Historical Churches Walking Tour, Strasbourg

Historical Churches Walking Tour (Self Guided), Strasbourg

Strasbourg, which celebrated its bimillennial anniversary in 1988, is a city with a very rich heritage. Among other historical monuments found here is a wealth of ancient churches and cathedrals, representing a variety of architectural styles. Exploring Strasbourg on foot, one is inevitably drawn to visit some of these locations. Here are some of the best known places of worship in the city.

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg (Strasbourg Cathedral) – famous for its astronomical clock and tower dominating the skyline; described by Victor Hugo as a "gigantic and delicate marvel", and by Goethe as a "sublimely towering, wide-spreading tree of God".

Église Saint-Pierre le Vieux (Old St. Peter's Church) – the oldest church in Strasbourg, first documented in 1130; with several vestiges from an older church, dated circa the 4th-8th centuries.

Saint-Thomas Church – the most unique and only "hall church" in Alsace; the site has been a place of worship since the 6th century AD as a shrine to Thomas the Apostle.

Saint-Nicolas Church – Jean Calvin preached here in 1538.

Saint William's Church – one of the most beautiful churches in Strasbourg, with its lopsided aspect adding to the charm.

If you're an ardent believer or an architecture buff or both of that, you might wish to spend some time to learn more about these and other historical churches of Strasbourg. For this, our self-guided walking tour will come in handy.
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Historical Churches Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Historical Churches Walking Tour
Guide Location: France » Strasbourg (See other walking tours in Strasbourg)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 7
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.0 Km or 1.9 Miles
Author: irenebo
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Église Saint-Pierre le Vieux (Old St. Peter's Church)
  • Saint-Thomas Church
  • Saint-Nicolas Church
  • Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg (Strasbourg Cathedral)
  • Sainte-Madeleine Church
  • Saint William's Church
  • Saint Paul Church
Église Saint-Pierre le Vieux (Old St. Peter's Church)

1) Église Saint-Pierre le Vieux (Old St. Peter's Church)

Saint Pierre-le-Vieux Church is the oldest church in Strasbourg and it is certainly worth a visit.

Although the first mention of the church was documented in 1130, there are several vestiges from a much older church dating back to somewhere between the 4th and the 8th centuries. According to legend, this early church was built by Saint Maternus.

The church you can visit today was built in 1382 and it has the particularity of being both Catholic and Protestant. From 1382 to 1529 it belonged to the Catholic congregation of the city. In 1529 it was handed over to the Lutherans, before becoming the first double-religion church in France in 1638.

In 1867, due to the growing Catholic congregation, the architect Courath was commissioned to build an extension perpendicular to the original building. In 1912 two of the bays were demolished to make room for the new Rue de 22 Novembre. At this time a new facade and a bell tower were added.

Inside the church, you can admire the ancient rood-screen and against the wall separating the two faiths, you will see 4 reredos dating back to the 15th century. Fitted into the woodwork on the wall of the quire are 10 panels representing the Passion of Christ executed in 1488 by Hénri Lutzelmann.

Why You Should Visit:
Interesting architectural design and you can regularly listen to organ recitals that give life to the building.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-6:30pm
Free admission
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Saint-Thomas Church

2) Saint-Thomas Church

If you don’t visit Saint-Thomas’ Church you will surely kick yourself afterwards for missing the most unique church in Alsace. It is the principal Protestant church and the only "hall church" in the region. A hall church is a building with the nave and side aisles the same height under the same roof. Saint-Thomas has five naves and side chapels to the left and the right of the apse.

The site has been a place of worship since the 6th century AD when a shrine to Thomas the Apostle was erected here. The first 9th-century church suffered fire damage in 1007 and 1144. The new church began to be built in 1196 in the Roman style and was finished in 1521 in the Late Gothic style. With its impressive tower, it looks a little like a fortress.

You won’t want to miss the important and richly decorated tombs that range from the elaborate to the somewhat macabre! There is the ornate sarcophagus built in 1130 for Bishop Adelochus; Nicholas Roeder von Tiersburg’s tombstone, erected in 150, bears a startling stone-carving depicting his emaciated corpse.

By far the most impressive is the enormous late Baroque mausoleum built in 1777 by Jean-Baptiste Pigalle for Marshall Maurice de Sachs. There is also a wonderful and unique late Gothic fresco depicting St Michael and an original medieval rose window.

The church is internationally renowned for its historic and musically-significant organs: the 1741 Silbermann organ (the family Silbermann, father and sons, were the most important German organ-builders of the 18th century) played by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1778 during his three-week stay in Strasbourg, restored in 1979 by Alfred Kern; the French organist Louis Thiry recorded 'The Art of Fugue' by J.S. Bach on this organ. Another one is the 1905 organ (installed in 1906) built by Fritz Haerpfer, following a design by Albert Schweitzer.

Try to catch an organ recital on the same organ that was used by Mozart!

Mon-Sat: 10am-12.10pm / 12.30-5pm (winter); Mon-Sat: 10am-12.10pm / 12.30-5pm; Sun: 12-5pm
Free admission
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Saint-Nicolas Church

3) Saint-Nicolas Church

Saint Nicholas Church, Strasbourg (Église Saint Nicolas) is a small Gothic church in Strasbourg. Jean Calvin led services and preached at this church in 1538. Albert Schweitzer was the pastor of the church from 1900 to 1913 and used to play the organ there. The Church no longer functions as a parish church, due to the decline of the population of the center of Strasbourg.

