Last Updated 22 February 2021
This is a remarkable story about the murals in the southern transept of Augsburg cathedral (Germ. Dom).
Situation in the Tenth Century
A church has stood on the site of the current cathedral since the start of the Viking Age. Yet, the Magyars almost destroy the building when they lay siege on Augsburg during their invasion of 955. Almost, but not completely. For bishop Ulrich successfully defends the town. He saves what is left of the church and then joins Otto the Great at the battle of Lechfeld. They defeat the Magyars and drive them out of the German lands (see Britannica | Saint Ulrich).
The Augsburger church still stands, but barely. By 994, the western apse collapses. The legend goes that Adelaide of Italy, Otto’s second wife, foresees this collapse and that it motivates her to fund the restoration. How much of her visions were true, we’ll probably never know, but she and bishop Liutold indeed start rebuilding the cathedral. They will both not live to see it finished. They die shortly before the turn of the millennium whilst the consecration takes place decades later, in 1065 (see Sacred Destinations web site and The Encyclopaedia of Saints by Rosemary Guiley (pp. 2-3).
Discovery and Dating of the Murals
The Dom stands the test of time and by 1930, labourers find murals depicting the life of John the Baptist underneath the whitewash in the southern transept. In 2009, researchers take samples of the woodwork in the masonry for testing. The results confirm the wood dates to the year 1000. Since the murals are the first layer on top of this masonry, researchers believe they date not long after 1000. This makes them the oldest Christian mural scenes currently found in northern Europe (see the press release of the Bayerisches Landesamt für Denkmal Plfege).
In terms of artistry and craftsmanship, Augsburg cathedral leaves an important legacy: that of the oldest surviving stain glass windows and Christian murals of Europe.
Featured Image: Augsburg mural southern transept (original) (blfd.bayern.de / Angelika Porst).