Ulm Minster

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Ulm Minster
German: Ulmer Münster
Ulmer Münster-Westfassade.jpg
Ulm Cathedral from the west
Ulm Minster is located in Germany
Ulm Minster
Ulm Minster
Location in Germany
48°23′55″N 9°59′33″E / 48.39861°N 9.99250°E / 48.39861; 9.99250Coordinates: 48°23′55″N 9°59′33″E / 48.39861°N 9.99250°E / 48.39861; 9.99250
Location Ulm
Country Germany
Denomination Lutheran
Previous denomination Catholic
Website www.ulmer-muenster.de
Status Minster
Parish church
Functional status Active
Architectural type Cathedral
Style Gothic
Groundbreaking 1377
Number of spires 3
Bells 13
Division Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Württemberg[1]
Building details
Record height
Tallest in the world from 1890 to 1901[I]
Preceded by Cologne Cathedral
Surpassed by Philadelphia City Hall
General information
Construction started 1377
Completed 31 May 1890
Height 161.5 m (530 ft)
Technical details
Floor count n/a
Ulm Minster (2003)

Ulm Minster (German: Ulmer Münster) is a Lutheran church located in Ulm, State of Baden-Württemberg (Germany). Until the eventual completion of Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain, it will remain the tallest church in the world,[3] and the 5th tallest structure built before the 20th century, with a steeple measuring 161.5 metres (530 ft).[3]

Although sometimes referred to as Ulm Cathedral because of its great size, the church is not a cathedral as it has never been the seat of a bishop. Though the towers and all decorative elements are of stone masonry, attracting the attention of visitors, most of the walls, including the façades of the nave and choir, actually consist of visible brick. Therefore, the building is sometimes referred to as a brick church. As such, it lays claim to the rank of second- to fourth-largest, after San Petronio Basilica in Bologna and together with Frauenkirche in Munich and St. Mary's Church in Gdańsk.

Ulm Minster was begun in the Gothic era but not completed until the late 19th century. Nevertheless, all of the church except the towers and some outer decorations was complete, unlike Cologne Cathedral, where less than half of the work had been done, when it ceased.

768 steps lead to the top of the minster's spire. At 143 m (469 ft) there is a panoramic view of Ulm in Baden-Württemberg and Neu-Ulm in Bavaria and, in clear weather, a vista of the Alps from Säntis to the Zugspitze. The final stairwell to the top (known as the third Gallery) is a tall, spiraling staircase that has barely enough room for one person.


First construction phase[edit]

Center aisle, looking east.

The original parish church in Ulm was built at the gate of the city outside the walls, and this caused much trouble for the citizens of the city in the 14th century's conflicts that involved Ulm, as demonstrated by Emperor Charles IV's siege of the city. This parish church had also been subordinated to Reichenau Monastery by Charlemagne in 813, and the denizens of Ulm wanted a new, independent church inside the city's walls. To this end, the city's near 10,000 inhabitants decided to finance construction themselves. On 30 June 1377, Mayor Ludwig Krafft laid the first stone, the foundation stone, of the new church. This church, whose design would be given to Heinrich Parler, the architect of Holy Cross Minster in Schwäbisch Gmünd. The first plan was to build a stepped hall church with aisles as wide and almost as high as the central nave, with a main spire on the west and two steeples above the choir (29 meters (95 ft) long, 15 meters (49 ft) wide).[citation needed] The women of the Ulmer Assemblage would also make their contributions to the foundation works, something memorialized by 17th and 18th century composer Barbara Kluntz.[4]

Michael Parler, who had experience from working at the Dombauhütte in Prague, took over construction of the church in 1381 and continued construction of the nave, which had originally be conceived as a triple-aisled hall church with approximately equal height and width. From 1387 to 1391, Heinrich III Parler managed construction as head of the Bauhütte. Then in 1392 Ulrich Ensingen, associated with Strasbourg Cathedral, was appointed master builder. It was Parler's plan to construct the Ulm Minster's 150 meters (490 ft) spire, the highest of any church. In order to balance its proportions, the nave was now to be much taller than the Parlers had intended, making a noticeable difference in height between the chancel and nave. The cathedral was consecrated on 25 July 1405. In 1446, Ulrich's son Matthäus took over construction and finished the choir vault in 1449 and the vault over the northern nave in 1452. When he died in 1463, his own son, Mortiz, took over construction. Himself dying in 1471, he completed the vaulting over the nave and constructed the sacrament house, finally making the church a basilica according to Ulrich's plan.

In 1477, Matthäus Böblinger took over and made changes to the plans of the cathedral but especially to the main tower and in doing so caused the church's first major structural threat: the heavy vaults of the wide aisles and high nave burdened the columns with too much lateral force at different heights. A new master builder, Burkhart Engelberg of Augsburg, tackled the structural damage by reinforcing the foundation of the west tower and demolishing the heavy aisle vaults and replacing them with vaults of half widths, which afforded rows of additional columns dividing each of the aisles in two. Although catastrophe had been avoided, the walls were left without their buttresses for 350 years and the northern wall of the nave bulges outward by 27 centimeters (11 in) even today.

In a referendum in 1530/31, the citizens of Ulm converted to Protestantism during the Reformation. Ulm Minster became a Lutheran church. Although as large as many cathedrals, Ulm is not a cathedral, as the responsible bishop of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Württemberg – member of the Evangelical Church in Germany – resides in Stuttgart.

