Cologne's Historical Churches Walking Tour, Cologne

Cologne's Historical Churches Walking Tour (Self Guided), Cologne

The beautiful and historically rich city of Cologne has been around for over 2,000 years. For centuries, it has been regarded as a very important religious center.

The Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral), one of its biggest attractions, is renowned as a symbol of Christianity and “a masterpiece of exceptional intrinsic value” (UNESCO World Heritage Site). The twelve Romanesque churches of Cologne are twelve distinguished landmarks set in a semi-circle around the Old Town (Altstadt) – without parallel anywhere else in the world. Among the top examples of these cultural monuments is Groß St. Martin (Great St. Martin's Church) whose distinctive crossing tower has shaped the skyline of the Old Town since the Middle Ages.

Other prominent historical churches include:

Basilika St. Aposteln (Basilica of the Holy Apostles) – built into the core of the city circa 1000 AD;

St. Cäcilien (St. Cecilia's Church) – one of the oldest churches in Cologne, now home to the Schnütgen Museum of Medieval Art, filled with exclusive textiles and enticing stained-glass windows dating back several centuries;

Basilica Church of St. Ursula – named after the legendary Princess Ursula who was martyred along with 11,000 other virgins; built upon their grave, this church containing relics of the virgins in a special section called the ‘Golden Chamber’.

For a closer look at these and other remarkable churches in the Catholic stronghold of Cologne, take this self-guided walking tour.
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Cologne's Historical Churches Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Cologne's Historical Churches Walking Tour
Guide Location: Germany » Cologne (See other walking tours in Cologne)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.9 Km or 2.4 Miles
Author: derek
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Basilika St. Aposteln (Basilica of the Holy Apostles)
  • Antoniterkirche (St. Anthony Church)
  • St. Cäcilien (St. Cecilia's Church)
  • St. Maria im Kapitol (St. Mary's in the Capitol)
  • Groß St. Martin (Great St. Martin Church)
  • Minoritenkirche (Church of the Immaculate Conception)
  • Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral)
  • Basilica Church of St. Ursula
Basilika St. Aposteln (Basilica of the Holy Apostles)

1) Basilika St. Aposteln (Basilica of the Holy Apostles)

Basilika St. Aposteln (Basilica of the Holy Apostles) is a magnificent Romanesque church. It was constructed during the 11th century and is one of the twelve Romanesque churches built in Cologne during that time. The church has a basilical plan of nave and aisles, and like Groß St. Martin and St. Maria im Kapitol, has three apses at the east end making a trefoil plan.

One of the main features of the church is the domed clover leaf chancel, which was built around 1200 and is a true gem of Romanesque architecture. The chancel is located at the east end of the church, and its shape is reminiscent of a clover leaf, with three semicircular apses arranged in a trefoil plan. The chancel is covered by a stunning dome that gives the church a monumental and almost Byzantine appearance.

The church was significantly enlarged in the 13th century, and an octagonal dome was added above the crossing. This new addition further enhanced the grandeur of the church, and it is now one of the most remarkable examples of Romanesque architecture in Germany. Despite the building modifications, the old structures were retained and copied, and integrated into the new construction project.
Antoniterkirche (St. Anthony Church)

2) Antoniterkirche (St. Anthony Church)

Cologne is a city that every avid tourist must visit at least once. This city has a unique charm and warm atmosphere that entices tourists to come back repeatedly. Cologne is known for its Gothic and Romanesque churches. Among the Gothic churches, the Antoniterkirche holds a special place. Located close to the main shopping street of the city, this Protestant church is frequented by those who wish to pray in absolute peace and quiet.

Antoniterkirche is a very peaceful church built around 1350 to 1380. It boasts a simple, yet elegant architecture. Step inside the church and you cannot miss the Barlach’s Memorial Angel. This cast also known as the Angel of Death is made from the original cast. As the original was destroyed during WWII by the Nazis, this is the only remaining cast today preserved in this church.

You will also be struck by the oasis of peace inside the church in spite of the bustling, noisy Schildergasse outside. Schildergasse is incidentally one of Cologne’s busiest, main shopping streets. Antoniterkirche has three wings even though the church seems more of a chapel due to its small size. On your trip to Cologne, pay a visit to this charming church to enjoy its unique architecture and period art.
St. Cäcilien (St. Cecilia's Church)

3) St. Cäcilien (St. Cecilia's Church)

St. Cecilia's Church is one of the twelve Romanesque churches in Cologne's old city. The church, maintained by the Foundation of Romanesque Churches in Cologne, has remained almost unchanged since its inception, which dates back to 1130-60.

