St. Nikolai, Hamburg
The Gothic Revival Church of St. Nicholas was formerly one of the five Lutheran
Evangelical Church in Germany
The Evangelical Church in Germany is a federation of 22 Lutheran, Unified and Reformed Protestant regional church bodies in Germany. The EKD is not a church in a theological understanding because of the denominational differences. However, the member churches share full pulpit and altar...

 Hauptkirchen (main churches) in the city of Hamburg
-History:The first historic name for the city was, according to Claudius Ptolemy's reports, Treva.But the city takes its modern name, Hamburg, from the first permanent building on the site, a castle whose construction was ordered by the Emperor Charlemagne in AD 808...

. It is now in ruins, serving as a memorial and an important architectural landmark. When Hamburg residents mention the Nikolaikirche, it is generally to this church that they are referring, and not the new Hauptkirche of St. Nicholas, which is located in the Harvestehude district.

The church was the tallest building in the world from 1874 to 1876 and is still the second-tallest building in Hamburg.


The current condition of the Church of St. Nicholas is the result of air raids during World War II (see Bombing of Hamburg in World War II
Bombing of Hamburg in World War II
The Allied bombing of Hamburg during World War II included numerous strategic bombing missions and diversion/nuisance raids. As a large port and industrial center, Hamburg's shipyards, U-boat pens, and the Hamburg-Harburg area oil refineries were attacked throughout the war...

), continuing demolition in 1951 and restoration work in the 1990s. The Rettet die Nikolaikirche e.V. (Rescue the Church of St. Nicholas) foundation is responsible for the restoration of the church. The foundation is supported in its work by the city of Hamburg, the congregation of the Church of St. Nicholas and various corporate sponsors and private contributors. The organization is charged with maintaining the building's existing structure, restoration, arranging events and displays in the church, and operating an information center housed in the church's crypt.

Older Structures

With the founding of the Nikolai settlement and a harbor
A harbor or harbour , or haven, is a place where ships, boats, and barges can seek shelter from stormy weather, or else are stored for future use. Harbors can be natural or artificial...

 on the Alster
The Alster is a right tributary of the River Elbe in Northern Germany. It has its source near Henstedt-Ulzburg, Schleswig-Holstein, flows roughly southwards and reaches the Elbe in Hamburg. In the centre of Hamburg the Alster has been dammed...

 in the 12th century, a chapel dedicated to Saint Nicholas
Saint Nicholas
Saint Nicholas , also called Nikolaos of Myra, was a historic 4th-century saint and Greek Bishop of Myra . Because of the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker...

, patron saint of sailors, was erected. This wood building was the second church in Hamburg, after St. Mary's Cathedral.

In 1335, some years before the onslaught of the Black Death
Black Death
The Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, peaking in Europe between 1348 and 1350. Of several competing theories, the dominant explanation for the Black Death is the plague theory, which attributes the outbreak to the bacterium Yersinia pestis. Thought to have...

, construction on a new brick building began. The structure was to be a three-naved hall church
Hall church
A hall church is a church with nave and side aisles of approximately equal height, often united under a single immense roof. The term was first coined in the mid-19th century by the pioneering German art historian Wilhelm Lübke....

 in the typical North German Brick Gothic
Brick Gothic
Brick Gothic is a specific style of Gothic architecture common in Northern Europe, especially in Northern Germany and the regions around the Baltic Sea that do not have natural rock resources. The buildings are essentially built from bricks...

 style. This building stood until the middle of the 19th century, undergoing changes, expansions, and withstanding several partial destructions. The tower, which was erected in 1517, burned down in 1589. The tower built to replace it collapsed in 1644. The last tower of the old Church of St. Nicholas was designed by Peter Marquardt. The Marquardt tower had a height of 122 metres and with its characteristic dome was a landmark of the city and jewel of its skyline.

As the center of one of the four Hamburg parishes, the Church of St. Nicholas was heavily involved in all the theological debates that were fought out in the city, especially during the Reformation
Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was a 16th-century split within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other early Protestants. The efforts of the self-described "reformers", who objected to the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, led...

