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Trier Cathedral of St Peter

The Wonderful Cathedral of Trier, Dedicated to St.Peter, is adjoined to the Church of Our Lady – Liebfrauen Basilika -and sits close to the central Marktplatz and is reached via Sternstrasse. The Cathedral stands on the place of a former Constantine Palace. Constantine’s last visit to Trier was in, approximately, 328 and two years later his Palace was raized to the ground and a huge Cathedral was built, the largest Cathedral in antiquity, it was around four times the size of the present day Cathedral and consisted of four Basilicas, a Baptistery and several outbuildings. There are still sections of Roman architecture still standing today, as in the centre of the main chapel which was laid under the direction of St Helena, mother of Constantine. Throughout history the Cathedral has taken on the influence of various eras which can still be seen in part today. Nowadays, the Cathedral, with its three Crypts, its Cloister, Cathedral Treasury, and Holy Robe Chapel, displays architecture and artwork from more than 1,650 years. The South end of the Roman church was taken down in around 1200 and the Church of Our Lady was constructed. Since 1986 it has been on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.

At the entrance into the Cathedral is a large pillar called the “Domstein” (Cathedral Stone) which is one of the four pillars that held up the roof of the Roman building. It is made of granite from the Odenwald. Legend has it that it was thrown by the Devil. On entering the interior one can see the vastness of the Cathedral. The centre is the square building from the Roman era, built by the Roman Emperors Valentinian and Gratian in the 4th century. The West end choir, with its apsidal semi-cylinder expressed on the exterior façade, was completed in 1196. The interior is of three Romanesque naves with Gothic vaulting, and a Baroque chapel for the relic of the Seamless robe of Jesus (Der Heilige Rock), recovered from the interior of the high altar in 1512, complete the interior. Every way you look there is something wonderful to look at, the sheer magnificence of the high Gothic vaulted ceilings, the many altars around the building are wonderful in their own right, and the enormous organ just hanging from the side of the wall high above your head. There is a small but highly ornate altar dedicated to Our Lady and the gold shines out from the panel over the altar. Descending some steps brings you to a a small chapel with a statue of St.Joseph and then turning left you enter into the crypt under the main body of the cathedral, off here is another room containing the graves of the bishops of Trier. The Crypt of St Blaise lies under the West Choir, four columns divide the half-circular room into nine bays. Behind the Gothic altar, which came from the Lady Chapel in the Cathedral, is the shrine of St Blaise which contains the heads of Sts Blaise, Cornelius and Getulius. The East Crypt is dedicated to St Helena, mother of Constantine, and contains a reliquary bust of the Saint. The names and dates of the Bishops of Trier are immortalizes on bronze tablets at the entrance to the crypt.

Among the many richly ornate altars inside the Cathedral are the “All Saints Altar” , the “Burial Altar”, “Altar of the Three Magi”, the “Crucifixion Altar”, the “Holy Trinity Altar”, “John the Baptist Altar”, “St Catherine and St Agnes Altars”, “Resurrection Altar” and then, there is the most wonderful of all, the marble altar of the Holy Robe Chapel. The relic is held in a reliquary which is housed in the specially built baroque chapel located behind the altar. At the foot of the stairs leading to the Chapel of the Holy Robe there are two life-sized, white marble statues of Constantine and Helena.

Many pilgrims come every year to Trier Cathedral to pay homage at the Chapel of the Holy Robe. The garment was brought, and presented, to the city of Trier, where her son Constantine had lived for several years prior to his becoming Emperor, by St Helena. The robe is a seamless garment and is believed to have been worn by Jesus on his way to his crucifixion. The Roman soldiers who stripped him of his clothes before nailing him to the cross draw lots for his clothing, as this garment was seamless they decided not to tear it. The Robe is now kept in a large climate-controlled glass casket. From the high altar in front of the Holy Robe Chapel there is a truly magnificent view of the whole of the interior of the Cathedral of St.Peter, you can see the altars, the two organs, the half circle ceiling at the rear with its wonderful carvings, the enormous baroque white marble baptismal font, it is a truly magnificent sight.

On the ground floor of the Holy Robe Chapel is the Athanasius Chapel which contain icons of the saints Athanasius, Simeon, Constantine and Helena. It commemorates the stays of the “Father of Orthodoxy” in Trier. The chapel is a ecumenical symbol for East and West.

The Trier Cathedral Treasury (Schatzkammer) built in 1480, is located on the south side of the choir near the Holy Robe and contains some of Europe’s greatest relics. Among the many priceless treasures contained in the Treasury is the “Holy Nail” brought to Trier by St Helena, it is said to be one of the four nails which held Christ on the cross. The Original nail is enshrined inside a hinged and decorated reliquary of the same shape. A portable altar of St Andrew, on top of which is the sole of a sandal worn by St Andrew, is truly magnificent in its gold and precious jewels but its true worth is in history of the saint to whom the sandal originated from. There are also, on show, two links from the chains which held St Peter prisoner. These were a gift from Rome to Trier. Other exhibits include Bishop’s Croziers, Mitres and Staffs and Bibles. A visit to the Cathedral would not be complete without visiting the Treasury.

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