The Holy City – Trier in the Early and High Middle Ages

(485 to 1307)

  • The Trier city seal (mid-12th century) is considered one of the oldest in all of Europe. Photo: City Archives, Anja Runkel.
    The Trier city seal (mid-12th century) is considered one of the oldest in all of Europe. Photo: City Archives, Anja Runkel.
  • The Market Cross was erected on the Main Market in 958. A copy is on the market today (photo), with the original in the Municipal Museum Simeonstift.
    The Market Cross was erected on the Main Market in 958. A copy is on the market today (photo), with the original in the Municipal Museum Simeonstift.
  • St. Simeon as a hermit in the Porta Nigra (oil painting from the 18th century). Photo: Municipal Museum Simeonstift.
    St. Simeon as a hermit in the Porta Nigra (oil painting from the 18th century). Photo: Municipal Museum Simeonstift.
  • The Porta Nigra was converted into a double church to honor Simeon (copper etching by Caspar Merian, about 1670. Photo: Municipal Museum Simeonstift.
    The Porta Nigra was converted into a double church to honor Simeon (copper etching by Caspar Merian, about 1670. Photo: Municipal Museum Simeonstift.
  • The fortress-like residential towers of the noble families were characteristic of the settlement structure in the High Middle Ages. Franco’s Tower in Dietrichstrasse (photo) is still well preserved.
    The fortress-like residential towers of the noble families were characteristic of the settlement structure in the High Middle Ages. Franco’s Tower in Dietrichstrasse (photo) is still well preserved.
  • Unique church ensemble since the 13th century: Cathedral and the Early Gothic Church of Our Lady (right).
    Unique church ensemble since the 13th century: Cathedral and the Early Gothic Church of Our Lady (right).
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At the end of the 5th century, nothing was left of the once pulsating urban life in Trier: the number of inhabitants had been drastically reduced. Nevertheless, the Trier list of bishops continued during this time as well, and it was also the bishops who now filled the power vacuum and emerged as the secular rulers. As an archdiocese, Trier was placed over the neighboring dioceses of Metz, Toul, and Verdun. At the end of the 6th century, Trier once again had a mint.  

At the division of the Frankish Kingdom in the 9th century, Trier initially fell to the kingdom of Middle Francia (Lotharingia) and, from 869 on, to the kingdom of East Francia and the later German Empire. Then came the catastrophe of 882: From Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday, Viking warriors rampaged in the city, which was completely destroyed and burned down. Many residents were killed.

It took some time before Trier was able to recover from this blow. It was not least the consistently good relationship of the Trier archbishops to the ruling dynasties of the Ottonians and Salian Franks that aided the city. It was furnished anew with many privileges, among them, the right to found a market. The market cross erected by Archbishop Heinrich in 958 symbolized the city’s regained self-confidence and marks the city center up to the present.

Civitas sancta (holy city) was a suitable name for Trier in the High Middle Ages as the number of churches, monasteries, convents, and collegiate foundations was so vast. The imperial abbey St. Maximin’s at the northern edge of the city achieved outstanding importance in the city’s spiritual life, as did the Abbey of St. Matthias’ in the south with the grave of the Apostle Matthias. In 1030, the Greek monk Simeon had himself walled up into the east tower of the Porta Nigra to end his life as a recluse and ascetic. After his death in 1035 and his immediate canonization, Archbishop Poppo had the Porta Nigra turned into a church in Simeon’s honor – in that way, this structure has been preserved as the only stone gate of the Roman city wall.

In the 12th and 13th centuries, the college of aldermen was the first body of communal self-government, which initially was dominated by a few patrician families. At the same time, the medieval city wall was built. The new fortifications enclosed an area less than half the size of the Roman city a thousand years earlier. In the 13th century, the Church of Our Lady with its cruciform floor plan was built directly next to the Cathedral, among the earliest Gothic structures in Germany.

Text: Ralph Kießling
Literature: Gabriele Clemens/Lukas Clemens: Geschichte der Stadt Trier, Munich, 2007

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