St. Salvator Cathedral

St. Salvator's Cathedral, the most important monument of the Baroque city of Fulda and the most important Baroque church of Hesse, built in 1704-1712 by Johann Dientzenhofer

The Cathedral of St. Salvator in Fulda is the cathedral church of the Fulda diocese and as the funeral church of St.Boniface is the destination of the Boniface pilgrimages. It is the focal point of Fulda's Baroque Quarter and a landmark of the city of Fulda. It was built as a three-aisled basilica by Johann Dientzenhofer between 1704 and 1712 under the prince-abbot Adalbert von Schleifras. It was consecrated on 15 August 1712 with the patronage of Christus Salvator.

The cathedral first served as the abbey church of Fulda Abbey and in 1752 became the cathedral of the diocese. The Cathedral of St. Salvator in Fulda is not only the most famous monument of the Baroque city, but also the most important Baroque church in Hesse.

Detailed information


The history of St. Salvator's Cathedral and subsequently the history of Fulda is closely linked to the life work of St. Boniface. He was born in England around 675 and began his missionary work on the European mainland in 716. To maintain and deepen his mission in Germania, the Pope called him to Rome several times.

Boniface subsequently founded monasteries at Fritzlar, Amöneburg, and, through Sturmius, in 744 the monastery at Fulda. The latter was endowed with a papal "liberating privilege" by which he was exempted from the ecclesiastical hierarchy and subject directly to the pope.

Boniface became bishop of Mainz in 746. In 754 he moved to Frisia, where he was murdered on 5 June 754, along with 52 companions. Four weeks later, according to his wishes, he was buried in the west crypt of the monastery church in Fulda. As Boniface's burial place, the monastery quickly gained importance through pilgrimages and endowments as an expression of the saint's veneration.

Charlemagne recognised the importance of the Fulda monastery for his expansionist policy very soon after his accession to power in 768. In 774 he granted the monastery two imperial privileges, the "immunity" of the imperial monastery and the right to freely elect abbots. Charles thus made the monastery his ally; according to his idea, after the military subjugation, the monastery was to carry out missionary activities and integrate the subjugated tribes, become an educational center, raise the level of education of the missionaries, cultivate the scriptures and teach the correct interpretation of the Bible. Charlemagne visited Fulda in 782.

At the beginning of the 9th century, Abbot Ratgar (791-819, abbot since 802) built a new monastery church. This replaced the simple monastery church that existed until then, in which Boniface was buried. Ratgar began the construction of a new eastern complex and then a large transept was added to the west of the building with a second apse, which has now been extended into a three-aisled basilica. This western structure clearly refers to the Constantinian church of St Peter in Rome and impressively documents the connection of the monastery, which at the time of its foundation was directly subordinate to the Holy See, with Rome.

The "Ratgar Basilica" covered more than 220 metres with a nave, cloister and convent and was considered the largest religious building north of the Alps until the 11th century. It was consecrated in 819.
In 822, the abbot of the monastery was the "doctor universalis" Rhabanus Maurus, who was already a formative figure in the famous medieval monastic school. Thanks to donations from the newly missionary areas and the increase in the number of monks, Fulda became one of the largest monasteries in the Frankish Empire at that time. Other subsidiary monasteries were founded on the surrounding hills of Petersberg, Johannesberg, Andreasberg (1023) and Frauenberg.

The Baroque expansion of Fulda began before 1700 and the "building fever" also affected the Fulda prince-abbot Adalbert von Schleifras (1650-1714).

On 4 September 1700, he appointed Johann Dientzenhofer as court architect in Fulda after his return from an educational trip to Italy on the recommendation of the Prince-Bishop of Bamberg, Lothar Franz von Schönborn.

Johann Dientzenhofer's first independent project was the construction of a new collegiate church to replace the Ratgar Basilica, as planned by Prince-Apparent Adalbert von Schleifras. The financial basis for the construction of the new cathedral, then still a collegiate church, and the new abbey castle was created by the reputed thrift of the previous princely abbot, Placid von Droste.

The first plans for the new collegiate church were drawn up by Johann Dientzhenhofer in 1700.

Dientzenhofer's study is an artistic testament to Fulda Cathedral, whose interior system is deliberately based on St. Peter's Cathedral. Its predecessor, the Ratgart Basilica, once the largest basilica north of the Alps, was demolished in favour of a new cathedral before construction began in the contemporary Baroque style.

