A Brief History of the Village Church in Gütz and Its Stained-Glass Windows
The time is the late twelfth century, and the Holy Roman Empire is riven by constant feuding between the ruling Staufers and their archrivals, the Welfs. Nor is there any end in sight to the power struggle between emperor and pope. Emperor Frederick I, better known as Barbarossa (d. 1190), and his sons Henry and Philip are working hard to consolidate their rule. At least in the empire’s eastern territories the situation appears to have stabilized, and most of the imperial diets during this period are held in Merseburg on the River Saale in what is now Saxony-Anhalt.
The House of Wettin, a dynasty allied with the Staufers, has a castle in nearby Landsberg that is famed for its Romanesque Double Chapel. The Augustinian monastery on Petersberg Hill is flourishing, and an Augustinian nunnery is being built in neighboring Brehna. The powerful Archbishop of Magdeburg at this time is Wichmann von Seeburg. Halle is doing well both as a mercantile city and as a major producer of salt, and Leipzig is hosting the first of its great trade fairs. And at some point prior to 1190, Dedo V, brother of Dietrich, the last margrave of Landsberg, brought the parish church of Gütz under the wing of the Petersberg monastery.
The church was built on the site of a Slavic fortress and in the fifteenth century was enlarged by the addition of a Gothic polygonal choir. Jakobus Rudel (d. 1540) is named in the church annals as both its last Catholic priest and its first Protestant pastor. The Baroque remodeling dates from the late eighteenth century and the church, which is now a protected monument, has retained its Baroque interior to this day.
The stained-glass windows featuring portraits of Luther and Melanchthon and scenes from the lives of Jesus and the Apostle Paul were installed in the choir in 1910–1917. Widely regarded as a tour de force of stained-glass work, the famous windows are thought to have been made for the 400th anniversary of the Reformation. While the windows of many churches in Germany were either severely damaged or utterly destroyed during World War II, the windows of the church in Gütz did not fall into disrepair until much later.
Situated in communist East Germany, the struggling parish of Gütz had to contend not just with state hostility to religion but with indifference, negligence, and lack of moral courage on the part of the population at large. By the 1980s, vandalism and metal theft had wrecked the windows almost beyond repair. The Baroque organ had to be written off completely.
The story of how the windows came to be rescued began in 1997. Since then, generous donations totaling some €600,000 have been collected and invested in the restoration of this little gem of a church.