Bouxwiller is the centre of the so-called Hanauerland in Alsace,a picturesque small town of about 4,000 inhabitants in Northern (Lower) Alsace, département Bas-Rhin. The centre consists mostly of half-timbered houses, walls painted in the typical ochre and reddish colours, and narrow lanes. This quaint little town would deserve more attention, but it is rather unnoticed by most visitors because it is located too far away from the tourist areas on the wine route. Its history is closely connected with the German County of Hanau, which is the reason why the area is known as Hanauerland.
Hanau? Isn’t that somewhere near Frankfurt?
Indeed, it is. At some point in the late middle ages, due to the last daughter from the noble house of Lichtenberg, the area became property of the Counts of Hanau to form the County of Hanau-Lichtenberg. Its history is quite complicated, in particular after King Louis XIV of France annexed Alsace. From 1680 onwards, the territory was under French suzerainty. Contracts, in particular the Westphalian Peace Treaty, guaranteed the rights of the Count of Hanau, including religion – the country had introduced the Reformation and followed the Lutheran faith. However, Louis XIV intended to return the Roman-Catholic faith to these areas. French soldiers and civil servants and new settlers who moved in were French-speaking and catholic. Conversions were encouraged, the Lutherans found themselves under tight pressure. Nevertheless the Lutheran faith remained.
The village of Kirrwiller with its two churches:
Catholic (left) and Lutheran (right)
The King’s measures to protect and promote Catholicism included the rule that, as soon as seven families lived in a village or town, the local parish church had to be opened to them. Most churches became simultaneous churches, which means that the Catholics used the choir for their mass, while the Protestants used the nave for their services – not at the same time, of course. In some places this arrangement has remained to this very day, while in others one of the two confessions was later able to build a church of their own like, as depicted above, in nearby Kirrwiller.
Only in Buchsweiler (I am using the German name here as it was in use at that time) the problem did not occur: The town had two churches. The Upper Church on the hillside, unused since the Reformation, was given to the Catholic parish community while the Lutheran Protestants kept the Lower Church in the centre of the town.
This church plays a certain role in my dissertation and a couple of other publications, hence my particular interest in it – and the need for new digital photos.
Bouxwiller is tricky to reach by public transport, though. There is no railway line, and bus connections are not too frequent. Hence I grabbed the chance when an excursion by coach was offered, and quickly signed up. This excursion was organized by an association of church music supporters and focused on the organs. It involved seeing the churches in Bouxwiller and Wissembourg, lunch and a guided tour of the town in Wissembourg (unfortunately not in Bouxwiller!) and, first of all, private concerts for the group with a top-class organist who also explained the instruments. I love music so this was a welcome plus.
Interior of the Lutheran Niederkirche with the Silbermann organ
Niederkirche, the “lower church”, dates from the early 17th century, 1613–1614 to be precise. It is classified as the first new protestant church that was built in the whole of Alsace. Since then it has undergone some refurbishments and changes, though.
The baroque spire on top of the steeple is an addition of 1728. The steeple appears rather oversized when looking up from nearby. However, since it is standing at the lowest point of the “bowl” the town is located in, it has to be this high in order to be visible over the rooftops. In particular since the Roman Catholics had the Upper Church on the hillside which overlooks the whole town.
In the interior, for example, it is not clear whether, and since when, the altar had not been standing in the east but in front of the pulpit. The large organ and the Prince’s box below are additions from 1778. The instrument was created by a famous master organ builder, Johann Andreas Silbermann. Trust me, its sound is fabulous.
While everyone else took their seats on the pegs down in the nave, I was up on the gallery to take photos when the concert started, so I sat down up there all by myself. It felt like having a concert played for me alone…
Autumn colours along a country road in Hanauerland