Doves vs. Rococonuts

Mary Statue

For most travelers, any trip to Europe will include a fair number of visits to famous churches. Pick any travel guide for a European capital, and I promise that at least one (if not more) of the top 10 must-see sights will be a church.

Mind you, I’m not complaining. I enjoy the art and architecture of historic churches, and have visited my share. And on a recent day in Munich, I visited two very different churches. In fact, there couldn’t have been a more stark contrast between the two, their religious message, and the way it was presented.

Holy Spirit Church

Just off Marienplatz, the main square in Munich’s old town, is the the Heiliggeistkirche, which in English translates to The Holy Spirit Church. It was built in the 18th Century, and for churches of the time, its white exterior was plain. But just inside the door, a unique and incredible sight welcomes worshippers and tourists alike.

Holy Spirit Church 2

Hundreds of beautiful white paper doves are suspended in an elegant, sinuous curve, flying to (or from) the altar. I’ve visited churches all over the world, and I’ve never been quite as astounded or moved.

Holy Spirit Church Doves

The nave was bright, airy, and the doves brought an instant smile. The white dove has religious significance in many faiths, but for Christianity, it most frequently symbolizes the Holy Spirit, purity, and innocence.

Holy Spirit Altar

This sort of whimsical display in any church is rare, but particularly in an important, old-world church. For me, it sent a message of hope, lightness, and joy.

Asam Church Exterior

The second church for the day was The Asam Church, which according to travel guru Rick Steves is:

“The private church of the Asam brothers … a
gooey, drippy Baroque-concentrate masterpiece
by Bavaria’s two top Rococonuts.”

Originally, it was a private chapel where the brothers, both architects, could show off their work. If you wanted to build a church, the brothers could take you to their showroom. Now it’s a place of worship open to the public.

Asam Church Grim Reaper

Just inside the front door of the Asam church is this golden ghoul – the Grim Reaper himself – who is literally cutting the thread of life for this young girl. Compare this message to the flock of doves, and it doesn’t take a theologian to appreciate the difference.

Asam Church Interior

The interior of the church is incredibly ornate, and the sculpted figures, columns, and other decorations are almost stacked on top of each other. So much so, that it takes real concentration to appreciate all the detail. It was unique and interesting to see, but for me, it felt dark, ponderous, and heavy-handed.

Asam Church Altar

I visited the Holy Spirt Church first, and about an hour later, the Asam Church; which probably helped to reinforce the contrast between the two. Religion is the ultimate personal choice, and there are lots of ways to convey the message. These churches reveal two of those ways.

Happy Trails,


We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at

57 thoughts

  1. I love them both! So vibrant and colourful and creative. The Asam church is certainly over the top. Just from the photo I was completely astounded by the sheer ornate craziness of it. And the doves and lovely, as is the backdrop of the beautiful church they are in.

    1. Thanks Alison. These two churches were part of a DIY city walk, and it was just chance that we visited them so close together. I’ve certainly never seen such a contrast in styles and feeling. They were both truly unique experiences. ~James

  2. Oh I so love the doves. I always associate them with peace.In today’s world a sign of peace is so refreshing.I love visiting a variety of old churches when we travel.

    1. Aren’t these doves outstanding. I sat there for some time admiring the subtle way they were attached to an almost invisible wire mesh. The project must have been a huge chore for a number of people. ~James

    1. Thanks Sue. The doves were a beautiful sight to see, and our pictures really can’t duplicate the feeling of walking into the cathedral and getting such a pleasant surprise. ~James

  3. Love the doves, which I definitely associate with peace. Reminds me of a similar flock of butterflies in the NC Art Museum.

    I hate rococo, myself, and am not that fond of baroque. Give me gothic or art nouveau!

    1. The doves were a wonderful surprise Kathy, and I can’t imagine how much work must have gone into the project. I don’t hate Rococo, but it’s generally so over the top, that I get enough of it quickly. ~James

  4. That must have been a great experience! I really loved the doves- what a simple and beautiful way to depict things! And huge contrast between the two messages as well! Regards.

