Carmelite Church of Weißenburg

Carmelite Church of Weißenburg

Site Information

Country: Germany
State: Weißenburg, Bavaria
Location: 49° 1' 51" N - 10° 58' 23" E
Field Documentation Date(s): February 14th, 2007
Project Release Date(s): July 27th, 2009
Time Range: 1350 CE - 1788 CE
Era: Gothic, Baroque
Culture: German
Site Authority: Große Kreisstadt Weißenburg
world map with location

Cross-section looking south of Carmelite Church, drawn from laser scan data. The drawing clearly shows the roof trusses, arches, nave, and choir. The different levels of the roof truces are attributed to two periods of construction.

Site Description


The Carmelite Church of the city of Weißenburg is located at 9 Luitpoldstraße in the town's historic core. This impressive church features a beautiful frescoed ceiling in the Baroque fashion, a Valto-Santo painting, and an elaborate Renaissance organ all embodied in a structure which, following Carmelite traditions, is simple and unrefined. The church has undergone numerous remodels over the course of its history reflecting these changes in architectural style and religious affiliation. Today, the church belongs to the city of Weißenburg and is a cultural center.

The church was erected around 1350, built on the foundations of a former Carmelite monastery dating from 1325. The church was not built in a very prominent spot in the city; the site of the church is located north of the medieval town center, and across from a bustling marketplace which once housed many artisan workshops. The site became property of the city in 1544 following the Protestant Reformation.

The church consists of a choir and nave, both dating from the original construction, as well as a sacristy dating to the 15th century. Like many other churches in Bavaria, the Carmelite Church was remodeled in the Baroque manner (1729). One can still see religious elements on the inside, such as the Volto-Santo painting on the northern side of the choir (dating to around 1400) and the pipe organ, constructed in 1742. Compared to the Baroque interior, the design of church’s exterior is plain, following the architectural traditions of the mendicant orders.

The high choir has three bays, a 5/8 apse, a cross-rib vault on the inside, and round keystones. It is structured by exterior buttresses and is connected to the wide nave. As required by the guidelines of the mendicant orders, the joint between the choir and the nave is decorated only with a small turret. The late Gothic spatial structure of the choir was hardly altered during the Baroque reconstruction: the stucco decorations with rosettes were used sparingly and were modeled after the keystones. The pointed-arch windows were probably decorated with tracery, which was not preserved.

The nave, which has five axes, opens up through four pointing arches to the northern aisle, which was added at a later time. The sacristy, which is located along the northeastern side of the choir, features ribbed groin-vaults and possesses the elaborate church organ. When the building was transformed into a cultural center, a separating wall was erected, and a new entrance was created connecting the nave and the former sacristy.
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Following the advice of his monk consultants, King Louis the Bavarian (Ludwig der Baier) initiated the founding of the original monastery in 1325, probably in order to strengthen his influence in the city. Historically, this medieval city was known for manufacturing gold and silver lace, processed wood, and metal products. The site of the monastery was consciously located north of this bustling, town center, away from the commercial activity of its marketplace.

Sources from the 16th century mention the prominent merchant Heinrich von Heideck as the main financial sponsor. As was common at the time, efforts were made to bring preachers and ministers into the city with the mendicant orders. It is unclear why it was specifically the Carmelites who came to the city, but the monastery was highly valued by the citizens. Coats of arms of wealthy townspeople can be found in the church (particularly around the Volto-Santo painting) as well as in the monastery (cf. Klostergasse 6), a sign of substantial donations to the mendicants.

Excavations of the building grounds reveal that by 1325, the time of the monastery's founding, kilns had already been built near the location of the church. The construction of the church itself was probably started a few years later, and it was finished around 1350. The continuous wall footings show that the northern aisle was added later, as an expansion of part of the cloister. At the end of the 14th century, Ulrich Rigler donated his Volto-Santo painting (Face of Christ) on the northern side of the choir. It offers an excellent glimpse into the medieval fresco style of the Carmelite orders; though it was covered up during further renovations in the church at the end of the 15th century. Further frescoes were created around the same time, some of which were painted over in the 15th century. A new roof truss was put on the nave and choir in the late 15th century. Dendrochronological (tree-ring) dating has determined that the wood for the choir was cut in the winter of 1478/79, and the choir vault was also probably constructed around this time. The sacristy, which is located by the northeastern side of the choir, was renovated during this period as well; a fresco on its east wall is dated to approximately 1500. Originally the church was generously equipped with late-medieval altars. The altars were probably removed from the church after the Reformation and during the Baroque reconstruction; they were sold to the Bavarian National Museum in 1856/57 together with objects from the city's other churches.

