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Der Alter Peter, Munich


Where Gumbo Was #291

Munich's Church of Saint Peter, affectionately called Alter Peter, Old Peter, is the oldest of the city's parish churches, and located dead center in the historic Altstadt, just off Marienplatz and around the corner from the Viktuallen market.


In one form or another, it's been there for over a thousand years, although fires, renovation, rebuilding and expansion over the years have left little of the original structure and none of the original style. But with a little exploration, it's possible to identify features of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque.


The steeple is Renaissance, and the sign advertises that you can get "the most beautiful overview of Munich and Surroundings" from the tower. At 299 steps, we took a pass.

While we always expect old churches to be full of memorial plaques and tombs, sometimes so many as to obscure the building itself (Westminster Abbey is a good example of that) we were surprised to see the exterior walls of St. Peter sprinkled with dozens of plaques and sculptures, some of them quite striking.



Although Saint Peter is not a huge church compared to some, its high ceilings and white walls leave the impression it is larger than it actually is. 


While the walls are relatively austere, the decorative elements are not. With huge areas of gold leaf and ornate figures, the altar is a real eye-catcher.


Above it, a statue of Saint Peter, by 16th-century Munich sculptor Erasmus Grasser, wears an elaborate jeweled conical tiara. By tradition, between the death of a Pope and the election of his successor, the tiara is removed.


The ceiling frescoes, by 18th-century painter Johann Baptist Zimmerman are spectacular; they were restored about twenty years ago.


The nave is lined with a series of side chapels, fitted with paintings, altars and more; because they have windows open to the aisles, the church is bright. 


Near the front of the church, one of them contains perhaps the oddest item in the church: The glass reliquary containing the skeleton of Saint Munditia, a Roman woman martyred in the early 4th century CE. Her bones, encrusted with jewels, were brought to Munich in 1677 from a Roman catacomb. Little more is known about her.


Since churches like this take a lot of maintenance, there are plenty of collection boxes around the church, asking money in the name of various saints and for various purposes, even including charity.


The pulpit is also an occasion for display of gold leaf and elaborate decoration.



The Maria-Hilf Altar, is dedicated to the Marian Assistance Brotherhood, founded there in 1684, and still based in the church, promoting devotion to St. Mary.



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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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