City Church of St. Dionys (Esslingen am Neckar)

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City Church of St. Dionys seen from the castle

The Protestant town church St. Dionys in Esslingen is a church from the Gothic period . The church stands on the south side of the market square and, together with the Catholic Minster St. Paul and the Frauenkirche, forms a building ensemble that shapes the cityscape.


Previous buildings

The Nordman inscription

The first church building, a St. Vitalis Church, was built on the site of today's town church around 700 ; it is briefly referred to in research as “St. Vitalis I “. This single-nave hall church with a cemetery was 18 meters long and had a square nave and a recessed rectangular choir . Around 764 a reliquary grave was set up in the choir, at the same time the choir was separated by barriers . During excavations, 17 burial sites were found within the nave, of which 15 were men's and two children's graves. Noteworthy is the capstone of one of these earth graves, which bears the inscription IN NOMINE D (OMI) NI NORDMAN ("In the name of the Lord, Nordman"). This inscription, which probably dates from the 2nd quarter of the 8th century, is considered the oldest medieval grave inscription on the right of the Rhine.

In 784 Abbot Fulrad of the Saint-Denis monastery died . His will from the year 777 shows that he bequeathed six cells to his monastery, including the one in Esslingen. The relics of St. Vitalis , perhaps also relics of St. Dionysius , who were in Esslingen, led to the development of a market and a pilgrimage , so that the first Vitaliskirche finally had to give way to a larger one.

The second Vitaliskirche ("St. Vitalis II") in Esslingen was built in the late 9th century. It was no wider than the first building, but at 40 meters it was significantly longer, and it had a spacious hall crypt . This made it the largest stone church of its time in Inner Schwaben . The church was expanded and rebuilt several times by the end of the 12th century; among other things, it received a south tower. By the middle of the 12th century at the latest, St. Dionysius should no longer have had any influence in Esslingen. It is unclear how long a monastery or canon monastery existed at the second Vitaliskirche . The church itself, however, always retained its important status as Esslingen's parish church .

Construction of St. Dionys

Foundations of the early Gothic polygon choir

The Esslingen parish church was handed over to the cathedral chapter in Speyer on December 30, 1213 by King Friedrich II , so that in future the income from the associated goods could be used to preserve the memory of Friedrich's ancestors who were buried in Speyer. This Staufer donation was probably the reason for the new church to be built.

The crypt was filled in around 1220/1230 and the first new buildings were erected in a semicircle around the choir of the second Vitaliskirche, whose nave initially remained unchanged. The new church was to be a late Romanesque three-aisled basilica with two east towers and a choir with three apses . The substructure of the southern tower, the southern side choir and the foundations of the main apse date from this period. However, the plans soon changed. The choir was redesigned into an early Gothic polygonal choir around 1230/1240 . The relics of St. Vitalis and Dionysius were housed here in a new box altar . During this time, after the southern tower was already in place, the northern tower was also built. In this phase a paradise gate with a tendril tympanum , which led into the north tower hall, formed the main entrance of the church.

Foundations of the projected west tower

Around the middle of the 13th century the nave of the second Vitaliskirche was demolished. The new high-Gothic nave that has now been built initially had five bays. There were three-lane windows in the aisles. The church was divided by a north-south axis that ran between the two large side portals. These portals were then in the middle of the nave. In 1263 the building received its roof structure. A west tower projected towards the end of the 13th century with a square floor plan was abandoned at an early stage of construction.

In 1297 the polygon choir was replaced by the choir that still exists today. It is 1.13 meters wider, 7.7 meters longer and a bit more precise than the previous building. The construction of this high choir not only resulted in a clearly visible deviation of the building axis inside the church, but also meant that the height of the towers had to be adjusted. First the north tower was raised, which now reached a height of 59 meters. By 1320, the addition of the 55.5 meter high south tower was also completed. The heightening of the towers led to overloading of the foundations and lower floors and endangered the construction of the church.

North side entrance with tendrils sympana

Around 1300 the ship was extended to the west. It began with relocating the city wall and leveling the terrain. In 1313 the nave had seven bays and was 13.5 meters longer than before.

In the middle of the 14th century, the southern and northern side choirs were replaced by new choir side chapels. The northern of these two chapels has been preserved. At times it served as a burial place for the Sachs patrician family in Esslingen and was therefore also known as the Saxon Chapel.

In 1352 the roof work over the choir was completed. The church was now 70 meters long and 24 meters wide. Around 1450 the southern choir side chapel was replaced by the two-story sacristy building that still exists today . In 1682, access to the north gallery was set up, which was removed again in 1900. 1901 was timbered - watchman room replaced by a sandstone building. The tracery parapets of the platform also originate from this renovation.

