Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Mexico City Cathedral

The biggest  Cathedral in the Americas? (Flickr : Pinkitron)

The Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven is the  Cathedral of the Roman Catholic diocese of Mexico.and has been described as the largest Cathedral in the Americas. 
I have never set eyes on this but I am always fascinated by big buildings! As we shall see it is not strictly speaking Baroque but then many of my choices in this blog are a mixture. It was built on the foundations of the former Aztec sacred precinct and main temple of their capital city Tenochtitlan. Parts of the old temple were used to fill canals or as building material in foundations or ground walls. The first building was started in 1525-1532 by the conqueror Hernan Cortes.The present building took shape from 1573-1813 around the original church,The Spanish architect Claudio de Arciniega made the plans and can be described as the father of the present cathedral.  Priority in planning had to be given to lay firm foundations on the soft ground of a dry lake bed in an earthquake zone. By 1615 the walls were only up to half the proposed height but eight vaulkts had been completed. It was consecrated in 1656. It is 360 feet long by 179feet. It is a real merger of styles and incorporates Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassical elements, and is built of basalt and grey sandstone. There are four facades,and 16 chapels with paintings attributed to Zurburan and Murillo. The two bell towers with  the 25 bells are important. They could announce disaster like earthquakes or good news like a fiesta or some kind of  victory. . The interior has 3 aisles There are 2 large 18th century organs which were damaged in a recent fire. They promise to be really exciting with the usual array of protruding chamade reeds. 

Adjoining is the Sagrario Metropolitano which is of the Cathedral. The Sagrario serves the local parish and was inaugurated in 1768. It is a great example of Mexican Churrigueresque style, and is the work of Lorenzo Rodriguez (1704?-1774) a Spanish born architect and Pedro Patino Ixtolinque, a native born sculptor.

Much more could be said about this hhuge building. Maybe someone will add some material / show their enthusiasm! I have never got to Mexico and is not Mexico City  the biggest city  in the world?  

Interior (Flickr : VasenkaPhotography)

La Romanesca con Cinque Mutanze - Antonio Valente.

                  Mexico City Cathedral  before 1967

Witley Court

Imagine finding a Baroque church  with ornate interior in regular use next to a huge stately home ravaged by fire in 1937, in the middle of the country! St Michael and All Angels Witley Court!
The church was originally built in two years (1733-5) to the west of the Court by Thomas, 2nd Lord Foley to designs possibly by James Gibbs (1682-1754). It had a plain brick exterior to match the  Court as it was then. It has always been a parish church rather than a family chapel.

In 1747 something remarkable happened. The Duke of Chandos had built his great house at Canons, at Stanmore, norh London. THis included a chapel designed by James Gibbs built before 1719. After that he had lost a  fortune and after his death in 1744 the estate at Canons had to be solf off. Foley found out about the chapel and bought  the box pews, several ceiling paintings by Antonio Bellucci (1654-1726), 10 stained glass windows  in 38 sections filling 5 crates, and the ornamental organ case of the instrument played by Handel.  The paintings could be moved because they were on canvas and could be rolled up. The plasterwork by Giovanni Bagutti could not be dismounted so detailed drawings and moulds were made so they could be recreated at Witley by Italian stucco workers. Therefore elaborate plasterwork  replaced the original ceiling at Witley, suspended by a timber framework. They needed to lighten the weight of this ceiling so they employed a new invention - papier mache - by Henry Clay of Birmingham, and therefore some of what we see today employs guilded papier mache.

Luckily the church at Witley was roughly the same size as the Canons chapel. The windows required wooden frames to hold them with a golden yellow border at the bottom to fit the required space.

The disastrous fire at the Court in 1937 led to problems and decline and it was only in the 1960s that parish members took the initiative to renovate. The major restoration of 1993-4 was followed by the cupola repair and guilding of the dome in 2004/5.

