One of the most fascinating churches in the world can be found in the east of France.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the most interesting facts about Strasbourg Cathedral.
1. The church is located in the Alsace Region in eastern France
This magnificent cathedral is located in the city of Strasbourg in the eastern part of the country. It’s the capital of the “Grand Est” region of France in the historic region of Alsace. It’s also the capital of the Bas-Rhin department.
The city celebrated its 2,000th anniversary in October of the year 1988 because it was first mentioned as the Ancient Roman settlement of “Argentoratum” in the year 12 B.C.
Today, the city is one of the most important cities in Europe as it’s home to several European institutions, including the European Parliament. It’s therefore considered to be one of the 4 capitals of Europe along with Brussels, Luxembourg City, and Frankfurt.
2. It was built over a period of 424 years
One of the most fascinating facts about Strasbourg Cathedral is that it took hundreds of years to complete. The original construction of the church on its current location started in the year 1015.
The original Romanesque cathedral burned down in the year 1176 and the construction of the modern-day cathedral started shortly after this disaster.
Bishop Heinrich von Hasenburg was the leading figure behind the start of the construction of the church and he had one goal, to make it more amazing than the newly finished cathedral of Basel.
3. The current cathedral wasn’t the first building on the site
Back in the day that Strasbourg was referred to as “Argentoratum” by the Ancient Romans, the site was already occupied by a Roman sanctuary. When the Romans were driven out, the original structure was replaced by a temple dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
The first cathedral was built on top of this temple and was completed in the 7th century, but nothing of these structures remains today.
This cathedral was then again replaced by a more prominent structure which consisted of three naves and three apses, and it was on the ruins of this Carolingian cathedral that the original modern-day cathedral was constructed in 1015.
4. It’s considered to be the epitome of French Gothic architecture
One of the most remarkable facts about Strasbourg Cathedral is that even though it’s considered to be the epitome of a church in the Gothic architectural style, the first phase consisted of Romanesque buildings.
The choir and the north transept of the cathedral were completed in a Romanesque style starting in 1176, and it wasn’t until the year 1225 that the switch was made to the Gothic style.
This switch was made under the influence of architects who worked on the Cathedral of Chartres. Several of the original Romanesque structures were torn down to make way for this revolutionary new architectural style.
5. It was the tallest building in the world for a period of 227 years
The cathedral has a length of 112 meters (367 feet) and a width of 16 meters (52 feet). The exterior height of the central nave reaches an astounding 40 meters (130 feet) as well.
This is, however, nothing compared to the height of the spire, which reaches a total height of 142 meters (466 feet) above the ground. After the spire of the St. Mary’s church in Stralsund burned down, it became the tallest building in the world, a record it would hold a total of 227 years between 1647 and 1874!
6. Strasbourg Cathedral still holds a remarkable record
Even though the cathedral was eventually surpassed in height by the St. Nikolai Church in Hamburg, Germany, it still holds the record of being the tallest church in the world that was completely constructed during the Middle Ages.
Until today, the church remains the 6th-tallest church in the world and is the most prominent landmark in Strasbourg. On a clear day, it can be seen all the way from the Vosges Mountains, a mountain range over 30 kilometers to the southeast of the city, and the Black Forest, a famous forest an equal distance to the east!
7. There’s a statue of the main architect next to the cathedral
The main architect and the man credited with most of the cathedral’s design was Erwin von Steinbach (1244-1318), a German architect.
A monument has been erected in his honor in a town nearby called “Steinbach” which is part of the town of Baden-Baden, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) to the northeast of Strasbourg.
Apart from that, he is also standing just outside of the Cathedral near the southern transept of the church.
8. The most amazing feature of the cathedral is its west façade
While the spire is the most prominent feature, the western façade is the most impressive element of the cathedral’s design. This façade has been credited to Erwin von Steinback and is considered to be an absolute masterpiece of the Gothic Era.
This massive façade was decorated with thousands of figures giving it a unique and magnificent impression!
9. The portal outside the northern transept is equally fascinating
The original construction phase utilized the Romanesque architectural style. This was changed and the French Gothic style or “Rayonnant Gothic” was used for most parts of the cathedral starting in the 13th century.
One of the most amazing facts about Strasbourg Cathedral is that an addition was made in the early 16th century in the post-Gothic, early-Renaissance style, as well.
Architect Jakob von Landshut and sculptor Hans von Aachen rebuilt the portal of the northern portal, now referred to as the “Saint-Lawrence portal” or “Portail Saint-Laurent,” starting in 1505, which was the height of the Renaissance period.
Most of the sculptures decorating this portal are copies and the originals are on display in a museum in Strasbourg called the “Musée de l’Œuvre Notre-Dame.”
10. The church marked a historic moment in architecture
While it’s most definitely assumed that drawings of buildings were made before the construction of this cathedral, the construction of this particular church marked an important moment in architectural history.
Together with the Cologne Cathedral, the façade of the Strasbourg Cathedral is considered to be one of the first buildings in history which made architectural drawings necessary to make it conceivable.
A professor of the University of Iowa even wrote a paper concluding that the façade indeed had a well-planned design as it was designed using a series of rotated octagons
11. There’s a reason why the church has an asymmetrical form
As the spire of the cathedral is dominating the Strasbourg skyline, one starts to wonder why the building has an asymmetrical form, giving the structure the appearance that something is missing.
The reason is simply that the intention was to eventually build the south tower, but this never happened, resulting in the building’s distinctive form today.
12. A trick saved the cathedral’s spire during the French Revolution
During the French Revolution in the late 18th century, churches in France were in great danger. Just think of the Tour Saint Jacques, a sight in Paris that had its entire church demolished.
The same was about to happen to the spire of Strasbourg Cathedral as the agitators who ruled the city during the revolution, referred to as the “Enragés,” planned to demolish it in April of 1794.
One of the most incredible facts about Strasbourg Cathedral is that its spire was saved because the citizens of Strasbourg dressed the spire of the church with a huge tin Phrygian cap, the exact type of cap worn by the Enragés at the time.
Because of this amazing trick, the spire was saved!
13. Most of the stained-glass windows date back to the Middle Ages
The cathedral is illuminated by one of the most remarkable collections of stained-glassed windows in the world. The northern transept is decorated with the “Emperor Windows,” also referred to as the “Kaiserfenster.”
These windows consist of 5 sets and depict 19 Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire. Most of these windows date back to the 12th and 13th centuries!
When the word was spread that Adolf Hitler wanted to turn the church into a “national sanctuary of the German people” during World War II, all the stained-glass windows were put into 74 boxes and stored in a salt mine near Heilbronn in Germany.
They were eventually returned and installed, along with numerous other works of art, by the specially created “Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section” of the United States military
14. It houses one of the biggest astronomical clocks in the world
Another remarkable feature inside the church is the “Strasbourg astronomical clock.” It’s the third clock on this location and was installed in the year 1843, with previous clocks dating back to the 14th and 16th centuries.
Every day at solar noon, Christ and the Apostles go on a procession and the rooster is integrated into the clock crows thrice.
With a height of 18 meters (59 feet), it’s one of the largest astrological clocks of its kind in the world!
15. The cathedral has an observation deck that offers stunning views
The cathedral can be seen from over 30 kilometers (20 miles) away from all sides on a clear day. One of the coolest facts about Strasbourg Cathedral is that you can get the best view of all on top of the cathedral itself!
The observation deck is located at a height of 66 meters (217 feet) and offers some of the most amazing views of the wonderful city of Strasbourg and its surroundings!