The early medieval burial ground

Around or shortly after AD 550, a new cemetery was established on the outskirts of the early medieval settlement of Sülchen, initially perhaps only as a burial ground for the local manor.

A total of 78 graves from the second half of the 6th and the 7th century were recorded within the Sülchen church, with the burial ground certainly extending beyond the present church building to the west and south, possibly also to the east. An above-average number of grave goods show clear references to the Frankish Empire.

The Alamanni had been subjugated by the Franks in the early 6th century. Even though it is not known exactly how the Frankish takeover took place, it is assumed that groups of Franks settled in strategically favourable places. Sülchen was probably a flourishing settlement at this time on an important Roman road that was still in use and was a candidate for such a settlement. Since the Franks were already Christians in the 6th century, it is not surprising that individual grave goods can be interpreted as Christian.

The first church building

The construction of a church is regarded as definite evidence of early medieval Christianisation. A slightly trapezoidal hall was erected in a section of the early medieval cemetery, the broad foundation of which suggests a stone building. The stone building was erected around 680 at the latest, perhaps years or decades earlier.

An extension was added to the east side of the stone building before or at the latest around 750, which was almost certainly an indented rectangular choir. This created the characteristic ground plan of an early to high medieval church, so that the stone building may now also be called a church with certainty.

The second church building – the church of Count Hesso?

The small church, which was probably the local lord’s own church and at the same time the parish church of the settlement of Sülchen, was used without any archaeological changes until the early 11th century. Then, however, it was replaced by a new building, which was unusually large and representative for a village church of this time.

There is much to suggest that this generous new building was initiated by the Hessons, who have been documented as the Sülchgaugrafen since 1007. A transeptless three-nave pillar basilica with a three-apsidal choir end was built, which almost reached the dimensions of the late Gothic church.

The third church building – Romanesque new building or reconstruction?

In Romanesque times, the Sülchenkirche was given a new face. Whether only the foundations of the predecessor building were reused for the Romanesque church building or also larger parts of the rising masonry can hardly be judged, as the Romanesque church was almost completely demolished for the present late Gothic building. The few surviving spolia and other excavated decorative stones allow the Romanesque building to be dated between 1160 and 1180.

The previous design of a three-nave, transeptless pillar basilica with a three-apsidal choir end and its dimensions were retained in the Romanesque period. Only in the central apse could it be seen that the previous building was demolished down to the foundations and the apse was rebuilt. The choir took up a third of the total length of the church in the area of the nave – an astonishing phenomenon for a Romanesque “village church” (and later city parish church), which one would rather expect in monastery and collegiate churches and large city parish churches.

In the course of a later reconstruction, the two side aisles were vaulted. The central nave, on the other hand, is still flat-roofed.

The late Gothic new building

Today’s late Gothic church is a completely new building. It was built on almost the same footprint as the Romanesque predecessor church, which had previously been demolished. For the mixed masonry of the new building, the stone material of the previous building, which had been demolished except for very small remains, was used, namely Roman ashlars, which had already been used secondarily for the second building, and larger ashlars from the third, Romanesque church, as various decorated or painted spolia in particular emphatically show.

Around 1447 at the earliest, work began on the bell tower, the staircase tower to the east and the addition to the choir. The north and west walls of the nave were also built during this construction phase. After completion of the massive tower parts by around 1449/50, the nave with roof was completed by 1451.

This was followed by the construction of the choir, which was completed in 1454 with the completion of the roof.

An addition of the 19th century is the uppermost tower storey with a tent roof.