Basilica of St Lorenz

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Hildegardplatz, Kempten im Allgau, Germany

Basilica of St Lorenz Kempten im Allgau Reviews

Toonsarah Toonsarah
393 reviews
St Lorenz May 25, 2017
Kempten’s Roman Catholic basilica was built between 1652 and 1748 on the site of an earlier church, as the abbey church of the Benedictine Abbey in Kempten. When the monastery was dissolved in 1803 the church became simply the parish church of the town. The impressively tall towers are a 1900 addition and are made of concrete. The church was granted the title of basilica by Pope Paul VI in 1969.

Inside I especially liked the individually decorated choir stalls (these are rare plates of Scagliola, an artificial stone made to look like marble), and the unusual pure white relief carvings of the Stations of the Cross. The inside of the dome is very lovely too, with delicate gold carvings and almost pastel paintings, beautifully lit by natural daylight. Look out too for the carving of Jesus, weighed down not just by the cross he carries but also the massive elaborate pulpit on the wall above.

Altars either side of the main aisle each hold a rather disconcerting relic, the gold and jewel-encrusted skeletons of Saints Honorius and Innocentius. A VT friend has pointed me towards some interesting information on these. They are “catacomb saints,” who were regarded by 16th and 17th century Catholics as protectors and personifications of the glory of the afterlife. They have their origins in the discovery, in the mid 16th century, of the vast Roman Catacombs where an estimated 500,000 to 750,000 people (mainly Christians and many of them martyrs, persecuted for their faith) were entombed. The Catholic Church saw an opportunity to replace relics lost from churches looted during the fervour of the Reformation, especially in Germany, with these newly-discovered “saints”. They became the latest “must-have” for churches reeling from the battle against the spread of Protestantism. An article in the Smithsonian (http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/meet-the-fantastically-bejeweled-skeletons-of-catholicisms-forgotten-martyrs-284882/) explains the selection process for the “martyrs”:

“For the Vatican, the process of ascertaining which of the thousands of skeletons belonged to a martyr was a nebulous one. If they found “M.” engraved next to a corpse, they took it to stand for “martyr,” ignoring the fact that the initial could also stand for “Marcus,” one of the most popular names in ancient Rome. If any vials of dehydrated sediment turned up with the bones, they assumed it must be a martyr’s blood rather than perfume, which the Romans often left on graves in the way we leave flowers today. The Church also believed that the bones of martyrs cast off a golden glow and a faintly sweet smell, and teams of psychics would journey through the corporeal tunnels, slip into a trance and point out skeletons from which they perceived a telling aura. After identifying a skeleton as holy, the Vatican then decided who was who and issued the title of martyr.”

As to the decorations:

“Each martyr’s skeleton represented the splendours that awaited the faithful in the afterlife. Before it could be presented to its congregation, it had to be outfitted in finery befitting a relic of its status. Skilled nuns, or occasionally monks, would prepare the skeleton for public appearance. It could take up to three years, depending on the size of the team at work.”

Do read the Smithsonian article if you are interested – it is absolutely fascinating, if rather macabre.
Basilica of St Lorenz
Inside the dome, Basilica of St Lo…
Pulpit, Basilica of St Lorenz
St Innocentius, Basilica of St Lor…
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