Schleswig Cathedral, Kiel, Germany | CruiseBe
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Schleswig Cathedral

Schleswig, Germany
History and museums
cathedral, historic site, landmark

Schleswig Cathedral (German: Schleswiger Dom), (Danish: Slesvig Domkirke) officially the Cathedral of St. Peter at Schleswig (German: St. Petri-Dom zu Schleswig), is the main church of Schleswig and was the cathedral of the Bishop of Schleswig until the diocese was dissolved in 1624. It is now a church of the North Elbian Evangelical Lutheran Church, seating of one of its bishops, and ranks among the most important architectural monuments of Schleswig-Holstein.




In 850 a missionary church was founded in Haithabu (Hedeby). From 947 to 949 Otto I installed 3 dioceses on the cimbrian peninsula: Ribe diocese, Schleswig diocese and in 948 Århus diocese. After the founding of Schleswig diocese in 947, the first cathedral in Schleswig was built. Today, neither the size nor the location of this cathedral is known.


In 1134, construction of a new romanesque basilica began. The work was only completed around 1200, because an additional nave was constructed that can still be seen today. Construction materials included granite, tuff from the Rhine, and brick.

In 1134, the Danish King Niels' headless body was laid out in St. Peter's Cathedral after it was pulled from the Schlien in the nets of local fishermen. The monks who attended the corpse heard strange noises and believed that the spirit of King Niels wandered about in the church. As a result the king's body was taken to Gottorp and stuffed into a boggy grave. Someone hammered a stake through Niel's chest to keep him there. Legend has it that King Niels still haunts the cathedral, and that he still hunts across the moors and forest of Schleswig with his hounds. King Frederick I of Denmark is entombed in the cathedral.

After the collapse of two towers and some parts of the basilica in 1275, the High Gothic Hall Choir was constructed and completed around 1300.

The Late Gothic Hall Church was built from 1200 to 1408 and was finally perfected in the 16th century. It was in 1894 that the cathedral got its final outward appearance. In 1888, when Schleswig became provincial capital, the construction of a Gothic revivalist western tower began at the request of the King William II of Prussia. It was finally completed in 1894 and was, measuring 112 metres, a little too high when compared to the proportions of the cathedral. There is a panorama platform on the tower at 65 meters which commands a great view on the city of Schleswig, the Schlei and the fishing village of Holm. As of 2006, it is possible to view the bells above the platform with a special guided tour starting in the cathedral.

Beside the Gothic Altar of the Magi (ca. 1300) in the southern choir, a bronze baptismal font in the high choir by Ghert Klinghe (1480) and a four-metre-high wood carving of Christophorus, the cathedral's main attraction is the famous Bordesholm Altar.

The Cathedral in detail

The Petri Portal

Access to the cathedral is granted through the romanesque Petri Portal, dating back to 1180.

A variety of materials were used for the portal's construction: granite, red sandstone from Skåne, limestone from Gotland and tuff from the Rhineland.

On the Tympanum, Christ is depicted amongst evangelists and saints. Presumably, the one holding the key is the disciple Peter, and the other one who is given the scroll with the Christian mission, is St. Paul.

Beside the portal, there is a weathered sculpture of a lion; another one can be found on the outer wall of the sacristy.

The Sacristy

The sacristy, build around 1480, first served, indeed, as sacristy and conference room of the cathedral chapter (German: Domkapitel; an entity similar to Parochial Church Councils that is tasked with the cathedral's day-to-day religious work) and since 1567 as classroom for the cathedral's school. After the Reformation, it was converted to a Fürstengruft (tomb for the princes) as tomb for the dukes of Holstein-Gottorp.

The High Choir

Bishop Berthold arranged for an expansion of the High Choir at the end of the 13th century. Also, frescos were added, depicting the Annunciation, the Coronation of Mary, St. Catherine, St. Philippus, St. Peter, Deesis and angels. The choir banks were manufactured by an unknown artist working under the pseudonym Magister rusticus at the beginning of the 16th century.

The Schwahl

The three-winged cloisters at the northern end of the nave, were constructed from 1310 to 1320, called the Schwahl. The name has its root in the Danish-Low German dialect and means "cold alley". It was used mainly for processions that left and re-entered the church on that way. Here, restored frescos from the church's foundation can be found. They show the life of Christ as well as a selection of legendary creatures. During Advent, a small art market takes place in the cloisters.

The Brüggemann-Altar

The oak wood altar, carved by Hans Brüggemann from 1514 to 1521, is 12.60 meters high and depicts biblical history from Christ's arrest to Ascension (modelled after Albrecht Dürer's "Little Passion"). In the central piece, Jesus carrying the cross and the descent to hell are emphasized through larger carvings. Ascension and Pentecost are depicted on the altar wings. Next to the central piece, Adam and Eve can be seen. Above everything, Jesus Christ hovers as pantocrator.

Originally, the altar was manufactured for the Augustinian Chorherrenkirche (i.e. collegiate church) in Bordesholm. After the priory's dissolution, the Duke Christian Albrecht of Holstein-Gottorp arranged for the altar's transfer to Schleswig Cathedral in 1666. A young Emil Nolde helped with the altar's restoration in Flensburg at the end of the 19th century.

Cenotaph of Frederick I

In the northern choir nave, an elegant renaissance cenotaph for Frederick I, King of Denmark and Norway and Duke of Schleswig and Holstein, can be found. The tombstone, created for the choir in 1552 and put up there, was moved to its current position in 1901. It was called one of the "masterpieces of Dutch renaissance art in Northern Europe" (M. Mehling). Its creator is the Flemish sculptor Cornelis Floris de Vriendt. Instead of the usual seven virtues, the (empty) sarcophagus stands only on six.

The Blue Madonna

Jürgen Ovens (1623-1678) painted his Blue Madonna which was originally called Holy Family with Johannes, in 1669. It is situated on a pillar in the northern side nave. The influence of Anthony van Dyck is clearly visible on the baroque painting.

Jürgen Ovens, born 1623 in Tönning, was a pupil of Rembrandt's and court painter of the Dukes of Holstein-Gottorp. The Blue Madonna is his most famous painting. A self-portrait from 1691 can be found in the Laurentius Church in Tönning. Other works of Ovens can be seen in the State Museum of Schleswig-Holstein in Castle Gottorf.

Central Tower

The central tower was constructed by Friedrich Adler between 1888 and 1894 from brick. At 112 meters, it is the second-largest church spire in Schleswig-Holstein, after the Marienkirche in Lübeck. The tower had fallen into disrepair in the early 1950s and was restored from 1953 to 1956.


  • Valdemar IV, Duke of Schleswig (?-1314)
  • Eric II, Duke of Schleswig (1290-1325)
  • Frederick I of Denmark
  • Conrad von Reventlow
  • Gustav Trolle

Further reading

The German Wikipedia has a large selection of books about the cathedral: Literature about Schleswig Cathedral (German)


  • Central Tower
  • Portal
  • Jesus Carrying the Cross on the Brüggemannaltar
  • The Entombment of Christ on the Brüggemannaltar
  • Cenotaph of Frederick I


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