Perhaps we may regret the loss of the box pews and their replacement by Victorian pews. Alas the organ pipes went elsewhere and what you hear today is a rebuild by Nicholson of Worcester from 1860. However it is a remarkbale interior and anyone who has loved the Stanmore church should not miss this one!
Look at that organ case! (Flickr : Ed Jeavens)

What an interior (Flickr bv14092)

Exterior view  (Flickr : Richard Wise)
Look at that ceiling (Fickr bvl4092)

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Karlskirche, Vienna

The Karlskirche is one of the iconic buildings of Vienna. When plague struck Vienna in 1713 and took nearly 13000 Viennese victims, this part of Vienna was wooded meadows alongside the Wien river. Today it is the axis of a huge open space in central Vienna. Indeed planners have argued over the centuries how to organise the huge space with this gigantic masterpiece as a backdrop. Johannes Brahms lived just round the corner from it. The famed Musikverein concert hall is within easy walking distance. Yet the first time I saw it back in the late 1960s it seemed to be out on a limb and rather dingy. Inside seemed too short and dark. In fact it is 262 feet long and 197 feet wide.Today is very different..
Emperor Charles VI pledged this church for the plague victims and dedicated it to St Carlo Borromeo (1538-1584 a former Archbishop of Milan and saint of plague victim). In the contest to design it, the victor was Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach. He worked on it until his death in 1723 and his son finished it in 1737.
The building symbolises Church and Emire with the cross on the dome the power of God and the two triumphal arches the power of the Emperor. The porch is like a Greek temple and the huge columns remind one of  the column of Trajan in Rome. The two huge bell towers have even been said to be pagoda like.
Inside the 236 foot dome Gaetano Fanti created trompe l'oeil paintings at the lower edge and Johann Michael Rottmayr, in 1725-30, the huge fresco of St Borromeo begging the Trinity to end the plague. Rottmayr also did the smaller paintings in the choir vault, chapels and above the organ.Back in 2007 major work was being undertaken in the dome. Our photos show the restoration of the frescos. A huge platform has been erected and visitors can still  use this to get astounding closeup views of the ceiling. of the dome as the restoration continues.
The high altar was designed by Fischer von Erlach shows Borromeo rising through the clouds toward the Divine Light. This and other stucco work is by Albert Camesina.
During our visit this spring in 2017 we went to Saturday night Mass where local soldiers were having a special occasion in full uniform and the organist entertained us with music in the best possible taste (some doubtful vibrato effects).

Dome view

Dome view

Borromeo in the dome

Another view of the dome

High altar

High altar

View into dome with scaffolding

Another view of the scaffolding

St Peter's Vienna

This exuberant Baroque masterpiece right in the centre of Vienna is on the site of a 4th century church. It was commissioned in 1703 by Emperor Leopold I and designed by a number of architects - notably Gabrieli Montani. However it was completed by 1733 under the supervision of the great Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt and it is with his name that the church is usually linked. It can be viewed as a triumphant remodelling of St Peters in Rome.
The wonderful fresco of the Assumption in the dome is by Michael Rottmayr.The pulpit is by Mathias Steindll. The statue of St John Nepomuk to th eright of the choir is by Lorenzo Mattieli. The painting above the high altar of the healing of hte lame man at the Beautiful Gate by Peter and James is by MartinoAltomonte.
My memories of  it include a Sunday Mass concluded with Bach Fantasia in G BWV572 : it doesnt get better than this! Then at Christmas they have a display of historic and new cribs in the crypt.
To get the atmosphere try the  first video below starting with bells, then the horse drawn carriages and the church interior - brings it all back so vividly. The other video is a rehearsal for Bach Christmas Oratorio.

