Protestant Church, Former Franciscan Convent
Protestant Church, Former Franciscan Convent Fritzlar Reviews
Protestant Church, Former Franciscan Convent Mar 06, 2017
HISTORY AND ARCHITECTURE
Fritzlar had one of the first Franciscan monasteries in Germany. In 1229 the first Franciscan monks arrived. In 1237 they acquired the estate by the new town wall and started building first their convent and then the church. The church was finished around 1320/30. It is a typical mendicant church with the long chancel, towerless except for the tiny bell tower on top of the roof.
The former Franciscan convent church is a gothic building, erected in the second half of the 13th and first decades of the 14th century. It consists of the typical long chancel for the monks, and a two-aisle nave for the lay comunity. It is a hall church, i.e. main and side nave have the same height. The former convent buildings are now the seat of a hospital, modernized of course, and not accessible for visitors. The cloister seems to be still there but I doubt there is much original architecture left. In Brüdergasse you will spot the former entrance to the convent buildings with a statue of St Francis and the Franciscan coat of arms.
The Franciscans had a high reputation and received plenty of support from the citizens of the town. However, at the end of the middle ages the moral went down the drain, the monks did not follow their duties. Reforms were intended but never took place.
In the 16th century, the evangelical lore of Martin Luther found many followers in Fritzlar. The first protestant sermons and communions were held as early as 1521. In the era of the reformation the convent was closed down after most monks had left. Occasional protestant services were held but most of the time the church was empty and deserted. The churchyard was a popular spot for burials, though. Some tombstones from the 16th century are on display on the outside of the church.
The Archbishop of Mainz, the governor of the city, had tolerated the protestants for some decades, but in 1615 he enforced the counter-reformation and forced all protestant citizens of the town to either convert or emigrate. Three years later the Franciscans returned and re-established their convent. The first protestant era had ended for good.
The Napoleonic era brought significant changes. In 1803 Fritzlar became property of Hessen. The closing of the Franciscan convent was already announced, but it was executed only in 1811. The church was empty once more. A couple of years later it was given to the newly founded protestant parish community, who has been using it as their parish church to this very day.
The building has preserved its gothic shape. The interior underwent various changes in the run of the centuries, though, and every era has left its traces. Its furnishing has been refurbished over and over again through the centuries to match not only the changing fashions but the needs of the different confessions. Another renovation is currently being discussed.
First, look up at the central stones of the vaults in the chancel. Above the altar there is Christ the Lord, looking down on His community. Facing him there is St Francis, the patron saint of the order and the church, addressing Christ and praying for the people down in the church. The other stones have masks and faces, the meaning of which we are not exactly sure about; they represent human fears, the Evil in the world that has to be overcome, or are meant to scare away bad powers maybe.
A number of medieval art works can be seen in the church. There is a fresco of the Madonna on the northern wall of the chancel, early 14th century probably. It is blurred, but a closer look shows a cute scene, baby Jesus playing with his mother’s pearl necklace. Then there are three stone reliefs: a crucification, a scene from the Way of the Cross with Christ and Veronica, and, by the entrance on the right, a relief showing the suffering Jesus surrounded by the Arma Christi, the various items that play a role in the Passion. The original crucification group from above the main portal is on display on the western wall, the present one outside is a copy.
The second catholic era in the 17th and 18th century saw a modernization of the church with baroque furniture. One of the originally four or five baroque altarpieces is preserved. The 19th century demolished the others as not befitting a protestant church, and this one was also removed without consent of the authorities but the pieces were saved and it was later put up again. It is now in the back of the chancel. The patron saint of the altar is St John Nepomuk, accompanied by St Elizabeth and (probably, not sure) St Catherine of Alexandria. The statues of the Good Shepherd and the four evangelists on the wall above the gallery date from around 1680 and once belonged to the pulpit.
In the 18th century the church was popular as a burial place. Several tombstones and epitaphs of important local personalities are still there, both inside and on the outside along the southern wall.
After the church became protestant in 1818, the interior had to be adapted to the needs of protestant services. A thorough renovation took place in 1848/49, which removed the baroque altars, introduced a new organ, new benches, a neogothic gallery etcetera. Another renovation took place in 1930: the chancel was divided by a low ceiling and the organ transferred from the western gallery and put up here. The room on the ground floor underneath the low ceiling then served as sacresty. This solution was not considerered satisfactory any more, hende in the 1980s the room was opened up again to its present shape, the organ returned to the west, the galleries received transparent glass railings and the church was painted in yellow and white.
The latest addition is the modern pietà on the wall in the side nave, which the community acquired in 1996. Currently there are plans for another renovation.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION FOR VISITORS:
The churchyard and the church itself are usually locked. If you want to visit the church, the keys can be obtained from the gift shop on the opposite side of the street during regular shop opening hours. (There is only one shop so it is impossible to miss. A very pretty shop, by the way, not tacky tourist souvenirs but really nice things, have a look at it.)
… and before anyone accuses me of having copied all this from the guidebook about the church: No I haven’t. I wrote the guidebook.
Part of the list Fritzlar
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