Great St. Martin Church

Great St. Martin Church

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The Great Saint Martin Church is a Romanesque
Romanesque architecture
Romanesque architecture is an architectural style of Medieval Europe characterised by semi-circular arches. There is no consensus for the beginning date of the Romanesque architecture, with proposals ranging from the 6th to the 10th century. It developed in the 12th century into the Gothic style,...

The word catholic comes from the Greek phrase , meaning "on the whole," "according to the whole" or "in general", and is a combination of the Greek words meaning "about" and meaning "whole"...

 church in Cologne
Cologne is Germany's fourth-largest city , and is the largest city both in the Germany Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia and within the Rhine-Ruhr Metropolitan Area, one of the major European metropolitan areas with more than ten million inhabitants.Cologne is located on both sides of the...

, Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

. Its foundations (circa 960 AD) rest on remnants of a Roman chapel, built on what was then an island in the Rhine. The church was later transformed into a Benedictine monastery. The current buildings, including a soaring crossing tower that is a landmark of Cologne's Old Town, were erected between 1150-1250. The architecture of its eastern end forms a triconch or trefoil
Trefoil is a graphic form composed of the outline of three overlapping rings used in architecture and Christian symbolism...

 plan, consisting of three apse
In architecture, the apse is a semicircular recess covered with a hemispherical vault or semi-dome...

s around the crossing
Crossing (architecture)
A crossing, in ecclesiastical architecture, is the junction of the four arms of a cruciform church.In a typically oriented church , the crossing gives access to the nave on the west, the transept arms on the north and south, and the choir on the east.The crossing is sometimes surmounted by a tower...

, similar to that at St. Maria im Kapitol
St. Maria im Kapitol
St. Maria im Kapitol is an 11th century Romanesque church located in the Kapitol-Viertel in the old town of Cologne, Germany. The Roman Catholic church is based on the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, was dedicated to St. Mary and built between 1040 and 1065...

. The church was badly damaged in World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, with restoration work completed in 1985.

As of 2009 Great Saint Martin is being used by a branch of the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem
Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem
The Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem were founded in 1975 by Brother Pierre-Marie Delfieux with the aim of promoting the spirit of the monastic desert The Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem were founded in 1975 by Brother Pierre-Marie Delfieux (currently prior general) with the aim of promoting...

 and is open for visits again.


The story of Great St. Martin is inextricably connected to that of the Benedictine abbey, located at the church for most of its history. A few documents from the time of the building have survived, and it is from these that knowledge of its founding comes. This information is also supported by archeological findings onsite and the study of the style of building and its ornamentation.

Archeological Findings from Roman Times

Great St Martin’s is located at the site of one of the original Rhine islands, now demolished, originally situated east of the Praetorium. When the site underneath the church was excavated in the years 1965-66, an investigation revealed that the first onsite building dates from the first century.
This first building was a walled storehouse, 76 meters long and 71.5 meters wide. The inner room was 55.7 by 43.8 meters large, and held a mysterious shallow area used to store water, measuring 34 x 17.2 meters. This is notabe because no similar structures from this period, North of the Alps have yet been found. Because no other information about the use of the building has been passed down, only conjectures can be offered as to the function of the pool. One possibility is that the building was used for recreation, and that the water storage area was a swimming pool. It is also possible that the pool was used to store live fish, to keep them fresh. A further theory posits that the site was a sacred roman precinct or temple.

Sometime in the middle of the second century, the site was filled in, and accompanying buildings to the south, east and west were built. The location of these buildings, directly on the banks of the Rhine, as well as their structure, indicates use as storage, for market goods shipped along the river.

The storehouse on the site of the church was used after antiquity. Archeaological evcavation showed that at three separate times, a new floor was built, always on top of the older material. It is not clear whether any of these renovations stem from roman or later medieval periods. However, in one layer of the floor, shards of Pingsdorfer ceramic were discovered, suggesting that it was added during the Carolingian renaissance.

