St. Thomas Church, Leipzig

St. Thomas Church
German: Thomaskirche
Country Germany
Denomination Lutheran
Previous denomination Roman Catholic
Status Parish church
Functional status Active
Style Gothic
Romanesque (choir/nave)
Years built 12th century
1884-1889 (renovations)
Nave width 25 metres (82 ft)
Division Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Saxony
Pastor(s) Rev. Britta Taddiken
Director of music Gudrun Hartmann
Organist(s) Ullrich Böhme
Music group(s) Thomanerchor
Interior, 2008

St. Thomas Church (German: Thomaskirche) is a Lutheran church in Leipzig, Germany. It is most famous as the place where Johann Sebastian Bach worked as a Kapellmeister (music director) from 1723 until his death in 1750, and as the location of his remains.

The Thomanerchor, the choir of the Thomaskirche, is still a well-known choir today.


There has been a church at the current site of the Thomaskirche since the 12th century. Between 1212 and 1222 the preceding church became the new St. Thomas Monastery of the Augustinian order. In 1217, The Minnesinger, or troubadour (see Minnesang), Heinrich von Morungen bequeathed to the church a relic of St. Thomas as he entered the order of canons after a trip to India. After several reconstructions (remains of an earlier Romanesque church were found during archaeological excavations), the current building, an example of late Gothic architecture, was consecrated by Thilo of Trotha, the Bishop of Merseburg, on 10 April 1496. The reformer Martin Luther preached here on Pentecost Sunday in 1539. Today, it is a Lutheran church.

The tower was first built in 1537 and reconstructed in 1702, leading to its current height of 68 meters.

Statue of Johann Sebastian Bach at the Thomaskirche
Bach's grave beneath the floor of the choir (sanctuary) of the church

The composer Johann Sebastian Bach was choir director at St. Thomas Church from 1723 until his death in 1750 and taught at its affiliated school. A statue of Johann Sebastian Bach by the Leipzig sculptor Carl Seffner that stands next to the church was dedicated in 1908.

On 4 December 1943, the tower was damaged in an Allied bombing raid on Leipzig, requiring repair. The roof of the church above the Gothic rib vaulted ceiling is one of the steepest in Germany, with a roof pitch of 63 degrees. After the destruction of the Leipzig Johanneskirche in World War II, the remains of Johann Sebastian Bach were moved from there to the Thomaskirche in 1950. The current altar, installed in 1993, is the former Gothic altar of the Paulinerkirche, the church of the University of Leipzig, destroyed in 1968 by the Communist authorities.

In the 20th century, sulfur emitted from nearby coal mines, and other pollutants in the atmospheric air caused the deterioration of exterior stonework and statuary, and even of interior Gothic paintings. In addition, the roof structure suffered from damage due to insects and moisture. For these reasons, the church was listed in the 2000 World Monuments Watch by the World Monuments Fund.[1] Repairs were swiftly undertaken with financial support from the Fund and from American Express.

Mendelssohn statue

A statue of Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, who lived in Leipzig from 1835 until his death in 1847, was dedicated on October 18, 2008, when it was re-erected opposite the St. Thomas Church on the occasion of the year of his 200th birthday. The 6-meter (20 ft) statue depicts the former Gewandhaus Orchestra director and composer in bronze. Celebratory speeches were given by Kurt Masur, also a former Gewandhaus Orchestra director, and Burkhard Jung, mayor of Leipzig. The original statue designed by Werner Stein was first dedicated on 26 May 1892. It had been located on the east side of the Gewandhaus until 9 November 1936, when it was taken down by the Nazis because of the composer’s Jewish background.

Burial of Johann Sebastian Bach

Since 1950, the bones of Johann Sebastian Bach are buried in the Thomaskirche. After his death on 28 July 1750, Bach was laid to rest in the hospital cemetery of the Johanniskirche in Leipzig. With the start of the Bach renaissance in the 19th century, the public started to become interested in his remains and their whereabouts. So, in 1894, the anatomy professor Wilhelm His was commissioned to identify the composer’s remains amongst disinterred bones from the cemetery where Bach had been buried. He arrived at the conclusion that “the assumption that the bones of an elderly man, which had been found in an oak coffin near the Johanneskirche, were the remains of Johann Sebastian Bach” (translated from German) was very likely. On 16 July 1900 the bones were placed into a stone sarcophagus underneath the Johanniskirche.

