Gereon of Cologne

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Head of St. Gereon in front of St. Gereon's Church
Saint Gereon with entourage, Cologne, around 1460, on wood, Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg.

According to the legend, Gereon (* around 270, † 304) was an officer of the Theban Legion who was beheaded near Cologne in later Mechtern ( ad martyres ) because of his Christian faith and refusal to take part in the persecution of Christians . His body is said to have been thrown into a well outside the walls of the city.


The earliest version of the legend of the Theban Legion is the Passio Acaunensium martyrum by Eucherius of Lyon . It localizes the events to the place Agaunum (also Acaunum) in Valais near Lake Geneva. The local Abbey of Saint-Maurice d'Agaune was the earliest and most important cult center of the Thebes.

The cult probably came to the Lower Rhine in the 6th century following the marriage of the Austrasian King Theuderich I to the daughter of the founder of the Abbey of Saint-Maurice, King Sigismund of Burgundy, Suavegotta . Parts of the plot were therefore soon moved to the Lower Rhine (Bonn, Cologne, Xanten), where they probably merged with older local traditions of soldier martyrs. In his Liber in gloria martyrum , Gregor von Tours mentions 50 martyrs of the Theban Legion who would be venerated in a church of Ad Sanctos aureos adorned with gold mosaics . The Cologne Bishop Everigisil , whom he knew personally , had been healed of a headache by dust from a well in the middle of this church, into which the bodies of the martyrs had been thrown. Venantius Fortunatus praises the decoration of this church with mosaics in a poem (carm. III 14) as a merit of the Cologne bishop Carentinus .

The name Gereon appears for the first time in the Martyrologium Hieronymianum, edited in Auxerre or in the Luxeuil monastery in the early 7th century . Here he appears as the leader of 318 companions. This number, which later became canonical, is a biblical symbolic number (cf. Gn 14, 14: 318 Companions of Abraham) In the 10th century, a Passion that probably originated in Cologne expands the tradition. For the first time, a distinction is made between the place of martyrdom, a church Ad Martyres (in vernacular St. Mechtern in today's Cologne-Ehrenfeld), and the place of burial, St. Gereon in Cologne. The latter church was said to have been built by the Roman Empress Helena , mother of Constantine the Great . Sigebert von Gembloux wrote a metric Passio Sanctorum Thebeorum in three books in the 1070s , in which he v. 955–970 also mentions Gereon and his companions and interprets their number 318 as numerical symbols. It was not until the 12th century that the alleged body of Gereon was discovered in an intact condition and in splendid garb with remains of armament in a sarcophagus during a reliquary excavation staged and described in detail by Norbert von Xanten , the founder of the Premonstratensian Order.

Cult history

The oldest parts of the church of St. Gereon, allegedly built by Empress Helena , date from the middle of the 4th century, so it is older than all written sources that only started in the 5th, and with reference to Cologne even in the 6th century. It was originally outside the city fortifications in the northwestern suburban area on the site of a Roman necropolis . The church must have had a monastery or monastery by the 7th or early 8th century at the latest. The late antique building was repeatedly restored and expanded. Today rises above the late antique oval building the important Romanesque sacral building St. Gereon from the 13th century, which is characterized by its central building, the only decagon and the first important central building with cloister vault north of the Alps. A late antique column mentioned in the sources since Merovingian times, which, according to an accompanying inscription, served as a kind of oracle in legal questions, the blood column (Cologne) of St. Gereon, is said to have come into contact with the blood of the saint and is still in St. Gereon is on the north side at the west entrance. A recess was created for them during the Staufer renewal of the decagon. The granite column could be one of the columns mentioned in the late antique and early medieval sources of the late antique building made of precious material. An inscription that was originally attached to the pillar on a stone slab can now be read in the niche. It is a distich, a cabinet piece in a refined rhyming technique that can only come from the High Middle Ages:

"Adde fidem, fuit hic pridem fusus cruor idem / ad lapidem, si dem me male, punit idem."

"Believe me, a long time ago this very / blood was sprinkled on the stone, if I show myself badly, it punishes."

The column, which is reminiscent of the column under the arma Christi , also appears in images, for example in incunabula of the Legenda aurea of Jacobus de Voragine .

The oldest liturgical texts date from the 8th century. Gereon appears under the patrons of the Frankish army alongside the soldier and episcopal saints Mauritius of Agaunum, Bishop Dionysius of Paris , Crispinus and Crispinianus of Soissons and Hilarius of Poitiers and Martin of Tours in the Laudes regiae . Gereon is still present in the Laudes regiae in Ottonian times , after which he disappears. On the other hand, the local liturgical tradition, based on the All Saints' Litany in Cologne from the first half of the 9th century to the present, is all the richer and more sustainable. It reached the peak of its development in the High and Late Middle Ages when, at the latest since Archbishop Pirmin of Cologne, there was a distinctive station church system based on the Roman model, in which the collegiate church of St. Gereon had an excellent place (including the statio on the day of the proto-martyr Stephanus as part of the Christmas liturgy; Palm Sunday, Easter Monday, Whit Monday and Vigil of Ascension Day during Easter).

As part of the redesign of the sculpture program for the Cologne town hall tower in the 1980s, Gereon was honored with a figure by Matthias Moritz on the fourth floor on the north side of the tower.

Depiction of Saint Gereon on the right side panel of the altar of the city patron by Stefan Lochner , today in Cologne Cathedral


Gereon is the patron saint of soldiers . He is depicted in knight armor with a cross flag and is especially venerated in Cologne, of which he is the patron of the city. There are also communities called Saint Géréon on the Loire (France).

Various church buildings were also dedicated to the saint (see Gereonskirche ), one of the oldest in Germany, St. Gereon in Cologne.

Gereon was named after October 10th.


Web links

Commons : Gereon von Köln  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. The controversial interpretation of verse 24 of this poem has finally raised doubts about its connection with St. Gereon. Cf. Ute Verstegen : Excavations and building research in St. Gereon in Cologne (Cologne Research 9). Philipp von Zabern, Mainz 2006, p. 5f. For a reference to Cologne and the interpretation of the verse, cf. however, Gereon Becht-Jördens: Venantius Fortunatus and the renovation of the Church of St. Gereon in Cologne by Bishop Carentinus . In: Kölner Jahrbuch 43 (2010), pp. 57–69. ISBN 978-3-7861-2628-7 .
  2. cf. Ute Verstegen ibid. P. 11f.
  3. Ernst Dümmler: Sigeberts von Gembloux Passio sanctae Luciae virginis and Passio sanctorum Thebeorum (from the treatises of the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin 1893) Verlag der Königliche Akademie der Wissenschaften, Berlin 1893.
  4. For the sources cf. ibid. pp. 23-30.
  5. See ibid. P. 42.
  6. See Andreas Odenthal, Albert Gerhards (ed.): Märtyrergrab, Kirchendienst, Gottesdienst. Interdisciplinary studies on St. Gereon in Cologne (Studies on Cologne Church History 35). Franz Schmitt, Siegburg 2005.
  7. Sculptures on the fourth floor , accessed on January 15, 2015.