In addition, a cross section of the middle axis of the church taken in 1965 provided interesting discoveries. At a depth of approximately two meters under the Church floor, a variety of medieval and more modern burials were found.

Apocryphal Histories

The Cologne text Aedidius Gelenius, a catalogue of local saints, mentions in the 1645 edition a possible origin for the church in pre-Carolingian times. The missionaries Viro and Plechelmus, who later were affiliated with the Kaiserswerth cloister, are said to have come to the Rhine, to found cloisters and churches. They were said to be sponsored by Pippen
Pippen is a name, and may refer to:* Cotton Pippen , Major League Baseball right-handed pitcher* Lovetta Pippen , American singer* Scottie Pippen , retired American professional basketball player...

 and Plectrudis, situating their work during the years 752-768. It is possible that these two founded a church that would later become Great St. Martin.

Theories of the Church’s pre-Carolingian beginning are supported by the Chronicon Sancti Martini Coloniensis, which up until the end of the 19th century was regarded as a valid historical source for Churches and Abbeys in Cologne. According to it, Great St. Martin was founded as a chapel in 690, and was transformed into a cloister by Viro, Plechelmus and Otger in 708. The Chronicon provides an unbroken history of the abbey and the events leading to its partial destruction by Saxons in 778, while Charlemagne was fighting in Spain. Other events included in this history include a papal visit from Leo III and the damage from the Normans in 846 and 882.

Writing in 1900, Otto Opperman, a scholar in Germany, proved that this chronicle is a false history, concocted by Oliver Legipont, a Benedictine Monk residing at Great St. Martin’s in 1730. Other theories, including one that suggests the Church was built in Frankish times (during the 5th to 9th centuries) are similarly unsupported by evidence and likely apocryphal.

Foundation and Building of the Cloister in the 10th and 11th Centuries

The Lorsch Codex
Lorsch codex
The Lorsch Codex is an important historical document created between about 1175 to 1195 AD in the Monastery of Saint Nazarius in Lorsch, Germany. It consists of 460 pages in large format containing more than 3800 entries...

, which provides a more trustworthy source of information, mentions the founding of the Church by the Bruno the Great (953-965) as a men’s choir house in honor of Martin of Tours
Martin of Tours
Martin of Tours was a Bishop of Tours whose shrine became a famous stopping-point for pilgrims on the road to Santiago de Compostela. Around his name much legendary material accrued, and he has become one of the most familiar and recognizable Christian saints...

. Brun also lists the church in his records and mentions the donation of the relics of St. Eliphius, who was the second named patron of the Church. These relics were later transferred to Toul.

Later chronicles written by Johann Koelhoff the younger in 1499 mention that Archbishop Warin of Cologne (976-985) had renovated the Church. Ebergar
Ebergar was the Archbishop of Cologne, Germany, from 984 to 998.-Biography:Ebergar's origins are not known. Before becoming Archbishop, Ebergar was a member of the Cathedral Chapter....

 (985-999) wrote that with donations in 989, the Church was transformed into a cloister for Benedictine monks from the British isles.

During the 11th century, these British residents were gradually replaced by local monks. This is due to the fact that archbishop Pilgrim of Cologne was averse to their presence, and applied himself to their removal. As a result, the last Irish-Scottish abbot, Alvold, died there in 1103.

Art historians have supposed, through excavations of the wall supports underneath the northern aisle, that the initial construction was completed with the alongside other Churches erected by Archbishop Brun. The western wall lay approximately seven meters north of its currently position, corresponding to the width of the original roman market halls.

The Vita Annonis reports that Archbishop Anno II (1056–1075) was given a vision by St. Eliphius of two towers at the church, and that this vision was the inspiration for the towers later erected over the east choir.

