For the first time in more than 200 years a German ‘cathedral’ has been deliberately torn down.

Demolition teams moved in on the former place of worship this morning to clear the land ready for the expansion of a giant open-cast coal mine.

The 130 year old building was standing on top of deposits of one of Europe’s dirtiest fuels: brown coal, or ‘lignite’.

Last minute legal appeals and direct action from Greenpeace activists failed to prevent the destruction from going ahead.

The building, officially the church of St Lambert’s, was widely known as the Immerather Dom (or ‘Immerath cathedral’) by local people because of its impressive architecture and similarities with many Germany cathedrals.

As demolition crews moved in protesters climbed the structure’s towers and nearby buildings unfurling banners with messages like:

“There’s nothing holy about RWE”.

A spokesperson for RWE, the giant energy company that owns the mine and the power plants it fuels, told reporters on the scene that steps were being taken to protect the climate – a claim campaigners responded to with anger given the enormous impact of the CO2 emissions from the company’s plants.

Plants owned by RWE in various countries are responsible for almost a fifth of all CO2 emissions from coal in the EU and the harmful air pollution they cause are linked to more than 1700 premature deaths according to analysis by the Europe Beyond Coal campaign.

The symbolism of a historic building being destroyed to extract a fuel that destroys the climate spread quickly on social media.

Some users drew a connection to the UK government’s confirmation last week that it would phase out coal by 2025 and the news that Finland was considering bringing its own national phase out date forward from 2030 to 2025.

Germany, which is still without a government after elections last year, is yet to announce how it will phase out coal ahead of a 2030 deadline in order to meet commitments in the Paris agreement.

Aside from the church, the mine’s expansion continues to threaten local forests and entire villages, including buildings listed as being of historical interest.

The building’s significance for the local population was highlighted by fire fighter Marc Bolten, 34. In 2015 Bolten had an image of the tattooed on his arm and told RP Online it was to help him remember a beautiful village. He told the local paper:

“This is my hometown. I grew up here. Almost everything I ever did for the first time happened in Immerath.”

Another local resident, Norbert Winzen, whose family have farmed in the area for generations, has explained how he was not allowed to make significant changes to his home because of its heritage protection. Yet it now seems to be just a matter of time until the mining company’s diggers reach his farm.

Last year Norman described the scene in front of his house:

 “When I go out of my door, I see people from the mining company. Building pumps, cutting trees, closing houses. Keyenberg had 950 inhabitants, and now I think there are 50-70 who have gone. I think in two years there will be 400 left, and in four years – 20 left.”

“My mother has lived in this village for 73 years, and she always says: “I hope I’m going to die before this mining company really starts.”

You can read more about Norbert’s story and watch a video interview with him on the Europe Beyond Coal website:  Germany’s disappearing villages.

This article was amended on 12th January 2018 to clarify that the building, despite being widely referred to as a cathedral by local people and the German press, was actually officially the ‘church of St Lambert’s’ and was not a recognised cathedral.