Hildesheim Cathedral

The cathedral St. Mariä Himmelfahrt in Hildesheim dates back to the 9th century. As one of the oldest episcopal churches in Germany, the carefully restored cultural heritage is of outstanding importance to believers and visitors from all over the world.

When the cathedral in Hildesheim, together with its treasury, and the Protestant church of St. Michaelis, just a few minutes' walk away, were included in UNESCO's World Heritage list in 1985, architectural elements from various epochs and a complete post-war reconstruction had already shaped the spatial structure of this Romanesque basilica. For more than a thousand years this place has been connecting people with God in a special way. In preserving its historically significant buildings, the Christian church has always seen itself as a cultural institution, a commitment that is perceived equally by people who are not religiously bound. With the restoration of the cathedral in the second decade of this century, the diocese of Hildesheim assumed a comprehensive task and great responsibility for the World Heritage entrusted to it.

After extensive considerations, the reconstruction and renovation of the cathedral as well as the new construction of the Cathedral Museum took place after a competition won by Schilling Architects from Cologne. The project included the basic concept and the associated creation of spatial and liturgical references in the cathedral, the reorganisation of the cathedral courtyard, the integration of the Cathedral Museum into the former Antonius Church, and a new concrete museum extension that sets a remarkable urban accent. Only 50 years after the reconstruction did the Hildesheim cathedral require a comprehensive renovation, which gave rise to a further revision of the building with regard to its original spatial effect, the revision of earlier structural decisions and the re-introduction of the sarcophagi of the bishops into the crypt.

Following the principle of "achieving much without changing much", the architects succeeded in redefining the sacred space, removing massive fixtures from the reconstruction period, and thus also redesignating the relationship between crypt, main building and crossing in its original state. They removed the wide staircase and reopened the entrance to the crypt. Moreover, the architects arranged the room according to the Catholic liturgy. They relocated the Bernward door further inwards, regaining the original vestibule, the so-called Western Paradise.

The bronze portal of the Berward door now forms the beginning of the central axis of the main building from west to east, and the altar area was moved closer to the community. By dismantling the floor, which was more than half a metre higher in the 1950s, it was possible to better proportion the concrete columns made after the war by rebuilding the concrete base. In terms of design, the architects wanted to make structural elements visible as they are and clearly separate the new from the existing. In the Western Paradise, the interior walls and ceilings, in contrast to the white plastered church interior, show raw brickwork and visible concrete. The opening of the new bishop's crypt - a stroke of luck for the archaeologists - represented an additional constructive and technical challenge.

The Hildesheim Cathedral

According to legend, as early as 815 a miracle of relics on a rose bush caused Emperor Ludwig der Fromme to erect a chapel of the Virgin Mary on this site. A little later Bishop Altfrid founded the first cathedral building on the site of today's Domhof, which was richly furnished with works of art under Bishop Bernward in 1015. The bronze castings from that time are world-famous, such as the Bernward door, the Christ column or two splendidly designed candlesticks.

Many of the art treasures, such as the Bernward Cross and liturgical objects, have found an adequate place in the new Cathedral Museum. Over the centuries, demolition, new construction, modernisation or adaptation to the Zeitgeist have changed the church, which has always been modified according to liturgical and church-political requirements. Pre-war pictures show the stucco-ornamented and baroque design of the cathedral, which dates from the early 18th century.

Shortly before the end of the war in March 1945, the building was largely destroyed. Only the western building, the southern arcades and parts of the outer walls were preserved. The "thousand-year-old" rose bush, which had entwined the cathedral for centuries, also fell victim to the flames. The reconstruction took place under difficult conditions regarding available material and financing and was only provisionally completed in 1960 with the rededication of the cathedral. The fact that the wild rose under the ruins has sprouted out of its roots right after the end of the war and rises again at the cathedral is not only regarded by the people of Hildesheim as the second rose miracle.

Heidelberger Beton supplied over 140 cubic meters of Easycrete, a self-compacting concrete (SCC) for the smooth exposed concrete surfaces, with ready-mix concrete mixers from the nearby Nordstemmen plant. The outstanding finish of the SB4-quality surfaces, which were executed without anchor cones with small surface formwork, was achieved by the work of the exposed concrete team consisting of architects, client representatives, construction company and concrete producer. All requirements were described in detail and the necessary work was well coordinated.

"Actually, it's almost wishful thinking that everyone is pulling in the same direction, but with this building, which was and is so much in the public's focus, we reached a very high level. The concreting work, partly with two concrete pumps, also required enormous monitoring effort by two building material inspectors, one in the production plant and one on site. Everyone involved had the claim that it had to work." The traditional Hildesheim-based company Kubera was a construction company with concrete technology expertise that was familiar with the SCC issue, such as sealing the formlining joints.

"One cannot treat this high-tech concrete without care," explains Willig. "Thanks to the cooperation within the team, such a high-quality concrete for the wall surfaces resulted." The true character of the cathedral seems to have been revived by the sensitive reconstruction with conscious reduction of the forms, the high material value and the skilful use of modern building materials. The awareness for the cultural origin, which has over a thousand years of roots in the diocese of Hildesheim, must be strengthened again and again in order to really understand historical processes and learn from history. Historical evidence must also be preserved in the 21st century.

Project Data

  • Diocese of Hildesheim


  • Schilling Architects, Cologne


  • KUBERA GmbH & Co. KG building contractor, Hildesheim


  • Easycrete SV self-compacting concrete


  • 2016


Hildesheim Cathedral side view.

Hildesheim Cathedral.

Hildesheim Cathedral Bernwards gate.

Hildesheim Cathedral.

Sichtbeton unterstreicht den klaren Raumeindruck einer romanischen Basilika, in dezentem Kontrast zu den hellen, teils freigelegten Flächen.

Hildesheim Cathedral with exposed concrete .