Enter NIEDERMORSCHWIHR via TROIS-EPIS, TURCKHEIM or INGERSHEIM: aren't you struck by the slim grace of this imposing steeple which fuses towards the sky, and seems to carry the Alsatian houses in its wake? And this set of shades and lights between the edges of it’s sloping roof?
But yes! The steeple is twisted, its frame presents an angel of 45 degrees. Its square base is profiled towards the octagon which takes at its top (42m) an astonishing spiral form.
Some history …
The steeple, where Gothic and Roman styles mix, was built during the 12th - 13th centuries. The openings at the base are semi-circular arches, whereas the higher coupled windows, typically Roman, are ogival!
Notice also the clovers, characteristic of the Roman style.
What is the origin of the steeples spiral? Deliberate construction or miscalculation?
It is affirmed that the frame, assembled using green wood so that it could be worked over time… the restoration and the meticulous examination of construction will deliver the key to the mystery.
The ground floor shelters the choir of the old church and a splendid vault with edges on the 1st floor.
Mentioned since 1260, it was placed under the protection of St-Gall, an Irish monk who founded the village in the 8th - 9th centuries.
After the French revolution, the increase in population was such that it was decided to increase the size of the church by the construction of a new choir-nave unit. The old nave was demolished in 1805 and replaced with the current “barn” style nave, roomy and luminous, in prolongation of the new choir built on the southern side of the steeple.
The sacristy was installed in the choir of the old church. On the Western wall of the steeple, there are still traces of the roof and ogival vault of the old nave. If the old nave appeared rather weak beside the gigantic steeple, the new building added the character of a fortress emerging in the middle of the village.
While it is regretful that the original Gothic building was demolished, its modest dimensions would not have made it possible to install the organ Andréas SILBERMANN (for which even the plans of the new construction had to be modified to fit!)
NIEDERMORSCHWIHR was the recipient of a godsend in acquiring this prestigious instrument, at the same time as the pulpit, from the Dominican Church in Colmar, where SILBERMANN had created it in 1726.
Classified as a historical monument, the organ is remarkably preserved, along with the organ of EBERSMUNSTER and MARMOUTIER, it is one of the jewels of the workmanship of Andréas SILBERMANN. Its typically French aesthetics, enable us to revive with wonder the music of 17th and 18th centuries.
The Chapel of St Wendelin
The Chapel of St Wendelin is nestled between vineyards and the forest, on the southern boundary of the community of Niedermorschwihr close to TURCKHEIM. This other personality venerated in the community was the great guardian of the livestock. From the 1664, a chapel in his honour is mentioned in the history of the village, it was unfortunately destroyed during the revolution, but was rebuilt at the beginning of the 11th century on the current site.
Association of the Twisted Steeples of Europe (A.C.T.E.)
The steeple of NIEDERMORSCHWIHR is the only one of its kind in Alsace. France, meanwhile, accounts for forty helical or twisted steeples; Europe, many more still. (Germany, Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, the United Kingdom…)
Also, the Association of the Friends of the Twisted Steeple takes an active part in supporting the network of domestic and international associations seeking to promote and maintain this inheritance. The Association takes part each year in the meeting of the Association of the Twisted Steeples of Europe created in 1991 and whose commune of NIEDERMORSCHWIHR is a member.
The Association of the Friends of the Twisted Steeple has revived tradition and organises, each year, since 1991 the Festival of St Wendelin, on the 1st Sunday of July. It also organises a series of choral concerts each Sunday in November.
To support our activities, do not hesitate to become member of association! Also, feel free to give us your ideas and suggestions.
Before setting out again, have a last glance on NIEDERMORSCHWIHR, close your eyes and imagine the village without its steeple …. Quickly! Reopen your eyes! What a discovery!
All photos on this page by Jean Marc Barmes, except as indicated.