Benedictine monastery church from 1103-1147, Romanesque basilica, converted into a storehouse after war destruction at the beginning of the 19th century
Around the middle of the 11th century there was a canon’s chapter on the Petersberg (St. Peter’s hill) – then the highest elevation inside the town wall. Archbishop Siegfried I of Mainz closed down this chapter, replaced the canons by monks and in 1060 founded a Benedictine monastery at the same spot. In the foundation charter the motive for this decision can be read: at this time “only canons and no monks served God in Erfurt and those who renounced the world had to join a community of monks outside Erfurt.” For a long time St. Peter’s monastery, closely linked to the life of medieval Erfurt and Thuringia, was an indisputable political, economic and cultural factor. The outstanding historical role and the high artistic quality of the monastery church of St. Peter and Paul are not immediately recognisable. Although with a length of 75 metres it dominates the upper plateau of the Petersberg, which from the 17th century was reinforced to become a massive fortification, only a closer look at the building without a steeple reveals the exceptional quality inside and outside.
After the laying of the foundation stone in 1103 it took another 44 years before the three-span pillar basilica, modelled on the example of the Hirsau school, could be consecrated. The monastery was only secularised in 1803. In 1813 it suffered damages of serious consequence when Prussian troops fired at the fortification occupied by the French, in the course of which the roof and the church interior were completely destroyed by fire.
The subsequent partial demolition affecting the clerestory and the steeples was carried out so that the church could be reused as a warehouse. Since then a huge saddle roof towers above the building’s torso, and inside wooden inserted ceilings were put in. In spite of these serious alterations the remarkable quality of this building can still be seen in many details. For instance, on the outside walls of carefully hewn ashlars a scratched drawing from around 1360, a relief of the crucifixion less than ten years older and an inscription in commemoration of the plague in 1382 can be found. Inside, the remarkable details comprise – apart from the overall architectural structure – fragments of a medieval wall painting as well as preserved columns and pillow capitals, bearing witness to the size and dignity of this former place of worship.
St. Peter’s church belongs to the Palace, Castle and Gardens Trust of Thuringia since 1994, which carefully looks after the church’s conservation. At present the church is being used for a permanent exhibition called “Forum Konkrete Kunst” and for other events.