présentation en anglais




MOLSHEIM’S PARISH CHURCH
(Formerly church of the Jesuits) 


HISTORICAL LANDMARKS 

Molsheim’s parish church is usually called “Church of the Jesuits “ for it was built for the disciples of Ignatius Loyola. As a reaction to the growing importance of the Protestant Reformation, some Jesuit Fathers had settled in the Episcopalian town of Molsheim as early as 1580 to found a College. But it was only years later that donations, collections and mainly the generosity of the Bishop of Strasbourg, Archduke Leopold of Austria, allowed them to start the building of a church within their College. Built between 1615 and 1617 by architect Christophe Wamser, the church was solemnly inaugurated by the Bishop of Bale in August 1618 and remained attached to the College down to the dissolution of the Society of Jesus in 1765. King Louis XIV visited the church when he came to Molsheim in 1683. After the French Revolution of 1789, it became a place of worship again and was given to Molsheim’s parish to replace the former parish church built on today’s Market Square in 1530, which (because it was in danger of falling down) had to be demolished. 
Molsheim’s first church was the Dompeter, situated in the middle ol fields near the village of Avolsheim. The foundations of this building, which is said to be the oldest church in Alsace, date back to the VIIth century. 


THE EXTERIOR 

With a length of 61.50 m (200 feet) and a width of 21.50 m (70 feet), the church can be considered as an outstanding building, one of the most important religious buildings in all Alsace. The tower flanking the West side is dedicated to St Michael: erected on the same line as the building, it is 45 m (150 feet) high. Originally the tower was topped with a round roof on which stood a statue of the Virgin Mary. The entrance doors as well as the inside doors are in the Renaissance style: they date back to the time when the church was built (the year 1618 is mentioned several times on them). 


THE NAVE 

The nave has 10 bays and is divided from 2 aisles by a line of pillars which support the triforium. The statues which decorated the niches along the triforium disappeared during the French Revolution. The majestic nave and the wide galleries made it possible for huge crowds to gather, as the Jesuit Fathers wished it. The pulpit (1631) is adorned with statues of St Peter and St Paul and the 4 Fathers of the Church: St Jerome, St Augustine, St Ambrose and St Gregory. The bas-reliefs represent Jesus healing a leper, sending the Apostles out on a mission, St John the Baptist urging repentance, St Ignatius and St Francis-Xavier, the preachers of the Divine Word. The sounding board over the preacher’s head is topped with the Good Shepherd and the four Evangelists. 


THE CHOIR 

The nave leads to the choir and the High Altar (1865). The wonderfully light choir further enhances the grandeur of the building. In the middle of the Altar, St George can be seen slaying the Dragon. This martyr of the IVth century is the patron saint of the church and the town. Over the tabernacle, notice the statues of St Materne, St Sebastian, St Roch and St Arbogast, and behind the altar a stained-glass window representing Ste Odile, St Leger, the Alsatian Pope Leo IX of Eguisheim and Ste Richarde. 


ST IGNATIUS CHAPEL 

The chapel on the north side is dedicated to St Ignatius Loyola. The murals date from 1621 and relate the life of the founder of the Society of Jesus. On both sides of the entrance of the small choir : St Florent, St Arbogast, St Amand and St Materne. The coat of arms on the keystone is that of Archduke Leopold of Austria. 
The stucco decorations of the side chapels (1630) are the only example of Jesuit style in Alsace and are the work of Jean Kuhn. The font (1624) was originally in the old parish church. The bas-reliefs represent the Sacraments, except baptism which is symbolized by the basin itself. 


THE LADY CHAPEL 

The chapel on the south side is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The murals date mostly from 1748 : the Circumcision, the Presentation to the Temple, Jesus among the children, Jesus and the Doctors, Jesus entering Jerusalem, etc … 
In the small choir : the Immaculate Conception, the Annunciation, the Visitation and the Nativity. On both sides of the entrance of the small choir: St Joseph, St Bernard, St Joachim and St Dominique. The coat of arms on the keystone is that of Bishof- Coadjutor Gabriel Haug. After its restoration in 1989, Bishop Jean of Dürbheim’s slab (1328), previously standing against the South wall of the chapel, was put back in its initial position as a recumbent figure. Jean of Dürbheim endowed the town of Molsheim with a hospital and had the surrounding wall restored and enlarged. 


THE SIDE ALTARS 

The altar of the South side-aisle is dedicated to St John the Baptist and represents Jesus Christ’s Baptism. On the antependium: the Virgin Mary and St Elisabeth with their children. 
The altar in the North side aisle is the Altar of the Cross with an antependium relating the story of the famous Cross of Niedermunster. Legend has it that it belonged to Charlemagne (Charles the Great) who had it loaded on camel’s back. Left to itself, the animal supposedly headed for Alsace to the foot of Mount Ste Odile. This miraculous cross was revered for several centuries in the Convent of Niedermunster. Entrusted to the Jesuits of Molsheim by Bishop Jean Manderscheid in 1580, it disappeared during the French Revolution. 


THE SILBERMANN ORGAN 

Built in 1781 by Jean-André Silbermann, this organ replaces an organ of 1618. Its original building is not recorded on any document but, restored in 1970 in Silbermann’s style, it has recovered its genuine character. 
The Molsheim organ was one of Silbermann’s last instruments; it is the only one in Alsace to have a “clavier d’écho” (keyboard) of 4 octaves. Another characteristic is that the organ case has sculpted wings adorned with musical instruments. 


THE GREAT CROSS 

In the North entrance of the church is erected a magnificent stone cross, presumably the work of Master Conrad Seyfert for the Carthusians of Koenigshoffen (1480). Exhibited for nearly two centuries in the Carthusians’monastery of Molsheim, it was transferred to the churchyard after the French Revolution and then put under cover inside the Church in 1970. 
It took the sculptor a 20 ton-block to carve this 4,50 m (15 feet) high and 2.50 m (7 feet) wide cross. The craftsmanship is remarkable, just as the peaceful expression on Christ’s face: it is one of the finest crosses Alsace has kept from the Middle Ages.