Cathedral of the Holy New-Martyrs and Confessors of Russia (Munich, Bavaria)
The Cathedral of the Holy New-Martyrs and Confessors of Russia (German - Kathedrale der Hll. Neumärtyrer und Bekenner Russlands/Russian - Кафедральный собор Святых Новомучеников и Исповедников Российских) is a cathedral parish of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia diocese of Berlin, Germany, and Great Britain and is located in Munich, Germany. This parish was formerly known as St. Nicholas, and in honor of this, the chapel attached on the north side of the current building is named the Chapel of St. Nicholas.
Orthodoxy in Munich
In 1798, an embassy of the Russian Empire was established in Munich, therefore it is reasonable to assume that from that time on there were Russian Orthodox Divine Liturgies served in Munich for the embassy staff and their dependents. In 1832, the Embassy staff and their families began attending Orthodox services in the Salvatorkirche (Church of the Savior) in Munich, where Greek clergy served. In addition to this, the Count Nikolay Adlerberg, who was of noble Swedish lineage, but was born in St. Petersburg to a father who was close friends with Tsar Nicholas I and who converted to Orthodoxy, constructed a small Orthodox house church on his property near Tegernsee. This house-church was dedicated to St. Nicholas, and held services from 1867-1881. The iconostasis and many religious items were presents from Tsar Alexander II and came from his Finnish dacha.
Beginnings of St. Nicholas Parish
In 1921, the parish of St. Nicholas which was forming in Munich was comprised mostly of immigrants to Germany. The parish received the Adlerberg iconostasis and Liturgical items on loan from the Adlerberg family. In 1922, the parish of St. Nicholas was officially formed. (The Adlerberg iconostasis and other items would be given to this parish outright by the descendents of Count Adlerberg, who did not remain Orthodox. What is left of the iconostasis today can be found in the altar room of the Orthodox women's Convent of St. Elizabeth, Grand Duchess in Buchendorf, Bavaria.) Services at this time took place in a hall on Mathildenstrasse. Some of the priests who came to serve here were from Poland, including one who would later become Bishop Philotheus, Archbishop of Berlin and Germany. In 1937, Father Alexander (Andrij) Lowtschy (the future Archbishop), a monk, began serving this parish, a post he would hold for many years.
This parish was very active - with 636 members on paper - there was a parish school, a sisterhood, a mission committee, and a regular newsletter. Services were held in an empty building belonging to a Protestant church at Denningerstrasse 5. As World War II continued on, the parish also worked to serve the many prisoners of war and displaced people around Munich. The Salvatorkirche had been closed once Germany invaded Greece in 1941, but was opened again in 1943 under the auspices of ROCOR, which had been recognized as a church in Germany since 1936. (The parish was returned to the Greek jurisdiction after the war.)
It was during these turbulent war years that a member of the St. Nicholas parish, a 25-year-old medical student by the name of Alexander Schmorell, was executed by the Nazi government for treason for his participation in the anti-Nazi resistance group commonly known as the White Rose. (In 2012, he would be glorified as a saint). Fr. Alexander was the priest allowed to hear his last confession and give him Communion for the last time.
The city of Munich was liberated by Allied troops on April 30, 1945, which was Monday of Orthodox Holy Week that year.
The Search for Home
In February 1946, St. Nicholas was able to begin a long-term lease of a building near the Salvatorkirche. The building had formerly been a market hall, but before the war had served as an American library and church space. The building had been damaged in the war, and on May 22, 1947 - the feast of the transfer of the relics of St. Nicholas to Bari - the church was consecrated. Among those in attendance were Metropolitan Anastasy (Gribanovsky) the head hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, Metropolitan Seraphim (Lade) , head of the German diocese, and (now} Bishop Alexander Lowtschy. However, even at this point the parish was looking to build its own church, but because of the currency reform, this was not feasible.
In October 1949, the building on Denningerstrasse that the church had used formerly had to be returned. In the 1950s, the number of churchgoers dropped dramatically, as many displaced persons left Munich for places such as North America, South America, and Australia. However, in May 1952, St. Nicholas became a cathedral church as Bishop Alexander was named the head of the German Diocese and then elevated to the rank of Archbishop there.
