For almost 1000 years (since 739)
the Passau cathedral used to be the episcopal church of the largest diocese
of the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation. The diocese Passau reached its largest
expanse when it streched from the mouth of river Isar to Hungary, and from the
foothills of the Alps to the Bohemian-Moravian border in the north. Between
1783 and 1785, emperor Joseph II separated the Austrian part of the diocese
(almost sixth-seventh of the entire district) from the German part. Due to this,
the diocese Passau became one of the smallest in Germany. That explains the
comparatively large size of the cathedral, which is an eye-catcher in the small
town of Passau.
The former diocese of Passau played an important role in the Christianization of the regions east of the Danube. Since 999, the bishops also took care of all secular affairs as well. In 1217 Passau became the chief monestary and therefore also the bishop's domicile.
The St. Stephan cathedral was built on the highest elevation of the Old Town (13 m above the Danube and 303 m above sea level) between the Danube and river Inn. Its length of 102 m and 33,5 m width is complemented by the 69 m high pinnacle of the cupola. Hence it is one of the biggest cathedrals with the largest baroque interior north of the Alps.
Today, the cathedral holds evidence of four different architectural styles:
1. The foundation of an Agilofingian-Carolingian
episcopal church sanctified to St. Stephan took place in 720 (instead of the
Roman Batavian episcopal church (450 A. D.) of the Christian community of Holy
Severin). Due to the Roman-ecclesiastical constitution of the diocese by Holy
Bonifatius, Passau becomes the bishop's domicile with the church as the cathedral
of the diocese.
2. The early Romanesque style episcopal church with its two towers in the west is sanctified under bishop Pilgrim in 985. The Agilofingian-Carolingian building was destroyed in 978 when emperor Otto II (973-983) besieged the town.3. The early Gothic style cathedral is built between 1221 and 1313, the late Gothic style part in the east accrues between 1407 and 1598.
4. After two devastating fires in 1662 and 1680, a phase of Baroque reconstruction begins (1668-1693) and bestows on the cathedral its Baroque appearance of today. Hans Krumenauer's late Gothic style features, such as the one-part choir, were integrated into the modern design. The cupolas, also called Bohemian canopies, on the outside are distinctive for the cathedral's appearance. The first restoration of the entire interior part after the first fire (1680) took place from 1972-1980.
The harmoniousness of two huge constructions
belonging to different architectural styles distinguishes the cathedral St.
Stephan from other comparable cathedrals in Germany ("a Baroque cathedral
with a Gothic soul"). Despite the Gothic constructions (a width of only
12 m of the middle part along with 29 m peak height) the Italian architect Carlo
Lurago (1615-1684) managed to create a coherent building of high Baroque times.
Further informations (only in German)
translation: Susanne Kipke