In the second half of the 19th century, the population of Hamburg increased to include an influx of Roman Catholics, thanks to industrialisation and port expansion. Paderborn based architect Arnold Güldenpfennig was commissioned to design a new Roman Catholic parish church in the red brick neo Romanesque vein. The Church of St Mary was consecrated by Bernhard Höting, Bishop of Osnabrüch, on 28 June 1893. A dramatic pair of twin spires pierce the sky over the St Georg quarter. A century or so later, on 7 January 1995, the Archdiocese of Hamburg was reinstated and Pope John Paul II elevated the Church of St Mary to cathedral status.
Ludwig Averkamp was the first Roman Catholic Archbishop of Hamburg (1995 to 2002) of the 20th and 21st centuries. The cathedral underwent a significant rebuilding project (2007 to 2008) before being reopened by the then Archbishop of Hamburg, Werner Thissen (2003 to 2014). Since 2015, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Hamburg has been Stefan Hesse. Aged 54, he is the youngest archbishop in Germany and is known for his forthright messages. He recently gave his slant on the immigration debate: “Racism and xenophobia are in contradiction to the message of Jesus.”
Hamburg based Architektur + Stadtplanung Ewers Dörnen restored the main building and added a single storey with basement extension to the southeast. A glazed cloister enclosing a garden leads to stairs descending into a crypt. A vaulted chapel opens into the columbarium. The pebble floored, gold ceilinged, geometric metal walled, exposed bricked space was designed by Klodwig + Partners of Münster. It is an extraordinary interior of great tranquillity.
Another 21st century intervention is Architektur + Stadtplanung Ewers Dörnen’s minimalist altar which is fashioned from a single sandy limestone block to represent unity. The table surface rests on three supports representing the Trinity. The limestone, all 3.5 tonnes of it, came from Vilhonneur in France. The post war stained glass windows were created by Johannes Schreiter. Inspired by the Old Testament book of Isaiah, the artist’s abstract compositions in colours ranging from white and pale grey to yellow and brown to tones of blue reflects messages from the prophet.
The Munich art school Mayer’sche Hofkunstanstalt was commissioned in the 1940s to create a mosaic over the apse. The glittering ceiling is based on the apse mosaic of Santa Maria Maggiore Church in Rome, created by Jacopo Torritti in 1295. Hanging in front of the apse is Heinz Gerhard-Bücker’s 1993 cross of 4,000 year old moor oak. On the front is a gilded Corpus Christi; on the back, a gilded lamb. St Mary’s Cathedral is a striking amalgamation of sturdy 19th century architecture and even sturdier 21st century architecture with sturdy 20th century design thrown in for good measure.
Parish Priest Monsignor Peter Mies greets visitors to the cathedral: “A warm welcome to St Marien Dom – how good that you’re here! The St Georg district is one of the Hanseatic City’s most vibrant quarters. It’s an area of the city offering light and shade: original restaurants, creative advertising agencies and a teeming multicultural backcloth are as much part of this as homelessness, prostitution and social tensions. Amidst all this stands St Marien Dom, the cathedral church of the Archbishopric of Hamburg. That the Dom should be located precisely here is a helpful sign; so too is its close proximity to all sorts and conditions of people cherishing such a variety of hopes and cares, life plans and world views. It’s precisely for them that St Marien Dom aims to be here, as an oasis offering calm, culture and fruitful encounters.
The radiant power of St Marien Dom extends far beyond its precincts. As the seat of the Bishop it is of significance throughout the Archbishopric of Hamburg, covering not just the Hanseatic City, but also Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg. Roman Catholics may form a minority here, constituting around 10 percent of the population. Yet with their numerous institutions and the dedication of many full time and honorary staff, they play a crucial part in the life of northern Germany – in just the same way as the Dom stands for the area. Whatever may have brought you to us: you are most warmly welcome!”
Next door is a multidenominational Christian giftshop called Geistreich. It sells a pack of three napkin designs, each one embellished with the music to several verses of “Geh Aus Mein Herz” (“Go Out My Heart”). It is a congregation exhausting 14 verses in length. The words by Paul Gerhardt (1607 to 1676) were later set to a melody by Augustin Harder (1775 to 1813). A sacred summer song, Geh Aus Mein Herz forms part of the Lutheran hymnal.