Lived Urbanity: Religion and the City in Erfurt

Our core group experienced urbanity and religion in the lanes of Erfurt. Members of the KFG prepared short presentations at spots connected to Religion and Urbanity along a route through Erfurt. 

The walk on the 4th of June aimed to explore our theme “Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations” through the history of Erfurt. Starting from the Max-Weber-Kolleg, six stations in the city gave us the opportunity to discover city spaces and some of Erfurt’s iconic monuments through the perspective of the entangled relationship between city formation and religiosity.

A brief introduction to the city history reminded us that Erfurt had its golden age as ‘Messestadt’ (fair town) in the late medieval period: Its flourishing economy was based on the cultivation of the precious woad plant (isatis tinctoria), the major European blue dye of the time. (If you want to know more, see the temporary exhibition on the colour blue (‘Blau und Blaues. Farbbetrachtungen der besonderen Art‘) at the Museum für Thüringer Volkskunde.)  Following the increasing enthusiasm for Marian devotion (the Virgin Mary wore a blue mantle), blue, unpopular until then, was in high demand from the 12th and 13th centuries onwards. Erfurt’s fortunes rested on religion and the evolution of religious practices.

Our first station gave us the opportunity to discover the Augustinian monastery (Augustinerkloster), a well preserved architectural complex and an example of the long and dynamic religious life of the city. Erfurt not only witnessed the creation of multiple churches, chapters and convents, but it also fostered a rich theological and intellectual life. This eventually helped the foundation of the university in 1392 (our second station), and influenced the paths of great theologians, philosophers and reformers, such as Meister Eckhart and Martin Luther.

 

Erfurt’s Cathedral (Dom) and the Severikirche.

 

The Dom with its peculiar monumental platform and north side portal is an important landmark of the city. The Cathedral, alongside the church St. Severi next to it, (stations five and six on our walk) continue to dominate the city. One of the memorable chapters of Erfurt’s history was written by the Jewish community that actively contributed to the wealth of the place.

Well embedded in the core of the city fabric, the Jewish buildings testify by their presence and location to the entanglement of urban and religious life. They also bear the marks of terrible clashes that repeatedly resulted in the complete disappearance of the Jewish community. The visit of the mikwe (station three) showed us how water and religious practices were taken care of in the tense urban context. Another spot of Jewish life in Erfurt is the impressive Old Synagogue. Station four, at the ‘Kunsthalle’, originally known as the ‘Haus zum Roten Ochsen’ (‘house of the red bull’), provided an opportunity to discover lively and colourful depictions of planetary gods on a Renaissance façade freed from medieval religious codes.

The walk was an inspiring experience, evidenced by the fact that we did not lose any participants, despite the terrible heat of this Thursday noon. Since the city has many other treasures – open as well as concealed – that could be discovered in a two hour walk, we are intending to continue our exploration with another tour of other stations.  If you are interested in joining our next walk, feel free to get in touch! 

— Sara Keller


3 thoughts on “Lived Urbanity: Religion and the City in Erfurt

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