A “mindful” journey through the ruins of WWII in Cologne
  • Europe /
  • Germany /
  • Cologne

Discovering the remains of the city that was bombed and destroyed over ninety per cent of its entirety

St. Kolumba
(by Elke Wetzig, CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)

(by Elke Wetzig, CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)

St Kolumba’s, dating back to 980CE and dedicated to Columba of Sens, ranks among the largest churches in medieval Cologne. A Gothic church replaced the original Romanesque church with a single nave. In the 12th century, the church was extended to three naves. Then, it was replaced by a Gothic hall church with five naves, retaining only the nave and tower. Finally, in the 17th century, the interior was decorated in Baroque style.

It was almost entirely destroyed by bombing in World War II. Even today, one can observe the peculiar renovation of the exterior façades. Only a few exterior walls, the basement of the tower, the entrance and a Gothic statue of Mary have survived. The life-size statue dates back to 1460-70 CE. In 1947, on the ruins, architect Gottfried Böhm built a chapel dedicated to Mary as the ‘Madonna of the Ruins’. The chapel was seen as a memorial to the war and therefore called by this name. 

Looking at the reconstructions and heavy rebuilding, one can imagine the destructive force of the bombs that fell and, in a few moments, erased centuries of history and lives from the city. 

The ‘liberation’ of Cologne can be conceived as a rebirth in the broadest sense, and the remains of this church are a reminder of the price the city had to pay. 

The church was later christened St Kolumba in 2007 when it became part of the Kolumba, the museum of the archdiocese of Cologne. Swiss architect Peter Zumthor designed a new museum for the archdiocese, integrating the chapel and excavation sites where earlier medieval remains were found.

The church had notable works of art, such as the St Columba Altarpiece by Rogier van der Weyden, a Bartholomew Altarpiece by the Master of the St Bartholomew Altarpiece and the Master of the Calvary by Wasservass. Moreover, the church was close to the first University of Cologne.


1. Antoniterkirche

2. Old St. Alban

3. St. Kolumba

4. NS-Documentation Centre

5. Cologne Cathedral