Frequently asked questions concerning cathedral restoration

A few questions about the restoration of Hildesheim cathedral will be answered here.


Why does St. Mary’s Cathedral have to be restored?

Following destruction of the cathedral in 1945, a long, drawn-out process of decision-making and designing ensued. Reconstruction itself was not concluded until 15 years later. Except for a bit of plaster restoration work in the early 1970s, no building maintenance activities have been carried out at St. Mary’s Cathedral since then.

As a result, after more than 45 years there are, on the one hand, structural and technical reasons to be mentioned which call for cathedral restoration: The building’s technical engineering (heating, electrical systems, ventilation) must be replaced and appropriate protection against fire ensured, above all in the cathedral’s Dom Museum. The roof is partially decayed and there is sandstone work to be done. The acoustics inside need improvement and the loudspeaker system is inadequate. A major portion of the interior plasterwork and painting dates back to the 1950s. After such a long time they correspondingly look the worse for wear.

On the other hand, the building’s structural plant no longer complies with contemporary liturgical requirements: The altar (currently starkly elevated at the choir intersecting the nave and transept) is too far away from the faithful. The cathedral’s fittings and the altar’s spatial design, which was laid out prior to the liturgical reform and has been modified only in individual places since, are to be fundamentally re-arranged so that liturgical festivities in the cathedral can take on a role-model character for the entire diocese. The sepulchres of deceased bishops are spread around the cathedral, some at several places in an arbitrary manner. The bishops’ crypt to be newly erected creates a worthy alternative.

Cultural-historical reasons along with changed aesthetic perceptions pose a third factor to be mentioned: The bronze Bernward Doors must be better protected in terms of their conservation and are supposed to be shown to better advantage through altered placement at the entrance portal to the cathedral. The spatial impression made by the cathedral itself as a Romanesque basilica is fundamentally disturbed by currently existing massive pillars supporting the organ loft. The same applies to the stairway to the “Nordparadies”, the ‘northern paradise’.

At present, the Dom Museum is able to make its valuable collection accessible to the public only in a very insufficient manner. This is true in terms of both quantity and quality, despite its great significance acknowledged worldwide. Access to the two-tiered cloisters with the world-famous Hildesheim Rose has not been solved satisfactorily as of yet. It must be better linked to the cathedral and to the Dom Museum.

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What precisely is supposed to be done?

The cathedral is going to be extensively restored in a first step until the bishopric celebrates its jubilee in 2015. The Dom Museum shall be relocated to St. Anthony’s Church, which shall be given up as ecclesiastical space.

Work on the electrical system and the heating, measures towards fire prevention and towards improving the acoustics, paintwork, roof restoration and stone masonry work are all going to be implemented. The Bernward Doors shall be moved further inside. The side with sculptures shall face outwardly again. A space of its own beneath the westwork (Westwerk) with its own exits and entrances shall arise thereby. The organ loft shall be replaced by a free-standing load-bearing construction, thus making the now so bothersome pillars superfluous. A bishops’ crypt is going to be installed. The Hezilo chandelier and other furnishings shall be re-instituted at their original locations. The Azelin chandelier, which currently hangs in St. Anthony’s Church, shall be placed in the choir area.

Dom Museum:
The Dom Museum shall be relocated to St. Anthony’s Church, which is to be converted for this purpose. The museum will be completely reconceived on the distinctly enlarged exhibition area. The chancel screen shall be dismantled, then restored during a project in its own right and rebuilt in the museum.

Merely emergency exit routes for the new museum shall be built in here.

Chapter house with sacristy:
Integration into the fire-prevention concept, dismantling of the air conditioning system, smaller-scale restoration work in the sacristy.

The complete structural alteration of the sacristy and chapter house, the construction of a cathedral forum and conversion of the “Domschule”, the cathedral school, and the Joseph-Godehard-House shall not be realised by 2015

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Why should the Bernward Doors be moved? Things have worked out until now.

