The origins of the Speyer Cathedral lie with the Salian Emperor Konrad II; the construction of this house of God was to show his claim to power and symbolize his responsibility to God. At the time of his death and interment in the cathedral, the structure was still an unfinished construction site. His son and successor Henry III pushed the construction project forward.
Under Emperor Henry IV, the grandson of the founder, the cathedral was consecrated in 1061. Nevertheless, fewer than 20 years after the consecration, the emperor instigated plans for substantial remodelling that amounted to building a new structure. The eastern part was redesigned and more richly structured. A great vault, the largest since antiquity, was constructed over the nave. The exterior also underwent changes, with the masonry crowned with a dwarf gallery and the towers newly erected and built to greater heights. At the time of Henry IV’s death in 1106, the Cathedral was complete – the longest church in the world. Today, following the destruction of Cluny, the Speyer Cathedral is the largest Romanesque church in existence.
Again and again, the Speyer Cathedral was beset by fires. However the most devastating blow that the Romanesque church suffered was in 1689 during the Nine Years’ War, where Louis XIV’s soldiers systematically laid waste to the Electoral Palatinate. Inside, its graves were broken open and plundered. The cathedral broke into flames, and most notably the west end was almost completely destroyed. Only a short time after the cathedral was outfitted with a new Baroque west end, the French Revolution broke out; the incited rabble rampaged through the cathedral and destroyed all of the altars. In 1806 plans were in place to tear down the entire structure and to use it as a quarry.
With the allocation of the Palatinate to Bavaria agreed upon at the Congress of Vienna, King Max I arranged in 1817 for the rebuilding of the Cathedral as an Episcopal church. In the middle of the 19th century, King Louis I of Bavaria had the Cathedral adorned with paintings in the style of the Nazarene movement. Shortly thereafter, the Karlsruhe-based architect and director of building Heinrich Hübsch, rebuilt the western transept and both front towers in a neo-Romanesque style.
In the course of the restoration works of the 1950s, the paintings added to the building in the 19th century were removed. Columns were reinforced with injected cement and the floor was lowered to its original level.