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Strasbourg's Surprising Saint Thomas Church


Barely a five-minute walk from all the bustle of shops and visitors and tour groups that surround Strasbourg's Catholic cathedral, its Lutheran counterpart stands quietly in its own square, with far fewer visitors.


But it's definitely worth a visit, for itself, and for its history, and if you happen to be lucky enough to be in Strasbourg at the right time, for an organ concert. I was fortunate to be there for one a few years ago, and the acoustics are magnificent.


And the church's organs... I'll come back to that in a bit.

The church as we see it today is at least the fifth church on the site; there's been one on the spot since the sixth century. In the ninth century, a new church, in the 11th century a new one after a fire, which only lasted until another fire in 1144. The present church, started at the very end of the 12th century, was finished only in 1521.


And three years after that, the previously stolidly Catholic church converted to Protestantism, as did many other of Strasbourg's churches. In 1681, when Louis XIV made Strasbourg French and the Cathedral Catholic again, Saint Thomas became what many called 'the Protestant Cathedral.'


Among its more interesting features are several tombs, including one that pulls no punches about what happens after death...


Others are less grim...


But the big-name attraction is the tomb of Maurice de Saxe, a European nobleman who served in several armies before becoming a Marshal of France under Louis XIV and XV. When he died, an enormous funeral was held in Paris, but because he was stubbornly Protestant he couldn't be buried there. Louis XV had this tomb commissioned for him in Strasbourg.


Saxe's tomb has about all the allegory and symbolism you could ask for...Death with an hourglass pulling him into the tomb, a weeping France trying to keep him, Hercules crying off to one side. On one side, French flags, triumphant; on the other broken flags of the German eagle, the Dutch lion and a British leopard. Not to mention a triumphant standing Marshal de Saxe in the center.


But back to the organs.

Saint Thomas has two. The main organ is older, built in 1741 by Gottfried Silbermann, a leading builder of keyboard instruments of all kinds. In recent years, after restoration in 1979, it's been used for a number of recordings of organ music, but its other claim to fame is older: Mozart played it in 1778.


The choir organ, a smaller instrument, was built in 1905 to the specifications of the church's regular organist, Albert Schweitzer, who split his time between his church engagement and his role as a professor of theology and philosophy, before studying medicine and establishing his famed hospital in Africa.

Schweitzer Organ-001

The church has a little fun with its famous organists...



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  • Schweitzer Organ-001

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

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