In the steps of Albert Schweitzer

The Saint-Nicolas church, Strasbourg © Jean-Marie Stocker

The Saint-Nicolas church, Strasbourg © Jean-Marie Stocker

Born on 14. January 1875 in Kaysersberg, in the South of Alsace, Albert Schweitzer came to study in Strasbourg in 1893, then sailed for Africa the 26 March 1913. He had a universal mind, being at the same time a theologian, philosopher, musicologist and musician, writer and missionary doctor. This Alsatian had an international influence and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953. He left his mark in different places in Strasbourg, starting with the Protestant Seminary.


The tour starts here at the Protestant Seminary, generally known as the “Stift”, at 1b, quai Saint Thomas (the building on the right hand side inside the courtyard); Schweitzer used to come here very early in his theological career. Albert Schweitzer started theological and philosophical studies at the Strasbourg University and had a room in this big house built at the end of the 18th century. He became its temporary director in 1901, then its permanent director from 1903 to 1906. This is where he wrote the significant work on historical secret of Jesus’ life edited in 1906. The previous year, he had published his works of the musician and poet John-Sebastian Bach.
In the present Rodoph Peter room you’ll find a picture of the young Schweitzer, as well as a bas-relief of the doctor, place in 2009 in the entrance porch passage.


Leaving the courtyard, on the left hand side under the porch, stop by at the Protestant Library. Many books, booklets and articles published by Albert Schweitzer (or about him) are kept in the Collegium Wilhelmitanum library as well as the archives of the “Kirchenbote” Protestant magazine, which Schweitzer worked on.


The tour goes on over the bridge towards the hospital (“Hôpital civil”). On the quai St. Nicolas, you’ll see the church bearing the same name. Built in 1182, it lays for part of it on the walls of a later Roman Emire small fort. Rebuilt in 1381, it was enlarged in 1454. The triumphal arch bears the date of 1577. Its façade is modern (1905). Only a few decorative elements are left from the Romanesque church, used in the tower bell. Inside there are remains of frescos and gravestones. At the end of his studies and almost during all the time he lived in Strasbourg, Schweitzer was a curate in this church’s parish. When he came back to Strasbourg in 1918, the preaches he gave there became famous.
During that period, from 1902 to 1913, Schweitzer was also a teacher at the Protestant theology faculty at the University of Strasbourg. In 1905, when he was 30 years old, he started to study medicine in order to serve as a missionary in Africa. He graduated as a medical doctor in 1913 and was later called “doctor of the virgin forest”.


Retrace your path, go past the Protestant Seminary again and take the rue Martin Luther on your right hand side. There you may admire the St. Thomas church. When Schweitzer returned to Alsace in 1918, he regularly gave organ concerts in this church to raise money for the hospital in Lambaréné. Schweitzer used to play the organ any time he could (and for the last time in 1954).


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