There were no fewer than eight cruise ships parked along a kilometer of river bank at Ruedesheim, some of them side by side. Ours was fortunate enough to be moored on its own. I woke up as it started to move away from the shore just after four and drifted off to sleep until half past five. The first two mornings, it was first light by half past four, but this morning, it stayed dark until I finally woke up, as the sky was heavily overcast with cloud, and it was raining. Such a contrast. To judge by the buildings, we were passing through an industrial zone. I checked the Blackberry's GPS mapping device and learned that we were close to Mainz, just over 300km from our final destination with two more overnight stops to come.
We sailed south for seven hours in continued rain, until we docked outside Speyer just after lunch. It was too wet to go out on deck, and difficult to take photos from the relative shelter of our little cabin balcony. Nevertheless, Stuart treated us to an interesting and highly appropriate commentary about the history of the Reformation over the tannoy, as we travelled past Worms to reach Speyer. Both cities are key places of pilgrimage for protestant Christianity due to the story of controversy awakened by Martin Luther's publication of the 95 Theses, and how this was dealt with by Church and State. Speyer was the place where German princes signalled support for church reform to the Holy Roman Emperor, and won the freedom for each to determine the state religion of the populace they rule. It was where the term 'protestant' was adopted for advocates of church reform.
Speyer is quite an appropriate tour destination given this year's 500th anniversary of the publication of the 95 theses, and Stuart's account of the social and economic background of the Rhineland contributing to this major paradigm shift in European religious and social thinking was most helpful in reminding me of church history I once covered in theological college for exam purposes, but had never properly absorbed. It more than made up for a very rainy day spent indoors. As for the city, it was a place of royal importance, in mediaeval times, and several kings are buried in a Cathedral crypt dating back to the eleventh century.
The rain slowed to a drizzle and then stopped and started intermittently after we disembarked. A twenty minute walk took us through an extensive park to the Cathedral, a huge Romanesque building with four tall towers and a dome covering the crossing. It's a very tall building internally with massive rounded arches, constructed in pale coloured, durable Old Red Sandstone. It seems sparsely furnished, although it contains all the liturgical essentials, simply because of the vast spaces enclosed. It has probably benefited from twentieth century reforms in terms of its layout for contemporary usage, and its very simplicity would make it acceptable as a house of prayer for Catholics and Protestants alike as long as they don't mind worshipping in such a huge building, with few intimate spaces.
Curiously enough, the neighbouring Protestant church, dedicated to the Holy Trinity is a seventeenth century baroque edifice. We couldn't visit, however, as it was closed for renovation. At the end of the main high street is the last remaining mediaeval town gateway. Walls and towers of the old fortified city long ago disappeared. The city has been reduced to ruin several times in the wars between French and German, Catholic and Protestant over the centuries. The original town gateway and walls would have been 5-6 metres high, but the remaining one acquired a very tall ornate superstructure containing suits of rooms and a tall steep pitched roof, perhaps as a civic status symbol of sorts.
There is in the city, a large and very ornate early twentieth century Protestant church in the Florissant Gothic style, with coloured tiled roof and a spire whose ring of bells were visible through the stone tracery at the base of its conical section. This was built to commemorate the fourth centenary of the reformation. Sadly, it too was closed by the time I reached it. Not so, another large Catholic parish church the opposite side of the road, constructed in 14-15th century Gothic style. I was unable to determine its age, but as it was almost a kilometre away from the Cathedral, so could well have been built to serve population expansion as the town grew in the nineteenth century.
We also found a small Jewish quarter with the remains of a mediaeval synagogue with a mikvah, ritual bath next to it. The seventeenth century house adjacent is the town's Jewish museum. It's a reminder that Speyer, like so many other big towns had substantial Jewish communities, since ancient times. There wasn't enough time to visit the large and popular museum of transport, but we did have tea and cheese cake in a conditorei, and Clare visited some clothes shops while I went church crawling. All in all despite the damp weather, it was an interesting afternoon, involving quite a lot of walking, so we were glad to return to the ship for supper, and a guitar recital before turning in, tired out, aware that just after midnight, the ship would slip her moorings and continue heading up-river overnight.