The Naumburg Cathedral contains artistic masterpieces of a medieval sculptor and his workshop, known as ‘the Naumburg Master’.
- It is a 13th century romanesque former Cathedral (now a Protestant church).
- Its gothic west choir holds a rood screen and the famous donor portrait statues of the twelve cathedral founders, all created by the Naumburg Master.
- The Naumburg sculptures also have preserved their polychromy in singular condition.
- The Cathedral has a double choir structure where both original rood screens have survived since 1300.
Map of Naumburg CathedralLoad map
Visit April 2019
We all know about the bumpy road the Naumburg Cathedral had to take to get placed on the List. I decided not to look back on that episode, not to even prepare my visit and just take it at face value. I visited it on ‘Holy Saturday’, the day before Easter. I drove all the way there, 620km from my home, just for my 698th tick!
Naumburg an der Saale lies in the former GDR. This may be the main reason why this cathedral wasn’t proposed earlier – the GDR did have a Tentative List, but came late to the scene in nominating anything. It wasn’t until after the reunification in 1990 that Potsdam as the first former East German site was placed on the List. Naumburg itself still isn’t really on the beaten tourist track, although on the sunny Saturday when I was there both the town and the cathedral were well-visited by Germans.
The cathedral lies a bit outside of the historic town center. With its 4 towers and irregular shape it is already an attractive sight. Admission costs 6.50 EUR plus another 2 EUR to be allowed to take photos. This policy also is emblematic for what the former cathedral represents nowadays: more museum than church. It is owned by a foundation and does not receive money from church taxes or public funds.
Of course I thought “I have already seen so many cathedrals, what more can this one add”? Naumburg does stand out though as a niche site for medieval church architecture: it has preserved its lay-out and design from the 13th century. So it is a much more authentic experience than the many cathedrals that have organically grown over the centuries. One of its oddities is its duality:
- It has two sets of towers, each set covering its own choir structure. So from the entrance – which is to the side – there is a choir plus altar to the right and a choir plus altar to the left. Both choirs are hidden behind rood screens. There’s a bunch of chairs in the middle for regular churchgoers, but they do seem irrelevant.
- It has been a simultaneous church for quite some time after the Reformation: so Catholic and Lutheran services were practiced in the same building, albeit in different corners (and probably not at the same hour).
The original features include the two rood screens, a common feature in the Middle Ages that has become obsolete in more recent times. The one in front of the west choir has polychrome biblical sculptures by the Naumburg Master. When you walk underneath the arms of Jesus into the choir, you’re surrounded by the 12 lifelike images of the founders of the church. Especially the sculptures showing the two founder couples are fascinating.
The east choir does lack great sculptures but has some nice woodwork. And I discovered a bit of historical graffiti here from 1689 at the foot of the stairs climbing up to one of the towers. Apparently there is more graffiti carved into the wooden benches.
The nicest part of the cathedral complex lies actually just after the entrance, in the main church. You can also visit the cloister and the garden, buy something in the museum shop, watch an interesting video and descend to the Treasury. The latter is an exhibition space where there are even more statues of the Naumburg Master that once stood in the church. Certainly worthwhile, if only for the sculpture of the severed head of John the Baptist presented on a scale.
Naumburg Cathedral is clearly not the first cathedral on the list and it's a fair guess that it won't be the last, but I have to say it is one of the nicest ones - by which I mean that it is really well-preserved, with hardly any post-medieval alterations, and gives the look and feel of an authentic church from the Middle Ages. Its four towers can be seen from far away, and its interior is full of fine late Romance and early Gothic archiecture, especially the works by the so-called Naumburg Master. There is also a very nice cloister and a treasury. Located in Martin Luther's homeland, it is also notable for being the first Protestant cathedral and diocese in the world, and the first Protestant bishop anywhere was personally installed in the cathedral by Luther himself (it remained a diocese for only about 20 years, though). I reached Naumburg by train in a half-day trip from Leipzig.
I take Naumburg cathedral as the epitome of central-european church from first half and mid of13th century. The monumental building has two choirs, two rood screens, one crypta, four towers, adjacent cloister. The highlight is obviously the decorations of the west choir (12 statues of founders, rood screen, floral decoration, stained glass windows). I loved not only Ekkehard and Uta, but all the sculptures and stone carvings of the western choir from ca. 1250. The floral decoration is simply beautiful and naturalistic (see PHOTO) - the leaves seem to be in the wind - that is quite typical for this period of early gothic in central/eastern Europe and can be seen also in several churches in Czechia, but the origin of the floral decoration can be found obviously in France (Reims, Amiens, Paris). I could see other works of Naumburg`s master in Meissen cathedral. The Naumburg work is however the best one.