Today it is used by a Charismatic group called "Renouveau Saint Nicholas". The charismatic group, led by the pastors Daniel Hebert and Pastor Ringerbach, began renting the church for their Sunday services in 1975. However, the Church remains affiliated to the Protestant Church of Augsburg Confession of Alsace and Lorraine (EPCAAL). The church was built between 1387 and 1454 on the site of an earlier church dedicated to Mary Magdalene. The interior contains remains of 15th Century frescoes.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg (Strasbourg Cathedral)

4) Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg (Strasbourg Cathedral) (must see)

Until 1874 the Strasbourg Cathedral was the world's tallest building; today it is the 6th tallest church and its tower dominates the Strasbourg skyline.

Described by Victor Hugo as a "gigantic and delicate marvel", and by Goethe as a "sublimely towering, wide-spreading tree of God", the cathedral is visible far across the plains of Alsace and can be seen from as far off as the Vosges Mountains or the Black Forest on the other side of the Rhine. Sandstone from Vosges, used in construction, gives the cathedral its characteristic pink hue.

The building took many centuries to finish and has three distinctive styles. Its crypt, dating back to 1015, has been expanded over the centuries. The North Tower, built in 1439, stands 142 meters high and on a clear day you can see for over 30km from its observation deck. The Lawrence Portal in the North Transept was finished in 1505 in a markedly post-Gothic, early-Renaissance style.

Most of the statues in the cathedral are copies of the originals kept at the Oeuvre Notre-Dame Museum. The stunning Astronomical Clock, built in 1843 to replace an earlier clock, is 18 meters high and is one of the largest in the world.

The clock show, including a 30-minute movie presentation with English subtitles, is at 12:30 pm in the summer, but you must be there at around 11:30 am to book your entry at the back door of the Cathedral, since the places are limited. Climbing up the tower is not difficult, as long as you can manage 330 steps - and it's worth the effort!
Sainte-Madeleine Church

5) Sainte-Madeleine Church

Although Saint Madeleine Church is neither very large nor very important in comparison to other, bigger churches in Strasbourg, it is nevertheless a lovely building and well worth a visit.

The original church was a part of the Sisters of Saint Mary Magdalene Convent, built in 1478 in the Gothic style. It was the last Gothic building to be put up in the city and only fragments of the frescoes from the quire remain today.

It was maintained in perfect condition until it was largely destroyed in a fire in 1904. At first the city council wanted to have the remains pulled down, but in 1907 the architect Fritz Belbo submitted plans to rebuild it.

The new church was built in the Jugendstil – or Art Nouveau – style and was bigger and had a lighter atmosphere than the original, with a minimalist, white interior with graceful arches and high windows which let in sunlight to make colorful patterns dance on the floor.

As with many of the buildings in Strasbourg, the church suffered extensive damage during the bombardments of the Second World War. Once again it nearly went under the bulldozers only to be saved at the last minute in 1958 and rebuilt to Belbo’s original designs.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Saint William's Church

6) Saint William's Church

The rather lopsided aspect of Saint William’s Church is only one of its charms and it is one of the most beautiful churches in Strasbourg.

A monastery was built on the marshy banks of the River Ill in 1307 by Hénri de Mullenheim, a knight who survived the Crusades and who wanted to give thanks for his safe return to his homeland. It was the home of the mendicant monks of the Order of the Hermits of Saint William, but only the church remains of the original monastery.

As it wasn’t far from the wharfs, in 1331 it became the parish church of the Corporation of Shipbuilders. In the 15th century a second portal was added as well as a triple-arched gallery. It was more or less abandoned during the late 16th century and was extensively restored in the 17th century.

One of the most important relics in the church is a 14th century tomb effigy – a wooden relief in polychrome depicting the conversion of Saint Catherine and Saint William. The pulpit dates back to 1656 while the altar was installed in the 18th century.

Although the organ was installed in 1987, the organ cases belong to an original instrument built by Andreas Silbermann in 1728.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Saint Paul Church

7) Saint Paul Church

Strasbourg offers many wonderful sites to visit and you will be hard pressed to choose among them, but don’t miss Saint Paul’s Church which stands in Gothic Revival splendor on the south bank of an island in the center of the widest part of the River Ill.

This magnificent church was built in 1897 for the Lutheran congregation of the Imperial German Army who were billeted in Strasbourg. The graceful twin spires are 76 meters high and dominate the skyline.

If the church is wider than its length and has 19 separate entrances, it is because the army had a defined idea of what was due to each rank, so the portals were assigned from the Emperor – when he was in residence – to the generals down to the lowly foot soldiers.

The architect was Louis Muller and he based his designs loosely on the beautiful Elizabeth Church of Marburg, with the 3 huge ornate rose windows copied from the smaller one in St Thomas’ Church.

The building was damaged during the Anglo-American bombing in 1944, as were the stained glass windows. The windows suffered further damage during a terrible hailstorm in 1958 and the only remaining original ones are to be found along the nave and the eastern and southern rose windows.

Under the rose window in the eastern transept you will see the heraldic banners of Alsace, Baden, Bavaria, the Empire, Mecklenburg and Prussia. The pipe organ dates back to 1897 and is one of the biggest in Alsace.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.

Walking Tours in Strasbourg, France

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