Dedicated to St. Andrew, this church lies a short block from the more famous Cathedral of Cologne. The nave, aisles and west end were built between 1180 and 1245 in the romanesque style.
The choir and apsidal transepts were added in the 15th century in the high gothic style. The choir is longer than the nave, almost making two churches that meet at the crossing. Yet, the overall effect is very unified.
This church is the repository of some remarkable relics (giving them the benefit of the doubt for the moment). St. Andrew’s arm bone is reputedly contained in a reliquary in the apse of the choir. The south transept holds a 16th century gilded reliquary that reputedly contains the bones of seven Jewish brothers and their mother. The apocryphal book of 2 Maccabees records their torture and death at the hands of Antiochus. When the synagogue near which they were buried was converted to a Christian church, their bones were recovered and eventually found their way to Cologne in 1164.
When the choir was built, the crypt underneath was sealed up. After WWII, the crypt was reopened and renovated. A chapel was opened up underneath the crossing to house the relics of Albertus Magnus, a Dominican scholar and scientist of the 13th century. The sarcophagus is a roman artifact once held at the nearby St. Ursula church. Albertus was canonized and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1931.
As unique as the shrine of the Jewish martyrs is, the reliquary in the vestibule (with St. Andrew in the background) is perhaps the strangest. I thought at first it was a baptismal font. It is in fact supposed to contain the blood of the virgins who were martyred with St. Ursula in the 3rd or 4th century. The stone “font” itself is 16th century.
The unique decagonal nave of this church opens to east into a choir which was completed about 1156. Much of the original furniture was destroyed in WWII and the structure required significant repairs. Yet the heavy, round-arch, romanesque design elements are evident.
The apse retains most of the original wall paintings, including the enthroned Christ, St. Gereon, and a bishop brandishing a sword. The windows are modern.
Opening off the south side of the decagon is a baptistry built 1242-45. By that time the gothic style had taken hold in German lands. The font itself is of a somewhat earlier date.
Opposite the font is a late gothic altar. The wall paintings date to the mid-13th century, about the time of construction.
One of the most striking features of the church is a chapel with a 19th century pieta. Although the gilded vault and variegated marble panels are eye-catching, the monochrome sculpture stands out even more.
St. Gereon Kirche is unique north of the Alps. The lower levels date to about 350-65. The central structure is oval with semicircular niches that may have once held memorials to early noble families. Some of the stone in the vaults of these niches was recycled from Roman structures. The upper portions of this structure were renovated and extended several times during the past millennium. The visual splendor can only be approximated in photos, but this view of the ceiling gives some idea of what it is like to stand in the center of this remarkable church.
Each of the niches mentioned has a different pieced glass window. Here are a few of them. They are just another indication that modern ideas of unified design did not obtain in the Middle Ages.
A fascinating aspect of these ancient churches is the stories they have to tell about the people who inspired them, built them and worshipped here.
St. Gereon was, according to tradition, one of fifty Roman soldiers from Egypt who were beheaded for refusing to deny their Christian faith. They were thrown into a well on the site of this church. Excavations after WWII failed to locate such a burial, but there are sarcophagi here from Roman times. These same excavations uncovered coins minted after 345, disproving the tradition that the church was founded by St. Helen. However, it is certain that the main oval structure was begun during the 4th century.
This sculpture of Gereon´s head is in the park adjacent to the church. It weighs 8 tonnes and measures about 8 feet from the neck to helmet. An international project in some sense, it was created by a German-Turkish sculptor in Thailand.
Holy Roman Emperor Otto I, who is entombed at Magdeburg, appointed his brother Bruno as Archbishop of Cologne. Bruno found St.Pantaleon in need of repair and began a massive renovation. He died in A.D. 965 and is buried in the crypt. In 972, Otto arranged the marriage of his son, Otto II, with Theophanu, a princess of the Byzantine Empire. After Otto’s early death, Theophanu ruled the empire as regent during the minority of her son, Otto III. She installed her daughter Adelheid as abbess at St. Serviatus, Quedlinburg. She funded the extension of the westwork of St. Pantaleon, and on her death in A.D. 991, was entombed at St. Pantaleon.
Sarcophagus of Archbishop Bruno
Sarcophagus of Theophanu
The church is a quick guide to the history of art and architecture from roman times to the present. Beneath the choir, excavations have uncovered the foundations of a roman villa dating to the 3rd century.
Later this plot of land became a cemetery and a simple chapel was raised on the site in the 7th century. In the 9th century, under Bruno, this was lengthened and remains as the nave of the church. Theophanu’s contribution was the western extension with these bi-color arches that were characteristic of 9th and 10th century Rheinland churches.
In the 12th century, side aisles with groin arches were added, a gothic rood screen followed in the early 16th century with further additions of a gothic apse, stained glass windows and a massive baroque altar (1747-9).
Rood Screen from 1503.
Gothic Apse, 1620, and Baroque altar 1740s.
The central nave was vaulted in the 17th century. But after damage in WWII, it was restored as a coffered ceiling more in line with the original design. The religious symbols etched in the panels are executed in a very 20th century style.