And now for something a bit different. Not completely different; it’s still a church. But it’s a late 19th century Lutheran church, the only one still preserved in central Munich.
Two others, St Mattäus and St Markus, neo-Classical and neo-Gothic buildings respectively, were demolished in the mid-2oth century and rebuilt as the kind of churches it is not worth your time to visit. Alas!
Bavaria was an adamantly Catholic kingdom under the reigning Wittelsbach family from the time of the Reformation, but in 1799 the Wittelsbach head, Prince-elector Max IV Joseph, married a Lutheran woman, and there was suddenly a Protestant presence at court in Munich. 19th century Munich also became a city with a growing number of immigrants from other regions of Germany, many of them Lutherans. Then came Napoleon and secularization (of church properties), and Enlightenment values of religious tolerance were growing all over Europe, enthusiastically promoted by the “enlightened despots.” By 1833, Münchner Lutherans dedicated St Matthäus, which survived for 105 years, until demolished by the Nazis in 1938:
A neo-Classical building that would seem to fit in well with my impressions of this era in Munich architecture (I’m definitely not an expert). I really don’t know enough about theories of Lutheran architecture in Germany, but it’s clear that the three built here in 19th century Munich were supposed to fit right in with the historicist revival architecture that was promoted by the court — to conform with classical and pre-Reformation styles and not look out of place in the city’s Catholic skyline.
In the 1870s, neo-Gothic St Markus was added:
The original architect’s plans were so modern that the community protested both before and during construction — finally, he wanted to construct the columns in the nave out of cast iron, as a “symbol of progress,” while the clearly sane congregation wanted them made out of stone. Thankfully he was fired and the columns were built in stone. But the church was destroyed by bombs in WWII and rebuilt, as I said:
It isn’t just the Lutherans who did and do this, of course; I’ve visited Catholic parishes that were much worse. Take, for instance, this parish I found in the district of Moosach:
This is a church. The parish website explains that it is a valuable historical document of the 60s. It was intended to embody the “noble simplicity” called for in the conciliar documents on the liturgy.
I stopped making casual usage of “concentration camp” when I came to Germany, so I won’t say it. We’ll just all think it together.
But anyway– in comparison, St Lukas is a refreshing and even startling presence, looming on the bank of the Isar, as self-assertive as any Catholic church in the city.
By the last decades of the 19th century, Munich’s Lutherans were in need of a third, and larger, church. But the Bavarian royal family was concerned to protect the Catholic character of the city, so at first the Lutherans were given land on the island in the middle of the Isar (now Museum Island), with suggestions for a modest building. Well, plans changed, and they ended up building this huge neo-Romanesque-ish bauwerk on the river bank. Today it sits right in front of the bridge to another of the islands, an area that is swarming with people, at least in warm weather.
Now what’s interesting about this church is how much it invokes not only the Romanesque and early Gothic, but specifically German traditions of these styles. You can make a quick visual comparison by looking at the cathedrals of Mainz, Worms, and Speyer, some of the most well-known churches from the Rhine Valley. The Rhenish tradition flourished roughly from the time of Charlemagne (9th c.) to the 13th c., when French Gothic swept Europe, but is especially connected with the Ottonian dynasty (10-11th c.). The most relevant features when looking at this church are the heavy, thick walls in a circular plan (not the long, tall, and thin French Gothic which needs lots of buttresses to help it stay up), the round arches and arcading at the top of octagonal or circular towers, and a heavy, almost fortified west front.
It’s an imperial style, a monumental style, etc etc.
This was the only picture of the west end I could get at the time, and it’s not very good — here’s someone else’s:
In this you can see that it’s a circular plan building, or perhaps a Greek cross, and its two western towers are stuck out at angles. The early Rhenish style, before it was influenced by the wider current of Romanesque basilica-plans, largely consisted of circular-plan churches (Charlemagne’s chapel in Aachen, for instance), and when the long, rectangular basilica style gained prominence, the circular churches were absorbed in the form of a western apse. The western apse could have towers, multiple floors, its own chapel and altar, its own choir, and has as much visual significance as the eastern apse (which has the main altar and is the focal point of a cruciform- or basilica-plan church).
It’s not terribly dissimilar from the St Louis Cathedral, which is another monumental neo-Romanesque church from around the turn of the century, but in a basilica-plan:
Anyway… let’s go inside.
Here you can see the circular plan more clearly. The circular or octagonal plan church has a stronger tradition in Byzantine and late antique Italian architecture. While cruciform churches have a kind of obvious symbolism, the circular church intentionally recalls baptisteries (usually circular), which in turn recall sepulchers or tombs. Have I mentioned this before? I don’t remember.
You can see more of the early Gothic influence inside.
Now for some details.
The heads of the symbols of the four evangelists (an ox, a lion, an eagle, an angel) were carved into the sides of the pews. Beautiful, isn’t it? But I was noticing how all the oxen looked remarkably identical, nearly perfect reproductions, and that is one of those subtle impressions that filters into your perception of a historicist/revival building.
And with these capitals, too. This was a committed revivalist building, for sure, with all the detailing, but what appears as medieval multiplicity and attention to detail from far away looks tame and repetitive up close. 19th century methods of copying and mass-producing sculpture made their mark, and that particular look of riotous variation was missing. Plus, medieval sculptures have an all-around weirdness that these are missing…
Still, I like this, and it’s well worth making churches this way. I just like the sometimes haphazard look of medieval decoration.
Emerging unscathed from WWII, the church was used by members of the US armed forced from 1945 to the 50s, and also managed to escape any really damaging “modernization” in the 60s and 70s. Phew.
Well, that’s all I have to show you of St Lukas…