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The first Baroque residence on the Upper Rhine

Rastatt Residential Palace

Interior view of Rastatt Palace Church. Image: Landesamt für Denkmalpflege Baden-Württemberg, Bern Hausner
DELICATE BEAUTY

THE PALACE CHURCH OF

THE HOLY CROSS

The palace church in Rastatt is an usual example of the piety and taste of its builder, Margravine Sibylla Augusta von Baden-Baden. Experienced restorers worked to preserved the extremely delicate original structure.

Detail view of white-gold circle of clouds above the high altar, Rastatt Palace Church. Image: Landesamt für Denkmalpflege Baden-Württemberg, Bernd Hausner

Circle of stucco clouds over the high altar.

THE HOLY CITY OF ROME AS INSPIRATION

"Especially beautiful and in no way poorer than the palace rooms" is how Sibylla Augusta wanted her church. It served as court chapel, a pilgrimage site and as the margravine's burial place. Michael Ludwig Rohrer, the royal architect, oversaw its construction between 1720 and 1723. Sibylla Augusta brought inspirations and numerous relics from a 1719 trip to Rome. That same year, she began construction on her Holy Stairs, running from the palace to the soon-to-be church. 

View of the Holy Stairs between Rastatt Residential Palace and the palace church. Image: Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg, Arnim Weischer

The Holy Stairs to the palace church.

THE HOLY STAIRS

The Holy Stairs are a replica of the Scala Sancta at the Lateran in Rome. Believers view these stairs as those of Pontius Pilate's praetorium, where Jesus is said to have lost three drops of blood. Relics from the Passion are enshrined on the Holy Stairs in Rastatt and in the neighboring Passion of the Christ Chapel. One could only traverse the stairs to the chapel in a kneeling position. Pilgrims would receive an indulgence for their pilgrimage here.

Detail view of the antependium with pietra dura panels, palace church cabinet. Image: Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg, Arnim Weischer

The antependium with pietra dura panels.

THE PASSION OF CHRIST CHAPEL

This sanctuary, the Passion of Christ Chapel, once housed many relics. Approximately 100 bones were attached to the walls, others were stored in containers of silver, gold and precious stones. The precious metals were later melted down and the stones used elsewhere. The altar retains a special altar frontal, an antependium. Like the Florentine cabinet in the Favorite Palace, it is adorned with agate and jasper plating as well as precious pietra dura panels. These panels were created using a lapidary technique that originated in Florence.

THE PALACE CHURCH INTERIOR

The interior hides many peculiarities: an alcove representing the Tomb of Jesus (one of Jesus' sacred sites), alabaster columns at the high altar that can be lit from within, and original embroidered textiles on the pilasters and altars. The ceiling fresco depicts the Finding of the Holy Cross, in which Sibylla Augusta is cast as Empress Helena. In 1733, the deceased margravine was interred in the church, as per her wishes. "Pray for the great sinner Augusta" reads the inscription on her memorial plate.

Ceiling fresco in the palace church, detail of the Finding of the Holy Cross by Empress Helena in 326, Rastatt Residential Palace. Image: Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg, credit unknown
Portrait of Margravine Sibylla Augusta von Baden, Rastatt Residential Palace. Image: Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg, Andrea Rachele

A comparison reveals that the St. Helena depicted in the ceiling fresco in the palace church shares many similarities with Margravine Sibylla Augusta.

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