The Romanesque Rebuilding in the 12th and 13th Centuries

In 1150, a city-wide fire destroyed much of Cologne. The abbey at the site of Great St. Martin was caught in the conflagration, and although the specific damages are not known, it is supposed that the entire Church was destroyed. The Archbishop of Cologne Philipp I. von Heinsberg sanctified the new building in 1172, and the first phase of construction, the tri-apsidal structure was built, with three round apses meeting in the shape of a cross. This is the only element of the church still present today. The eastern end of the nave was completed before a further fire in 1185, as well as aisles on the Southside. At the northern apse, two Benedictine chapels were later added, built over the ruins of the previous abbey buildings.

More information concerning the construction comes from the tenure of Abbott Simon (1206–1211). The abbot’s brother bequeathed in his final will money towards the purchase of new stone for the abbey, indicating some construction was ongoing.

In the middle of the 13th century, new walls for the three apses were completed, with larger windows. These provided a sought-after lightness to the interior. The nave was also made five meters longer, and the atrium in the west was built.

Further Developments from the 14th to 17th century

After the completion of the church in the 13th century, few modifications to the form of the church were undertaken. Most significant during this period were the various renovations needed for the four surrounding towers.

In 1378, fire destroyed the roofs of the four towers, which were repaired with help from saved financial resources. A strong storm in 1434 provided later troubles. Three of the four gables of the towers were thrown down. One of the gables struck a nearby fish market, two others fell directly onto the vault over the main altar. The vault was later repaired, and a commemorative bell dated with the year 1436 was hung.

Reforms under abbots Jakob von Wachendorp (1439–1454) and Adam Meyer (1454–1499) provided a stronger financial footing for the Benedictine abbey. From this the inner decoration of the church was embellished, including figures from the altar, installed in 1509, that are still present today.

The instable construction of a western flanking tower resulted in the destruction of it and a nearby chapel in 1527. The chapel would later be torn down, and neither it nor the tower was rebuilt. Also during this period, the interior of Great St. Martin was decorated with medieval altars, which would later be replaced with newer furnishings in the 17th century.

18th Century Baroque and Classical Influences

In 1707, the decaying interior walls of Great Saint Martin were repaired and refurbished, remaining faithful to the previous design of the Church. Heinrich Obladen, then the abbot of Great Saint Martin, also purchased a new, larger organ for the church. New adornments for the Church took on a Baroque style, including golden bands for the pillars, dome and walls, which added to the interior luminescence of the Church.

In the second half of the 18th century, a number of small changes were made to the interior construction and environment. Abbott Franz Spix, overseeing the abbey in 1741-1759, raised the area of the altar and laid it further back in the apse. His goal was to embellish its appearance for the holy mass. Through these efforts, the old crypt was demolished and the columns and pillars were now prevented from jutting out at their bases.

Around forty years later, at the end of the 18th century, Ferdinand Franz Wallraf saw that the Church was embellished with new adornments appropriate to the style of the age. Influenced by the beginnings of Classicism, the alter and pulpit took on a new, simpler appearance. The high altar retained its opulence, albeit with a simpler Greco-roman painting influences.

These changes caused controversy with the 19th century Catholic renewal movement, who said that these parts of the Church’s adornment should be removed, on the grounds that they were too pagan in theme.

In the late 18th century, the ramshackle northwestern tower was taken down. For this reason, pictures taken before the middle of the 19th century show the church with only two towers on the east side.

Secularization and Restoration in the 19th century

During the French revolutionary era of the 1780s-90s, several territories near France, including Cologne, were captured by the revolutionary army. In October of 1794, the city of Cologne was captured and occupied for the next 20 years. This occupation put a definite end to the medieval traditions of the city, and began a strong anti-clerical movement in its place. As a result, the archbishopric in Cologne was ended in 1801, and the Cologne Cathedral was designated as a normal parish church.

The cloister at Great Saint Martin was disbanded in 1802, and the remaining 21 monks were obliged to find other places to live. Only 11 would be able to find positions as priests in Cologne. In the following years, Abbott Felix Ohoven would preside over Great Saint Martin as parish priest. Starting in 1808, the deserted abbey building functioned as living quarters for French veterans. It would later be demolished, with the building materials utilized in other parts of the city.

