On this page you will find further information on the double church from the Denkmal- und Geschichtsverein Bonn-Rechtsrheinisch e.V. (Monument and History Society Bonn-Rhine).

The double church

The double church of St. Maria and Clemens near Bonn was built in the 12th century on a hill near the mouth of the Sieg near Rhine kilometre 656. Designed as a representative castle and ruler's chapel as well as the burial place of its builder, the building with its detailed façade design and the elaborate wall and vault paintings, which were rediscovered and restored in the 19th and 20th centuries, is a special testimony to Romanesque architecture.

The Chapel of St. Mary and St. Clement in Schwarzrheindorf was built between 1148 and 1151 by Archbishop Arnold II of Wied (c. 1098-1156) of Cologne. He had been Chancellor of King Konrad III since 1138 and Archbishop of Cologne from 1151 until his death in 1156. On 14 May 1156, Arnold von Wied died in Xanten as a result of a fall during a race.

The chapel adjoined a fortified farmstead that dated back to Carolingian times and had been taken over by the Counts of Wied in the late 11th century. Arnold chose the new building as the site of his burial place. It thus serves his memory to this day - in 1996, the founder's grave was rediscovered in the west arm of the church. Arnold had transferred the chapel and estate to his sister Hadwig von Wied (c. 1120-1172), abbess in Gerresheim and Essen, in 1156. She founded a Benedictine monastery here after her brother's death. In the course of this, the chapel, originally designed as a central building, was extended by a nave to the west and the crossing tower was raised until 1172. Around 1200, the monastery was converted into a monastery of the same name. The conversion into a monastery was not officially confirmed until 1502.

Due to the wars in the 16th and 17th centuries, the economic problems of the monastery began. In 1588, the church was burnt down in the Cologne War and lost its roof, which was not renewed until 1605. Further damage followed until 1747-52, when a thorough repair was carried out at the behest of Cologne's Elector Clemens August (1700-1761). The tower cross, which bears the date 1752, dates from this time. In 1788 Maximilian Franz, then Archbishop of Cologne, deposed the abbess. The reason for this was "the economic and disciplinary situation in Schwarzrheindorf", according to Norbert Schloßmacher in the Klosterführer Rheinland (p. 295). As a result, Franz transferred the administration of the monastery to neighbouring Vilich. However, the monastery was not dissolved until 25 years later, in 1803, by the Prince of Nassau-Usingen, in the course of secularisation.

With the secularisation in 1803, under the Prince of Nassau-Usingen, the monastery was dissolved and the monastery buildings demolished except for the church, which served as a military hospital and magazine under Napoleon. In 1820, the building passed into the possession of the Prussian state, which initially used the church as a stable and barn. The double chapel was probably threatened with demolition. But Hardenberg, then Prussian state chancellor, saved the magnificent church from this fate. After years of effort, the Prussian treasury finally felt compelled to have the church restored, until finally, in 1865, the upper and lower church could once again be used for worship. Restoration work in the 19th and 20th centuries uncovered the Romanesque ceiling paintings, which had been covered over in the 17th century.

Building specification
The church of St. Mary and St. Clement was originally designed as a two-storey central building over the ground plan of a Greek cross. The lower church is dedicated to St. Clemens, the patron saint of shipping, probably because of its proximity to the Rhine. The upper church, dedicated to Mary and with a built-in west gallery, was probably reserved for the noble founders and the convent of nuns.

The two storeys of the building are easily distinguishable from the outside. While the lower storey has hardly any architectural ornamentation, the upper storey is decorated with colourful pilaster strips, round arch friezes and blind arcades. The medieval figures of two lions are still preserved in the northern transept gable. A circumferential dwarf gallery with a monopitch roof, which is interrupted on the nave that was added later but returns on the west façade, mediates between the lower church and the stepped-back upper church. The geometric, floral and figural column capitals of the dwarf gallery present a varied compendium of High Romanesque architectural sculpture. The round-arched windows are joined by quatrefoil and lily windows as early examples of High Romanesque ornamental windows, which later distinguished many buildings of the Rhenish late Romanesque period. Above the crossing rises the square crossing tower, which was raised by one storey in the 12th century and today has a pointed helmet. The 19th-century additions stand out against the plastered medieval structure, whose exterior elements were painted in strong local colours in the course of the 1972-1973 restoration, following analogous examples of Rhenish Romanesque architecture.

The church is cross-vaulted on both floors, and the crossing bay of the lower church is connected to the upper church by a large octagonal opening in the apex of the vault. In the upper church, the crossing is closed off with an eight-part cloister vault overhanging the adjoining bays. To the two nave bays added later in the west, the lower church opens in a triple arcade, the upper church in a wide arch. A special feature is the diversity of the building materials. Basalt quarry stone, tuff, trachyte, andesite, limestone, calcareous sinter and slate were used for the construction and the decorations.