The construction of the new church on the site of the original basilica was carried out by Johann Dientzenhofer between 1704 and 1712. The contract for the construction of the church was concluded by Johann Dientzenhofer on 18 March 1704. The foundation stone was laid on 23 April 1704. The shell was completed in 1707, roofed in 1708 and the interior was decorated in 1712. The new building was consecrated on 15 August 1712 with the patronage of Christus Salvator, which is also mentioned on the dedication plaque on the front of the church.

Dientzenhofer based the layout of the original Ratgar basilica, the foundations of which he largely adopted. The atypical Baroque layout as a three-nave basilica can only be explained by the reverential preservation of the original building form. Only the western choir of the early medieval two-chorister complex was replaced by a two-tower façade. Dientzenhofer visually expanded the eastern façade with its closely spaced towers with a Baroque gable façade, side chapels, obelisks on the sides and a wall that originally defined the entire width of the square. The brick-red facade with its light grey figures and ornaments and selective gilding was a great backdrop for church trials.

The new Baroque building served as the abbey church of the Benedictines and the funeral church of St. Boniface. It was not raised to a cathedral until 1752, when Fulda Abbey was elevated to a bishopric.

Secularization in 1802-1802 led to the expropriation of church property and the dissolution of the Diocese of Fulda. William of Orange became the ruler of Fulda. Later the southern parts of the state fell to Bavaria, and in 1866 Fulda became Electoral and Prussian.

On the occasion of the 1150th anniversary of the death of St. Boniface, a fireworks display was held on 4 June 1905, during which firecrackers in the right tower of the cathedral probably set the nests on fire. The tower was completely burnt down. The two bells "Osanna" and "Bonifatius" were destroyed. The other parts of the cathedral were not damaged.

After damage from air raids during World War II, the restoration was completed in 1954.

In 1945, the Land of Hesse became the administrator of the cathedral church.
The state retained patronage of four churches of special cultural and historical importance (Elisabethkirche in Marburg, Universitätskirche Marburg, Dom zu Limburg and Dom zu Fulda). This means that the Hessian State Building Authority is responsible for the ongoing building maintenance of the buildings listed in the patronage list.

Between 1978 and 1996, the interior and exterior of the cathedral were extensively renovated. With the exception of a few elements that were worked on in the following years, the entire exterior shell, the inner shell and the furnishings of the cathedral were renovated and restored. The most striking result of this measure is the restoration of the bright white lime finish of the interior, which had previously been altered by pollution and gilding and by staining that deviated from the original finish. In contrast, the façade facing the cathedral square was not repainted, according to the findings, but left in stone.


The centre of the three-aisled basilica is the cross dome and the adjacent chancel. Dientzenhofer abandoned the medieval two-chambered layout of the church in favour of a clear orientation to the west. The high altar is an open columned structure that opens up a view into the main choir (formerly the monks' choir). The crypt of Saint Boniface is located below it. On the entablature of the main altar, surrounded by clouds and putti, Mary ascends to the Assumption. She is received by the Holy Trinity, who is depicted on the triumphal arch above her. The two transepts, which are only slightly wider than the nave, are flanked by two large altars dedicated to Benedict, the founder of the Order (south), and Sturm, the founder of the monastery (north).

The architecture of the nave is rhythmised by the alternation of arched passages to the side aisles and low straight passages, above which are figural niches (trikonchs) with statues of the apostles.

The façade is flanked by two 65-metre high towers standing close together. Each has four storeys, which are clearly separated by moulded cornices. The larger-than-life sandstone sculptures by Andreas Balthasar Weber depict Sturmius on the right as an abbot with mitre, abbot's staff and book, and Boniface on the left as a bishop with a shepherd's staff and the Holy Scriptures pierced with a dagger. On the third floor there are copper and gilt mechanical clock faces and a sundial. The tower helmet consists of a single graduated tail dome, an open lantern and another tail dome with a smaller lantern, a pointed helmet, a pineapple head and a tower cross.

Alongside the two domed chapels of the cathedral is a sandstone obelisk, about 11 metres high, to the left and right. In addition to its decorative function, it also serves to visually enlarge the cathedral facade. On the front plate is a pedestal with four leaping lions. Above the figures is the coat of arms of the builder and various inscriptions.

The main portal is flanked by four massive three-quarter columns with accompanying semi-pilasters. These support an architrave, a frieze with triglyphs and a prominent cornice. On the architrave with a segmental arch sit two large angels holding the coat of arms of Prince-Count Adalbert von Schleifras. The coat of arms, the work of Balthasar Esterbauer, consists of two fields with a Fulda collegiate cross, the other two fields containing an axe and a kettle hook. On the top stone directly above the door is the inscription of the builder Adalbert von Schleifras.