    1. Thanks. You’re right – the doves are such a simple concept, and have a huge visual impact. I’m sure the project was more difficult to pull off than it appears, but the results are fabulous. ~James

  5. I’d take the doves over the grim reaper any day! I can appreciate all of the work involved in both churches. To me, the Asam Church seems gaudy (for lack of a better word).

    1. Gaudy it was, but it was pretty neat to see. And I must admit that I will never understand people who choose the “gloom, doom and sin from birth” version of religion. I’d like to say that it doesn’t happen anymore, but it does. ~James

  6. The Asam may be over the top but what an experience! The first church with the doves took my breath away from the first peek at the picture. Until you mentioned they were paper, I wondered about these ‘birds’. Wonderful photos. Thank you. ❤

    1. Both of the churches were certainly interesting, Tess, and beautiful in their own way. Can you imagine origami birds having such a stunning visual impact? It was a truly unique sight. ~James

    1. Thanks for the comment and for dropping by the blog Bryan. With most of these old churches in Europe, it takes a while to appreciate the details. And unless there’s a service going on, our policy is to take a pew in the middle somewhere and sit for a while. It gives us a chance to look around, and it rests our tired, tourist feet. I don’t exactly agree with the “gloom & doom” religious message, but the Asam church is a great sight to see. ~James

    1. I agree Joyce. The doves send a powerful message, and even though the Assam Church is interesting from an artistic viewpoint, in this case simple is better. I hope all is well in BG, and say hello to Dascal. Love, JH

  7. I love the doves! There is a feeling of hope that exudes from this image. As for the Asam church, although very interesting, I’m afraid once I saw the Grim Reaper my impression of this masterpiece would have changed.

    1. Isn’t that Grim Reaper something LuAnn. I’ve seen the Reaper used in churches before, but cutting the thread of life for a cute little girl. It sends a message, that’s for sure, but not one I’d boast about if it were my church. But there’s no denying it’s interesting art. ~James

    1. We could have a whole conversation about Gaudi. I’m not sure he was a dove sorta guy, but he left his mark for sure, and the city of Barcelona is still paying the bills to get his church sorted out. ~James

      1. One thing all of the large cathedrals have in common is costs. I suspect the mega churches of today also cost a pretty penny, James. It has crossed my mind many a time that there might be a better use for the money. Still, I can’t deny the beauty. –Curt

      2. We just visited the Palace/Summer House of an Archbishop in Brühl, and it’s a mini-Versailles. The words opulence and extravagant are understatements. Apparently, he visited this summer house a couple of times a year. I wonder how his starving parishioners felt about his lifestyle? It’s no wonder that every country in Europe had peasant revolts in the 16-19th Centuries. ~James

    1. Pretty funny Tom. Hopefully you aren’t standing near a window, what with the hand of God and all. Would that be the incredibly buff WASP Jesus. We’re on an open line, so I’ll leave it there. ~James

  8. I love all those paper doves! How unusual! I stop in churchs fairly often on my travels but am usually overwhelmed by the grandeur and all the ornate details. I soak it in for a little while, but then I’m ready to move on.

    1. I agree Juliann. If you want to see art and architecture (that has survived) from the Middle Ages, that pretty much means churches. But I agree about being overwhelmed. There’s so much complex symbolism in religious art, that it almost takes an expert to appreciate. There’s the obvious stuff of course, but for me, it is beautiful, but much of it I really don’t understand it. ~James

  9. Oh my – both of them are visual extravaganzas, and you’re right … for totally opposite reasons. From your pictures, I can imagine how overwhelming both of them must have been. Wow.

    Love the doves 🙂
    … but it’s the pink and gold combined with white. It looks like spring!

