The St. Peter and Paul Church is the most recognizable structure in Görlitz, towering over the Neiße and dominating the city’s silhouette with its twin spires. I’ve been fortunate enough to live directly across the street from this impressive structure – I get to listen to the church bells ringing to call people to services or organ concerts and see the colors of the sunset glowing on the church’s stones each evening.
There has been a church in this location on the Neiße river since the 11th century. It wasn’t until 1372 that it became the main church for the citizens of Görlitz, instead of the Nikolaikirche which was outside the city walls. In 1691 much of the late Gothic interior was destroyed in the fire and it was redecorated in Baroque style – these decorations are on display today, including ornate confessional cabinets which left the person giving confession exposed to public view. Instead of confessing to a clergyman, they confessed their sins to God in the Protestant style.
The church nearly escaped damage during World War II (as did most of Görlitz)- however some windows were blown out when the Wehrmacht detonated all of the bridges during their retreat at the end of the war.
If you are willing to climb the 131 steps to the platform between the two spires, you will be rewarded with a beautiful view of Görlitz to the west. Be sure to go up in the morning for the best lighting. The 84 meter high spires, which give the church its distinctive silhouette, were added in 1891.
The famous Sun Organ inside the church was built in 1703 by Eugenio Casparini and features 18 sun faces around which the organ pipes radiate. The original organ had to be retired due to wear and tear in 1979 and a very close replica was created in 2006 thanks to donations. The church hosts frequent organ concerts – check the bulletin board outside for a chance to hear it played.
When visiting old churches it’s really important to pay attention to the details. They are filled with symbolism and every figure has a meaning or a story. Every time I point my camera lens at this church, inside or out, I find new and fascinating details. It’s said that this iron neck chain on the east side of the church exterior was used until the middle of the 17th century to publicly humiliate wrongdoers. Directly above you can see stone carvings of a pig and a monkey, perhaps symbols for human failings.
On the east side of the church on the river is the lower church, or the crypt, named after St. George (Georgenkappele), which and built in 1457. The crypt has beautiful vaulted ceilings and a recently revealed fresco painting of Christ and his 12 disciples. The decision was made to leave it as it was found instead of trying to restore it. The crypt is called the Winter Church because it’s the only part of the church that can be heated – services are held here in the winter. Every year on Good Friday a procession begins here in the crypt where they reenact the stations of the cross – a man along with a procession, carries a cross to the Heiliges Grab in Görlitz, a replica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem built in the the late Middle Ages.
There is a legend about a man who was working on the roof of the Peterskirche. He stopped to look at a pretty girl below and distracted, he lost his footing. As he fell, he wedged his axe into a nearby beam in an attempt to hang on for dear life. The townspeople came with feather beds below to try to cushion his fall, but in his anxiety he missed the landing and fell to his death. As evidence for this legend you can find a cobblestone shaped like a cross where he supposedly landed as well as the stone figure of a man above the door to the crypt.
Is the legend true? It turns out, a man did in fact fall to his death from the roof of the Peterskirche, his gravestone can be found in the Nikolaifriedhof and it states that Franz Hesse, 22 years old, fell to his death in 1776. However, the stone figure of the man on the church which is associated with the legend predates this man’s death.
The Peterskirche in Görlitz is open to visitors Monday – Saturday 10:00-18:00 (until 16:00 in the winter). Entrance is free, however there is a €1.50 fee to take photographs and €2.00 to climb to the viewing platform between the spires.
Click here to find out more about the other historic churches in Görlitz!