Rothenburg lies on the pilgrim trail to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, site of the remains of St. James (Jakob). The town’s main church, infused with mellow light from its original stained glass, has long been a stop on the route, completed in 1471 with soaring spires and a high vaulted ceiling that draws the eye up toward heaven. At the apex of the ceiling of the choir, notice a deliberate imperfection in the stones, which was done as a symbol of faith—the last stone veers slightly to the left, just as the head of Christ leaned toward the left as he hung on the cross. Color-saturated medieval stained glass depicts biblical scenes, including one with a local twist—on the right side of the choir is a scene of the Israelites in the desert, with angels throwing them not manna but pretzels. Throughout the Middle Ages, the church’s big draw was the Reliquary of the Holy Blood (1270), a rock-crystal capsule said to contain three drops of the blood of Jesus Christ. Würzburg sculptor Tilman Riemenschneider crafted the Altar of the Holy Blood in intricately carved wood to house the shrine. The center panel depicts the Last Supper, with Christ and the disciples set against background arches that mimic the windows of this church. The figures are touchingly human, right down to the veined feet. You’ll notice Riemenschneider adds a twist: Judas, not Christ, sits at the center of the table, suggesting that God is willing to shed his grace even on sinners. It’s easy to miss the apostle John, as he rests beneath the rest of the grouping, asleep with his head in the lap of Christ, the great giver of comfort. The so-called Twelve Apostles Altar also depicts the disciples, among many scenes on its colorful panels, but most riveting is a scenario of the body of St. James being carried into Rothenberg, with the Rathaus in the background—the oldest known rendering of the city.
- Frommer's Staff