By 1957, it was already clear that the city of Munich would like to end the lease and put the building that St. Nicholas was in to other use. For many who had fled the Soviet Union, and seen how churches were reappropriated, the idea that the city wanted to use the building, perhaps for a museum of fashion, was a tough pill to swallow. However, it was agreed to that the city would have to cover the costs of a move. Over the years, many plans were conceived, but, for one reason or another, all fell through. In 1988, one of the more promising plans fell through as the resistance of a political party helped "lose" necessary paperwork, and after the following election, there was no possibility of resurrecting this plan.
In 1981, the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia were glorified as saints, and it was decided that in honor of this that the new church would be named in honor of them. After the plans of 1988 fell through, Bishop Mark held regular Liturgies asking for the intercession of the Blessed Mother and the New Martyrs.
The parish also made visits to the grave of Alexander Schmorell, who is buried in the Perlacher Forst cemetery in Munich. However, as the Stasi archive of material was opened after the reunification of Germany in 1990, it was discovered that his files - unlike those of the other members of the White Rose - were nowhere to be found.
By the early 1990s, it was clear that the American military presence in Germany would be drawn down significantly. An American military base located in Munich, McGraw Kaserne, was one of the bases scheduled to close. The base was located in the Munich area known as Giesing, and included the military necessities, one of the campuses of the University of Maryland, housing for soldiers and their families, schools for military dependents, along with venues for shopping and entertainment. As part of this installation, an army church was erected, the location of which was on Lincolnstrasse, the street which ran along the north side of the housing area, separating the base from the Perlacher Forst cemetery. This parish had been guest at this church several times, due in part to warm relations with a Roman Catholic priest by the name of Fr. John Marsh, who worked as a "contract priest" for the US military in Munich. The parish had even been allowed to hold multiple intercessory Liturgies there. The parish certainly had its eye on this church as a possible place to move, but because the matter was to be dealt with by the Germans rather than the Americans, they felt that they didn't have much of a chance of acquiring it. Fr. Marsh had a particular love for icons, and at times had arranged for well-known icons to come to the church on post. He then would invite parishes that he thought would be interested to come. One of the icons that Fr. Marsh arranged to have come to the church was the Iveron Mother of God Icon, accompanied by its caretaker, Brother José Muñoz-Cortes. While the icon and Brother Jose were there, the parish was allowed to hold an intercessory Liturgy in the church. After the service was over, Brother Jose suggested that they take myrrh that had been streaming from the icon and anoint the walls with this. Once that was done, Brother Jose exclaimed, "Now the church belongs to us!". It would take years yet, but his prophecy would prove to become true.
In 1993, a German researcher found Alexander Schmorell's police files while doing research in Moscow. On account of Schmorell's birth in Russia, his file had been sent there, and was closed to research until the fall of the Soviet Union. The researcher sent a copy of Schmorell's file to the church, knowing it had been his parish. Since it was almost the 50th anniversary of St. Alexander's execution, an article including some of this new information was written for the Orthodox magazine "Der Bote", which helped garner wider interest.
Because of this added interest surrounding Alexander Schmorell, new life was breathed into discussions of the purchase of the American church on Lincolnstrasse with the German authorities. At least two offers for the church had previously been made by other religious groups who could offer significantly more money, but all had fallen through. Finally, in December 1993 the sale of this church and piece of land was finalized. The church itself lies within sight of the grave of Alexander Schmorell, in the Perlacher Forst cemetery, which is also the location of a mass grave of some 500 Soviet people of that era, both prisoners of war, and forced laborers imported in during the war.
Over the next decades, much work has been done with the interior and exterior of the church to make it less like an "Army church" and more like the Orthodox Cathedral it now is. The name of St. Nicholas has not been lost, having been retained with the chapel connected on the north side of the building.
On October 29, 2007, shortly after the reunification of the Moscow Patriarchate and ROCOR, the Cathedral of the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia was visited by Patriarch Alexei II. This was the first church of ROCOR in which a Patriarch of Moscow celebrated a service.
On February 5, 2012, the glorification of Alexander Schmorell - now St. Alexander of Munich - took place here.
- Official website
- The Russian Orthodox Cathedral Church in Munich (in German)
- Die Kapelle des hl. Nikolaus an der Kathedrale (in German)
- On the Consecration of the Chapel of St. Nicholas
- Orthpedia entry (in German)