The portal door is decorated with Corinthian pilasters and frame and fittings.

The upper floor of the façade is divided by massive columns. The large window with a circular arch is decorated with mullions, ornaments in the arch field, a curtain arch and vases. The window is surrounded by sandstone statues depicting the Fulda city patrons Simplicius and Faustinus as knights. On their shields are three lilies, the symbol of the siblings, and a cross, the emblem of the diocese. Both form the emblem of the city of Fulda.

The central façade is completed by a triangular gable with vases and a circular window. On top of the shield is the figure of the blessing Saviour.

Interior decoration

The white interior has elements of St Peter's Basilica in Rome and the Lateran Basilica. The magnificent interior decoration shows the influence of the Roman Baroque and, according to Georg Dehio, 'can be counted among the best of this epoch'.

The spatial effect is due to the contrast between the white colour of the wall surfaces and stucco on the one hand and the black and gold colour chord of the architectural elements and furnishings on the other.

Giovanni Battista Artari, a stucco artist, ornamental painter and sculptor, created the interior stucco decoration as well as the larger-than-life stucco figures of the apostles. The figures of the apostles are depicted in the words of St. Paul. The messengers of the faith thus stand as "pillars" (Gal 2:9 GNB), respectively on the buttresses of the cross and the three-nave cathedral.
The marble high altar is modelled on Gian Lorenzo Bernini's bronze ciborium in St Peter's Basilica and the high altar in the Church of the Trinità dei Monti in Rome.

The sculpture was created jointly by the sculptor Johann Neudecker and the plasterer Giovanni Battista Artari. On 15 August 1712, Prince-Abbé Adalbert von Schleifras consecrated the high altar, which is modelled in its canopy form on the ciborium of St Peter's Basilica and the altar of the Church of Santa Trinità dei Monti in Rome. The black marble columns of the altar are topped with gold Corinthian capitals and bear gold volutes, which are topped with a cloud with angels. This in turn is crowned with the figure of Mary. This is a depiction of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, which is received on the ceiling by a stucco group of the Trinity. On special feast days, the so-called "Silver Altar" is placed on the mense of the altar, in which the skull of Saint Boniface is placed.

The Golden Wheel

The "Golden Wheel", dating from 1415, hung in the nave until 1781 and was turned from the nave during church festivals. It was festooned with many bells and chimes and supported the organ and singing "for the increase of piety".
At Whitsuntide in 1781, as Prince-Bishop Henry VIII of Bibra entered the cathedral, one of the supporting ropes broke and the wheel crashed into the nave, killing one man and injuring several worshippers. Parts of the structure are still preserved in the trusses.


The new building of the Fulda Cathedral by Johann Dientzenhofer received a new organ between 1708 and 1713, built by the Franciscan priest Adam Öhninger. The sliding case instrument had 41 stops on three manuals and a pedal. The layout style shows influences of High or Late Baroque.

Between 1837 and 1839, the organ builders Georg Franz Ratzmann and his sons Ludwig and August Ratzmann of Ohrdruff rebuilt the cathedral organ. The carving work on the organ was done by Andreas Balthasar Weber and the cabinetmaker Georg Blank. Only the organ case has been preserved.

In 1876-1877 the organ was rebuilt on the existing case by the organ builder Wilhelm Sauer. The new organ had 52 stops on three manual mechanisms and a pedal (mechanical conical case with Barker levers). In 1913 the instrument was equipped with an electric blower. In 1917 some of the front pipes had to be surrendered for armament purposes.

Between 1933 and 1934 the Späth brothers (Ennetach) rebuilt the organ and extended the manual range. In 1938 the stop list was again changed by Alban Späth and a new five-manual electric console was installed in the upper choir, from which the choir organ could also be played.

The organ was damaged during World War II, but was comprehensively repaired by Alban Späth in 1954. In 1971-1977 the instrument was overhauled by the organ builder Matthias Kreienbrink (Osnabrück) and fitted with new wind cases[9].

In the course of the total restoration of the cathedral between 1992 and 1996, the historic organ case was restored, and in the process the old timbre was uncovered and restored. In 1996, a new organ was built by Rieger Orgelbau using 24 stops from the previous organ by Wilhelm Sauer. The present organ has 72 stops on 4 manuals.


The Cathedral of St. Salvator in Fulda is currently the cathedral church of the Diocese of Fulda and the funeral church of St. Boniface.

Owners / users

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Tel.: 0661 / 87-0
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18. Juni 2023