The magnificent building with its white towers and blue-green domes is the crucial baroque church north of the Alps. The architects Carlo Lurago and Giovanni Battista Carlone gave the church their own Italian character after a fire in 1662. The ornately interior holds an exceptional treasure: the biggest cathedral organ in the world with 17,974 pipes and 233 registers.
The St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Passau is the mother church of the Danube’s eastern region. Around the year 450, a church has already been attested for in the late antique city called Batavis. The magnificent cathedral is situated at the highest point of Passau’s old town, the Altstadt. After the devastating fire in 1662, during which the cathedral almost completely burnt down, it was resurrected again by the famous architect Carlo Lurago. The interior was decorated by Giovanni Battista Carlone with heavy baroque stucco.
In 1407, Prince Bishop Georg v. Hohenlohe (1390-1423) laid the foundation for the construction of a late Gothic cathedral in Passau. The construction period came to around 160 years, but as it was with other Gothic cathedrals in Europe, this cathedral was also an unfinished sacred building after the end of its construction measures between the years 1565 and 1570.
New reputation for Passau
With this foundation, the city of Passau experienced an increase of its economic, social, artistic and cultural significance in the Danube area. The construction measures on the late Gothic cathedral, its dimensions and features, the use of different material, the bold statics on the nave and crossing tower, the subtle structural outline of the chancel, as well as the number of used workforce, received admiration over many generations by the respective contemporaries.
Passau had never seen or experienced such a high workforce of stonemasons, bricklayers, carpenters, painters, sculptors, carvers, gold and silver smiths, suppliers, distributors and guilds before. In 1444, Eneas Silvio Piccolomini, later known as Pope Pius II., wrote to Rome from Passau: “A magnificent chancel is being built here”.
Cologne, Strasbourg, Vienna - and Passau
In 1480, the cathedral builder’s hut of Passau received its rank as a main builder’s hut on the fourth place after Cologne, Strasbourg and Vienna. The cathedral’s master builders were between 1407 until 1530: Hans Krummenauer from the Parler school in Prague, Ulrich Seidenschwanz, Hans Hesse, Jörg Windisch, Hans Mitterberger, Hans Lindorfer, Hans Frank and Georg Stuehl, each successively. In the area around the cathedral construction, the artistic family Frueauf and Kriechbaum settled down in Passau’s Altstadt at the end of the 15th and the beginning of the 16th century. From 1510/15 to 1553, the painter and builder Wolf Huber worked and lived in Passau as one of the master builders of the so-called “Donaustil”, the Danube style.
Significant illustrations, such as the woodcut in the “Schedelschen Weltchronik” (the Nuremburg Chronicle) from 1480, the woodcut “Darstellung Jesu im Tempel” (the Depiction of Jesus Christ in the Temple) with the interior of Passau’s late Gothic cathedral made by Wolf Huber around the years 1523 and 1525 and the “Stich von Abent” (the Engraving of Abent) from 1576 are still demonstrative documents of the Gothic cathedral in Passau.
Then came the great fire
1662, nearly 90 years after the completion of the Gothic cathedral, a great fire destroyed the whole medieval City of Three Rivers. Only the chancel, the crossing tower and transept of the Gothic cathedral remained, which were included in the reconstruction by the Italian baroque architects Carlone and Lurago.
New baroque glory
Today, Passau’s cathedral is one of the biggest Italian baroque buildings north of the Alps. Within, the world’s largest cathedral organ can be listened to with five individual installations, 17,974 pipes and 233 registers. When the organist plays the five pieces - the main organ, the epistle and gospel organ on the west gallery, the choir organ at the chancel’s entrance and the Fernorgel in the attic (sounds through the so-called Heiliggeist-Loch, a sound outlet installed in an illustration of the Holy Spirit), in the cathedral’s nave, the melody and tones sound through the whole church room. As unique as the cathedral organ is the modern and monumental figurine high altar, which depicts the stoning of the cathedral’s patron saint Stephen and which can be found in the front of the former Gothic window facade.
The world’s largest cathedral organ
Is there the world’s largest organ in the St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Passau, the world’s largest church organ or the world’s largest cathedral organ? All these titles applied once to this organ from its creation in the year 1928 up until now. They also applied individually to the organ during their respective times.
With its 17,974 pipes and 233 registers, the organ in Passau’s cathedral is considered to be the largest Catholic church organ in the world and the largest organ in Europe. It ranks at the fifth place with its number of pipes.
Cathedral organ concerts are among the highlights when visiting Passau. To hear the sound of this unique instrument while experiencing the cathedral’s unparalleled atmosphere is an emotional and unforgettable moment.
With its 17,974 pipes and its 233 registers in five organ pieces, which can be played all together from one main key desk, the organ in the St. Stephen’s Cathedral is still a unique and technical marvel. It comprises five individual pieces that are spatially separated:
- The main organ at the main entrance
- Epistle and gospel organ on the west galleries of the aisles
- Choir organ at the chancel’s entrance
- The so-called Fernorgel directly above the “Heiliggeist-Loch” (a sound outlet installed in an illustration of the Holy Spirit) of the middle fresco in the cathedral’s nave located in the attic; the sounds reach the church room through this outlet
120 kilometres of cable
The largest organ pipe has a length of over eleven metres and weighs 306 kilogrammes. The sounds with around 16 vibrations per second are at the lowest audible range for the human ear. The smallest pipes have a length of six millimetres. With around 16,000 hertz, they are at the highest audible range for the human ear. 12 kilometres of cable are laid out in the facility. The baroque casing of the main organ date back to the year 1731, the baroque casings of the epistle and gospel organs to the year 1715.
Expanding on the work by Steinmeier between 1924 and 1928, the organ of today was redesigned by Passau’s organ building company Eisenbarth between 1978 and 1981. The company is still in charge of the organ’s maintenance and care.
Cathedral organ concerts:
- Limited accessibility (small thresholds at the entrance)
- Entrance „Steinweg“ barrier-free with mobile ramp
- 2 public disabled parkings at cathedral square, in front of building Domplatz 11
- Public handicapped lavatory nearby at Zengergasse (open door with Euro key)
- Induction loop
- Audio-guides for guided tours