Security measures on the towers

The towers

Around 1360/1370 almost all openings in the tower basement had to be walled up. As a result, the church lost its “transept”, which was formed by the tower halls. But this security measure was not enough. When the north tower threatened to collapse, the north side of the tower basement was reinforced after 1437. The late Romanesque step portal fell victim to this 13 meter high and 60 cm thick building. The access to the upper floors of the north tower was now provided by the new spiral staircase tower.

The south tower gradually leaned two feet to the south. Attempts were made to counter this in the years 1643 to 1650 by installing two wooden bridges with chains drawn in between the two towers. The lower bridge was removed in 1859, the upper one replaced by a wood-clad steel structure in 1900. In addition, the south tower had buttresses and walls in 1723, just like the north tower once did.

Design and equipment

Exterior design of the church

Around 1600 the church was painted gray, the joints were white. On the south side of the church, where the churchyard once was, old epitaphs are attached to the church wall. The double-door south portal has had the maker's mark and monogram of Max Beblinger since its restoration in 1482; of the inscription on the lintel , only the word pestis is legible.

A memorial on the southeastern plinth commemorates those who fell in the war of 1870/71 and the First World War . The sculpture comes from Karl Donndorf . Today the main portal is located on the west facade under historicized color glazing from 1883. The crucifix and bronze doors were designed by Ulrich Henn in the 1960s .



Interior view of the nave with a view of the rood screen and choir

The wall surfaces of the nave over pointed arcades are unstructured and sparse, like those of mendicant churches from the 13th century. This effect was brought about by a restoration carried out between 1898 and 1904, in the course of which the previously colorful walls and columns as well as the ceiling of the central nave lost their painting. At that time, the ceilings were given coffered wood paneling, and the cladding of the upper cladding windows was decorated with leaf ornaments. Only a small remnant of the medieval wall paintings has survived. It dates from around 1410/1420 and shows excerpts from the Leonhard legend . This legend was once seen as a cycle of paintings on the north side wall. What has been preserved are Leonhard's baptism by Remigius von Reims , his lessons in virtue, his commitment to prisoners with King Clovis, his retreat into solitude, Clovis' request for the rescue of his suffering wife and the gift of a monastery site as thanks. Until the Reformation, the church had a total of ten altars; one of them should have been dedicated to Leonhard.

Capital of a column

The sandstone pillars are all octagonal. However, their bases and capitals are designed differently. On the capitals are z. T. beings like centaurs and dragons . In the iconography of Romanesque such animals often stand for the evil that comes from the darkness. On other capitals, however, Adam and Eve, the peaceful coexistence of different animal species and the rule of the world by humans are shown. The profile of the arcades corresponds to the arcade design in the neighboring St. Paul Minster.

The pulpit is from the late Renaissance . It was created in 1609 by an unknown master and later painted by Peter Riedlinger , who created the painting for the high altar as early as 1604. The pulpit is octagonal and has a square foot. A blessing Christ stands on the sound cover , the underside is decorated with the symbols of the four evangelists and the dove of the Holy Spirit. The pulpit is now on the first central nave pillar on the south side of the church, which ensures the medieval orientation of the church towards the choir rather than the location on the third south pillar opposite the north gallery , which was used until 1958 and which was removed in 1961. The lectern from 1990 was designed by Ulrich Nuss .

In front of the main altar with its late Gothic crucifix from 1520 is a baptismal font from 1965. Ulrich Henn decorated it with scenes from the life of Jesus. An altar in the south aisle comes from the former Dominican church of St. Paul. It is a work of the early baroque and dates from 1667. The altar panel shows a crucifixion scene in front of the city of Jerusalem. The altar was donated by Dr. jur. Georg Friedrich Wagner and Elisabeth Heider.

In the tracery of the south portal, glass paintings by Hans Gottfried von Stockhausen from 1963 can be seen.

Memory of a deceased person

At least 101 people were buried in the town church of St. Dionys. However, many death shields and epitaphs were lost due to the iconoclasm . The epitaph of Conrad Schloßberger from the late Renaissance was preserved. Schloßberger, who died in 1638, was married twice. His two wives, Barbara Herwarth and Sabine Besserer, to whom the epitaph also applies, both died before him. According to the inscription, Schloßberger made the work himself. The pictures show Jesus and the children and the family kneeling before the risen One. Schloßberger's epitaph is on the east wall of the north aisle. A memorial stone for the pharmacist Ignaz Rohr and his wife Agnes Heberlin can be seen on the north wall. It is the work of the stone etcher Kaspar van der Sitt from Nuremberg , who not only designed the stone for the pharmacist who died in 1582, but also worked for the Württemberg and imperial courts. On the south wall is the epitaph of Esslingen mayor Georg Wagner and his wife Anna Ursula Cellius.


