Schottenkirche St Jakob, Regensburg

The Schottenkirche St. Jakob (Scots Church of St. James) in Regensburg is a 12th-century Romanesque church famed for its fascinating north portal. Founded by Celtic missionaries from Ireland, the church shows northern influences in its art and architecture.


History of Schottenkirche St Jakob

Irish missionaries first arrived in Regensburg in the 11th century, originally setting up camp just south of the city walls. But as more Irish monks joined them, the site soon proved too small.

The monks purchased a new site outside the western city gate and began building their monastery around 1100. The Church of St. James, a three-aisled basilica with three apses and two east towers, was dedicated in 1120. Only the east end survives of this early building.

The monastic church was expanded beginning around 1150, under Abbot Gregor. This second church, which stands today, was given a two-story transept or westwerk at the west end, an elaborate north portal, and a cloister to the south. Construction was completed by about 1185.

Regensburg became an important center for the missionary work of Irish monks in Europe; the Scots Monastery in Vienna is one of its daughter foundations. The St. Jakob monastery had close connections with the monastic school at Cashel back in Ireland and attracted the theologian Honorius of Autun (d.1151) towards the end of his life.

In 1577, shortly after the Scottish Reformation, a papal bull transferred the monastery from Irish to Scottish monks. The monastery was in decline by that time, with only one monk and one novice. The first Scottish abbot was Ninian Winzet (1518-92), an opponent of the reformer John Knox. Mary Queen of Scots ordered Abbot Winzet to train priests for Catholic missionary work in Scotland; the first priests were sent long after his death in 1623.

The monastery managed to avoid dissolution during the Napoleonic period, a rare accomplishment. It was demoted to a priory in 1820, but monks remained in residence until 1862, when the Bavarian government bought the property and turned it into a seminary for training Catholic priests.

What to See at Schottenkirche St Jakob

The exterior of the Schottenkirche is difficult to see as a whole, due to tall trees on the north side and private buildings on the west and south sides. It is a basilica-style church with three aisles, twin east towers, and a two-story westwork.

The east end and its towers date from 1100-20; the rest of the church and the cloisters from c.1150-85. The square east towers are plain and topped with pointed roofs. The west end is also plain, decorated only with Lombard bands around the top and Greek crosses incised in the gables.

The most interesting aspect of the Schottenkirche is certainly the "Schottenportal," the large and elaborately carved north portal dating from about 1180. It has been badly blackened by pollution but is protected from further damage by a large glass enclosure installed in 1999.

The tympanum above the north portal has busts of Christ, St. James and St. John. The six archivolts are undecorated but terminate in sculptures of seated bears (left) and lions (right) that face the viewer. The six jambs on each side alternate between: 1) columns carved with foliage and geometrical designs and topped with capitals of foliage with faces; and 2) grooved jambs left mostly plain except for awkwardly kneeling human figures carved at the top and bottom.

In a wonderfully mind-bending image worthy of M.C. Escher, the figure on the inner bottom right jamb grasps the two solid grooves and pulls them around his neck like a scarf. The figure at top center right plays a stringed instrument, the one at bottom right holds a T-shaped staff associated with hermits, and the inner figure at top left holds a vessel draped with animal pelts.

Around the portal, a wide rectangular area of the wall is divided into three horizontal zones. The top tier centers on a relief of Christ among the Twelve Apostles (St. Peter holds a large key to Christ's right), probably representing the Last Judgment. The figures are half-length and none have haloes. The apostles have individual hairstyles, beards and hand positions. Two larger male figures sit on extended platforms on either side of the apostles. The remainder of the top tier consists of blind arcades with no sculpture.

The middle tier consists of blind arcades supported by carytids in various positions: one holds two snakes; another clasps his hands in prayer. It has been suggested that those on the left represent virtues while those on the right are vices. The arches on the left are filled with human heads; those on the right with animal heads.