Wall paintings
The paintings of the lower and upper church in the so-called soft-flowing style represent a high point of Cologne painting in the middle of the 12th century. The high quality is evident both in the selection of the unusual subject and in the craftsmanship, that is, in the picture format and the design of the faces and vestments. About two decades later, the Schwarzrheindorf style was continued in the painting of the chapter house of Brauweiler Abbey near Cologne.

When the original building was erected, the murals in the basement were also made. The dating of the wall paintings on the upper floor is disputed. In some cases, it is assumed that the paintings were completed around 1170. This is also justified by the qualitative difference between the paintings and those in the basement. Others assume different painting workshops but simultaneous execution. The consistent execution of an overall concept is supposed to speak in favour of this.

Such an overall concept could have its origins in the views of the theologian Rupert von Deutz (1075/80-1129/30). He saw in Ezekiel's vision of God the proclamation of the four mysteries of Christ's redemption: birth, death, resurrection and ascension. Rupert von Deutz was Arnold's teacher, so that an influence is probable. From the Book of Ezekiel (recorded around 580 BC), the announcement of the judgment on Jerusalem, its justification and execution, and the vision of the new Jerusalem were chosen as motifs for the Schwarzrheindorf cycle. The fulfilment of the Ezekiel visions in Christ is represented by the four pictures Christ as World Judge, Christ Expels the Merchants from the Temple, the Transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor and the Passion and Crucifixion scenes. These two cycles of images are brought together in the lower church to form an interpretive unit.

In the upper church, the depiction of the New Jerusalem according to Ezekiel is now continued by the depiction of the Revelation of John. Through the octagonal opening, the view from the lower church is led to the heaven of the Apocalypse with the Lamb. In addition to the enthroned Christ, the cycle includes the depiction of various saints. Arnold and his sister Hadwig are depicted on the right and left at Christ's feet. The wall paintings also suffered from the changeable history of the building. The paintings were probably painted over several times. The date of the first repainting is not known. However, a letter from 1625 mentions that the interior of the church had recently been whitewashed. During the first thorough repair in 1747-52, the whitewash was whitewashed again.

In 1846/47, Andreas Simons rediscovered the wall paintings in the lower church. In the book "Die Gewölbe- und Wandmalereien in der Kirche zu Schwarzrheindorf" Simons is quoted as follows: "I remember when I first saw the church 6 years ago, just a piece of a head peeking out from under the later whitewash in one of the niches..."

In the middle of the 19th century, the painter and graphic artist Nicolaus Christian Hohe (1798-1868) was commissioned by the royal government of Cologne to uncover the wall paintings of the lower church and restored them a few years later. In the process, he made mistakes in the interpretation and overpainting. At the beginning of the 20th century, it was Anton Bardenhewer who corrected the mistakes. In the years before that, the paintings in the upper church were rediscovered and restored. The most recent restorations date back to 1994/1995 and 1998/1999. At that time, Jürgen Hohmann led the restoration and conservation work. In the process, new insights were gained into the originality of the paintings. Not only were preliminary drawings found, but also more original colour paintings than had previously been assumed.

The church also has other art-historical gems. The more recent furnishings include a Christ from the 16th/17th century and a Madonna from the early 17th century, as well as an organ from the early 18th century and an Osterrieder nativity scene. Today, the parish of St. Maria and St. Clemens belongs to the pastoral area on "Rhine and Sieg". It is the centre of parish life for about 2,700 parishioners.

The double church of St. Maria and Clemens is owned by the state of NRW and administered by the district government of Cologne.

Conservation and construction measures

1972-1973 New plastering of the exterior façade and coloured frame
1976 Interior renovation
1977 Insertion of a restored inscription stone (12th century) in the apse of the lower church.
1978-83 Artistic redesign of the baptistery
1993 Façade renovation
1994-1996 Interior: uncovering painting and restoration
1996 Installation underfloor heating
2014 Restoration of the tower cross
Planned construction measures: From 2016 Renovation of roof surfaces, façade and courtyard area
Use: Catholic Parish Church
Department: Ministry of Construction (MBWSV) NRW
Monument authority: Cologne District Government
Monument list: Bonn, No. 488, 30.07.1984

The objects "Doppelkirche zu Schwarzrheindorf (St. Maria and Clemens) including vicarage with porch and connecting passage and wayside shrine 'Magdalenenkreuz'", at Dixstraße 41/43 are registered monuments (Monument List Bonn, as of 1 January 2012, No. A 488). The Siftskirche is a significant feature of the historic cultural landscape area Rheinaue bei Schwarzrheindorf, Siegmündung (Cultural Landscape Area Regional Plan Cologne 438).

Source: Kuladig