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In the autumn of 1702, shortly after the principal organist at Sangerhausen’s St. James Church had passed away, seventeen year old Johann Sebastian Bach applied for the position. Having just completed his studies at the Partikularschule in Lüneburg, Bach had ventured south in hopes of finding gainful employment, but in spite of a very successful audition, Duke Johann Georg of Saxe-Weißenfels intervened in the selection process and directed the Sangerhausen Town Council to appoint an older, more experienced candidate to the post instead. Being denied this position must have been something of a disappointment to Bach as Sangerhausen was a thriving city in sight of the Harz mountains, deriving significant wealth from its position at the junction of important roads and its nearby copper mines.

Between 1726 and 1728 Zacharias Hildebrandt constructed a large organ in the west loft of St. James, and so when the position of organist once again became vacant in 1736, Bach enthusiastically recommended that his son, Johann Gottfried Bernhard Bach, vie for the position that he had lost thirty-five years earlier. Johann Gottfried Bernhard won the competition and took up residence in Sangerhausen in 1737, but already in 1738 he resigned the job as organist at St. James, registered at the University of Jena in 1739, and mysteriously died shortly thereafter.

St. James Church, a late Gothic hall church with a nave and three aisles, was built between 1457 and 1542 and still stands. Through the years its interior has been richly painted, and its 61m tall, Baroque-domed bell tower has begun to lean. Now in Saxony-Anhalt, the great organ at St. James Church in Sangerhausen sounds more sweetly than ever as the instrument of thirty stops, with two manuals and pedal, was thoroughly restored by Hermann Eule Orgelbau in 1978.

In addition to its Bach connections, Sangerhausen attracts many visitors with its Europa-Rosarium, the largest rose collection in the world with more than 8,300 rose varieties and species.