I was recently honored to be able to take part in a special tour of the German city Münster’s historical Lambertikirche, or St. Lambert’s Church.
Situated in the heart of this bicycle-obsessed university town, where the three markets, Roggenmarkt (rye market), Alter Fischmarkt (old fish market), and the Prinzipalmarkt (main market) meet, the church is a must-see attraction. Its rich and dark history, central location, and beautiful late-Gothic architecture and intricate details are sure to have something to appeal to all visitors, no matter the interest.
The History of St. Lambert’s Church
St. Lambert’s Church has had a history replete with activity, and a good portion of it is dark and tempestuous. The church that stands today at its namesake plaza, Lambertikirchplatz, was built starting in 1375, though it took the place of a smaller church which once stood there since about the year 1000.
Named for Saint Lambert, a bishop of Maastricht (or referred to sometimes as of Liège), the structure was completed in 1450. The most notorious story regarding the church of St. Lambert has to do with the radical Anabaptists, a group of Christians that instituted some questionable practices as they sought to build a New Jerusalem.
The Münster Rebellion was the Anabaptists’ attempt to overthrow the government in Münster and establish their own government in its place. For about a year and a half, from 1534-1535, Münster was under Anabaptist rule; the seat of their government was the town hall, which is located several buildings down from the Lambertikirche.
The deposed bishop, Franz von Waldeck, besieged the city for a year, and as the citizens of Münster starved, the Anabaptists became more and more radical. Finally, a year later, the Bishop von Waldeck was recaptured back, and three of the leading Anabaptists were captured, tortured by being jabbed with hot tongs, executed and displayed in three cages which were hoisted up onto the steeple of St. Lambert’s Church for all the villagers to see and remember; cages representing this event are still hanging from the same spot on the Lambertikirche.
In the late 1800’s, the tall original tower was destroyed, due to structural defects, and the new one erected, a smaller copy of the famous Freiburger Münster (Freiburg Minster), the neo-gothic steeple of Freiburg im Breisgau; this is the one that stands today.
Cardinal von Galen in the earlier 20th century once held sermons from the church criticizing the Nazis and what they stood for. The church was also damaged extensively during World War II, but has since been repaired and reconstructed. Today, the church is one of the most-visited and photographed sites in Münster.
The Türmer: The Watchwoman & Tower-Keeper of the Lambertikirche
According to documents dating centuries back, there has been a türmer (watchman or tower-keeper) in the city since 1379. The role of this watchman was essentially to keep an eye out over the city of Münster, specifically for fires and enemies.
Except for a few breaks, there has been a watchman which climbed the 298 steps up to the top of the Lambertikirche each night; today it is a ceremonial job. Actually, at the start of this year, 2014, the position was handed off to a new recruit, and for the first time it is a woman.
Martje Saljé, a lovely woman I was fortunate enough to meet and converse with, holds this enviable job; each night (except Tuesday) at around 8:30 pm, she climbs up the winding stairs to her little office, 75 meters above the city. From 9pm until midnight, Martje steps out of her office onto the deck with a longhorn, runs around to face each of the four directions, and blows her horn if everything looks alright.
The Lambertikirche Building and Surrounding
The Lambertikirche is a perfect attraction to plan a day of sightseeing in Münster around; it forms one end of Prinzipalmarkt, which holds many other buildings of renown and architectural uniqueness, namely the Rathaus (Town Hall) and the Bürgerhalle (Citizens’ Hall).
The church itself is quite amazing, with its variations of gothic style; the base is of a late-Gothic style typical of the Westphalian region around its time, while the tower had to be reconstructed and was rebuilt in a neo-gothic style that mimics the main church in the southeast German city of Freiburg.
One of the most important sculptures from the 15th century is carved onto one of the three south-facing portals of the Lambertikirche, a stone carving known as the “Root of Jesse,” which depicts the lineage of Jesus Christ. The other two portals also have renowned works of art, one depicting Christ’s birth and the other depicting him in pain, between the two “Johns.”
Within the church are also two organs and eight bells (plus one fire alarm bell), including two bells (the Lambertus and Maria) by Gerhardus de Wou, one (Kleine Katharina or “Little Catherine”) from Wolter Westerhues, and another (Große Katharina or “Great Catherine Bell”) of Henricus Caesem, which are all from the late-15th through early-17th centuries.
No visit to Münster is complete without checking out the Lambertikirche. Perhaps come during the day, when the dark stonework of the church contrasts nicely with the bright daylight, although another trip at night between 9pm and midnight is also advisable, so that you’ll be able to witness one of the last-remaining customs of its kind anywhere in the world – hearing the horn rung by the türmer each half-hour.
Lambertikirche (St. Lamberti’s Church) | Lambertikirchplatz, 48143 Münster, Germany | Phone: +49 251 448 93 | Website: www.st-lamberti.de | Open: 9:00-17:00
*Thanks so much to Susanne Weber and Juliane Unkelbach of Münster Marketing, and Martje Saljé, the türmer, for providing me with the incredible opportunity to learn and write about the Lambertikirche and its history!