primacy of place

Uncategorized May 14, 2024

It isn’t the most beautiful of towns in Germany, and I’m sure it isn’t the most impressive church.  The little town of Breisach isn’t even one of the tour options on our Rhine River cruise.  But in the interest of easing into our cruising experience, Dave and I decided to forgo taking a tour on the first day and launched off on our own.  From our ship’s berth to the little downtown of Breisach was about a fifteen-minute walk.  

From every spot along the way the most prominent feature of the town was the cathedral on the hill.  St. Stephansmunster is a Roman Gothic cathedral hundreds of years old.  At one time, the hill was the place of safety as a fortress inaccessible to marauders.  Safety ended during World War II when the cathedral on the hill was damaged by more destructive modern warfare.

Another casualty of the war was Breisach’s Jewish population.  Those who didn’t flee from Hitler were carried off to internment camps in the south of France.  In 1967 the city’s last Jewish survivor was a woman who tended the two local Jewish cemeteries.

The late Tim Keller once described the placement and size of buildings as a master narrative of what a city considers important.  Once upon a time in New York City, the tallest buildings were the spires of churches along Fifth Avenue.  Now, of course, skyscrapers have replaced the churches with a pride of place… ever taller and taller symbols of the supremacy of commerce over religion in the life of the city.  Here in Breisach-on-the-Rhine in Germany, the cathedral on the hill continues to testify to the importance of faith in the history of a community.  

Likewise, in Strasbourg, further north on the French side of the Rhine, the Cathedral of Notre Dame is still the hub of the city center.  However, there historic faith today meets modern commerce as coffeehouses and t-shirt/souvenir shops have sprung up all around it.  A less than holy marriage, indeed. 

Love, Liz 

Photos Breisach and Strasbourg