Two hundred thousand visitors per year show clearly that St. Stephen's is well worth a visit! Tourists from all over the world walk up the incline of Stephansberg to see the brilliant blue stained glass windows by Marc Chagall. The reconstruction and restoration of the Gothic church, which was almost completely destroyed in the Second World War, also led to its revival as a spiritual place. More than a thousand years ago in 990, Willigis, Archbishop and Archchancellor of the Holy Roman Empire endowed a collegiate foundation here and had the church built as the "Empire's Place of Prayer". The constructor of the cathedral was himself laid to rest in St. Stephen's in 1011. The new Gothic building was erected between 1290 and 1335. It stands on the foundations of a basilica built in the Ottonian pre-Romanesque style around 990. When the city's nearby gunpowder tower blew up in 1857, St. Stephen's was badly damaged. In the course of the restorations, the rich Baroque decorations were removed.
Today, St. Stephen's presents itself as a hall church with a traditional layout of a nave and two side aisles whose Gothic vaults have not yet been restored. The walls are finished in white, creating an attractive contrast to the red sandstone of the supporting construction elements. The bottom part of the spacious steeple up to the pointed arch frieze dates probably back to Willigis's church. A wide crack in the tower was repaired in 1947. The dome and lantern were put in place for the city's 2000th anniversary in 1962.
Until 1911, a lookout and fire watch lived in a specially furnished dwelling in the tower, high above the rooftops of the city; at some stage, triplets were born there. The city first organised a fire watch service in 1559.
St. Stephen's is the only church in Germany for which the Jewish artist Marc Chagall (1887 - 1985) designed windows. Born in Russia, the artist spent most of his adult life in France. Blue light entering through the stained glass illuminate the interior of St. Stephen's, and angels and other Biblical figures move apparently ethereally in this light. "The colours speak directly to our consciousness of life, as they convey optimism, hope and joy de vivre," says Monsignor Klaus Mayer, who reflects on Chagall's work in mediations and books. He first got in contact with Chagall in 1973, and succeeded in persuading the master of colour and biblical themes to design stained glass windows that reflect the spirit of friendship between Jews and Christians, and understanding among nations. In 1978, the first Chagall window by the then 91-year-old artist was fitted. A further eight followed, six in the east chancel and three in the transept. Marc Chagall, who was made an honorary citizen of Mainz but never got to know the city, completed his final window shortly before his death at the age of 98. Nineteen windows in a deliberately simpler style and leading the visitor towards the masterpieces by Chagall were installed later in the side aisles. They are by Charles Marq of Atelier Jacques Simon in Reims who for years worked closely together with Chagall.
Apart from the Chagall windows, visitors should also go and see the most beautiful late Gothic cloister in Rhineland-Palatinate. Many of the 600 canons of St. Stephen's are buried here, with tombstones and the coats of arms of the capitular families erected in their memory. The coats of arms are enriched by modern keystones donated by the federal and state governments, the diocese and the city of Mainz. Other works of art at St. Stephen's include the enthroned God the Father dating from the 15th century, and the late Gothic sculpture of the Virgin and Child with Saint Anne. For some years now, children are again baptised at the original Gothic baptismal font dating from 1330.
By elevating the square in front of the church and constructing a combined ramp and three-step structure, the church has been made fully wheelchair-accessible. With a ramp length of 8.12 m and an incline of 6%, this solution is not only practical, but also aesthetically pleasing.
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