The Colmar Collegiate is the most imposing in all of Colmar and often carries the name “Cathedral”. However, this is more or less a misrepresentation, since the city has never been the seat of a bishop.
St. Martin Collegiate Church
The building is more of a collegiate church, dedicated to St. Martin. A collegiate church is one that has been entrusted to a panel of clerics (collegiate chapter), whose meetings take place outside of an Episcopal seat. However, it temporarily became a cathedral during the French Revolution, except the name of the square that surrounds it (Place de la Cathédrale – Cathedral Square) has not changed since!
Built in pink sandstone from the Vosges, Saint Martin is a major work of gothic architecture in Upper Alsace and was classified as a Historical Monument in 1840.
The current building was erected on the foundations of a Romanesque-style church from 1234 to approximately 1365, according to the plans of architect William of Marburg.
The workers tackled the transept first, followed by the nave and the towers. The chancel and its ambulatory were the last parts of the church to be built.
The exterior of the Church
The church’s silhouette, with its single bell tower, is particularly recognisable from neighbouring districts. However, this bell tower (the South Tower), was not supposed to be the only one; another one was always planned for the North Tower, but this was never achieved.
Even the shape of the South Tower’s bell tower is unique and does not have a spire, unlike the great cathedrals in the region (Strasbourg, Thann, Freiburg im Breisgau). This is due to a terrible fire in 1572 which destroyed the original spire, as well as the roof of the church and the steeple which stood at the crossing of the transept. The following year, it was decided to place a 71 metre-high, temporary Renaissance-style crown here… which is still there today!
As for the roof, it was restored and then decorated with coloured glazed tiles, reminiscent of the Collégiale Saint Theobald in Thann.
The church features well-known statuary, certain elements of which have been well-preserved since the Middle Ages.
The tympanum of the grand portal of the western side (Place de la Cathédrale) includes the Adoration of the Magi and the Last Judgement. A gable crowns the door and rises from the floor to the great bay, and it is crowned by a gable, from where the pinnacles rise up.
At the top of the small gable is a statue of St. Martin, cutting his Roman soldier’s cloak into two, to give one half to a beggar. The rest of the façade is lightly decorated and is composed of huge buttresses.
On the South façade, a clock with a red background hangs, and underneath it are engraved the words: “Les memento mori” (remember that you are mortal).
In the canopies that crown the front south pillars are the statues of two kings, traditionally recognised as Pepin the Short and Charlemagne. They stand at 3,20 metres and 4 metres high and weigh more than 5 tonnes.
The South portal is dedicated to Saint Nicholas and dates from the second half of the 13th century. It marks the transition between Romanesque and Gothic styles. The brass part of the arched tympanum is of Romanesque style and shows St. Nicholas. The Saint is surrounded on his right by three young girls who he saved from prostitution, their father being ruined and thus could not pay their dowry. To the left of the Saint are three children who evoke the famous story of the miracle of the three little gleaners. The upper part of the tympanum, in a broken gothic arc, represents the Last Judgement. On the exterior arch, the fourth statue leaving from the left represents “Master Humbret”, the portal’s architect, holding a square.
Inside the Church
Inside, the nave, of great modesty, features five spans.
You will find two organs here, the largest of which was built in 1755 by Strasbourg native, Silbermann.
The chancel is surrounded by an ambulatory pierced with chapels (closed to the public). This is fairly rare in Alsatian churches (the Cathedral of Strasbourg does not have one).
Thank you so much for your site. It has been a real asset for me in preparing for my trips to France. Soon I will be touring in Alsace and as usual I can count on you to be informative with enough level of detail so that I have lists of things to expressly seek out at each stop.
My French gets a little better with each trip. I’d love to be an ex[pat American living in France :).