Preservation of the Bernward Doors is severely endangered at their present position because the major differences in temperature between the interior space and the outdoor side create tensile stress in the materials. This has led to cracks in the reliefs. Moving the Bernward Doors further inwards avoids these differences in temperature, besides offering the opportunity above and beyond this to erect them once again in their original, proper direction for viewing, namely with the reliefs facing outside.

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Why must such a costly effort be made to convert St. Anthony’s Church into a new Dom Museum? Isn’t that exaggerating the matter?

The unique treasures in the Dom Museum, valuable and acknowledged worldwide, particularly the bronze artwork from the Middle Ages, are currently being exhibited in a manner far inferior to their true significance. The esteem for the collection extending far beyond the diocese itself is also making itself visible through the fact that grant donors such as the European Union and major foundations are willing to assume very large portions of the costs for redesigning the Dom Museum. As a result, the diocese will not be substantially burdened by museum conversion and expansion.

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Where will Pontifical High Masses take place during the construction phase?

Located not far from St. Mary’s, the main cathedral, the St. Godehard Basilica shall be utilised as an alternate church for grand High Masses during the construction phase.

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Where are the church services going to take place in the future that had been celebrated until now at St. Anthony’s Church?

The church services that had been celebrated until now at St. Anthony’s Church shall be relocated to one or more of the Catholic churches in the inner city. Training in playing the organ is intended to take place at St. Magdalenen Church.

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How was the present decision reached?

A concept for renovating the Hildesheim Dom complex, including the Dom Museum, the cloisters and the adjoining buildings, was drawn up in a first phase that lasted from 2002 to 2005. It describes visions for the future design of the edifice which include pastoral and liturgical wishes for redesigning. An architectural competition involving invitations to tender entries was initiated on this basis in 2005. The competition was won by Architekturbüro Professor Johannes Schilling (Cologne).

In the course of intensive consultations during recent months and weeks, the architect’s master plan laid out in modular segments for the period until 2015 (bishopric jubilee) took on a concrete form, focusing at first on the phases St. Mary’s Cathedral and the Dom Museum. For the next few years this means cutbacks in the overall concept and, in comparison to the sum originally required for construction, a clear-cut reduction in costs. The redesigning of the chapter house and sacristy, conversion of the Joseph-Godehard-House and the “Domschule”, the cathedral school, along with new construction of the cathedral forum to replace the current Cardinal-Bertram-House are not going to be enacted for the time being.

As builder, the cathedral chapter in charge defined the framework data for the now impending cathedral restoration on 26 November 2007, accompanied by the property administration board on 14 December 2007.

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What will the renovation cost and how will it be financed?

The total cost of the project amounts to €35.6 million. The costs can be broken down as follows:

  • Renovation costs for the cathedral (including the vestry and chapter house): €14.2 million;
  • Costs for the new cathedral museum, mainly for the modification of the former Church of St. Anthony the renovation of the knights’ hall and the renovation of the cathedral school: €12.8 million;
  • Costs for other construction work and the reorganisation of the cathedral (including parking spaces at the general vicariat): €5.2 million;
  • Expansion and fitting of the artistic furnishings, restoration of artwork, liturgical furnishings: €1.2 million;
  • Scientific investigation, archaeological research: €1.2 million;
  • Other costs (documentation, administration costs, other ancillary costs etc.): €1 million

The diocese will raise approx. €16.7 million from church tax to finance the overall costs of the project. The diocese will receive approx. €16.6 million from public sources, foundations and church organisations. A further €2.3 million is to be raised through donations by individuals and companies.

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How has the cathedral renovation become more expensive than originally planned?

Before the start of the construction work in 2009, the diocese stated that the costs for the renovation project would amount to €29.98 million. As of 20 August 2013, we estimate that the total costs will in fact stand at €35.6 million. The difference of approximately €5.6 million can be explained as follows:

  • We require around €1.2 million more than originally estimated for the renovation of the cathedral (including the vestry and chapter house). This sum is mainly a result of the additional costs for wall plaster, which, contrary to what was originally planned, had to be completely replaced, as well as the increased costs for the organ (particularly cost of materials) and costs for work on the chapter house, in which a youth work room is being fitted.
  • An additional €175,000 is required for the construction work for the new cathedral museum, particularly for the fitting of a store room in the Josef-Godehard house, which was not originally envisioned in such a way.
  • The extensive work to the exterior, which was only possible through UNESCO subsidies, incurred additional costs in the amount of €1.1 million.
  • Scientific research, in particular the archaeological excavations and their analysis, gave rise to costs of around €1.2 million.
  • The diocese invested €1.2 million in the restoration of artwork and the artistic and liturgical furnishing of the cathedral.
  • An amount of €800,000 is to be raised to cover other expenses, e.g. for moving the bishops and for documenting the construction work.