    1. Well put Joanne. Visual extravaganzas, but for very different reasons. As you say, the simplicity and color palate of the Holy Spirit Church is outstanding. And the sheer crammed-in detail of The Asam is another extravaganza. ~James

    1. Aren’t those doves the greatest Pam? After downloading the photos from the cathedral, we realized that we hadn’t really taken many photos of the church interior, but we had a ton of the doves. ~James

  10. I believe I can derive from your post feelings somewhat (at least) similar to mine regarding religion generally. With which fact at base, the doves must and do win out, hands down ! 🙂

    1. I’d say you’re spot on M-R. As I said to another commenter, I don’t agree with and can never understand the “gloom, doom and sin from birth” version of religion. I think that religion is about peace and understanding, not the threat of Hell, which seems counterintuitive. ~James

  11. The doves are indeed very beautiful. When looking at the photos of the rococo church, couldn’t help thinking that the Asam brothers might have been the Versace of their era, when it comes to interior design. Very flamboyant style. 🙂 Thank you James!

    1. The Versace comparison is a good one Vasilis, and flamboyant is the perfect word. It’s interesting to think of a chapel as a salesroom. I can see a clergyman pointing to Jesus on the cross and saying: “That Jesus is good, but lets make the sword wound smaller and back off on some of the blood.” ~James

  12. Like so many others, I found the doves fascinating. What a project to hang them all. What I like about baroque is that I can sit for hours and constantly find some hidden or unnoticed feature in the details that it is so easy to miss when I don’t sit and look closely. The mosaics at the Monreale Cathedral in Palermo come to mind.
    Great photos as usual. – Mike

    1. Thanks Mike. I’m sure this was a big project for a bunch of volunteers. As I said to another commenter, our policy on churches (unless a service is going on) is to take a seat with a clear view of the whole room. This gives us a chance to look around to appreciate all the details, and it rests our weary tourist bones. Other than the doves, the interior of the Holy Spirit Church was pretty normal, but the Asam Church was something else. ~James

    1. Bronwyn, with religion, I guess it’s a matter of how you want your medicine. And in the case of the reaper, you can tell from previous posts that I get a kick out of skeletons in church. I too would like to know the story on the dove project. ~ James

    1. As I said in the post Marie, this was originally a private chapel, so it wasn’t a large space. So in addition to being OTT, all the sculptures and decorative details were crammed in, and almost on top of each other. Honestly, I think it was more salesroom than chapel. But, if you’re religious, I guess it’s good to kill two birds with one stone. ~James

  13. I really enjoyed this post – and the origami doves were moving for me just front he photos – and so can only imagine how striking they were to see up close like that. I also agree on how diverse these churches are – and the writing here was so succinct and flowing – early enjoyed this for many reasons.

    1. Thanks Yvette. Succinct is what I always try to achieve. There’s lots of stuff out there to read, and I like to know that I’m not wasting readers’ time. For me, it’s always easier to write long rather than short. And on the doves, can you imagine how much work was involved? Fabulous results. ~James

  14. Churches like this one are such an amalgamation of figures, idols, and impressions. I mean, the Grim Reaper, an angel, and Christ on the Cross? Whew! But what I really love is that sinuous curve of doves. You captured it well: light and fanciful!

    1. Thanks Rusha. The doves were a whimsical touch that I’ve never seen in any cathedral, particularly in Europe. I’d love to talk to the folks who came up with the idea and saw the project to fruition. And the Asam Church had something for everyone, which I guess is the point of a showroom/chapel. ~James

    1. Thanks for the comment and for dropping by the blog. Not only were the doves beautiful and whimsical, they conveyed the message perfectly. To me, this is art at its finest. ~James

  15. To be honest, I’m really not a fan of the paper doves. I get their beauty and significance, I really do. But I’m much more a fan of the ceiling itself, being a HUGE fan of church ceilings…and the doves obstruct the ceiling in a huge way so it’s impossible to see the full gorgeousness of that amazing work of art straight-on. It’s incredibly distracting to me. It’s nice that they did it, but I’d love to see them take it down one of these days soon so we can enjoy the full majesty of the actual ceiling again.

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