I visited Naumburg and several places around ca. 15 years ago, I could see also sites that were included in one of the trials to enter the list. Well, all the process was a little bit odd, but the result that only cathedral became WHS is positive.
Visited again in August 2019: I enjoyed my secon visit to the cathedral a lot and spent inside around two hours... I was also surpprised how pleasant and nicely reconstructed all the historical center of Naumburg is.
I visited this tentative WHS in November 2014. It's a fine cathedral like many others on the list already and this might make it to the list in 2015. We'll wait and see. The highlight of my trip were the works of the Naumburg master. The film displayed on the upper floor above the ticket booth is really worthwhile viewing to get a detailed overview of the Naumburg master's works and a comparison with other cathedrals and churches in Europe. The combined ticket costs 6 to 8.50 euros + 2 euros for photography which is quite expensive especially by German WHS standards.
Naumburg has been nominated for inclusion in the World Heritage List in 2015. Initially, only the Naumburg Cathedral was registered in the tentative list, but a few years ago the site was extended to a cultural landscape and renamed as: "The Naumburg Cathedral and the landscape of the rivers Saale and Unstrut an important dominion in the High Middle Ages". The high density of preserved monuments from the 10th to 13th century is considered to be the unique feature: a kind of model landscape of the Middle Ages with testimonies of religious and secular power. In a radius of 10 kilometres around the confluence of the Saale and Unstrut are castles and monasteries, remains of city fortifications, small parish churches, and a pleasant landscape with orchards, river meadows, and of course also vineyards.
I have visited the Naumburg Cathedral sometime in the 1990s and again in April 2014. The cathedral is a mixture of late Romanesque and early Gothic elements, the change of styles can be seen in the two rood screen, which divide the interior into a central nave and two choirs. Most impressive are the marvellous works by an unknown artist, called the Naumburg Master: the reliefs depicting the Passion of Christ and the Crucifixion sculpture on the rood screen of the western choir (photo), and especially the statues of the twelve founders in the west choir. The very individual drawing of the faces and gestures is amazing, each sculpture is characteristic and distinctive. Quite unusual for a cathedral in Germany that you have to pay an entrance fee (6.50 Euro plus 2 Euro for photo permission).
On my second visit I paid more attention to the surrounding landscape and visited several of the locations listed on the nomination webpage. But these are rather mediocre sites, enjoyable to visit but not very exciting. After visiting the cathedral, I first took a walk through the old town of Naumburg: pretty town houses around the market square and a massive medieval city gate (Marientor). The most interesting site in the proposed area was the former Cistercian monastery Pforta with a nice old cloister and an imposing gatehouse. Also noteworthy: the double chapel in Neuenburg Castle high above the town of Freyburg and the parish church in Flemingen with nice frescoes in the apse. From the small Romanesque church in Zscheiplitz you have a nice view of Freyburg, Neuenburg Castle and the Unstrut valley with steep vineyards, it is the most scenic part of the nominated area. Other main objects are: the castles of Schönburg, Rudelsburg and Saaleck, Goseck church and castle and the Romanesque House in Bad Kösen (formerly a grange of the Pforta monastery).
Two places not connected with the Middle Ages might be of interest: the large graduation tower in Bad Kösen and the reconstruction of the Neolithic Goseck circle.
So to sum up: the Naumburg Cathedral is the landmark of the nominated area and well worth a visit, twenty years ago it would have been inscribed without any problems as a single monument. However, none of the other buildings and sites are of outstanding value. But who knows? The high number of monuments in a relatively small area is certainly a plus, and also that the landscape has not changed substantially over the centuries. So this could be a nomination, where a good story and a comprehensive dossier finally leads to an inscription.
Well, I just wonder why it is not on the list already! One of the most beautiful cathedrals ever seen, highly recommended, in fact, reserve some more time as also Naumburg Old Town is very interesting. For me for sure it will be on the list in the future. Visited just recently (August 2014), entrance ticket is quite expensive (6,5 Euro for an adult person) but the place is worth every single euro to spare ....
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2018 Advisory Body overruled
ICOMOS was "unable to provide a recommendation", but kept leaning to Not to inscribe
to rescope to the Cathedral only
2017 Advisory Body overruled
ICOMOS advised Not to inscribe
2015 Advisory Body overruled
ICOMOS proposed rejection, amendments by Croatia and Vietnam received unanimous support from WHC
Successor to the former TWHS Naumburg Cathedral (2002) - later extended to include the CL
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