This means that the costs for the actual construction work on the cathedral, the cathedral museum and the renovation of exterior facilities is approx. €2.5 million higher than stated in the plan made in 2009. This increase is mainly due to additional work commissioned.

The diocese is spending around €3.1 million for work in connection with the cathedral renovation project or to add to it, specifically for the restoration of various pieces of artwork and the replacement of liturgical fittings, for the scientific/archaeological assistance in the renovation work as well as other additional work. These costs were not included in the figure of €29.98 million.

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Who is responsible for cathedral renovation?

The cathedral chapter headed by the dean of the cathedral, Suffragan Bishop Hans-Georg Koitz, is the builder and in charge of all matters relating to the cathedral.

Acting on behalf of the cathedral chapter, Vicar-General Prelate Dr Werner Schreer is responsible for cathedral restoration in a capacity as project manager. Project steering lies in the hands of Mr Norbert Kesseler, a certified engineer, and Dr Matthias Woiwode.

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How does a project like this fit in with cutbacks in other areas? Can the cost-cutting policies propagated by the Diocese of Hildesheim still be taken seriously when so much money is going to be spent on renovating a single church and erecting a new Dom Museum?

It is undisputed that costs must continue to be cut within the Diocese of Hildesheim and that efforts thus must adhere to the “Eckpunkte 2020”, the key points for medium-term structural and financial planning.

Nonetheless, the diocese has good reasons for spending a great deal of money to renovate St. Mary’s Cathedral and reconstruct the Dom Museum:

Even though further reductions are necessary structurally in order to maintain a balanced budget for the diocese, investments must continue to be made in a targeted manner. This applies to the entire diocese just as much as it does to St. Mary’s Cathedral in Hildesheim. As the central and episcopal church it has a special, prominent significance for the diocese. Particularly in a time of radical changes within church parishes it is important that the liturgy, pastoral aspects and proclamation of faith in the diocese have a visible centre of attention in the form of the cathedral.

Above and beyond this, the Church has always viewed itself as a cultural institution, a position in which it is also perceived by people who are not affiliated with a church. The diocese therefore has a great deal of responsibility for the world heritage with which it has been entrusted. In Hildesheim, the history of the diocese is tangible and alive right up to the present. The point here is to preserve that history for future generations, too. The sense of awareness for our cultural origins, which have roots dating back over a thousand years in the Bishopric of Hildesheim, must be reinforced time and again in order to truly grasp historic occurrences and be able to learn from history. Records of that history must remain intact in the 21st century as well.

It goes without saying that one-off investments must be made in an appropriate relationship to necessary structural reductions in other areas. The bishop and the cathedral chapter are convinced that they have found a sensible, sustainable model for the necessary restoration and redesigning of St. Mary’s Cathedral and the Dom Museum in the current plans.

All construction measures dealing with the cathedral shall of course be planned very thoroughly and enacted with an eye to costs

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First the Hezilo chandelier was lavishly restored, now it’s supposed to be the cathedral. Isn’t the Church spending more money on dead objects than it does for the living?

This is not the case. The predominant share of the diocese budget is utilised to finance pastoral care in the parishes, for the work performed by Caritas, and for parochial schools and educational facilities. Rather large portions thereof deal respectively with the costs for personnel. Yet besides these, maintenance measures pose an ongoing mandatory factor again and again. This applies to the area of construction, too.

Detailed information regarding diocese revenues and expenditures can be found in the respective Annual Report of the Diocese of Hildesheim. Copies are gladly sent to those interested.

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