Interview with Rosemarie Frey, the woman who instigated the preservation of The Bach Wedding Church in Dornheim, Germany, site of our September 6, 2014 Bach und Soehne organ and multi-media concert performance.
Jeannine: JS Bach’s Wedding Church is now a well-known memorial to Bach, with thousands of visitors from all over the world. However, I understand in 1996, with the church in such a desolate state that demolition was being considered; a group of villagers rescued the building and provided for its restoration.
Rosemarie Frey: Immediately after the World War II, the structural state of the church was so bad that the valuable ancient artifacts were removed and stored. For the 300th birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach’s birthday in 1985, a renovation of the Church was carried out, but shortly afterward the building was officially declared unsafe. The building continued to deteriorate but since the church congregation was not able to afford the rehabilitation, demolition of the Wedding Church of Johann Sebastian Bach was proposed. At that time, some residents of the village decided to take this task into own hands and founded a group to maintain the wedding Church of J. S. Bach in Dornheim. They had financial support from the Foundation for the Protection of Monuments in Thuringia, the Office for Protection of Monuments, and the Protestant churches of Thuringia.
J: First, please give us a brief history of the Bartholomäuskirche.
Rosemarie: The construction of our Church is dated by archaeologists to the first half of the 12th century. Between 1474-1479, extensions to the east and south were added bringing the building to the current size. In 1631 the tower was built. It was rebuilt in 1641 in its present form after a fire triggered by a lightning strike destroyed it. In 1723 the galleries were installed in the Church, and a year later the Church got the Baroque pulpit and altar. In 1817 the bells were taken down due to structural problems. A new bell tower was erected in the location of the old sacristy. 40 years later the northern wall of the church had to be renewed.
J: Why is the church now more commonly known as the JS Bach Wedding Church?
Rosemarie: In June 1707, Johann Sebastian Bach became the organist at the Church of St. Blasius in the free Imperial City of Mühlhausen, 80 kilometers from Dornheim. However, he decided on October 17, 1707 to marry his second Maria Barbara Bach, in our church. Bach was married by the former pastor of Dornheim, Johann Lorenz Stauber, one of his best friends. This historically documented wedding is a Godsend for us, because now many young people, not only from Germany, have the desire to marry in Bach’s Wedding Church.
J: How did the citizens of Dornheim save the church from the wrecking ball?
Rosemarie: The Foundation for the Protection of Monuments in Thuringia provided the money for the new roof. Additionally, much needed money was generated through concerts, initially on the construction site, other events, Church tours, publications and collections. However, the energetic assistance in construction by many Dornheimer citizens contributed to the rescue of the Church. A real community spirit evolved which inspired other municipalities in the area to also do something to preserve their churches.
J: What parts of the church remain from Bach’s time?
Rosemarie: The structure of the building is essentially unchanged since Bach’s time. However, the stairway to the galleries was not created until 1723. Bach was married in front of the carved wooden Gothic alter (c. 1430). The Baroque pulpit and altar were added in 1724, as I already mentioned. In Bach’s day, there was also the small wooden altar (ca.1480) and the large crucifix, which was created at the same time.
J: Please describe the organ. Is it similar to organs Bach may have played or the instrument that was part of the church at Bach’s wedding?
Rosemarie: Johann Sebastian Bach’s wedding in Dornheim had an organ but we do not know how it looked. In 1723/24 an organ built by Johann Anton Weise (1672-1759) was added with the installation of the galleries. The current organ came to Dornheim for the 300th anniversary of the Bach wedding. The late Baroque case with its wonderful prospect came from Schongleina and was built in 1766 by Justin Ehrenfried Gerhard and Christian Vogt. The organ builder, Karl Heins Schoenefeld from Stadtilm built a new organ, but used the bellows, and the mechanical tracker actionn as well as existing wood and metal pipes from the Gerhard organ. These parts were carefully repaired or reconstructed, but the stop draws and console are new. The organ has two manuals with a pedal and 18 registers. It is popular with many organists.
J: Where can one find more information on the Bach Wedding Church?
Rosemarie: Our Association has a Web page, see www.bach-in-dornheim.de. Or visit us at Dornheim. Guests are always welcome in Bach’s Wedding Church.