You think you only need to see the big black Cathedral and then that's it for Cologne? Think again! Concerning churches Cologne has so much more to offer than the famous one in the city centre. Did you know that you can find a black Maria here? Ever seen the creepy "Golden chamber" of St. Ursula, full to the brim with bones and skulls? Get your inside-knowledge here.
The twelve Romanic churches
The twelve Romanic churches are amongst the cultural highlights of Cologne, alongside the Cathedral and the museums. Changed many times over the course of the centuries and more or less destroyed during the Second World War, their completed reconstruction was celebrated in 1985 as the Year of the Romanic Churches.
It is not just the experts who are fascinated by the successful integration of new construction elements, modern and historical art and architecture along with restoration work of the highest standard; the guided tours of the Romanic churches are a major attraction for visitors throughout the year.
St. Andreas (city map)
Just two minutes walk from the Cathedral is the late Romanic church of St. Andreas - set in the midst of Cologne's banking quarter. It was founded in around 960 by Archbishop Bruno as a chapter of canons, and at the time was situated outside the city walls.
A striking feature of St. Andreas is the combination of Romanic and Gothic styles. The Romanic part features rich ornamental constructional elements, whereas the late Gothic choir hall is impressively refined and elegant. Mary's Chapel offers a veritable treasure trove of Gothic wall paintings depicting scenes from the life of the Mother of God.
The dark chancel windows from the late 19th century create an extraordinary impression of room. There is a notable connection between the Romanic and modern architecture in the crypt of St Andreas. The extraordinary atmosphere is intensified by the artificial lighting within the underground room: flat light domes, supported by intentionally thin concrete pillars, disperse an indirect ray of light.
Public transport: "Dom/Hauptbahnhof"
St. Aposteln (city map)
Amidst the city traffic on the left hand side of Neumarkt, is the Church of St. Aposteln - a monumental oasis of peace, a separate and completely different world. Its focal point is the domed clover shaped chancel, which was built around 1200.
The story of the church dates back to the 11th century, when it was situated on the road to Aachen. It belonged to the chapter of canons founded by Archbishop Pilgrim. In the 13th century the church was extended considerably. In addition to the clover shaped chancel, the octagonal dome above the crossing, which gives St. Aposteln its monumental appearance, was also added.
The old structures were retained in spite of the structural alterations, and were copied and skilfully integrated into the new construction project. It is easy to see the subsequent and complementary building phases in St. Aposteln church. An extraordinary and controversial combination of historical and modern art can be seen in the choral arches - the modern paintings by Herrmann Gottfried from the years 1988 to 1994 continue to elicit a broad range of opinions.
Public transport: "Neumarkt"
St. Cecilia (city map)
The former convent dating back to the 12th century occupies a special position amongst the Romanic churches: since 1956, St. Cecilia has been the home of the Museum Schnütgen, which houses one of the most important collections of Medieval art in Europe in a totally unique atmosphere. The direct proximity of St. Cecilia and the church of St. Peter (Art Centre) from the late Gothic era is also quite remarkable. It is the only remaining example in Cologne of the proximity of convent churches and parish churches that was typical at the time.
Public transport: "Neumarkt"
St. Georg (city map)
The huge west tower, which has never been completed, gives the only remaining pillar basilica of Romanesque style in the Rhineland the appearance of a compact fortress. The tower walls of St. Georg are five metres thick, therefore it seems likely that the tower was originally intended to be higher.
The interior of St. Georg gives off a totally different impression to the block-like exterior, with pillars - to some extent reused from Roman buildings - dividing the church into three naves. Originally the pillar basilica had a flat roof but this was replaced by arches in the 12th century.
As a result, two additional pillars had to be integrated, which now break up the unity of the pillar basilica. Since the 1920s, the interior of St. Georg has been characterised by the expressionist windows (1930) by Jan Thorn-Prikker and the two large crucifixes dating back to the 11th and the 14th centuries.
Public transport: "Heumarkt" and "Severinstraße"
St. Gereon (city map)
According to Medieval legend, St. Gereon was a Roman officer, who died along with 318 legionnaires for his Christian belief. In ancient times, around 350 AD, an oval-shaped church was built on the site of the martyrs grave, and is still reflected in the present-day church.
The giant central area was constructed in four consecutive building phases along with the annexed nave chancel and crypt. The original building remained in the ground floor zone and was visible. It was simply covered and broken off in the upper sections, built up to an enormous height and domed with a decagon - a work of high architectural achievement that still defines the image of St. Gereon today.
This unique construction is often compared to the Hagia Sofia in Constantinople and the cathedral dome in Florence. St. Gereon in Cologne was an architectural feat of its time. The integration of the ancient walls into the new building structures is also a work of genius.
The individual phases of its history are still recognisable today. The cult standing of the soldier martyrs can be surmised by the reused Roman sarcophagi, some of which are still filled with relics from this time.
The view from below up into the decagonal 21 m wide cupola is truly impressive, creating an interplay between space and light. The brightly coloured windows by Georg Meistermann create a light concept in keeping with the Middle Ages - colourful yet relatively dark. The dome is painted bright red with gilt decoration, increasing its intensity.
Public transport: "Christophstraße/Mediapark"
Groß St. Martin (city map)
With its prominent crossing tower and clover leaf chancel, Groß St. Martin has shaped the panorama of Cologne's Old Town since the Middle Ages. In Roman times the estate was situated on an island in the Rhine, which was covered by a storehouse complex. The church was built on and with the remains of these storehouses.
The dimensions of the south eastern wing of the ancient commercial building became a standard for later church building. After having been destructed in the war, the area under the chancel of Groß St. Martin became an impressive archaeological dig area. The seamless transition of the foundation walls of the Roman storehouse into the side nave walls of the church can still be seen today. The church, of which the upper sections were rebuilt after the Second World War, is a typical example of Rhineland architecture from the time between 1150 and 1250.