In 1843, the city of Cologne dedicated finances to the restoration and recovery of the church. The sacristy was restored in the north apse, following the original designs. Four years later, the building of the two missing towers was begun, initiated by Heinrich Nagelschmidt, who also created a plan for the full restoration of the church. The city of Cologne covered half of the restoration costs, said to be around 32,000 talers. In 1875, Great Saint Martin received a new roof, newly built western gables, a new window in the south wall, and finally, the completion of its two missing towers.

The interior of the church was also restored. August Essenwein, director of the Germanic Museum in Nurnberg, was entrusted with this task, and sought to return the decorative elements to authentic medieval designs. Essenwein knew that achieving his full plans for the interior would not be likely, given resource and time constraints, and therefore drew up conceptual plans for each part of the church. Under his plans, the interior of the church was decorated with a variety of themes from the new and old testaments.

The only remaining major changes to the building in the 19th century occurred in 1892, when the east side of the Basilica was renovated to better show the cloverleaf design of the choir. A new roof of this area was replaced two years later.

World War Two Damages

Great Saint Martin was badly damaged by aerial bombing during World War two. On the night of May 30, 1942, the tower and nave of the church were burnt to the ground. The sacristy building and north apse were also destroyed. The following year, in one of the heaviest bombings of the war, the Benedict chapel in the northern side was destroyed.

Through the bombing of January, 1945, the dwarf galleries of all three apses were demolished. At this time, the foundation of the four towers was also struck with a direct hit. In the last allied bombing, on March 2, 1945, the city received its heaviest damages. Almost ninety-five percent of the buildings in the old city were damaged, and at Great Saint Martin, all of the church’s ceilings were either riddled with holes or thrown down.

Later Building and Restoration

In post-war years, the question of whether the church should be restored, and how it should be restored, was the subject of debate. Should the church be left as a ruined memorial to the war? Or should it be fully restored? And if so, which period in the history of Great Saint Martin represents the “original” church?

A series of public lectures were held in 1946/47, under the theme “What happens to the Cologne Churches?”. These lectures involved artists, politicians, architects and restorers, and mirrored public debates on the issue. In spite of some public skepticism, restoration work began in 1948. By 1954, the walls and supports for the apses of the church, with their dwarf galleries, were completely rebuilt. In 1955, the nave was begun, and was completed with a new roof in 1971. In 1965, the exterior form of the church with its four towers was restored.

Between 1982 and 1984, new flooring was laid according to the designs Essenwein made in the 19th century. When the interior restorations were completed in 1985, the church was opened to worshipers, the first such opening in forty years. The altar was consecrated by Archbishop Joseph Höffner, who installed holy relics of Brigitta von Schweden, Sebastianus and Engelbert of Cologone, in its sepulcher.

As of 2009 Great Saint Martin is being used by a branch of the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem and is open for visits again.

See also

  • Tilmo
    -Background:Tilmo was a native of Ireland, though from what region is unknown. He had once been a soldier, then became a monk, and finally a preacher.-Cologne:...

    , founder of St. Martin's, fl. 690.
  • Minnborinus of Cologne
    Minnborinus of Cologne
    Minnborinus of Cologne, Irish Abbot, fl. 974-986.Minborinus was the leader of a group of missionaries from Ireland who travelled to Cologne, Germany. Upon arriving, the Archbishop of Cologne, Warin of Cologne, made Minnborinus abbott of St. Martin's Abbey in the city and installed the rest of the...

    , refounder of St. Martin's, died 986.
  • Arnold of St. Martin's
    Arnold of St. Martin's
    Arnold of St. Martin's, Irish Abbott, died 1103.Hogan states that Arnold was the last Irish abbot of Great St. Martin Church, quoting a chronicle of Cologne, which states:Ultimus ille fuit praesul de gente Scotorum.-See also:...

    , last Irish abbot, died 1103.
  • Twelve Romanesque churches of Cologne
    Twelve romanesque churches of Cologne
    The twelve Romanesque churches of Cologne are twelve landmark churches in the Old town of Cologne, Germany. All twelve churches are Roman Catholic.- Churches :The twelve churches are1:* St. Andreas in Altstadt-Nord, est. 974...


