Cretaceous Period meets Middle Ages

Altar designed by sculptor Ulrich Rückriem now in Hildesheim Cathedral

The stone in the new altar of Hildesheim Cathedral is 120 million years old. It now stands among the church’s countless medieval artistic treasures. Employees from the specialist company Karner Kunstaufbau erected the sacred limestone work on Saturday, 14th December. The renowned sculptor Ulrich Rückriem, 75, from Cologne, crafted the altar.

 der neue Altar im Hildesheimer Dom.

Five tonnes heavy and 120 million years
old: the new altar in Hildesheim Cathedral.
Foto: bph

The greenish tint with rust-brown colouring is typical for stone from Anröchte near Soest that occurred during the Cretaceous Period. Rückriem first split the monumental block of stone, weighing a total of five tonnes, horizontally. From the top part, he created the top slab of the altar. He split the lower part into three equal blocks with two cuts. These two blocks serve as plinths on which the top slab lies. Though the artist installed the limestone otherwise untouched, the inner sides of the plinths are gilt: by doing this, Ulrich Rückriem wanted to create a link with Godehard’s Shrine, located in the cathedral crypt right below the altar.

“We chose Ulrich Rückriem because he is an established artist who works with very simple forms”, said Vicar General Dr. Werner Schreer. “This fits our cathedral well because it does not thrive on ornamentation but on clear, basic, simple forms. We also wanted to add a piece of art from our time to the cathedral’s great historical works of art.”

Rückriem, who has exhibited many times at the celebrated documenta exhibition, was previously a professor at the colleges of art in Hamburg, Düsseldorf and Frankfurt. He was born in Düsseldorf in 1938. After an apprenticeship as a stonemason, and a period working for the Cologne Dombauhütte, he studied at the Cologne Werkschule with Ludwig Gies.

The altar cost around €200,000. The cost is mainly borne by the Hildesheim cathedral chapter. The Verein Ausstellungshaus für christliche Kunst e.V. (Exhibition House Association for Christian Art) in Munich, the Klosterkammer and the cathedral construction association are also sponsoring the piece.

In 1985 Hildesheim Cathedral, together with all of its art, was entered by UNESCO into the list of World Cultural Heritage sites. Renovation work began in 2010. The total costs for renovating the cathedral and the construction of the new cathedral museum are €35.6 million. Hildesheim Cathedral will be reopened on 15th August 2014. On that day, the new altar will be solemnly consecrated.