The Stadtkirche in Bückeburg is the finest non-secular Weser-Renaissance building and a prime example of an early Protestant church in northern Germany.
The early 17th-century Bückeburger Stadtkirche in Lower Saxony in Germany is a late Renaissance, early Baroque hall church with some Gothic elements. It was one of the earliest protestant churches in northern Germany and served as an example for later churches. The colorful interior is mostly late Renaissance with an impressive original pulpit by Hans Wolf and a bronze baptismal font by Adriaen de Vries.
The Bückeburger Stadtkirche (Bückeburg City Church) was constructed in a relatively short period of only four years between 1611 and 1615. It was part of the building program of Count Ernst zu Holstein-Schaumburg (1569-1622) to change Bückeburg, which was largely destroyed by fire in 1585, into the seat of his government.
The Stadtkirche was completed shortly before the Thirty Years War (1618-48) devastated much of Germany (including Schaumburg properties). As a relatively early Protestant church designed from new rather than being converted from an older building, it was an important example for later churches. The interior clearly influenced for example Corvey in the Weser Valley.
Weser-Renaissance Facade of the Stadtkirche
Despite large letters proclaiming on the facade of the Bückeburger Stadtkirche EXEMPLUM RELIGIONIS NON STRUCTURAE — An Example of Piety, Not of Architecture — the church is considered the most important example of non-secular Weser Renaissance. The letters highlighted in golden spelled the name of the sponsor: ERNST while the coat of arms is that of Schaumburg. The sculptures and other decorations on the facade are mostly by members of the Wolf family who worked for several years on various projects in Bückeburg.
In contrast to the interior, the western facade of the Stadtkirche is decorated in a mannerist style combining late Dutch Renaissance with early Baroque elements. The planned central western tower was never built, as it was realized early enough that the foundations were not strong enough. The lack of a tower probably suits later tastes better and also assisted the local education — the stones already procured for the tower were used to built a school instead.
A statue to the side of the church is of the German author Johann Gottfried Herder. He was the preacher here from 1771 to 1776 but then he joined Goethe in Weimar. Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach (1732-1795) — the third son of JS — worked his entire adult life at the court in Bückeburg. Although he at times oversaw the musical program in the Stadtkirche, he was never its official organist.
Renaissance Interior of the Stadtkirche
The three large windows in the western facade of the Stadtkirche already hint at what is behind it: is a triple-nave hall church with Gothic cross vaulting across eight bays. This style is described in German as “nachgotisch” — literally “after Gothic”, as the predominant style direction was already Renaissance but a Gothic appearance was often considered the appropriate style for a church interior. Similarly the windows at the top have Gothic-like elements although the overall shape is Renaissance without the typical Gothic pointed arches.
The interior has been rebuilt and altered many times but it kept some important artworks and the overall original style with the organ in the front of the church, the royal balcony at the west, and the pulpit in the center of the church.
The pulpit (Kanzel) is by Hans Wolf and the original from 1614. The low reliefs have the crucifixion at the center with the annunciation and births of Christ to the left and resurrection and ascension on the right. The large statues between the pulpit and the soundboard are probably Peter (or Moses) and Paul while the putti at the top carry the interments of the passion (Arma Christi).
The pulpit is in the middle of the church and the focal point. It confirms the Lutheran emphasis on the sermon during church services with the altar only rarely used for specific occasional ceremonies.
Directly in front of the pulpit is the baptismal font, arguably the most important artwork in this church. It is by the notable Dutch artists Adriaen de Vries and was specifically made for the church in 1615. It is full of symbols of faith and related to baptisms such as the angel stepping on the snake, the baptism of Christ by John, and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove.
Royal Connections to the Stadtkirche Bückeburg
Although Schloss Bückeburg of course has its own chapel, Count Ernst zu Holstein-Schaumburg built the Stadtkirche not only to beautify Bückeburg but also to serve as the main church for the palace inhabitants. His coat of arms is on the western facade of the church.
Nobles and the rich often had their own private lockable pews in churches but the large 17th-century Fürstenloge (royal box) that occupies the gallery on the western side of the church is clearly for the ruling family only. The coat of arms here is that of Schaumburg-Lippe.
The County of Schaumburg-Lippe with Bückeburg as capital was formed in 1647, elevated to a principality in 1807, and survived as the smallest independent state in the German Empire and as a free state in the Weimar Republic. It was only forced to merge with other small states into Lower Saxony by the British in 1946. The Schaumburg-Lippe family still uses Schloss Bückeburg and the huge mausoleum as private property.
Restored Altar and Organ
The large painting on the altar shows the Nativity of Mary — it is a strange choice for a Lutheran church, as this non-biblical event is not generally commemorated in protestant communities. It is a copy of the painting Carlo Maratta painted for the church of Santa Maria dell’Anima in Rome. Count Friedrich Christian purchased this copy in 1685. It was replaced by a crucifix during the 19th century but returned to the altar in the 1960s.
The original altar and organ box were destroyed following a fire in 1962. The colorful organ case was rebuilt using the original designs of 1617 by Esaias Compenius.
The current 1990s organ is by Rudolf Janke. It has 47 stops and is played via three manuals and a set of pedals.
Visitors Information for Stadtkirche Bückeburg
Opening hours of the Bückeburger Stadtkirche are usually as follows:
Mid-April to mid-October:
- Tuesday to Friday from 10.30 to noon
- Tuesday to Sunday from 14:30 to 16:30
Mid-October to mid-April
- Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 14:30 to 16:00
Admission is free.
The Stadtkirche is at the intersection of Lange Straße and Schulstraße at the far-end of the pedestrian zone from the center. A small parking lot is available behind the church but it is an easy walk from any parking lot in the center of Bückeburg.
See the Top Sights to Visit in Bückeburg for more on transportation to the town — it is within easy reach of Hanover, Bremen, and many large cities in North-Rhine Westphalia. Also, see Visit the Bückeburg Mausoleum for more on the largest private mausoleum and largest mosaic in Europe.