The church has a simple three-aisled floor plan without towers or transepts. The southernmost aisle and the center of the nave end in a rounded apse. Meanwhile, the northern aisle ends in an apse that was built in 1479 and is currently used as a sacristy.

The church's middle aisle features frescoes on the upper choir, which were damaged during World War II. Although they are difficult to see clearly, the original arched wooden roof still remains. The tympanum, which dates back to 1160, is part of the museum's collection and can be viewed from the north entrance.

The history of the St. Cecilia's Church dates back to the 9th century when a women's home of the same name was founded on the site during the reign of Archbishop Willibert in 870-888. The original church was built on the ruins of a prior Roman bath. The church was later renovated in the 12th century to suit a Romanesque style.

In the late 15th century, the church's interior was renovated using resources originally designated for another church. During the 19th century, the main entrance was changed and given a new entry in the Neo-Romantic style. Although it remains on site, it is now walled up to accommodate the Schnütgen Museum, which is currently housed in the church.

For a time, the St. Cecilia's Church was also adjacent to the first hospital in Cologne, where it served as a chapel. The hospital is no longer present, and the church now stands next to the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum.

Although the church is now mainly used as a museum of medieval art, it still celebrates two masses each year, one at Christmas and the other on the feast day of St. Cecilia.
St. Maria im Kapitol (St. Mary's in the Capitol)

4) St. Maria im Kapitol (St. Mary's in the Capitol)

St. Maria im Kapitol (english: St. Mary's in the Capitol) is a magnificent 11th-century Romanesque church located in the Kapitol-Viertel. Its name “im Kapitol” refers to the Roman temple for the Capitoline Triad that was built on today’s site of the church in the first century. The church was dedicated to St. Mary and built between 1040 and 1065, based on the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

The church is one of twelve Romanesque churches built in Cologne during this period, and it is considered the most important work of German church architecture of the Salian dynasty. St. Mary's in the Capitol is the largest of the Romanesque churches in Cologne. It has a nave and aisles and three towers to the west. The east end of the church is trefoil in shape, with three apses.

St. Mary's in the Capitol's foundation was built on the walls of the Roman temple, which measured 33 m x 29.5 m and was surrounded by a 97 m x 69 m courtyard. Inside of the temple, three cellae – one for each of the worshipped gods – were built. After the Franks conquered Cologne in the fifth century, the Frankish mayors of the palace resided around the Capitoline hill, and Pepin of Herstal lived in Cologne for a period of time. His wife Plectrude had a proprietary church built on the ruins of the capitol before her death, and she was buried in this aisleless church.

In the middle of the eleventh century, the archbishop of Cologne Hermann II and his sister Ida, abbess of St. Maria im Kapitol, initiated construction of a new church. The altar and the nave were consecrated by Pope Leo IX. During World War II, the church was heavily damaged, and until 1956, only the closed-off western part of the church could be used. In 1984, the eastern part was reopened and could also be used.
Groß St. Martin (Great St. Martin Church)

5) Groß St. Martin (Great St. Martin Church) (must see)

The Great St. Martin Church has a long and storied history. The current church is a Romanesque Catholic church built between 1150 and 1250. The church's most distinctive feature is its iconic tower which has shaped Old Town's skyline for centuries.

During Roman times, this site was an island in the Rhine River. The Romans built a chapel on this site, and another church was built during the 10th century.

The church was destroyed by fire in 1150, and a new church was commissioned. A tri-apsidal structure was built in 1172 and survived an 1185 fire. Another fire damaged the roofs of the four towers in 1378, and a storm in 1434 knocked the roofs from the towers.

During the 18th century, Baroque decorations were added to the church's interior. However, some church officials thought the decorations were too ornate and changed some elements.

In 1794, French forces occupied Cologne and remained for 20 years. Great St. Martin's monastery was disbanded in 1802, and the monks had to find other places to live. The abbey was used as French barracks before being demolished.

Extensive restoration work began in 1847. During World War II, the church was damaged and several parts of the church burned to the ground. The church was restored between 1948 and 1985.

Why You Should Visit:
Very handsome church exterior; very nicely located near the Rhine; very quiet and peaceful; very close to the old town restaurants.

The entrance is slightly hidden at the rear. You may also go downstairs into the basement to see some old Roman foundations which the church was built on.
Minoritenkirche (Church of the Immaculate Conception)

6) Minoritenkirche (Church of the Immaculate Conception)

Cologne is a city of exquisite churches. Visitors from around the world throng this city to enjoy the unique atmosphere, ambience and beauty of these Romanesque and Gothic churches. Minoritenkirche is one of the popular churches here, a must visit tourist attraction.

