Re-opening after five years Bonn Minster looking bright and shiny after renovation

Bonn · After five years of closure, the completely renovated Bonn Minster will reopen on Sunday with the exhibition "Light and Transparency". Visitors will experience a colorful world in the brightly gleaming house of worship.

 The Bonn Cathedral has a gleaming interior after a five-year renovation.

The Bonn Cathedral has a gleaming interior after a five-year renovation.

Foto: Benjamin Westhoff

It hasn't been this bright and colorful inside the cathedral for decades. Everything is glowing, the sun penetrates through the stained glass windows into the once gloomy church interior, gold shines in many places, the colors are gleaming. "Light and transparency" is the theme for the Bonn Minster re-opening. A festive high mass will take place on October 31, several years after its closure and the beginning of an extensive renovation.

Many Bonn residents, who recently got a preview with the opening of the cloister and crypt, will rediscover their cathedral in the coming weeks, probably not recognizing it at first. "The impression was that the Minster always appeared dark and tended to amplify a bad mood," admitted city dean Wolfgang Picken, who is now pleased not only that the cathedral renovation has remained within the self-imposed time and financial (22 million euros) framework, but above all that the architecture and furnishings of the basilica shine like new.

In the choir room, the magnificent golden apse mosaic has been restored, the surrounding ones appear fresh, as on the first day. The alabaster sculptures on the choir screens and on the alabaster altars in the church interior are also fascinating: they shine like white pearls, appearing almost transparent - before the restoration, they seemed to be made of dirty lead. Light falls through the colorful windows that have been cleaned of soot and dirt.

The walls have just been painted, all the color accents on the pillars and the ribbed arches on the ceiling have been freshened up: the interior looks stunning. Which has something to do with the fact that the room remains empty for the time being, except for the seating in place for the main church services, and the fact that a completely new lighting system illuminates the architecture and furnishings. Picken wants this space to be inviting and for the church here to "enter into a dialogue with society." And he can imagine concerts, symposia and discussions in the cathedral. Yes, and art.

"The exhibition is a brilliant prelude to this," he says, referring to the art exhibition "Light and Transparency," which he organized together with Walter Smerling, chairman of the Bonn-based association Stiftung für Kunst und Kultur. Picken didn't want to open the church only with ancient art from the 12th to the 19th centuries, that would be sending a "wrong message." Rather, he wanted to offer "modern people" something to grapple with: contemporary art. "In a time of increasing social division and difficulties in communicating with each other, it's not enough to 'just' restore a church - church has to engage."

"This is an experiment," says the city's dean, eager to see the reaction of parishioners. "We didn't always see eye to eye, but we worked constructively together on the art and church project," admits Smerling, who proposed five artists for the church space, each of whom contributed their ideas. Smerling then discussed the whole thing with the city dean, who, also in view of current debates in the church, would like to see more light and transparency.

The artists responded in very different ways to the idea of exhibiting their works in the cathedral, as Smerling recounts. Anthony Cragg, who Bonn residents will remember above all for his sculpture "Mean Average" on Remigiusplatz, did not want to impose with his art, preferring to show less rather than more. And now he occupies the central spaces of the basilica. One of his abstract organic figures, "Lost in thought," stands next to the Blessed Sacrament in the sanctuary to the right under the golden apse calotte with the radiant Pantocrator, the world ruler, and opposite the sacrament house.

Three figures by Cragg literally dance in front of the old west apse and below the organ. Picken is reminded of "Father, Son and Holy Spirit," but concedes, "you can interpret it in a completely different way, I think that's good." Installation artist Monica Bonvicini has hung her "Rippings," 17 slender light fixtures, over a sarcophagus to the left of the sanctuary. The side chapel, which is normally quite dark, is bathed in glistening light.

In conversation with Smerling, Gerhard Richter had the idea of hanging one of his candle paintings in the church interior. The only problem was that he no longer had one from the 1982 series, so Smerling went looking for potential lenders. No one wanted to part with their Richter candle; only the art museum in Saint-Étienne was willing. Picken is enthusiastic about this "devotional" painting, which speaks a "spiritual language." "I've been living with this art for weeks," he said , "whoever sees the art comes to transcendence."

He is also fascinated by Mariele Neudecker and her aquarium, which contains a forest that gradually disappears in the mist and, according to Picken, acts like a tabernacle on the theme of creation. The fifth artist in the group is the co-founder of the Zero Group, Heinz Mack, who was initially skeptical that he might be lost in the church ensemble. "Mack brought light into the desert," Smerling said, alluding to actions of the 1970s, "now he brings light into the church." "Mack's works seem like they've always been in the church," Picken says. Indeed, the master's bright, colorful paintings harmonize beautifully with the new church space.

The "Light and Transparency" exhibition, which runs until January 31, 2022, is made possible by the sponsors Deutsche Telekom and Volksbank. Picken says this means "that we don't have to charge admission, that was important to me." He appeals to Bonn residents to volunteer their hours to provide monitoring at the exhibition.

He is enthusiastic about the great interest in the "new" Minster: the opera will perform "Carmina Burana" here, and there are also plans for a concert by the Beethoven Orchestra, titled "Light - Transparency - Proximity". The Beethovenfest has also signaled its interest.

Orig. text: Thomas Kliemann

Translation: ck

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