The bottom tier is the most interesting and the most difficult to interpret. In place of blind arcades, the areas on each side have been left flat to allow for large reliefs of human and monsters. It may depict a general theme of the Apocalypse, but this is only one of several possibilities.

The left bottom area centers on a projecting sculpture of the Virgin and Child, flanked by two human figures on each side. The figures are wrapped in long cloaks that interwine with each other. Strobel suggests these figures signify harmony.

The pair on the right, who seem to be a woman (with long braids) and a man (with beard), touch each other tenderly on the face and neck. Perhaps the pair on the left are also a couple; only one has a beard. (It is worth noting that a similar motif can be seen on a capital in the nave (IMG_8028): men with braided beards and hats occupy the four corners, their flowing cloaks entwining in the middle.)

Immediately below this happy scene is a more violent image: a huge dragon with fearsome claws eating a lion. At the bottom is what appears to be a double-tailed siren, symbol of temptation.

The right bottomarea centers on a projecting sculpture of a bearded man, flanked by fierce animals in relief. The one on the left is a winged lionish creature with a parrot-like beak; the one on the right resembles a wyvern and is swallowing a human.

Below this, a crocodile is about to swallow a hydrus hidden in a ball of clay. According to medieval legend, the hydrus would later eat its way out of the crocodile. This was used as a symbol for the Harrowing of Hell, but it is unclear whether that is intended here. At the bottom are three monks holding books. To their right is a small headless figure grasping the ends of ropes, which is visually similar to the apparent siren on the left side.

The interior is a fine example of Romanesque architecture. The three aisles are divided by a nine-bay arcade with rounded arches and a clerestory in plain white masonry. The large cylindrical columns have short but finely carved capitals, alternating between foliage and figurative scenes. Among the figures are Green Men, lions, eagles, and crocodiles. The bases of the columns bear sculptures of humble beasts such as dogs, pigs, vultures and donkeys.

The east apse was redecorated in the 19th century in a neo-Romanesque style. The Crucifixion sculpture group beneath the triumphal arch dates from the 12th century, repainted in 1874. The Madonna statue on the right pillar of the apse dates from 1360. At the other end of the church, the westwork houses the organ and forms an open gallery stretching across all three aisles.

Quick Facts on Schottenkirche St Jakob

Site Information
Names:Benedictine Monastery of St. James · Church of St. James · Jakobskirche · Schottenkirche St Jakob · Schottenkloster · Schottenstift · Scots Church · Scots Monastery
Categories:churches; monasteries; World Heritage Sites
Dedication: St. James
Status: active
Visitor and Contact Information
Coordinates:49.018607° N, 12.088362° E
Address:Regensburg, Germany
Hours:Usually open in daylight hours
Lodging:View hotels near Schottenkirche St Jakob
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.


  1. Personal visit (March 19, 2008).
  2. Richard Strobel, Schottenkirche St. Jakob, Regensburg (Schnell Kunstführer Nr. 691), 18th edition (Regensburg, 2006). ISBN 3-7954-4437-3.
  3. Schottenkirche St. Jakob - Regensburg Tourist Office

More Information

Drawing of the St Jakob monastery by Bucelinus (1640).
A glimpse is all you can get of the westwork, dating from c.1180. © Holly Hayes
East end and towers (c.1120) viewed from north. © Holly Hayes
The famed north portal, known as the Schottenportal. © Holly Hayes
Jamb figure transforming solid stone grooves into pliable material. © Holly Hayes
Tympanum with Christ Blessing, St. James and St. John. © Holly Hayes
Carytids on the left middle tier, possibly depicting virtues. © Holly Hayes
Reliefs of the lower left side of the Schottenportal. © Holly Hayes
Nave looking east. © Holly Hayes
Rood screen with 12th-century sculpture group of the Crucifixion. © Holly Hayes
Nave looking west to the gallery. © Holly Hayes
Head of a vulture on a column base in the nave. © Holly Hayes
Unusual sculpture of a sideways monk with a key, or St. Peter. © Holly Hayes

Map of Schottenkirche St Jakob, Regensburg

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