The most famous site in Cologne without any doubt is the Cologne cathedral. What you probably haven’t heard is that Cologne is also known as the city of churches. It is named in that way because of its twelve Romanesque churches located within the medieval city walls.
The 12 Romanesque churches of Cologne
St. Andrew’s Church (Basilika St. Andreas)
You can easily miss St. Andrew’s Church as it is located in the shadow of the Cologne cathedral. The history of the church started in 974 AD with its consecration by Archbishop Gero.
An ancient Roman sarcophagus lies in the crypt of the church. It holds the remains of the 13th century philosopher St. Albertus Magnus. In the entrance hall of the church you will find the so called blood fountain from 16th century. It is alleged that the fountain contains the blood of the eleven thousand virgins of St. Ursula (see Church of St. Ursula for more details).
Basilica of the Holy Apostles (Basilika St. Aposteln)
Basilica of the Holy Apostles is located on Neumarkt. It is built in the 11th century. The church has three towers, one of them is about 67 meters high. This makes it the third highest tower among the twelve Romanesque churches.
Among the treasures of the church are the Heribert Chalice dating back to the 13th century and the Gothic monstrance from 15th century. The basilica also contains modern paintings by Herrmann Gottfried. On Saturday afternoons of Advent and Lent special guided tours are organized. The tour includes access to parts of the basilica that are not open to the public (more information).
Church of St. Cecilia (Cäcilienkirche)
Saint Cecilia is the patroness of musicians and sacred music. St. Cecilia’s Church is built on a site on an old Roman bath. The present building dates from the 12th century. Since 1956, St. Cecilia’s Church houses the Schnütgen Museum of medieval art.
Church of St. George (Basilika Sankt Georg)
Church of St. George is one the youngest of the twelve Romanesque churches. It is consecrated in 1067. Unfortunately nowadays you can’t see it in its full glory.
Its beautiful expressionist windows were destroyed during the World War II. The roof also was seriously damaged and later it was replaced with a simple hip roof in the Romanesque style.
In the treasury of the church you can see a gospel from 12th century. It is alleged to be a possession of St. George.
St. Gereon’s Basilica (Basilika Sankt Gereon)
The basilica is dedicated to Saint Gereon. He is a military saint, often represented as a Roman soldier or medieval knight. According to the legends Saint Gereon was a Roman soldier who was beheaded for refusing to sacrifice to pagan gods.
The church was built around 380 AD. Most parts of the present building date from the Romanesque period in 1067. In the crypt of the church you can see the tomb of Saint Gereon. In the church yard a statue of his head lies on the ground to remind us of the sacrifice of the saint.
Church of St. Cunibert (Basilika Sankt Kunibert)
The Church of St. Cunibert is the youngest of the twelve Romanesque churches. It is built over a church dedicated to Saint Clement. St. Cunibert Church is consecrated in 1247, one year before the start of the construction of the Cologne Cathedral.
The church carries the name of Saint Cunibert who was the ninth Bishop of Cologne from 627 AD until his death in 663 AD. The church’s treasury keeps the Cunibert ‘s shrine and Ewald’s shrine. Unfortunately only few fragments from the Cunibert‘s shrine survived till nowadays. They are enclosed in a new one created in 1869.
A living water well can be found in the crypt of the church. According to the legends, it was not the storks that brought the children, but this well. Until 19th century women with fertility problems drank water from this well so they can get pregnant.
Church of St. Mary’s in the Capitol (Basilika Sankt Maria im Kapitol)
St. Mary’s in the Capitol is the largest of the twelve Romanesque churches and it dates from the 11th century.
The church was built on the site of a Roman temple from 50 AD. The temple was dedicated to the Capitoline deities Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. You can still see its remains in the crypt of the Church of St. Mary’s in the Capitol.
The door of the church is one of the most important medieval works of art in Cologne. The two wings are made of carved wood in high relief.
In the west wing you will find one of the most bizarre decoration for a church. Four bones of whales from the Pleistocene hang there from unknown times. Yes you read that correctly, bones of whales. Maybe they belonged to some kind of god. Who knows after all?
Church of St. Mary in Lyskirchen (Sankt Maria Lyskirchen)
Church of St. Mary in Lyskirchen is the smallest of the twelve Romanesque churches. Although it is founded in 948, the present building dates from around 1210.
Some of the church’s treasures are a Seaman’s Madonna (a wooden statue from 1420) and a holy oil vessel from 16th century.
Church of St. Pantaleon (Basilika Sankt Pantaleon)
St. Pantaleon Church is one of the oldest Romanesque churches. It is built around 980 AD over the ruins of a Roman villa, whose remains can still be seen in the crypt of the church.
St. Pantaleon Church contains the shrines of saint Alban and saint Maurinus. The archbishop Bruno the Great and empress Theophanu are also buried inside the church.
Church of St. Severin (Basilika Sankt Severin)
In the beginning Basilica of St. Severin was a small church erected in the middle of a Roman graveyard. Although the original building dates from the 4th century, most parts of the current one are from 10th century.
In the church you can see the shrine of St. Severin or to be precise the few parts that left from it. The shrine was melted down in 18th century to pay financial demands of the French occupation.
Church of St. Ursula (Basilika Sankt Ursula)
St. Ursula Church has the most interesting history among the twelve Romanesque churches. It is erected in the early 12th century upon the ancient ruins of a Roman cemetery.
According to the legends Saint Ursula and her 11 000 handmaidens are buried in this cemetery. Saint Ursula was a Romano-British princess. On the way to her future husband Aetherius, near to Cologne, the princess was captured by the Huns.
Their leader, Attila the Hun, fell in love with the beautiful made. He promised to spare her life if she became his wife. Ursula refused to him. In his rage Attila the Hun sentenced her to death and the princess was killed with an arrow. Her handmaidens followed this doom.
The final goal of the Huns was to capture the city of Cologne. However the night after the Ursula’s death, Attila had a dream. In this dream Ursula and the dead handmaidens appeared to him. The legends don’t tell exactly how they frightened him, but on the next morning, Attila gathered his army and left Cologne.
To express their deep gratitude for saving the city, the citizens of Cologne erected a church on the burial place of Ursula.
The most important monument in the church is the Golden chamber. Here lies the black marble tomb of the patron saint Ursula. The walls of the chamber are decorated with the bones and the skulls of her handmaidens.
The remains of Ursula’s future husband, Saint Aetherius are engraved in a shrine, that is also kept in the church.
Church of Great St. Martin (Basilika Groß Sankt Martin)
Great St. Martin Church is the most beautiful of the twelve Romanesque churches. It rises over the little colourful houses along the Rhine river.
During Roman times the ground, where the church stands now, was a separate Rhine island with a storehouse on it. In time the island merge with the mainland and it no longer exists.
The church’s foundations rest on a Roman chapel from the 10th century. You can still see the remains of the structure in the crypt of the church. The chapel was destroyed during a fire. The construction of the Great St. Martin Church began in 1150 and continued till 1250.
During the World War II Great St. Martin Church was heavily damaged: the tower and nave were burnt to the ground. The church was reconstructed in post-war years.
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