Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The Old Beauty

©BZ/Rita Eggenstein
What the Old Faithful is to the Americans the Old Beauty is to the Freiburgers. You may have guessed. I am referring to the steeple of our Minster church sometimes falsely called the most beautiful steeple of Christendom.

In 1869 in a eulogy the well-known art historian Jakob Burckhardt rather wrote, "And the Freiburg steeple will probably remain the most beautiful one on earth." Indeed, finished in 1383 the filigree structure of the pyramid sometimes is referred to as a spiritual stonework.

L’age oblige. The steeple had to be restored on several occasions; the two recent major reconstruction works took place from 1913 to 1920 (left) and in the 1960ies (right). Both photos ©Münsterbauverein(MBV).

So at the beginning of the 21st century, the Münster-Bauhütte (Minster stonemasonry) only envisaged minor repairs to the steeple but a dramatic stone fall in 2005 revealed that several construction elements were loose and had to be fixed.

One early morning in 2005 near the main entrance to the Minster church (©MBV)
To their astonishment, the stonemasons found out that some sandstones that were replaced at the beginning of the 20th century had become brittle while original blocks from the 14th century were still in good shape. This fact required a closer look into the material to be used for the replacement of the rotten elements.

More than a decade of scaffolding (©MBV)
The scaffolding went up in 2007 and soon the stonemasons detected cracks in about half of the original 24 cornerstones. It became necessary to replace eight of them while others could be saved by clamping them with brackets made from titanium. Thus an iron ring around the steeple visible from below could be avoided.

A look into the spire (©MBV)
Replacing a cornerstone carrying the weight of the overlaying stone pyramid is like an open-heart surgery as Minster Master Builder Yvonne Faller emphasized in her report to the Münsterpfleger (Caretakers of the Minster). These complications were the reason that it took twelve years to complete the restoration of the Minster steeple. During this period 121 stones were completely replaced while only parts were changed on 225 stones.

Note the difference between the old and new parts (©MBV)
The steeple is composed of 2165 stones of which still 83% are original dating before 1340. The costs for the repair amounted to 11.5 million euros of which 5,9 million were donated. The rest was contributed by the Freiburg diocese, the State of Baden-Würtemberg, the city of Freiburg, and the Foundation for the Preservation of German Historical Monuments.

Again, the replacements are clearly visible (©MBV)
Some other still ongoing work in the interior of the Minster church will be finished by October. Then Red Baron as one of the Münsterpfleger will be invited to the big "re-inauguration" party.

Photo of the "scaffold-free" Minster church taken with my iPhone
during the reception for the students of the AYF 2018/19.

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