The devil’s footprint in Munich

The Devil’s Footprint at entrance to Frauenkirche Church in Munich (Photo by Nance Carter)

When I traveled to Munich I expected to see the beauty of Bavaria, touch the Berlin Wall, taste some awesome beers at the Hofbrauhaus, and gaze hourly as the famed Glockenspiel struck the hour – while drinking some more awesome beers.  I did accomplish those things, but didn’t expect to find some other unusual sights – such as an original enigma machine in the Deutsches Museum and the devil’s footprint in a church.

Enigma Machine in Deutsches Museum, Munich (Photo by Nick Carter)

Meandering around town one day while trying to find something to eat from a menu we could understand, we stumbled across the beautifully gothic Frauenkirche (“Cathedral of Our Dear Lady”).  This church has two distinctive onion-topped towers at one end, red brick exterior construction, and several different styles of architecture.  The 325 ft. towers are visible for miles as city law prohibits any other buildings to exceed this height.

Frauenkirche, Archdiocese of Munich and location of the Devil’s Footprint (Photo by Martin Falbisoner [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via WikiCommons)

Construction and Architecture

The building of the cathedral (which is the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising) began in 1468 and took architect Jörg von Halsbach 20 years.  The church was originally supposed to have pointy spires atop the towers, but due to a shortage of funds, the domes were not constructed until 1525.  Their design was changed to a onion shaped domes, after the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, which is late Byzantine architecture.

Interior central aisle of Frauenkirche, Munich (Photo by Nance Carter)

Although designed in the Gothic style, parts of the church’s interior were later decorated in a Baroque fashion.  However, these Baroque elements were removed after the church received cathedral status in the 1800’s because at that time only Gothic style was deemed appropriate for a structure of this importance.  I Love My Architect has a very good explanation of Romanesque vs. Gothic vs. Baroque architecture.

Air raids of WWII in 1944 damaged the roof, one tower, and part of the interior.  Full restoration work was not completed until 1994.

Main altar of Frauenkirche, Munich (Photo by Nance Carter)

The Devil’s Footprint

Upon entering the church there is a distinctive tile with a footprint – the Devil’s Footprint.  According to legend, von Halspach (the architect) made a bargain with the devil to secure funding for construction.  The devil would agree, but only if there were no windows or light and it was a building of darkness.  Upon completion, the devil went inside to make sure his terms were met.  Standing in the entry, no windows could be seen so he was pleased.  Suddenly he took one more step inside to survey the work and to his fury saw that columns along the aisle had blocked the view of windows.  Enraged, he stamped his foot, and this mark has been preserved forever inside the church.

Printed below is the sign in Frauenkirche, next to the footprint.

“On the floor in the entrance hall beneath the chorus – between the front gate and the vent hole – you can see a footprint of a human being in the pavement, which has even the print of a spur on the heel.  If you step up into this footprint and look up into the altar, you cannot see any sidewindows; and from 1622 till 1860 you could not see the middle either, because it was covered by the huge Renaissance-Altar with the Assumption picture from Peter Candid!  About this black footprint the following legend is told:

When the building of the church was finished, but not yet consecrated, the devil sneaked through the big gate, curious and angry watching the building; suddenly he started to laugh very loud and said, a building without any windows is not very useful. Just at the moment he was standing exactly at the point where you can still see the black footprint today!  So he could not see any windows; and in triumphal happiness he stamped into the floor, where he left this footprint in the ground.  As he made one step further, suddenly there were lots of windows to be seen.  Then he saw that he was the loser.  Out of anger he changed himself into a great wind and hoped he could blow the building down.  But he failed; and since that time there is always a wind blowing around the towers.”

Cenotaph of Emperor Louis IV at Frauenkirche, Munich (Photo by Nance Carter)

April 8, 2013

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