Speyer, a free city of the Holy Roman Empire from 1294 until 1779, is best known for having the most impressive Romanesque cathedral in all of Christendom, the Dom St. Maria under St. Stephan.


It lies 25 km south of Ludwigshafen and Mannheim. Its oldest known name was Civitas Nemetum, named by a Teutonic tribe, the Nemeter, settling in this area. Around the year 500 the town received the name Spira after the stream Speyerbach which flows into the Rhine here.


In 346 AD Speyer was mentioned for the first time as a diocesan town, the first churches and monasteries were built in the 6th and 7th centuries, among them not only the earliest verifiable church of St. Germain, but also a bishops church, of which the patrons saints Maria and Stephen were named in 662/664.

The economic basis for Speyers bishops were possessions, substantial estates, customs and ferry levies as well as the prerogative of coinage received in the 10th century. The immunity privilege granted to church and bishops in 969 by Emperor Otto the Great and confirmed by Henry IV in 1061 placed Speyer under the protection, control and rule of the bishops. The year 1024 marked a decisive event in the history of the town. In Oppenheim near Mainz Konrad II, a Salian from the Speyer district (see Salian emperors), was elected king of Germany, drawing Speyer into the centre of imperial politics and making it the spiritual centre of the Salian kingdom.

Nothing more could express this importance than the construction of the mighty cathedral. The laying of the foundation stone was the decisive impetus for the further development of the town. The cathedral was consecrated in 1061 although only completed in 1111. It was the largest church of its time and, in its monumentality and significance symbolizing Imperial power and Christianity. It became the burial place of eight German Emperors and Kings. With the Abbey of Cluny in ruins, the Speyer Cathedral remains the largest Romanesque church to this very day.

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