The Dom Cathedral and Minoritenkirche St Maria Empfangnis were constructed around the same time in Cologne. Minoritenkirche is a huge Gothic church built by Franciscans in the 1200s. As compared to the other churches in the city, you will find the architecture here refreshingly simple. It took from 1245 to about 1260 to build its early-Gothic choir, with a three-aisle nave added in the 14th century. As the Franciscans are a mendicant order, they built a ridge turret but no bell tower, indications of the poverty adopted by the order. When the French Revolution spread to Cologne in 1794, the Franciscans were expelled from the church and the adjoining monastery.

Inside the church is John Duns Scotus’ tomb. He was a strong defender of orthodox religion and was a popular theologian. His orthodoxy did not go down well with many during that period. This triple-nave Gothic basilica located in Minoritenstreet houses the gravestone of the “father of journeymen” Adolf Kolping. Kolping and Scotus both were beatified by Pope John Paul II and were feature on the new west doors designed by Paul Nagel in 2006.

Just like the other churches in Cologne, this church too was damaged badly during World War II. In the following years, it was reconstructed, modified and enhanced many times. On your trip to Cologne, visit this beautiful church that reflects glory in stark simplicity. The architecture mirrors the essential Franciscan values. Include this unique church in your itinerary on your next visit to Cologne.
Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral)

7) Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral) (must see)

Cologne Cathedral is a World Heritage Site and Germany's most visited landmark. Twenty thousand people visit each day. Cologne Cathedral is 157 meters (515) tall and the world's tallest twin-spired church. It is Europe's second-tallest church and the world's third tallest church. In addition, it is Northern Europe's largest Gothic church.

Construction began in 1248 and stalled between 1560 and 1840. Finally, the tower was completed in 1880.

The site has hosted Christian buildings since the fourth century. A seventh-century baptistery was located at the Cathedral's east end. The "Old Cathedral" stood here from 818 to 1248.

Cologne Cathedral was originally built to house the relics of the Three Kings. The eastern arm of the cathedral was built first. Construction on the west front continued in the 14th century. When construction stalled in 1473, a massive crane stayed in place for 400 years.

In the 19th century, the original facade plans were discovered, and officials decided to complete the cathedral. In 1860, the cathedral was completed 632 years after construction began. World War II bombs damaged the church, and repairs were carried out.

The black marble High Altar was installed in 1322. The Shrine of the Three Kings is the cathedral's biggest draw. The shrine holds the remains of the Three Wise Men. Work on the gilded shrine began in 1190.

The Gero Crucifix was created in the 10th century and is one of the oldest examples of a large free-standing crucifix. The wooden Milan Madonna dates to around 1290. An interior wall features a pair of stone tablets from the 13th century, which legalized Cologne's Jewish residents. The choir has original carved stalls that date to the 14th century.

The cathedral features 11 bells. The oldest bell was cast in 1418. When St. Peter's Bell was cast in 1922, it was the world's largest free-swinging bell.

Why You Should Visit:
Simply jaw dropping in size. You may never see another church so detailed and so large.

Take a look at the beautiful mosaics on the floor in the Cathedral's rear part. You may also climb up to the top for a great view of Cologne, or go to underground parking to see the original foundations exposed there.
Basilica Church of St. Ursula

8) Basilica Church of St. Ursula

The Basilica Church of St. Ursula is a historic and religious site located in Cologne. Its origins can be traced back to the late antiquity period, as it was built on the property of a Roman graveyard. The church was named after Ursula, a Breton princess who, according to legend, suffered martyrdom in Cologne with 11,000 female companions.

Originally dedicated to the Holy Virgin, the church underwent several rounds of construction, and during these building works, numerous mortal remains were found. These remains were believed to be those of the female martyrs, and they were incorporated into the church. The gallery basilica was constructed in the early 12th century, and it was designed to accommodate the numerous relics that had been discovered.

In the 13th century, the choir chancel was rebuilt in Gothic style, and this further emphasized the importance of presenting the relics. The walls of the church were designed with dual shells to create space for the relics while also displaying them behind bars. During the Baroque era, a chapel annex known as the Golden Chamber was built to provide visitors with direct access to the relics. Today, the Golden Chamber is filled with relics from top to bottom and remains a popular attraction for visitors to the church.

The Basilica Church of St. Ursula boasts rich furnishings from various centuries. The late antiquity “Clematius inscription” and the baroque Grave of the Holy Ursula are two objects that are entirely related to the site's location. The church also features two shrines located behind the high altar and a collection of relic busts with the smiling faces of the Virgins. These artifacts are just a few examples of the church's rich history and cultural significance.

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