Magdeburg Cathedral is the first Gothic-style cathedral to be constructed on German soil, one of the largest church buildings in Germany and the most famous attraction in Magdeburg, the capital city of the German Land of Saxony-Anhalt.
The origins of the cathedral can be traced back to the year 937, when Emperor Otto the First founded a monastery and dedicated it to St. Maurice. In 955, the church building was extended before becoming the cathedral of the established bishopric of Magdeburg in 968. Otto the First had many precious pieces of antique art shipped to Magdeburg from Northern Italy to grace his cathedral, for example columns made of purple-red porphyry, marble and granite, many of which still provide the perfect finishing touch to the architecture of today’s cathedral.
When Emperor Otto died in the German village of Memleben (located 120 km south-west of Magdeburg) in 973, his mortal remains were brought to Magdeburg Cathedral, where he was buried in a stone sarcophagus. In 1207, the Ottonian cathedral was extremely badly damaged in a city fire. Archbishop Albrecht II decided to build a modern new cathedral for his congregation and construction work on what would become a significant landmark began just two years later. The erection of the Gothic cathedral continued until 1362, when it was finally consecrated. The cathedral’s west towers, which reach heights of up to 104 metres, were not, however, completed until 1520, a year in which German architecture was still very much shaped by the Gothic influence.
Present-day visitors to Magdeburg Cathedral are now met with a monumental interior rich in stone work which is flooded with a surprising amount of light and boasts extremely impressive architecture. The building is also full of unique and internationally renowned original exhibits representing nearly all periods of art history, for example spolia from the building’s Ottonian predecessor, the original tomb of Emperor Otto I and his first wife Edith, Romanesque bronze grave markers, early Gothic sandstone sculptures including the famous figures of the “Clever and Stupid Virgins”, the outstanding carvings on the choir stalls of the canons dating back to the 14th century and Renaissance paintings of an exquisite quality right through to 20th-century art such as the famous war memorial designed by Ernst Barlach.
The cathedral, which became Protestant in 1567, is now the seat of a Protestant bishopric and home to members of a small congregation in the city centre, who regularly come together at the cathedral services that take place every Sunday. Every day, visitors from all over Germany and further afield come and marvel at one of the country’s most important cathedrals and the landmark of Magdeburg, the City of Otto.