One of my favorite moments on our trip to Trier was stepping into the Liebfrauenkirche, or Church of Our Lady.* Light colored stone and high windows let in soft, glowing light, and the whole space felt bright and peaceful.
The Liebfrauenkirche is the oldest gothic church in Germany—it was built in the 13th century, and stands on the foundations of a much older Roman church. Unlike most churches, it’s built in a circular shape, with eight alcoves in between the four ends of the typical cross shape, for a full form of a twelve-petaled rose. These twelve curves, and the corresponding twelve supporting columns, symbolize the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles. The dozens of stained glass windows include older style painted glass and more modern and geometric patterns. Because of its circular shape, the main alter stands in the center of the room, with all the pews facing inwards toward it.
* Literally “loving women church”
On Easter Sunday, we visited Thomaskirche, one of the most famous churches in Leipzig. Originally founded in the 12th century, the current building was started in the 15th century, and is now a combination of different styles and restorations. Bach spent over 25 years here as cantor, and is buried beneath the sanctuary. It’s also home to a famous boys’ choir, which was founded over 800 years ago. It was stunning to hear one of Bach’s cantatas performed by the Thomas choir in this space.
In February, I went to an ecology conference in Oulu, Finland. I’ve wanted to travel to Finland for years, and this was particularly neat because for complicated reasons Oulu is actually my employing university, even though my research is based in Germany. Our first few days the temperatures were well below freezing–we had ice crystals forming on our eyelashes–but the snow and ice made for stunning landscapes.
Here’s some pictures of one of our local churches: Peterskirche, in Leipzig. The neo-gothic building was built in the 1880’s, but connected to a long history of churches with the same name spanning back to the 1100’s. Like many historic buildings in Germany, Peterskirche was severely damaged in WWII. Reconstruction work has progressed slowly over decades, and the interior is still being refurbished. The spire juts above the surrounding buildings, and makes a familiar landmark on our city walks.
The third stop of our trip was in Kirkwall, capitol of the Orkney Islands in the northern part of Scotland. In addition to the Renaissance-style Earl’s and Bishop’s Palaces, the town featured St Magnus’s cathedral, which was equally stunning inside and out. The cross-shaped cathedral was built with red stones which glowed against the green grass of the surrounding cemetery. The interior was dominated by two large stained glass windows on either side, with multiple stories of smaller glass pieces lining all the walls. The region’s Celtic and Nordic inheritance were evident in the cathedral’s architecture, including the details of the crosses, ironwork curls on the door, and even viking ships in the stained glass.
Our second stop was another city of enduring military importance, Newcastle-on-Tyne, and the gate and castle keep there guarding the bridge over the Tyne river. Excavations had revealed a Roman establishment to guard the same location centuries prior, which was marked on the pathways in stone. We spent a long time at St Nicholas Cathedral, admiring the storytelling in the stained glass windows, wood and marble carvings, and hanging battle flags.