After the Protestant Reformation, the city and the Carmelites quarreled for several years over the further use of the churches, the monastery, and the articles within. The city was able to acquire the property, and the church was subsequently used for Protestant services. For this purpose, a partition was inserted between the nave and the choir, which remained there until the church was reconstructed in 1670. At that time, a new pulpit was built as well.

Starting in 1711, the inside of the church changed significantly. Like many other churches in Bavaria, the Carmelite Church was soon remodeled in the Baroque style. The original wooden barrel vault, whose construction is still traceable in the attic, was replaced by a new ceiling, and the choir arch was lowered. The Baroque reconstruction of the church interior was finished by 1729, replete with a new organ by Johann Ulrich from Zirndorf (installed in 1712) and a new altar with two columns, donated by Christian Ernst Roth in 1720. The plasterers Joseph Anton Bolz and Johann Georg Auernhammer (from Elling) and the painter Michael Gebbard (from Nürnberg) were in charge of redesigning the ceiling. The coat of arms on the outside wall above the southern portal was created by the Elling sculptor Johann Friedrich Maucher, who painted the coat of arms on the Spitaltorturm almost at the same time. His colleague Johann Wagner (also from Elling) carried out some additional embellishments and minor works. In 1788, Johann Heinrich Strobel painted the ceiling along the sides of the nave. According to an inscription in the ceiling vault, a renovation was carried out in 1821.

During the second half of the 19th century, the building was used for religious education classes for children. In 1875, the shop buildings on the southern side of the choir (the so-called 'swallow nests') were knocked down. In 1914, the Volto-Santo painting was found on the choir’s northern wall after being covered for centuries after the Reformation. It offers a fascinating contrast with the later Baroque designs that predominate in the rest of the Church. From 1928-1929, the Landesamt für Denkmalpflege (Office of Historic Preservation) oversaw the restoration of the Volto-Santo painting, as well as several other Carmelite-period frescos which had been discovered. Remainders of wall paintings have been found in other places in the choir, some of which have been painted over. There is a large picture in the bay of the apse, next to the Volto-Santo painting. Since only fragments of it have been preserved, it is not possible to determine the iconography of the illustrations, even though several angels can be recognized. The design of the garments suggests that the paintings were created in the 1470s by successors of Hans Pleydenwurff from Nürnberg (Schädler-Saub 2000, p. 271). In the southeast corner of the choir there is a second, walled-up niche for sacraments, which is bordered by a painting dating to sometime after 1420.

Starting in the 1970s, the city drafted plans to reconstruct the building for use as a cultural center. The cultural center was finally inaugurated on October 15th, 1983. As part of the reconstruction, two wings of the monastery were replaced with new buildings, a separating wall was erected, and a new entrance was created connecting the nave and the former sacristy.
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Perspective of the ceiling painting above the central nave, created from laser scan data

Project Narrative


In 2007, the city of Weißenburg contacted the engineers Christofori und Partner to execute a survey of the exterior facades and interior spaces of the Carmelite Church. The project was carried out on February 13th and 14th, 2007, using a Leica HDS 3000 laser scanner for the facades and a Leica HDS 4500 for the interior space.

On the outside of the church, 5 laser scanner locations recorded a total of 7.8 million measured points. On the inside, 20 laser scanner locations recorded a total of 425 million measured points, 230 million of which were part of the documentation of the frescoed ceiling. The goal was to compile a complete inventory of the exterior and interior of the church, to develop two-dimensional floor and site plans, and to produce high definition color documentation of the frescoed ceiling. Much care had to be taken with the ceiling, as 18th-century construction defects had produced cracks and flaking on the frescoes; this made its timely documentation a high priority. In order to obtain an accurate and cost effective record of the ceiling, high-resolution digital color photographs were taken while the space was measured and recorded with high precision laser scans to create a complete and accurate data set, including fully photo-textured laser scan images. The plans and photographs produced from this data set now serve as the basis for restoration.
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Ceiling elevation of Carmelite Church, drawn from laser scan data



As a result of the recent preservation work, the Carmelite Church of Weißenburg is well preserved. The church is registered on the list of monuments defined by the Bavarian Office of Historic Preservation. The town of Weißenburg is responsible for all preservation and building maintenance.

In its current life as a municipal cultural center, the former church is utilized by the town for a variety of events. Because it is located directly in the old town of Weißenburg, the cultural center is heavily used and greatly enjoyed by residents of the city.
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  1. Denkmäler in Bayern
    Band V. 70/2 Stadt Weißenburg von Gotthard Kießling

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     - Ashley Richter
            Content Creator

     - Charisse Sare
            Content Creator

     - Jörg Bierwagen
            Dipl.-Ing. (TU) Architect