The interior of the former abbey church today is largely characterised by both the impressive architecture and the spartan furnishings. The area surrounding the church is also worth noting, as it reflects the earlier monastic situation. For example, the quadrant of trees is an indication of the former cloister. Groß St. Martin is situated directly behind the attractive Rhine promenade in the Old Town, between the Hohenzollern and Deutz bridges.
Public transport: "Heumarkt"
St. Kunibert (city map)
The youngest Romanesque church in Cologne shapes the view of the Rhine in the north of the cathedral city. It was completed in 1247, one year before the foundation stone of Cologne Cathedral was laid. The relatively rich décor of the Middle Ages has been retained in St. Kunibert, which means that altars on the nave pillars depict the former character of the monastic church.
Of particular note is the monumental yet delicate Annunciation group from the 15th century, which marks the area of the former interior chancel. Equally important are the extensively retained murals in the chancel, the original flooring around the high altar and above all, the windows from the early 13th century. The new church treasury in the west nave is a rather modern attraction.
Public transport: "Ebertplatz" and "Dom/Hauptbahnhof"
St. Maria Capitol (city map)
St. Maria Capitol is located on the site of the capitol of Roman Cologne. The construction of the current building originated in the 11th century. The predefined proportions of the temple were retained when the nave was build. The initiator of the building project was the Benedictine sister Ida, granddaughter of Emperor Otto II.
The imperial origins and her claims to status are evident in the size of the church and crypt. Moreover, the preserved interior features - such as both the wooden door wings dating back to around 1065, the very expressive Y-shaped crucifix, which was consecrated in 1304, the late Gothic glass paintings or the Renaissance choir screen, which separates the choir from the nave area - fulfilled the highest standards of their time.
Public transport: "Heumarkt"
St. Maria Lyskirchen (city map)
Of the twelve Romanesque churches in Cologne, St. Maria Lyskirchen is the smallest and the only one built as a parish church. It is situated directly on the Rhine, between the Deutz and the Severin bridges. Since it was constructed in the early 13th century it has undergone relatively little change and was the only Romanesque church not to be destroyed in the Second World War.
Its highlights include the ceiling paintings and murals retained from the 13th century. There is a fully preserved typological cycle in the central nave, showing related illustrations of events in the Old and New Testaments. The "Beautiful Virgin Mary" (Schöne Madonna), the glass painting fragments from the late Gothic era and the modern glass paintings in the chancel complete the church's interior.
Public transport: "Heumarkt"
St. Pantaleon (city map)
The impressive church, in the south west of the city centre, still retains extensive parts of the original building and is one of the oldest sacral buildings in Cologne. The monumental church of St. Pantaleon originated at the middle of the 10th century with the founding of a Benedictine abbey by the Archbishop Bruno. His niece by marriage, the Byzantine Theophanu, made sure building work continued after Bruno's death in 965.
Her interest in the church was most certainly due to family reasons, but the patronage of Saint Pantaleon in particular played a decisive role, since he originated from Theophanu's native country. After her death she was buried in St. Pantaleon. Her mortal remains lie there today in a modern marble sarcophagus.
A special feature in St. Pantaleon is the original Baroque features in the chancel. In all other comparable churches in Cologne these were removed throughout the course of the 19th century. Furthermore, it is home to one of the two choir screens that still exist in Cologne today.
This choir screen, unfortunately only half of which remains, depicts late Gothic forms and is 20 years older than the one in St. Maria in the Capitol. The relic shrines of Saint Albinus and Saint Maurinus on the crossing are also remarkable and date back to the late 12th century.
Public transport: "Poststraße" and "Barbarossaplatz"
St. Severin (city map)
Like St. Gereon this church also originated in the late 4th century. It was extended several times. The fact that the archaeological dig area under the church in the midst of a Roman graveyard has been conserved means that the remaining foundations of the original building can also be viewed. St. Severin still houses rich interior features such as the murals in the crypt, the chancel décor with a part of the Medieval floor, the original choir stalls and the high altar, behind which the Shrine of the Holy Severin is displayed on a pedestal.
The Y-shaped crucifix from the 14th century and the late Gothic glass paintings in the long nave are also outstanding. From the outside, the church is primarily Gothic looking as only the chancel annex remained Romanesque.
Public transport: "Chlodwigplatz"
St. Ursula (city map)
St. Ursula was also built in late antiquity, originating on the grounds of a Roman burial site. It was named after the Breton princess Ursula, who, according to the legend suffered martyrdom in Cologne together with 11,000 female companions.
The church was originally dedicated to the Holy Virgin. The legend and the cult surrounding this martyr gained new momentum each time that building work was done on the church or its surroundings. During the building work, numerous mortal remains were found, which were naturally considered to be the remains of the female martyrs. All of this is reflected within the church. The building was erected as gallery basilica in the early 12th century, not least of all to create space for the countless relics.
When the chancel was rebuilt in the 13th century in Gothic style, the presentation of the relics became increasingly important. The walls were made with dual shells, firstly to create space and secondly so as to place the relics on display behind bars. During the Baroque period, an extension to the chapel-the Golden Chamber-was constructed. It was lined with relics from top to bottom and can still be visited today.
The church has a wealth of features from various centuries. The late antiquity "Clematius inscription" or the Baroque Grave of Saint Ursula are objects completely relating to the location, as are the two shrines behind the high altar and in particular the relic busts with the blessed smiling faces of the Virgins.
Public transport network stop Dom/Hauptbahnhof
For more detailed information visit the website of the association "Förderverein der Romanischen Kirchen" at www. romanische-kirchen-koeln.de. Photos: dapd