Thomaskirche, or St. Thomas Church in Lepzig, weathered many storms through 800 years. In the dark clouds of destruction and rebuilding, a maestro became its soul and illuminated the darkness. Johann Sebastian Bach thrived; died; and is buried at Thomaskirche.
The heart of this northeastern German city is a huge square called the Markt. Lepzig’s 450,000 citizens rush by and ignore the Renaissance-era town hall and ancient King’s House, preferring to look forward rather than back. Most Germans pause and give homage to the white church in the corner, Thomaskirche – Bach’s Shrine. Many will argue Bach’s place in the history of classical music, versus Beethoven or Schubert, but oh how he is revered in Deutschland.
Bach was named the church’s cantor in 1723 after three candidates turned the position down. He juggled multiple tasks at Lepzig University, other churches, and leading the famed Thomanarchor, the church’s boy’s choir. Remaining at Thomaskirche until his death in 1750, Bach composed 200 cantatas, the Passion According to Saint Matthew, and the Mass in B Minor. The maestro proved to also be a prodigious family man, fathering 17 children. Three became composers in their own right.
Thomaskirche and its choir go back to the 13th century. Within its walls Martin Luther preached Reformation. World War II bombers nearly destroyed Lepzig and the church. The East Germans renovated Thomaskirche, re-burying Bach near the altar in 1950 on the bicentennial of his death. It was renovated, again, after unification.
When traveling in Germany, stop by Lepzig. It is a thriving metropolis with new skyscrapers and excellent mass transportation. Hop on the Statbahn, and navigate past the glass and steel until reaching the Markt. Enter the white church in the corner. In the silence of the sacristy you will feel Bach’s power and presence. Try visiting on a Sunday evening, when the choir is in town. Close your eyes and imagine Bach at the organ conducting voices that light-up Thomaskirche.