A Church of Resurrection Vitality

by John Bratt

While enjoying a summer season river-boat cruise on the Rhine, the Main, and the Danube rivers, we stopped for a brief visit in the Bavarian city of Nuremburg, the site of the historic trials of Nazi leaders following World War II, a city I hadn’t visited before.

While exploring the area surrounding Nuremburg’s city square, quite by chance I happened on to a large Gothic Church, St. Sebald’s. Because of its pre-Reformation architectural structure, I simply assumed it was Roman Catholic. I learned from a local Nuremburger, however, that it was Lutheran—somewhat exceptional in largely Catholic Bavaria. Its soaring Gothic structure, uplifting and serene, contrasted with the dominant Baroque style of church architecture we had seen in such abundance in that area.

But to hear of the heroic history of this noble church in the years of World War II and following, is to discover a stirring tale of robust faith and spiritual valor. The church was heavily damaged, almost totally, by Allied bombers. Apparently it seemed an option for the congregation at the end of the war simply to raze it entirely. But to re-build was the resolute choice of the congregation and its leadership.

The day in August that I visited St. Sebald’s, I viewed with other tourists, “before” and “after” photos of the church. Together, we observed a kind of reverential silence as we contemplated the pictures and read, what to me, were quite moving poetic reflections on the “miracle” of the church’s remarkable resurrection.

Among its poetic reflections, being both laments and affirmations, were the following:

(Apparently looking back)

“But the seeds of violence—already sown began to germinate in the heads and hearts of too many people”

(Presumably a later text)

“O house of God become its own sepulcher
Broken the altars of the lofty choir
Crushed the culture of centuries”

(Following the bombing)

“The seeds of violence must never germinate again in our country.”

Apparently, St. Sebald’s was bombed in the Spring of 1945. It wasn’t fully restored until 1957. There is also a photo in the church from December of 1992, showing 100,000 Nuremburg citizens carrying lighted candles in a massive circle around the heart of the city in a united affirmation of peace for Germany’s—and the world’s—future.

John Bratt, ordained Presbyterian Pastor, lives in Minneapolis.

See all articles by John Bratt