Historical Overview and Art Treasures

This is the largest of the many Romanesque churches in Cologne. It has been built on the foundations of a Roman temple from around 50 A.D. which was dedicated to the Capitoline deities Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva. Remains of this temple were found during the excavations after the Second World War.

In 690 Plectrudis who was the wife of the Franconian maior domo Pippin II. of Heristal founded a church of the Virgin Mary on this Roman templesite. Thus the Christian God overcame the Roman deities.

A view of Cologne, Anton Woensam, 1531

During the following 300 years the church was influenced by many historical changes. The decisive phase began with Abbess Ida (died 1060), a relative of the emperor Otto III. She intended to build a new church for the Benedictine convent that had meanwhile been added to St. Mary in the Capitol. This new church had to be extraordinary not only as a monumental edifice but also at first glance depicting the imperial claims to power and predominance. Ida achieved this in two ways:

Firstly she had a gallery built at the western end of the nave, thus adopting the architecture of the imperial palace chapel at Aachen which always was the prototype for the family of the Ottonic emperors.

Secondly she wanted to create an impressive eastern structureof the church. To this end she adopted the ground-plan of the choir construction of the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem. We can only surmise how she got hold of that ground-plan. However, the measurements of the eastern parts of these two churches are identical. Both have a so-called three-conches or trefoiled choir except that in St. Mary in the Capitol the side aisles of the nave continue around the whole of the choir. This trefoiled choir is the earliest of its kind in Germany.

According to the religious feelings of the 11th century Bethlehem, the place of salvation because Christ was born there, was now here in Cologne so that people could go and pray there. The complete church was finally consecrated in 1065. Below the trefoiled choir lies the spacious crypt (second largest crypt in Germany only to the one in Speyer Cathedral) with its three aisles, a kind of transept, and three radial chapels - a truly imperial foundation.

Some of the main art treasures in the interior:




Geschichtlicher Überblick
Förderverein Romanische Kirchen Köln e.V.








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