. After the minister Henning Kissenbrügge had resigned in 1524, the residents chose as minister Johannes Bugenhagen
Johannes Bugenhagen
Johannes Bugenhagen , also called Doctor Pomeranus by Martin Luther, introduced the Protestant Reformation in the Duchy of Pomerania and Denmark in the 16th century. Among his major accomplishments was organization of Lutheran churches in Northern Germany and Scandinavia...

, a profiled Reformer and confidant to Martin Luther
Martin Luther
Martin Luther was a German priest, professor of theology and iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money. He confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517...

. The conservative city council was able to prevent his appointment by making Kissenbrügge stay. However, they could not stop the general wave of elected Lutheran ministers in Hamburg; in the Church of St. Nicholas, Johann Zegenhagen was appointed after Kissenbrügge's final departure. The Reformation was completed peacefully, and in 1528 Bugenhagen appeared in Hamburg and became the preacher at the Church of St. Nicholas. He is known for establishing a church order in Hamburg which regulated finances and other church affairs such as the school curriculum. This order continued for 200 years.

The old Church of St. Nicholas was the first large public building to burn in the great fire of May 1842. The destruction of the Church of St. Nicholas is described by chroniclers as a particularly moving event for the citizens. It was the first large building to burn, and was an indication of how catastrophic the fire would become. On 5 May the noon service held by preacher Wendt, who stood in for the minister Carl Moenckeberg, had to be cut short and ended with an intercessory prayer for the saving of the church. One obviously did not count on the loss of the church as most art treasures were not saved.

The spire was engulfed by the fire at about four o'clock in the afternoon. Despite desperate efforts, it was not possible to contain the fire due to the equipment of the day, which did not allow water to be carried in sufficient quantity to the heights of the tower. It finally collapsed, setting the nave
In Romanesque and Gothic Christian abbey, cathedral basilica and church architecture, the nave is the central approach to the high altar, the main body of the church. "Nave" was probably suggested by the keel shape of its vaulting...

 on fire and burning it completely.

Neo-gothic construction

Shortly after the fire, the church was rebuilt again. In 1843, a so-called Shilling
The shilling is a unit of currency used in some current and former British Commonwealth countries. The word shilling comes from scilling, an accounting term that dates back to Anglo-Saxon times where it was deemed to be the value of a cow in Kent or a sheep elsewhere. The word is thought to derive...

 Collection was started, and in 1844 there was an architectural
Architecture is both the process and product of planning, designing and construction. Architectural works, in the material form of buildings, are often perceived as cultural and political symbols and as works of art...

 competition, won by the architect Gottfried Semper
Gottfried Semper
Gottfried Semper was a German architect, art critic, and professor of architecture, who designed and built the Semper Opera House in Dresden between 1838 and 1841. In 1849 he took part in the May Uprising in Dresden and was put on the government's wanted list. Semper fled first to Zürich and later...

 (a native of nearby Altona
Altona, Hamburg
Altona is the westernmost urban borough of the German city state of Hamburg, on the right bank of the Elbe river. From 1640 to 1864 Altona was under the administration of the Danish monarchy. Altona was an independent city until 1937...

) with the draft of a Roman
Roman architecture
Ancient Roman architecture adopted certain aspects of Ancient Greek architecture, creating a new architectural style. The Romans were indebted to their Etruscan neighbors and forefathers who supplied them with a wealth of knowledge essential for future architectural solutions, such as hydraulics...

 domed structure. His design, however, was not realized, as it did not fit into Hamburg’s townscape and shortly before this time, the construction of the mediaeval
Medieval architecture
Medieval architecture is a term used to represent various forms of architecture common in Medieval Europe.-Characteristics:-Religious architecture:...

Cologne is Germany's fourth-largest city , and is the largest city both in the Germany Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia and within the Rhine-Ruhr Metropolitan Area, one of the major European metropolitan areas with more than ten million inhabitants.Cologne is located on both sides of the...

 cathedral in 1842 had led to a Gothic revival in Germany. Hamburg’s medieval cathedral had been demolished in 1805.

The English architect George Gilbert Scott
George Gilbert Scott
Sir George Gilbert Scott was an English architect of the Victorian Age, chiefly associated with the design, building and renovation of churches, cathedrals and workhouses...

