A welcoming church with the largest ossuary in Germany
St Katherine's Church (Katharinenkirche) is located on the Rhine River in the historical wine town of Oppenheim (in the Mainz-Bingen district about a 45 minute drive from Frankfurt). Oppenheim is built on a hill with the church situated near the top, which is reached via a curving medieval road. The church is known particularly for its stained glass windows and large bone house.
Like many churches in the Mainz area, St Katherine's is made of soft red sandstone, which produces a pleasant glow in the sunlight. The church can trace its history back to the thirteenth century, but the recent structure has been renovated many times up to the mid-twentieth century.
The church is famous for its well-preserved and intricate stained glass windows, chief amongst those is the Oppenheimer Rose window. The fourteenth century glass has managed to survive centuries of damage to the church. The pattern of the window is a wild rose, which is said to be a 'symbol of God's love'. The imperial eagle, the city's coat of arms, is also contained in the design.
Oppenheimer Rose. Photo by Patrick-Emil Zörner.
During the Christmas season the streets surrounding the church are strung with lights and the altar area inside the church is transformed into an illuminated nativity scene. The lights are dimmed and the figures in the nativity, flanked by glowing windows and shadow, become the centre of attention. The scene is intended to bring a sense of reflection and quiet to the onlooker.
If you have the courage to follow a winding path to the back of the church you will encounter the largest ossuary in Germany - the beinhaus of Katharinenkirche. An iron gate bars the entrance to the ossuary, but piled to the ceiling are the bones of 20,000 people dating from 1400 to 1750. There is one shining gold skull in the midst of the rows of symmetry and uniformity, which was left behind by a student film crew. In the summer, tours of the bone house are given on a regular basis.