Ulm Minster towers above all other buildings surrounding it, and today it stands as the tallest church building in the world. It is a Lutheran Church located in the city of Ulm in the important German state of Baden-Wurttemberg. Before the 20th century, it was the fifth tallest structure in the world. But its vaunted status as the world's tallest church is not set to last much longer.
While it may seem that building Cathedrals is a thing of the past, the Sagrada Familia remains under construction (just as it has done for well over a hundred years) and it is destined to surpass this giant church.
History And Background Of The Church
While this church is sometimes called a cathedral because of its sheer size, it is actually a church. It has never been the episcopal see of a bishop - the requirement to be designated a cathedral.
Like other great constructions like the Sagrada Familia (but unlike the Great Pyramid), the construction of this church took a very long time. Construction began in the age of Gothic architecture in the Late Middle Ages, but it was not completed until the 19th century. The church sat unfinished for centuries. Construction started way back in 1377. It was completed only in 1890.
- Height: 530 Feet or 161.5 Meters To The Top Of The Steeple
When work ceased in the 16th century the church was mostly complete. The church itself was complete, but the towers and some of the outer decorations were still incomplete.
- Climbing The Tower: Currently, It Is Not Possible To Climb The Tower
- Church Capacity: 20,000 People
The original intention for building this massive church is rather surprising. The reason was that back in the 1300s when it was built, it was dangerous to go outside the town walls. At this time there were frequent periods of war and the older parish was located outside of the defensive walls. Thus it was often dangerous for churchgoers at that time.
The church was originally planned to have three naves of equal height, the main spire, and tw0 steeples above the choir. The weight of the naves and the weight of the vaulting caused damage to the structure. This necessitated reconstruction and re-enforcement.
The church switched from Catholicism to Protestantism in 1530/31. This was following the outbreak of the Protestant Reformation and the local referendum in Ulm to convert to Protestantism. By the year 1543 funds ran out and construction ceased. The construction of the church was financed by the local inhabitants of the town and not the state or the church.
- 613 Years: Length Of Time Taken To Complete The Church
World War Two Firebombing
In one of the tragedies of World War Two, the Western Allies engaged in the extensive firebombing of German cities and deliberately targeted civilians. The Allies at different points in the world sought to destroy Germany's finest medieval cities. After the war, many of these cities were nothing more than piles of smoking rubble.
Ulm was also the target, in one raid 1,449 tons of bombs were dropped on the city and by the end of the campaign, only 1,763 out of 12,756 buildings of the city remained intact. While the city was leveled and destroyed around it, miraculously the church survived virtually unscathed. Around 80% of the medieval town was destroyed.
One rather odd problem with the church today is a large number of people emptying bladders around the structure of the church. The problem stems from the adjacent Musterplatz, which draws large crowds of people but events often don't have enough toilets. The acids and salts are degrading the church's sandstone foundation and leading to costly repairs.
Public Access Today
Today the church is open to visitors. For visitors feeling up to the challenge, they can climb the 768 steps leading to the top of the spire. Don't expect any elevator! Caution that the third and last spiraling staircase barely has enough room for one person to pass through. The views from this high up afford stunning panoramic views of the city of Ulm as well as the city of Neu-Ulm over in Bavaria.
Today it remains a vibrant and living church hosting over 1,000 church services and other events annually.
- Opening Hours: Mon-Sun: 10 am—5 pm
- Opening Hours: April-September 9 am–7 pm
- Cost of Admission: Adults: 5 Euros ($6)
For those traveling through southern Germany, the Ulm Münster is truly a must-see. It has an incredible story. It took 613 years to build, it is the tallest church building in the world, and it is a survivor. It is a monument to persistence and human engineering and a national treasure of Germany today.