The History of the Vierzehnheiligen Basilica
In the 18th century Stephan Moesinger, a dynamic and educated young abbot, wanted a new church to be built at Vierzehnheiligen. The old church had become too small to host the increasing numbers of pilgrims. In addition, it was in dire need of repair. At first the abbot was wishing for a large new church for his convent Langheim. Therefore he ordered Balthasar Neumann to sketch a plan (1742). However, due to the high expenses resulting from this plan the means for a new pilgrimage church at Vierzehnheiligen had to be cut. Before, in the winter of 1738/39, the abbot had appointed Heinrich Krohne a protestant master builder from Weimar. He planned a central building with galleries which would have looked rather like a protestant church for the court of Weimar than like a Catholic church for pilgrimage. This plan was rejected by the Prince-Bishop Karl Friedrich von Schoenborn of Bamberg for fear of the high costs from the wooden vault.
As a result priority
was given to Michael Kuechel, the Prince Bishop´s master builder. In 1742 he
proposed to the abbot a new central construction, which very much impressed the
latter. It was larger than the previous one and put the Altar of Grace into the
center of the church. However, the abbot also rejected this plan because of the
high costs involved with building a stone cupola. Then, Balthasar Neumann was
called, possibly even by the abbot himself. His plan showed a similar but
simpler church as for the Langheim convent: A basilica of three naves with
columns and a front with two steeples. What made this plan special was the
place of vision, which was centered in the cruciform interior. Galleries were
added in a second plan. The Prince Bishop agreed but the abbot wanted to keep a
lower budget for the church and feared an expensive groundwork for the
foundation. For that reason he asked the church to be moved 10 meters higher on
the mountain. Thus, he consulted Krohne, his private master builder. Krohne, however,
viewing it as a new chance for his previous plans wilfully changed Neumann's
plan. He tried to build a protestant church with the sermon at the center of
the service. On St. George's Day (April 23, 1743) Abbot Stephan Moesinger laid
the foundation of the church. Once the foundation was laid, the walls were
erected rapidly under the direction of Thomas Nissler a skillful master mason
who lived in Staffelstein. There were three hemispherical niches on the plan.
The walls were made of yellow sandstone, which started to break when the church
was built. In December 1743 Neumann and Kuechel came to inspect the building
site and were shocked by what they found.
The abbot promised to change the plan according to the needs of a Catholic church and dismissed Krohne. Meanwhile the most honorable old General Maximilian Welsch of Mainz proposed a very special plan to the abbot. This church had enormous dimensions, on paper at least, and for that reason was rejected. Meanwhile Neumann took up his work again. He tried to find a new solution including the plan of Krohne whose walls could not be removed. The place of vision which would have been somewhere in the nave had to be moved to the center. Neumann could not change the exterior of the building. He could only change the interior of church. On both sides of the place of vision he put up four columns in such a way that they formed an oval. With this brilliant idea the galleries connected with them could be added. Two smaller oval basements were added in the east and in the west. Neumann supervised the building until he died in 1753.
Giuseppe Appiani, court painter at Mainz, came to paint the frescos and the altarpieces. The stucco work was done under the direction of Johann Michael Feichtmayr and Johann Georg Uebelher (Wessobrunn) in rococo-style (decoration of the church, altars, the pulpit and the Altar of Grace). One of the most skillful sculptures of the church shows St. Wendelin, the patron of shepherds standing on the right side of the side altar located on the left side in the background.
On September 16th, 1772, after 29 years of construction, the magnificent baroque and rococo style church was consecrated by the Prince Bishop Adam Friedrich of Seinsheim in the presence of Malachias Limmer, abbot of Langheim. At the same time the priorat of the Cistercians next to the church and a building for servants were constructed by Kuechel. These buildings were erected of the same yellow sandstone. The former priorat is the actual monastery of the Franciscans.