Naumburg Cathedral Abbey

RESULT OF A ONE-OFF RELOCATION OF AN EPISCOPAL SEE

An unprecedented family foundation in the Middle Ages led to the transfer of the bishop's seat from Zeitz to Naumburg in 1028. Favoured by its location on important trade routes such as the "Via Regia", the Naumburg bishop's seat developed into the centre of a unique high medieval cultural landscape that can still be experienced today. 

Naumburg Cathedral is the landmark of an entire region and is one of the most famous church buildings of the Middle Ages.

Foundation under the protection of the "new" castle

Around the year 1000, the Ekkehardine Margraves of Meissen built a new castle on a plateau on the eastern bank of the Saale: Nuwenburch. In doing so, they not only laid the foundation stone for the further development of the town and monastery of Naumburg, but at the same time placed the young settlement at the centre of a vast dominion that stretched from the Saale to the Oder. 

However, the new place still lacked the appropriate sacral dignity. For this reason, the margraves sought to transfer the bishop's seat, which had already been founded in Zeitz about 35 kilometres away in 968, to Naumburg. In 1028, with the approval of the Pope and the Emperor and with reference to the constant danger of Slavic raids, the bishop's seat in Zeitz was transferred to the protection of the new castle, a move unprecedented in the history of the Empire.

In return, the family of the Ekkehardins endowed the new Naumburg diocese with extensive property and thus made possible the construction of the first early Romanesque Naumburg cathedral. Due to this unique family endowment, the two margrave brothers Hermann and Ekkehard II and their wives Reglindis and Uta were known throughout the Middle Ages as primi fundatores - the first donors of Naumburg Cathedral. - – revered. The Naumburg Master created a unique monument to them with the donor figures in the 13th century. 

Confidants of the King - the first Naumburg Bishops

The first Naumburg bishops came from the immediate surroundings of the royal court. As chaplains and chancery clerks, they fulfilled important administrative tasks for the ever-travelling ruler before assuming important episcopal offices as his close confidants. But even after their elevation to the episcopal throne, most of Naumburg's chief shepherds remained at the ruler's side, serving him as advisors on journeys in Germany and Italy and even following him on crusades to the Holy Land. 

When the excommunicated Emperor Henry IV, abandoned by all the powerful of his empire, begged the Pope's forgiveness in 1077 in penitential robes in front of Canossa Castle, the Naumburg Bishop Eberhard was the last imperial bishop to stand faithfully by his side. The king's special esteem was expressed in numerous donations to the Naumburg Episcopal Church.

The world-famous donor figures of the Naumburg Master

In the course of the 12th and 13th centuries, the Naumburg bishops increasingly concentrated on the internal expansion of the diocese. In addition to the foundation of numerous new churches, the expansion of the domain of the bishop and cathedral chapter was the focus of their efforts. The construction of the new Naumburg Cathedral between 1200 and 1250 is evidence of the prominent position of the Naumburg clergy and at the same time marks the high point of the economic and cultural prosperity of the cathedral chapter in the High Middle Ages. The Naumburg Master, one of the most important sculptors and architects of the Gothic period, was commissioned to complete the new cathedral. 

The passion reliefs he created in the west gallery and the cycle of twelve donor figures in the west choir are among the highlights of medieval art in Europe. The figure of the margravine Uta achieved world fame.

Late Medieval Afterglow

When the Naumburg bishops moved back to their former residence in Zeitz in 1285, the cathedral chapter became the most important political and cultural force in Naumburg. The late medieval Naumburg Cathedral became the church of the canons, who played a decisive role in its future design. In the vicinity of the cathedral, the mostly noble clergy built magnificent canons' courts, called curiae. These courtyards were similar to small castles and had large farm buildings, extensive gardens and even private chapels. 

An impressive ensemble of these curiae has survived in Naumburg to this day, encircling the Naumburg Cathedral like a wreath.

Martin Luther and the world's first Protestant bishop

Although the Reformation spread rapidly in the Naumburg diocese, the cathedral chapter succeeded in stubbornly resisting the new doctrine. Unimpressed by the religious changes in its immediate surroundings, it elected a new Catholic bishop, Julius von Pflug, in 1541. The Protestant Elector of Saxony, however, wanted to set an example and appointed Nikolaus von Amsdorf, a theologian from Luther's circle of friends, as Bishop of Naumburg. Thus, on 20 January 1542, a key event in the history of the Reformation took place in Naumburg. At the altar of the cross in the cathedral, the aged reformer Martin Luther inaugurated the world's first Protestant bishop in the presence of the Elector and all the notables of Wittenberg.

The Naumburg Cathedral Abbey in Modern Times

In the second half of the 16th century, the bishops were succeeded by so-called Protestant administrators, who were to administer the former secular domain of the bishops. The administrators always came from the Saxon ruling family of the Wettins and endeavoured to annex the Naumburg Abbey to their Saxon hereditary lands. Despite all external resistance, the Naumburg cathedral chapter succeeded in securing its existence. Although the remaining Catholic canons were succeeded only by Lutherans, many customs and liturgical practices dating from the Middle Ages were carried over into modern times. Above all, the chapter was able to formally preserve its sovereign juridical status by continuing to exercise the right to elect administrators. 

 

 

From the foundation to the endowment

With the transfer of a large part of the Saxon territories to Prussia after the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the end of the last remaining cathedral monasteries in Central Germany seemed imminent. However, the Prussian government quickly realised that for centuries the administrations of the cathedral monasteries had fulfilled a variety of sovereign tasks, including acting as judicial rulers and maintaining churches and schools. Therefore, the cathedral monasteries were incorporated into the new Prussian provincial administration instead of being dissolved.

The legal status of the foundations, however, remained unclear for over a century. It was not until 1930, when the institutions were converted into foundations under public law, that a new and contemporary basis for their existence was created. The last dean of Naumburg Cathedral was the former vice-chancellor of the German Empire, Arthur von Posadowsky-Wehner (1845-1932). The first dean of the newly formed United Cathedral Chapter with its seat in Naumburg became Field Marshal August von Mackensen (1849-1945) in 1935. 

After the previously formally independent foundations were merged into a single corporation in 1994, Naumburg Cathedral Abbey is now part of the United Cathedral Foundations of Merseburg and Naumburg and the Collegiate Abbey of Zeitz.

For more information on the Naumburg Cathedral World Heritage Site, see www.naumburger-dom.de.