St. Gereon, Cologne

St. Gereon Church is perhaps the most unique of the 12 Romanesque churches of Cologne. Dating primarily from the 11th and 13th centuries, St. Gereon features a decagonal-shaped nave topped with a great dome. Inside are numerous medieval murals and mosaics, as well as an interesting ancient relic.

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History of St. Gereon

Saint Gereon was a Roman solider from Egypt who was beheaded for his faith on this site in the 3rd century. Like the legend of St. Ursula, his story was much elaborated over the centuries and he was eventually said to have been accompanied by a large group of martyrs.

The Church of St. Gereon was first built around 380 AD on the site of the martyr's grave outside the city. It had an oval shape, which is still reflected in the present church. Its design is believed to have been similar to the Minerva Medica in Rome.

Most of the present building dates from the Romanesque period, beginning in 1067. The second level and dome of the decagonal nave were completed in 1227.

St. Gereon was elevated to the status of Minor Basilica by the pope in 1920. It suffered damage in World War II, but less than most - only one wall of the decagon was torn out. Like all the other Romanesque churches of Cologne, it has been fully and beautifully restored.

What to See at St. Gereon

The east exterior of St. Gereon Church, which overlooks a busy street and a small park, has two square east towers and an apse.

Don't miss the large sculpted head of the decapitated Roman soldier St. Gereon, lying on its side in the park. It was carved in 2002 by Iskender Yediler, who also provided sculptures of the two Roman martyrs honored at the Münster in Bonn.

The west end, which once faced monastic buildings, overlooks a plaza in which ancient foundations have been uncovered. Stretching along the ground west of the church are ancient foundations.

St. Gereon Church is entered through the north door of the rectangular west porch. The porch has two side chapels; the chapel on the right is larger dates from 1897. It centers on a Pieta sculpture (based on the one by Michelangelo in St. Peter's) and has an apse vault painted with a cross and vines (recalling the mosaiced churches of Ravenna).

Just outside this chapel is a sculpture group of the Burial of Christ (Grablegung Christi) from the early 1500s. It was originally colorfully painted.

Over the entrance to the main church, which probably dates from the 13th century, is a mural of Christ with St. Helen and St. Gereon. The inscription below it dates from the 17th century and refers to the martyrs Gereon and Gregor Maurus with their companions.

The porch leads into the unique decagonal nave, whose walls are lined with small radiating chapels. It is topped with an impressive dome, painted in red, which is often compared to the great domes of the Hagia Sophia and the Duomo in Florence. It stands 34.55 above the floor at its apex and measures 21 meters long by 16.9 meters wide.

In a niche north of the entrance is a section of an ancient granite column known as the Blutsaüle (Blood Column). The Latin inscription embedded in the wall above it indicates that the blood of a martyr (undoubtedly St. Gereon) was splashed on it and it became a sacred relic.

The inscription translates broadly as: "Faith before time poured this blood here. If I come to it with sin, I am punished for it." Literary sources from the early Middle Ages mention an area near the entrance as having miraculous properties, which likely refers to this column.

The baptistery, entered from the south side of the decagon, has 13th-century murals of saints.

The chancel is an entire level higher than the nave and unfortunately not normally accessible to visitors. The apse vault is decorated with a Romanesque mural of Christ in Judgment flanked by the symbols of the Evangelists Mark and Luke; the niches below have murals of saints. Fragments of other medieval murals are displayed in frames on the south wall of the chancel.

The large crypt was built in two sections in the 11th and 12th centuries. The western, older part contains the "Confessio" with a large stone sarcophagus stacked on two smaller ones.

Above the opening to the Confessio is a mural of the Crucifixion, with the usual figures of the Virgin Mary and St. John along with St. Gereon (left) and St. Helena (right).

The vault in the eastern part of the crypt is decorated with Romanesque murals of saints. On the walls two men with palm branches and manuscripts were preserved under later painting.

The floor of the east end of the crypt is paved with Romanesque mosaics. They are in excellent condition (partly due to restorations over the centuries), but difficult to see since they are roped off and in low light. They were originally laid in the choir. Their subjects include Samson tearing down the city gates of Gaza, Samson losing his strength after a haircut, Samson and the lion, David and Goliath, and other hero stories from the Old Testament books of Judges, Samuel and Kings.

Quick Facts on St. Gereon

Site Information
Names:Basilika Sankt Gereon · Gereonskirche · St. Gereon
Country:Germany
Categories:churches
Styles:Romanesque
Dedication: St. Gereon
Dates:1067-1227
Visitor and Contact Information
Coordinates:50.943266° N, 6.945891° E
Address:Gereonsdriesch 2-4
Cologne, Germany
Hours:Open daily
Lodging:View hotels near St. Gereon
Note: This information was accurate when first published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours and prices can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip.

References

  1. Personal visits (December 25, 2005 and February 9, 2008).
  2. Martina Langel, Basilika St. Gereon (Kreartive Konzepte Verlag, 2003). Purchased at the church.
  3. St. Gereon (Köln) - German Wikipedia
  4. Max-Leo Schwering, Cologne: Cathedral and City Guide (Ziethen Verlag, 1998), 55.
  5. "Western architecture: second period, after AD 313." - Encyclopaedia Britannica
  6. Twelve Romanesque Churches - Köln Tourismus

More Information

View from the south. © Holly Hayes
View from the southeast. © Holly Hayes
The west porch. © Holly Hayes
Latin inscription above the "Blood Column" just inside the entrance. © Holly Hayes
The unique decagonal nave, looking east towards the chancel. © Holly Hayes
Walls and vault of the Decagon, with the chancel in the center. © Holly Hayes
Romanesque murals in the east apse of the chancel. © Holly Hayes
Tombs of St. Gereon and fellow martyrs in the west end of the crypt. © Holly Hayes
Mural of the Crucifixion with St. Gereon and St. Helena in the crypt. © Holly Hayes
Romanesque mosaic of Samson and the Lion in the east end of the crypt. © Holly Hayes

Map of St. Gereon, Cologne

Below is a location map and aerial view of St. Gereon. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.