In 1543 construction work was halted at a time when the steeple had reached a height of some 100 metres (330 ft). The halt in the building process was caused by a variety of factors which were political and religious (the Reformation, the Thirty Years' War, the War of the Spanish Succession) as well as economic (the discovery of the Americas in 1492 and of the sea route to India in 1497, leading to a shift in trade routes and commodities). One result was economic stagnation and a steady decline, preventing major public expenditure.

Ulm Minster, aerial view (2014)

In 1817 the frescos inside were covered by painting the walls grey. In 1844 the work of construction was reactivated. After a phase of repairs lasting until 1856, the central nave was stabilized by the addition of flying buttresses. Then the small steeples beside the choir were built – without medieval plans. At last, the main steeple was completed, changing the available medieval plan in making it about ten metres taller. Finally, on 31 May 1890 the building was completed.

World War II[edit]

A devastating air raid hit Ulm on 17 December 1944, which destroyed virtually the entire town west of the church to the railway station and north of the church up to the outskirts. The church itself was barely damaged. However, almost all the other buildings of the town square (Münsterplatz) were severely hit and some 80% of the medieval centre of Ulm was destroyed.


Urination is degrading the foundation of Ulm Minster.[5] The sandstone is worn down due to urination by men.[6] Failed attempts at stopping the urination include more patrols and fines.[7]


Wall of the northern side aisle clerestory. The upper levels of the nave are built in stone while the rest of the church is built of brick.

While the walls of the choir, the side aisles and the tower were built of brick, the upper levels of the nave are built of ashlar, which would have been sandstone from Isny im Allgäu. Limestone from the nearby Swabian Jura was used in small quantities.

Works of art

View toward the choir showing the ancient glass in the apse and the wooden filigree canopy of the nave pulpit
  • Late medieval sculptures include the tympanum of the main Western entrance depicts scenes from the Genesis. The central column bears a sculpture, the Man of Sorrows, by the local master Hans Multscher.
  • The 15th century choir stalls by Jörg Syrlin the Elder, made from oak and adorned with hundreds of carved busts are among the most famous pews of the Gothic period.
  • The pulpit canopy is by Jörg Syrlin the Younger.
  • The original main altar was destroyed by the iconoclasts of the Reformation. The current altarpiece from the early 16th century is a triptych, showing figures of the Holy Family and the Last Supper in the predella.
  • The five stained glass windows of the apse, which is in the form of half a decagon, show biblical scenes and go back to the 14th and 15th century.
  • The main organ of the church was destroyed by iconoclasts and replaced in the late 16th century. In 1763 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is known to have played it. For some decades it was the largest organ in existence. In the late 1960s it was reconstructed to solve acoustic problems of reverberation.
  • In 1877, the Jewish congregation of the synagogue of Ulm—including Hermann Einstein, the father of Albert Einstein—donated money for a statue of the Biblical prophet Jeremiah. The figure was placed below the main organ.
  • Later renovations in the modern era added gargoyles and a sculpture, The Beggar, by the expressionist Ernst Barlach.


Plan of Ulm Minster
  • A. Entrance hall.
  • B. Main porch.
  • C. Tower hall.
  • D. Nave.
  • E. Aisles.
  • F. Choir.
  • G. Sacristy.
  • H. Besserer Chapel.
  • J. Reithart Chapel.
  • K. High altar.
  • L. Old tabernacle.
  • M. Choir stalls.
  • N. Tabernacle.
  • O. Baptismal font.
  • P. Holy-water font.
  • Q. Side porches.
  • R. Organ entrance.
  • S. Pulpit.


  • The height of the steeple is 161.53 metres (530.0 ft). Ulm Münster is the world's tallest church
  • The church has a length of 123.56 metres (405.4 ft) and a width of 48.8 metres (160 ft).
  • The building area is approximately 8,260 square metres (88,900 sq ft).
  • The height of the central nave is 41.6 metres (136 ft), whilst the lateral naves are 20.55 metres (67.4 ft) high.
  • The volume of the edifice is some 190,000 cubic metres (6,700,000 cu ft).
  • The weight of the main steeple is estimated at 51,500 tonnes (50,700 long tons; 56,800 short tons).
  • The church seats a congregation of 2,000.
  • In the Middle Ages, before pews were introduced, it could accommodate 20,000 people, when the population of the town was about 5,000.

See also[edit]

Altar table by Bartholomäus Zeitblom (about 1489–1497)
Stained glass "St. George" by Hans Acker, about 1440


  1. ^ Parish
  2. ^ Ulm Minster at Emporis
  3. ^ a b Oggins, R.O. (2000). "Cathedrals". Metrobooks. Friedman/Fairfax Publishers. Retrieved 6 October 2010. 
  4. ^ City of Ulm: Ulmer Geschichte(n) - Die Ulmer Sammlung 1230–1808
  5. ^ "Pee problem eroding world's tallest church". BBC. London. 24 October 2016. Retrieved 24 October 2016. 
  6. ^ Connor, Richard (2016-10-23). "Ulm kicks up a fuss over urination threat to world's tallest church". 
  7. ^ Dowd, Katie (24 October 2016). "World's tallest church being eroded by peeing, vomiting vandals". SFGate. San Francisco. Retrieved 24 October 2016. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Cologne Cathedral
Tallest building in the world
161.5 m (530 ft)
Succeeded by
Philadelphia City Hall
Tallest Building in Europe
161.5 m (530 ft)
Succeeded by
Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Building