, who was an expert for the restoration of medieval churches and an advocate of the gothic architectural style, was commissioned to devise a new design. He designed an 86 meter-long nave
In Romanesque and Gothic Christian abbey, cathedral basilica and church architecture, the nave is the central approach to the high altar, the main body of the church. "Nave" was probably suggested by the keel shape of its vaulting...

, with a 28 meter-high vault. The architecture was strongly influenced by French and English gothic styles, though the pointed spire is typically German. The amount of sculptures made from sandstone
Sandstone is a sedimentary rock composed mainly of sand-sized minerals or rock grains.Most sandstone is composed of quartz and/or feldspar because these are the most common minerals in the Earth's crust. Like sand, sandstone may be any colour, but the most common colours are tan, brown, yellow,...

 in the interior and on the spire was unusual. The new church was built to the southeast, a short distance from the old location, where the Neue Burg (New Castle) had once stood. The construction started in 1846, and on 27 September 1863 the church was consecrated. The 147.3 meter-high spire was finished in 1874. At that time, the Church of St. Nicholas was the highest building in the world until the completion of the cathedral
Rouen Cathedral
Rouen Cathedral is a Roman Catholic Gothic cathedral in Rouen, in northwestern France. It is the seat of the Archbishop of Rouen and Normandy.-History:...

 of Rouen
Rouen , in northern France on the River Seine, is the capital of the Haute-Normandie region and the historic capital city of Normandy. Once one of the largest and most prosperous cities of medieval Europe , it was the seat of the Exchequer of Normandy in the Middle Ages...

 in 1876. Second to the TV tower, the tower of the church is still the second highest building in Hamburg.

World War II

The clearly visible spire of the Church of St. Nicholas served as a goal and orientation marker for the pilots of the Allied Air Forces during the extensive air raids on Hamburg. On 28 July 1943 the church was heavily damaged by aerial bombs. The roof collapsed and the interior of the nave suffered heavy damage. The walls began to show cracks, yet neither they nor the spire collapsed.

After World War II

The basic structure of the gothic church remained intact to a large extent and reconstruction was a realistic option. Nevertheless, it was decided to demolish the nave while leaving the spire untouched. As the vicinity of the church was no longer a residential area, a new Church of St. Nicholas was built in the district of Harvestehude. In 1951 the nave was finally demolished and the rubble was partially used for the reinforcement of the banks of the river Elbe.

The loss of a valuable gothic revival architectural monument was regretted by many, but after the war there were other priorities as far as reconstruction was concerned. Compared to the Church of Michael the Archangel, the Church of St. Nicholas was not regarded as one of Hamburg’s important landmarks.

The spire and some remains of the wall were preserved as a memorial against the war. For several decades they were not cared for, and, consequently, they gradually decayed. In 1987 the Rettet die Nikolaikirche e.V. foundation began to restore the existing fabric of the building and erected a so-called "place of encounters" (a room for events and exhibitions) in the crypt. The organization attempts to salvage pieces of rubble that were removed in 1951, such as pieces from the destroyed nave pulled from the River Elbe in November 2000. A reconstruction of the church, as it was done with the Church of Our Lady
Dresden Frauenkirche
The Dresden Frauenkirche is a Lutheran church in Dresden, eastern Germany.Built in the 18th century, the church was destroyed in the firebombing of Dresden during World War II. It has been reconstructed as a landmark symbol of reconciliation between former warring enemies...

 in Dresden
Dresden is the capital city of the Free State of Saxony in Germany. It is situated in a valley on the River Elbe, near the Czech border. The Dresden conurbation is part of the Saxon Triangle metropolitan area....

, is not intended. However, a 51-bell carillon was installed in 1993 as a memorial.

Since 1 September 2005, an elevator has taken visitors to a 75.3 metre-high platform inside the spire to enjoy history panels and a panoramic view over Hamburg and in particular the nearby Speicherstadt
The Speicherstadt in Hamburg, Germany is the largest timber-pile founded warehouse district in the world. It is located in the port of Hamburg—within the HafenCity quarter—and was built from 1883 to 1927.The district was built as a free zone to transfer goods without paying customs...

(lit. city of warehouses).

External links

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