St. Maria im Kapitol, Cologne
St. Maria im Kapitol is the largest of the 12 Romanesque churches in Cologne. Built over the site of a Roman temple, the 11th-century church is based on the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
History of St. Maria im Kapitol
In 50 AD, the Emperor Claudius granted city status to Colonia (today's Cologne). Shortly thereafter, a Roman temple was built on this site in honor of the Capitoline Triad - Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. The temple was roughly square-shaped, 30m on a side, and had three cella. Some of the foundations of this temple survive today.
Roman pagan religion was outlawed by the end of the 4th century, and the temple would have fallen into disrepair. According to 12th-century sources, a church was first built over the temple site around 710 AD by Plektrudis (d.717 AD).
This first church seems to have been a long hall church with rectangular foundations, probably using remnants of the temple, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It was likely intended as a private foundation, and Plektrudis was buried there.
In 965 AD, Archbishop Bruno I of Cologne, youngest brother of Emperor Otto the Great, died. Bruno bequeathed in his will 100 pounds of silver and other gifts to the Church of St. Mary "for the completion of the monastery and cloisters." This referred to a Benedictine convent that was added to the church at an unknown date.
The Church of St. Maria im Kapitol as we know it today was built by Abbess Ida (d.1060), granddaughter of Otto II and Theophanu (who is buried at St. Pantaleon). The new building used the western wall and foundations of Bruno's church and had its choir over the Roman temple. It had a gallery in the west end, adopting the imperial design of the Palatine Chapel in Aachen.
The altar was consecrated in 1049 by Pope Leo IX in the presence of numerous bishops (72 according to tradition), and in 1065 the completed church was consecrated by Archbishop Anno II. This church has survived more or less intact to this day.
The choir in the east end has a harmonius trefoil shape of three apses (the first of its kind in Germany) and echoes the exact dimensions of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. This reflects the importance of the Crusades and pilgrimages to the Holy Land during this period. By modeling her church on the one in Bethlehem, Ida brought a bit of the Holy Land to Germany.
Various changes, mostly minor, were made to the church in the centuries following its construction. Around 1150, the upper walls of the north and south apse were rebuilt, a dome was added over the transept crossing, and a porch was extended from the south apse. In 1175 the upper parts of the west towers were extended. The gate around the east apse was added in 1464.
What to See at St. Maria im Kapitol
The best view of St. Maria im Kapitol is from the east, but entrance is via the west door after passing the cloisters. Inside, an iron gate opens into the Romanesque nave. The view to the apse is unfortunately interrupted by a large choir screen, but the overall impression is still of great size and spaciousness.
The nave is supported by strong rectangular pillars and narrow round striped arches, with decorative clustered columns above. The vault is covered with a modern flat wooden ceiling.
The trefoil choir, accessed from either side of the altar, is spectacular. The side aisles continue around the apses, which is the only design depature from its model, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Columns with plain capitals, spanned by narrow striped arches, support a clerestory level with round-headed windows. Pointed blind arches around the clerestory windows are the only non-Romanesque feature. Chapels fill the niches between the apses, which are usually protected by locked iron gates.
St. Maria im Kapitol boasts a number of important medieval artworks worth seeking out. Most notable are the wooden doors (Holztür) now displayed at the west end of the south aisle. Dating from c.1065, they are richly carved with scenes from the life and death of Christ, as follows:
Among other notable artworks is a Virgin Enthroned from about 1200 at the west end of the north aisle; the "Hermann-Joseph-Madonna" of c.1180 is the east apse; and the powerful Plague Crucifix (c.1300) in the north apse. The Renaissance rood screen contains many fine sculptures.
A Romanesque grave slab (c. 1160) of the church's founder, Plektrudis, is displayed in the south aisle, while her grave slab from the Gothic period (1280) is just right of the entrance. A 19th-century grave slab of Abbess Ida is in the south aisle.
Quick Facts on St. Maria im Kapitol
|Names:||St. Maria im Kapitol · St. Mary's at the Capitol|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||50.934600° N, 6.958380° E|
|Hours:||Mon-Sat 9-6; Sun 11:30-5|
|Lodging:||View hotels near St. Maria im Kapitol|
- Personal visit (December 19, 2007).
- St. Maria im Kapitol - official website
- St. Maria im Kapitol - Romanische Kirche in Köln
- Photos of St. Maria im Kapitol - here on Sacred Destinations
Map of St. Maria im Kapitol, Cologne
Below is a location map and aerial view of St. Maria im Kapitol. 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.