                                                      Bach Christmas oratorio

Jesuit Church Vienna

We first discovered this church in the Old City in November 2007 and went back to hear a liturgical performance of a Mozart Mass with orchestra. It was packed. This was founded as the University Church when Emperor Ferdinand II entrusted the Jesuits with the University. It was built 1623-31 and remodeled by Andrea Pozzo 1703-5. In particular he added the twin towers and modified the front.
This early Baroque church faces an imposing square. and can be found in the narrow streets near the St Stephen's Cathedral. The interior is notable for the tromp l'oeil effects in the main nave by Andrea Pozzo (1642-1709). His most famous work is the dome effect in St Ignacio in Rome - possibly the greatest piece of illusionistic painting ever achieved. Therefore it is great to see his dome here at the Jesuit church painted on a flat surface! Almost unbelievable but this is kind of effect is a key element in some Baroque buildings He also integrates his painting of the Assumption into the architecture of the building and ensures it is lit by cunning narrow window openings. Alas I was unaware of the authorship of these masterpieces when last I visited earlier in 2017, We shall return. The photos are ours except for the two from Wiki Media Commons.

Pozzo's dome. Photo from Wiki Media Commons
Assumption behind high altar by Pozzo from Wiki Media Commons

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

St Michaelis Hamburg

Last chorus from JS Bach St John Passion

The "Michel" is the most famous church and landmark in Hamburg. Its 436 foot high spire makes sure of that. This Baroque version of the church on this site was begun in the 1750s after a major lightning strike destroyed the previous one in 1750. The architects were Johann Leonhard Prey  and Ernst Georg Sonnin.Then there was a major fire in 1906 followed by a replica rebuild in 1912 and destruction in the Second World War. Therefore what we saw in December 2014 was a modern reconstruction in the original 1750 Baroque style. The huge pillar free nave seats 2500. The white and gold decorations are uplifting, particularly as there was a large choir and orchestra rehearsing in the gallery. No idea what it was but it was one of those heavenly moments : pity my little video below  is so poor in quality but it gives a flavour...There are no less than 5 organs in the church! It is possible to go up the tower and remarkably we did not do it. We are the veterans of so many towers (Cologne, Prague etc etc) and I read that it is amazing so maybe we shall return. I am so pleased that I have been in the city where Georg Philip Telemann was the Musical fountain head. Apparently CPE Bach is buried here. I missed that : he is much more highly regarded and recorded in Germany.

Friday, 14 July 2017

St Peter's Munich

St Peter (Alter Peter)  is the oldest parish church in Munich and somehow I always end up going inside every time I visit. The first building on site was in the 12th century. The second was consecrated in 1294. A major fire in 1327 left only the western section and it was reconsecrated in 1365. It was constantly being extended. Externally the stumps of the earlier towers were kept witha new central tower with cupolas added. The view today is brilliant.There was a Gothic altar by Peter of Straubing in 1376. The present cupola over the high altar was completed in 1621. In 1630 the old Gothic choir was demolished and replaced by the present 3 leafed clover style with 3 conches. The nave was revaulted in the 1650s and by 1654 the external appearance was as today.A new high altar was designed by Nikolaus Gottfried Stuber. The old statue of  Peter by Erasmus Grasser (1492) is surrounded by the four Church Fathers by EQ Asam (1732). The cupola above the choir has work by Nikolaus Gottfried  Stuber, rfeworked by JBZimmermann. The interior was badly damaged in the last War and restored in the 1980s. The central aisle now resembles a street of triumph : Gothic with embellishments : a successful merger of styles.JBZimmermann was buried in the chiuurchyard. His frescos dedicated to Peter were reconstructed by Hermenegild Peiker 1998-2000. There is a Klais organ from 2003 which no doubt speaks loudly down the nave, I look forward to hearing it one day!

High altar (Flickr Benedict Koehler)

External view of tower  (Flickr Roger W)

View over toward Heilige Geist Church

View toward Old Town Hall

The nearby market is full of unresistable treasures


Sunday, 14 May 2017


In June 2016 we were touring North Germany and came across references to the Baroque churches of the Altes Land near Hamburg. This is Protestant country and I did not know what to expect. We drove through  a small town with rain bucketing down. I had to use an umbrella just to walk a few feet to enter a centrally placed church. Imagine my surprise seeing this church interior ! Galleries and wonderful wooden decoration! The organ was being tuned - alas!St Martin and Nicholas goes back to 1148 and was unusual  because it was built of stone (hence Steinkirchen) not the usual wood. A major reconstruction took place 1687-1785 with its Baroque make-over. The galleries come from this time  and a wooden bell tower in 1696. The organ by Arp Schnitger was inaugurated in 1687, replacing one from 1581. This Schnitger gem has 5 registers from previous organs.

