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Recently I came across a selected New Testament which the Bonn Evangelical Alliance distributed to households in Bonn in 2005 and in which I wrote something about the beginnings of Christianity in Bonn (“How Christianity came to Bonn,” pp. 204-205 in Das Beste für Bonn: Excerpts from the Bible. IBS: Schorndorf, 2005). As someone who within the scope of advocating religious freedom worldwide also intensively studies the history of Christian martyrdom, the visible presence of martyrs in the picture we have of Bonn as a city is to me both astonishing and encouraging.

Here is my 2005 text:

Christianity came to Bonn as it did to Cologne, not via missionaries but rather via the Roman army. Legions had been strewn throughout the Roman Empire and with them the many Christians who were among the officers and soldiers. The New Testament provides reports of this situation. Against the will of their supreme commanders, these individuals conveyed the Christian faith through personal contacts. It has been verified that the first Christians were in Trier and Cologne as of 200 A.D., and in Bonn it is likely to have been similar. To this day, Christian Roman tombstones on the streets of Bonn’s Roman quarters are witnesses to this. In any event, there were officers and soldiers of the Theban Legion who were killed during the persecution of Christians in all three Roman colonies in 291 A.D. This legion came from Egypt, where many Christians lived. Among the leaders of the legion were the later patron saints of Bonn, Cassius and Florentius, whose heads have been sculpted by a Turkish artist and are featured in large format in front of the Bonn Basilica. According to what is probably a legend, both officers were executed at the location of the ‘death chapel’ (Mordkapelle). Outside of the Roman settlement in the cemetary at their grave, there soon arose a space for worship services. Along with the toleration of Christianity issued by the emperor in 313 A.D., this location was expanded after 320 A.D. to become the oldest Christian church known to us in Bonn. In 1928 the cella memoria was dug up under the Bonn Basilica. Today it is kept in the cellars of the Rhine State Museum (Rheinische Landesmuseum). This expansion is supposed to have occurred through Helena, the Emporor Constantine’s mother, which, however, cannot be documented. In 600 A.D. it became a single nave church and as of 1050 A.D. the current day basilica. Since the 4th century the history of the city has been closely tied to the history of Christianity. Old churches and chapels are witness to this fact. Many residents of Bonn are oblivious to this fact, and thus it invites individuals to a stroll in the city. For instance the foundations of the oldest parish church, built in 750 A.D., the ‘people’s church’ (Dietkirche), can be found in the old Roman camp (Drusus Street, or Drususstraße). In the grass next to the model of the Roman camp and between residential housing, these foundations are visible again today. Or there is the medieval Helena Chapel (Helenakapelle) from the 12th century (located at Am Hof 32/34), which hardly any resident of Bonn has ever seen. In the offset of the Old Cemetary (der Alte Friedhof), there is a late Roman in commendam church (Kirche der Deutschordenskommende). The German imperial chancellor and archbishop had a double church built in the Schwarz-Rheindorf section of Bonn for the imperial court from 1149-1151, which is an insider tip for lovers of art.

 

 

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