|The Romanesque Imperial St Mary’s Cathedral of Speyer was founded by the first Salian emperor Conrad II. Soon after he was elected German king in 1024, he commissioned the construction of the Christian Western world’s largest church. As early as in 1061, the construction was nearly completed and the cathedral was consecrated. Speyer Cathedral is the most stunning outcome of early Salian architecture and served as a model for the further development of Romanesque church building. This is both due to its monumental dimensions and due to the overwhelmingly beautiful interior and the crypt, which is one of the largest and most magnificent of its kind.
Under the auspices of Conrad’s grandson, Emperor Henry IV, the eastern sections were demolished about 1090. The cathedral re-emerged in a more sculptural style typical of the prime of the Romanesque period. In the course of these modifications the dwarf gallery, which runs all around the structure and is distinctive of Speyer Cathedral, was created in a previously unknown style. The addition of groin vaults to the formerly flat-roofed nave was one of the most ambitious building projects of these days.
The cathedral was left relatively unchanged until the end of the 17th century. During the Palatinate War of Succession, French troops pillaged artworks and set fire to the cathedral (1689). The effects were devastating - the western part of the nave and the late Gothic elements were destroyed by the fire. In the years after its destruction, only the eastern part of the episcopal church was lastingly secured and used for services. It was not until 1778 that the cathedral was restored after the reconstruction of the Romanesque nave and the erection of a Baroque west end under the direction of Franz I. M. Neumann. In 1794, the cathedral was again ravaged by French revolutionary troops.
After the Palatinate was passed to Bavaria in 1816, the Bavarian kings ordered the renovation and ornamentation of the cathedral. On the instructions of King Louis I, Johann Schraudolph decorated the entire interior with Nazarene style frescoes (1846-1853). However, only the cycle of 24 scenes from the life of the Virgin in the nave is preserved. The neo-Romanesque west end was constructed under the direction of Heinrich Hübsch (1854-1858). The burial site was redesigned and opened to the public shortly after 1900.
The 1957-1971 restoration of the cathedral was directed towards both securing the structure and recreating the original atmosphere of the interior. In the course of these works, the major part of the 19th century decoration was removed. The current restoration aims at maintaining and preserving the edifice.
During its almost one thousand years of existence, Speyer Cathedral assumed a principal role in the fields of religion and architecture. However, its historical importance should not be neglected either. The inestimable value of the edifice was acknowledged in 1981 when the UNESCO added the cathedral to its World Cultural and Natural Heritage List.