In 1704 the western gallery was built. Up until that time the organ - St. Dionys had had such an instrument since the 15th century - was housed on the rood screen. There is a second west gallery under the organ gallery. This was built in 1727 for the pupils of the knight academy and extended to the south in 1910.

In 1706 Johann Georg Allgeyer the Elder built Ä. a new organ on the upper west gallery. The instrument had 20  registers , which were distributed over two manuals and pedal . In 1754 Johann Carl Sigmund Haussdörffer carried out a major renovation, but kept the old registers and parts of the Rococo prospectus . This work had 24 registers. The organ was replaced in 1904 by the organ building company Walcker (Ludwigsburg) with a four-manual instrument with 86 registers. Only the old prospectus remained. In 1951 the instrument was equipped with electro-pneumatic action and rearranged. In 1964 there was an expansion to 91 registers. The organ is equipped with a remote control, has around 6550 pipes and is thus the second largest organ in Württemberg; the largest is in Ulm Minster . She has the following disposition:

I Hauptwerk C – g 3
1. Principal 16 ′
2. Quintadena 16 ′
3. Major octave 8th'
4th Far-drawn 8th'
5. Viola da gamba 8th'
6th Octave 4 ′
7th Gemshorn 4 ′
8th. Major third 3 15
9. Quint 2 23
10. Forest flute 2 ′
11. Rauschpfeife IV 4 ′
12. Mixture VI 2 ′
13. Small mix IV 23
14th Trumpet 16 ′
15th Trumpet 8th'
16. Clairon 4 ′
II Pages C – g 3
17th Gedacktpommer 16 ′
18th Praestant 8th'
19th Octave 4 ′
20th Super octave 2 ′
21st Super quint 1 23
22nd Mixture V-VII 1'
23. Drone 8th'
24. Salicional 8th'
25th Reed flute 4 ′
26th Nasat 2 23
27. Hollow flute 2 ′
28. Third flute 1 35
29 Seventh flute 1 17
30th Coupling flute 1'
31. Krummhorn 8th'
32. Trumpet shelf 4 ′
III Oberwerk C – g 3
33. Silent 16 ′
34. Fiddling principal 8th'
35. Tube bare 8th'
36. Dulz flute 8th'
37. Octave 4 ′
38. Wooden flute 4 ′
39. Unda maris 4 ′
40. Fugara 4 ′
41. Fifth flute 2 23
42. Piccolo 2 ′
43. Septterzian III 1 35
44. Schwiegel 1'
45. None 89
46. Mixture VII 2 ′
47. Third cymbal II 15
48. Dulcian 16 ′
49. Trumpet 8th'
50. Hautbois 8th'
IV Kronwerk C – g 3
51. Lead-covered 8th'
52. Quintad 8th'
53. Principal 4 ′
54. Capstan flute 4 ′
55. Small octave 4 ′
56. Hörnle II 2 ′
57. Sif flute 1 13
58. Whistle III 1'
59. Spicy Mix IV 23
60. Harp shelf 16 ′
61. Vox humana 8th'
IV Fernwerk C – g 3
62. Quintatos 16 ′
63. Bourdon doux 8th'
64. Night horn 8th'
65. Echogamba 8th'
66. Vox angelica 8th'
67. Pointed flute 8th'
68. Principal 4 ′
69. Flauto dolce 4 ′
70. Nasal fifth 2 23
71. Piccolo 2 ′
72. Sif flute 1'
73. Trumpet 8th'
74. Vox humana 8th'
Pedals C – f 1
75. Pedestal 32 ′
76. Principal bass 16 ′
77. Sub bass 16 ′
78. Octave bass 8th'
79. Flute bass 8th'
80. Viol flute 8th'
81. Choral bass 4 ′
82. Pipe pommer 4 ′
83. Night horn 2 ′
84. Basszink III 6 25
85. Mixture VI 2 23
86. Bombard 32 ′
87. trombone 16 ′
88 Still bassoon 16 ′
89. Trumpet bass 8th'
90. Clarine 4 ′
91. Singing Cornett 2 ′


The choir is separated from the nave by a rood screen. The first rood screen, developed as a stage, was erected in the 14th century, the second from 1486 to 1489. It is the work of the Heidelberg sculptor Lorenz Lechler and has three pointed arcades, of which the middle one is emphasized by a keel arch adorned with crabs . It is a rarity that the rood screen was preserved in a Protestant church. The Esslingen rood screen probably owes this to the fact that its stage provided access to the city archive room, which was once set up in the south tower. The rood screen stalls consist of two four-seaters from the 16th century with depictions of animals on the desk cheeks. On the north wall of the rood screen there is a Pietà from around 1490/1500. It is not known who it came from. On the south side of the choir is a late Romanesque Piscina column, on which the priests could wash their hands and the sacred utensils.

