven kings were crowned in it and 45 bishops are buried in it. Emperor Barbarossa celebrated his legendary Mainz Court Festival in the cathedral in the 12th century. Holy Roman Emperor Henry V and Matilda, daughter of English King Henry I, tied the knot here.

The market gate on the north side of the nave is the most important entrance to the cathedral. The bronze door in the Romanesque sandstone portico was built in 1200, making it the oldest part of the pillared basilica. It dates back to cathedral construction commissioned by Archbishop Willigis around one thousand years ago. But this cathedral burnt down before it was consecrated, which is why Willigis is buried at St Stephan’s Church.

One particularly striking feature inside the cathedral is the depiction of Mary in the Ketteler Chapel known as the ‘Schöne Mainzerin’, or the ‘beautiful lady of Mainz’. Mainz Cathedral is also famous for its large collection of tombs from the 13th to 19th centuries, which can be seen on the pillars and walls throughout the church. Even the cloister in Mainz served more as a burial place than a walkway, as is more conventional for monasteries. It is said that around 250 people in total are buried here. There are numerous burial plates on the floor and walls in their memory.

9. Freiburg Minster – 1530 m2

Photo: Pinterest
Photo: Pinterest

Freiburg Minster is the cathedral of Freiburg. The last duke of Zähringen started the building around 1200 in Romanesque style and the construction continued in 1230 in Gothic style. The minster was partly built on the foundations of an original church that had been there from the beginning of Freiburg in 1120.

In the Middle Ages, Freiburg lay in the Diocese of Konstanz. In 1827 the Freiburg Minster became the seat of the newly erected Catholic Archdiocese of Freiburg and thus a cathedral. The cathedral has the only Gothic church tower in Germany that was completed in the Middle Ages (1330), and miraculously, has lasted until the present, surviving the bombing raids of November 1944, which destroyed all of the houses on the west and north side of the market. The tower was subject to severe vibration at the time, and its survival of these vibrations is attributed to its lead anchors, which connect the sections of the spire. The windows had been taken out of the spire at the time by church staff led by Monsignor Max Fauler, and so these also suffered no damage.

There are two important altars inside the cathedral: the high altar of Hans Baldung, and another altar of Hans Holbein the Younger in a side chapel. The nave windows were donated by the guilds, and the symbols of the guilds are featured on them. The deep red color in some of the windows is not the result of a dye, but instead the result of a suspension of solid gold nanoparticles.

10. Fulda Cathedral – 3,861 m2

Photo: Wikipedia
Photo: Wikipedia

Influenced by Roman Baroque architecture, the Fulda cathedral was built between 1704 and 1712 by the renowned architect Johann Dietzenhofer. The cathedral is not only Fulda’s famous landmark, but also the most significant baroque religious building in the State of Hesse. During construction many parts of the previous church, the 9th century Ratgar Basilika, were integrated in the new cathedral. Since 1752 it has been the cathedral church of the Fulda diocese. The cathedral has retained its great religious significance up to today due to the tomb of St. Boniface which is still today an important place of pilgrimage.

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