 Lübeck - Praeambulum in F - S. Tcherepanov

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Berg am Leimer

In December 2015 we had our Christmas Market 'fix' in Munich. The markets certainly brought out the crowds and a highlight was to attend Mass in the wonderful Asamkirche St Johann-Nepomuk about which more one day! I wanted to get out of the centre and see the former Court church of Berg am Leimer, as a contrast to the bustle of the city. This fine church was built 1737-57 for Clemens August, Archbishop of Cologne for his nearby Landschloss. The architect was Johann Georg Fischer.Now it is a simple parish church in a suburban outer area of Munich. We arrived as Sunday morning Mass was finishing and it was hard to get a decent look because the local official was keen to lock up the gates at the centre of the screen at the back of the church. This is quite common for Baroque churches to have a fine metal screen at the back which allows worshippers to pray without penetrating the body of the nave.What a joy to be able to worship in such a church every week!

There is stucco work and ceilings of the life of St Michael by JB Zimmermann, and with altars by the studio of JB Straub. Appropriately the high altar has a painting of St Michael overcoming Satan by Johann Andreas Wolff. The pulpit is crowned by a statue of ST Micael with the Bavarian flag, by Benedikt Hasler. Technically it is a wall pillar church with octagonal nave, narrower octagonal choir and transversly elliptical sanctuary of the same width.

The twin western towers are fine and present a dignified appearance - at least to this Baroque starved Englishman!

The photos are our own - the weather was beautiful.

Sunday, 23 April 2017


I have seen this Abbey church twice in my ramblings across Europe. the first time was in the early 1990s on a return journey from Italy. It was a new route, a new experience glimpsing this strange corner - Alsace - was it French or was it German? Then in 2015 Alsace was our goal and I had to make a repeat visit.

It was a joy : as our photos show. It has been fun to select videos to try to give you the atmosphere of this remarkable building. Do take a look if you are in the area. One day I'll be back to hear the organ!

The Abbey, dedicated to Saint Maurice, was founded in 667 by Saint Deodatus of Nevers on the island of Novientum in the River Ill. using relics of Saint Maurice which Deodatus had obtained from St Maurice's Abbey.Thanks to the support of Adalrich, Duke of Alsace, father of Saint Odilia, this Benedictine monastery flourished.It was destroyed by the Swedes during the Thirty Years War of 1618-48 and was not rebuilt until the early 18th century. The architect was the Austrian, Peter Thumb. Then lightning caused a disastrous fire in 1717 and Peter Thumb was recalled to do a rebuild. He incorporated several of surviving parts, including the seven sided apse, the square crossing with the same width as the choir and the tall shafts of the three towers, two on the west front and one behind at the back of the apse. The latter is very unusual and recalls Carolingian churches, It is this 3 tower feature that is most memorable. This rebuilding began in 1719 with a staggering 200 assistants to Thumb. It must have been a rich foundation! By 1727 the structural work was done, and decoration was underway. The frescos were completed 1728-1759.Furnishings completed by 1735. The interior is impressive and shows characteistics of Thumb's Voralberg style further west than ever seen before.

The above video gives a lovely little tour of the interior with Gregorian chant baackgound.

The abbey was dissolved during the French Revolution and the conventual buildings were demolished. The contents of the library were taken to Strasbourg, where most of them were burnt in the market place. The site was reoccupied in 1829 by a community of Marianist Brothers and Priests and from 1887 by the Sisters of St Joseph of Saint-Marc.

Confessionals complted 1733-5

Model of Ebersmunster  in the 18th century 

Silbermann organ

The church is justly famous for its wonderful Silbermann organ.

       This little video merges piano and this wonderful organ into a tour of the church