While the vestibule has more of the flat wall design of the nave, the polygon behind it has five four-lane colorful windows. The choir stalls made of dark oak were made in 1518 by local carpenters Anton Buol and Hans Wech. It has 50 seats in two double rows facing each other. A total of 56 carved heads and animal figures can be seen between the seats. The half-busts of the church fathers can be seen on the cheeks of the front row, Hieronymus and Gregorius in the east, Ambrosius and Augustine in the west. In the middle of the stalls there are four more male figures that could not be identified. The canopy cornice of the stalls comes from the renovation period; whether a similar upper degree existed before is unknown.

South-east window with the two church patrons

The stained glass windows of the choir with a total of around 280 panes date from the Middle Ages, but the individual dating is controversial. They could have been created in Esslingen workshops around 1300; the western south window is likely to be about 30 years younger. The north window, whose outer panels were transferred from the choir of the former Franciscan church in 1899, shows scenes from the life of Jesus, the north-east window the wise and foolish virgins as well as apostles, martyrs and the prophet Hosea . The outer lanes of the choir axis window contain people from the Old Testament; in the inner lanes, Old and New Testament events are horizontally related to one another. All images relating to the Old Testament are framed in brown, all representations from the New Testament are framed in green. The ornamental branches in the background are symbolic: the apples indicate the fall of man and corruption, the vines stand for Jesus Christ and salvation. The south-east window is designed with four lanes. The church patrons Vitalis and Dionysius can be seen on this window. The east south window also has ornamental panels from the Franciscan church. There are also depictions of Aristotle and Plato , an animal cycle and depictions of the apostles as well as vices and virtues. The western south window is the somewhat younger Mary window, which shows scenes from a cycle of Mary.

In addition to the rood screen, Lorenz Lechler also created the 12.5 meter high sacraments , the figurative decoration of which fell victim to the iconoclasts in 1532. Nevertheless, the sacrament house is considered a masterpiece of South German stone carving in the late Gothic period.

The aforementioned high altar was created in 1604. It is a three-storey winged altar that was painted by Peter Riedlinger and David Mieser. The predella shows the washing of feet and the Lord's Supper, on the main floor nine panels show the stages of the Christian year from Advent to Pentecost . The crucifixion scene is at the center. The three consoles above carry two angel figures and a late Gothic sculpture of the risen One. The depiction of the Pentecost miracle portrays Lucas Osiander the Elder , who worked in Esslingen. There has been a grille in front of the high altar since 1604, which previously served as a barrier for the choir behind the rood screen. The old font is shaped like a cup. It was probably created by Hans Beblinger around 1460/1470.


In the north tower two bells from the 13th century have been preserved, in the south tower one from 1421 and one from 1591. A total of seven bells hang in the two towers, five of which can be rung at the same time.

Excavation museum

In the years 1960 to 1963, as part of the installation of a heating system under the direction of GP Fehring, an archaeological investigation of the area under and around the town church of St. Dionys was carried out. The finds, including the Nordman grave slab, can now be seen in the excavation museum under the town church. The excavations under St. Dionys were the reason for the establishment of the “ Archeology of the Middle Ages ” department at the State Office for Monument Preservation.

Web links

Commons : Stadtkirche St. Dionys (Esslingen)  - Collection of images, videos and audio files


  • Hannelore and Rainer Jooß: Evang. City Church of St. Dionys Esslingen am Neckar. Regensburg ²2002, ISBN 3-7954-6045-X
  • Ulrike Roggenbuck-Azad: Expectations of use of church buildings. St. Dionys in Esslingen and St. Michael in Schwäbisch Hall. In: Preservation of monuments in Baden-Württemberg , 32nd year 2003, issue 1, pp. 92–97 ( PDF )
  • Peter Berkenkopf, Otto Wölbert: Documentation and restoration of the medieval glass windows from St. Dionys in Esslingen. In: Denkmalpflege in Baden-Württemberg , 26th year 1997, issue 1, pp. 5–10. ( PDF )

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Günter P. Fehring: St. Vitalis and St. Dionysius zu Esslingen am Neckar , in: Evangelische Stadtkirche Esslingen , ed. from the Protestant parish of Esslingen am Neckar, 5th edition, Esslingen am Neckar without year [approx. 1990], p. 8.
  2. ^ Karlheinz Bauer: The Allgeyer family of organ builders in Hofen and Wasseralfingen . In: Geschichts- und Altertumsverein Aalen eV (Ed.): Aalen Yearbook 1986. Konrad Theiss Verlag, Stuttgart / Aalen 1986, pp. 62–90, here: pp. 72–73.
  3. Organ in Esslingen , accessed on February 28, 2018.
  4. ^ To the organ of the town church
  5. ^ Monument Preservation Baden-Württemberg: The excavations 1960–1963

Coordinates: 48 ° 44 ′ 31.7 "  N , 9 ° 18 ′ 21.6"  E