Following the bombardment of the Johanniskirche on 4 December 1943, the bones were transferred to the Thomaskirche. The new grave was inaugurated on 28 July 1950, 200 years after the death of the composer, who is now buried in the sanctuary of the church.


The Thomanerchor, the choir of the Thomaskirche, was founded in 1212 and is one of the oldest and most famous boys' choirs in Germany. It is headed by the Thomaskantor, an office that has been held by many well-known composers and musicians, including Johann Sebastian Bach from 1723 until his death in 1750.


Another notable feature of the Thomaskirche is that it contains two organs. The older one is a Romantic organ by Wilhelm Sauer, built from 1885–89. Since this organ is considered "unsuitable" for Bach's music, a second organ was built by Gerald Woehl's organ building company from 1999–2000. This "Bach organ" was designed to look similar to the old organ on which Bach had played in the Paulinerkirche.

Church bells

There are four bells in the St. Thomas bell tower. The largest is the Gloriosa, which was cast by Theodericus Reinhard in 1477. It weighs 5200 kg, has a diameter of 2.04 meters, and a strike pitch of a°. It is used on days of celebration. The second largest bell was cast by Wolf Hilliger in 1574 and has a strike note of c′. The third largest bell is called either the Monks’ or Confessional Bell (Mönchs- oder Beichtglocke), which has a strike pitch of d′. Jakob König cast it in 1634 and it serves as the hourly bell. The fourth bell was cast by Christophorus Gros in 1585 and has a strike note of f″. Its resonance is dampened by shortened yokes from which it hangs. The tower lantern holds separately a bell that is rung each quarter-hour. This bell was cast in 1539 by the Schilling bell foundry in Apolda. It was modelled on its predecessor.

Important dates and events

Date Event
12 December 1409 Foundation of Leipzig University in the Monastery of St. Thomas
14 September 1477 The oldest bell Gloriosa cast
1482–1496 Renovation of the nave into a late Gothic style hall church
24 June 1519 Service held for the beginning of the Leipzig Debate between Martin Luther and Johannes Eck
25 May 1539 Martin Luther gives a sermon, introducing the Reformation to Leipzig
1541 Closing of the monastery and destruction of its buildings
1723–1750 Johann Sebastian Bach is Thomaskantor (Director of music in the main churches)
11 April 1727 First performance of Bach's St Matthew Passion on Good Friday
1732 Renovation of the St. Thomas School
12 May 1789 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart plays the organ
1806 Troops under Napoleon store ammunitions in the church
1813–14 St. Thomas is used as a military hospital during the Battle of Leipzig (“Battle of Nations”) when Napoleon was defeated
16 August 1813 Richard Wagner baptised[2]
1828 Wagner studies piano and counterpoint with the Thomaskantor[3]
4 April 1841 Bach's St Matthew Passion, first performance after Bach's death, conducted by Felix Mendelssohn
16 September 1842 Founding of Gustav-Adolf-Werk, an organization providing support for minority protestant churches throughout the world.[4]
13 April 1843 Dedication of the Bach Memorial, built under Mendelssohn's direction
26 November 1848 Commemoration of the life of Robert Blum
1884–1889 Renovation of the church in Neo-Gothic style
1885–1889 The Sauer organ is built
1902 Closing of the St. Thomas School
1904 The church superintendent's house is built on the site of the St. Thomas School
1908 Dedication of the Bach statue designed by Carl Seffner
1917 The last tower keeper moves out of the bell tower apartment
4 December 1943 The bell tower is damaged by fire bombs dropped by Allied bombers
1950 Bach's grave is moved to the church
1961–64 Interior renovation of the church
1966–67 Schuke organ installed
1991 Initiation of the complete restoration of the church
1993 Dedication of the restored Paulus altar
1997 Installation of the Mendelssohn window
1999 Removal of the Schuke organ
11 June 2000 Dedication of the restored church with the new Bach organ
28 July 2000 Commemoration of the 250th anniversary of Bach's death
18 October 2008 Dedication of the copy of the Felix Mendelssohn statue

See also


  1. World Monuments Fund - Thomaskirche
  2. Kirchliches Archiv Leipzig (Church Archives of Leipzig): Taufbuch Thomas 1811-1817 (Baptismal Book for St. Thomas 1811-1817), p. 156; also see German Wikipedia article on Richard Wagner
  3. The Great Composers, Michael Steen p461
  4. Website for the Gustav-Adolf-Werkes e. V., Leipzig
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Coordinates: 51°20′21″N 12°22′21″E / 51.33917°N 12.37250°E / 51.33917; 12.37250

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