  • Paul Clemen (Hrsg.): Die kirchlichen Kunstdenkmäler der Stadt Köln II. Die Kunstdenkmäler der Rheinprovinz. L. Schwann, Düsseldorf 1911.
  • Sabine Czymmek: Der Heiligkreuzaltar des Bürgermeisters Johann von Aich in Groß St. Martin. In: Colonia Romanica. Jahrbuch des Fördervereins Romanische Kirchen Köln e.V. Bd 1. Greven, Köln 1986. ISSN 0930-8555
  • J. G. Deckers: Groß St. Martin In: Führer zu vor- und frühgeschichtlichen Denkmälern. Bd. 38. Köln II. Exkursionen: Nördliche Innenstadt. Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum Mainz (Hrsg.). Zabern, Mainz 1980, S.134–146. ISBN 3-8053-0308-4
  • Karl-Heinz Esser: Zur Baugeschichte der Kirche Groß St. Martin in Köln. In: Rheinische Kirchen im Wiederaufbau. Mönchengladbach 1951, S.77–80.
  • Gesellschaft für Christliche Kultur (Hrsg.): Kirchen in Trümmern. Zwölf Vorträge zum Thema Was wird aus den Kölner Kirchen? Balduin Pick, Köln 1948.
  • Helmut Fußbroich: Die ehemalige Benediktinerabteikirche Gross St. Martin zu Köln. Neusser Druck u. Verlag, Neuss 1989. ISBN 3-88094-631-0
  • H. Hellenkemper in: Der römische Rheinhafen und die ehemalige Rheininsel. In: Führer zu vor- und frühgeschichtlichen Denkmälern. Bd. 38. Köln II. Exkursionen: Nördliche Innenstadt. Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum Mainz (Hrsg.). Zabern, Mainz 1980, S.126–133, ISBN 3-8053-0308-4
  • Hiltrud Kier und Ulrich Krings (Hrsg.): Köln. Die Romanischen Kirchen in der Diskussion 1946, 47 und 1985. Stadtspuren – Denkmäler in Köln. Bd 4. J. P. Bachem, Köln 1986. ISBN 3-7616-0822-5
  • Hiltrud Kier, Ulrich Krings (Hrsg.): Köln. Die Romanischen Kirchen im Bild. Architektur · Skulptur · Malerei · Graphik · Photographie. Stadtspuren – Denkmäler in Köln. Bd 3. J. P. Bachem, Köln 1984. ISBN 3-7616-0763-6
  • Hiltrud Kier, Ulrich Krings (Hrsg.): Köln. Die Romanischen Kirchen. Von den Anfängen bis zum Zweiten Weltkrieg. Stadtspuren – Denkmäler in Köln. Bd 1. J. P. Bachem, Köln 1984. ISBN 3-7616-0761-X
  • Werner Meyer-Barkhausen: Das grosse Jahrhundert kölnischer Kirchenbaukunst 1150 bis 1250. E. A. Seemann, Köln 1952.
  • Peter Opladen: Gross St. Martin: Geschichte einer stadtkölnischen Abtei. In: Studien zur Kölner Kirchengeschichte. Historisches Archiv des Erzbistums Köln (Hrsg.). Verlag L. Schwann, Düsseldorf 1954.
  • Gerta Wolff: Das römisch-germanische Köln. Führer zu Museum und Stadt. J. P. Bachem, Köln 2000 (5. Aufl.). ISBN 3-7616-1370-9
  • Walter Zimmermann: Neue Beobachtungen zur Baugeschichte von Groß St. Martin in Köln. In: Walther Zimmermann (Hrsg.): Die Kunstdenkmäler des Rheinlands. Beiheft 2. Untersuchungen zur frühen Kölner Stadt-, Kunst- und Kirchengeschichte. Fredebeul & Koenen, Essen 1950, S.105–140.

External links