Extensive archaeological excavations from 2012 onwards have recently led to new insights into its significance and history. Sülchen now presents itself as a burial site that dates back to the phase of Christianisation of Alamannia.

The oldest stone predecessor of the Sülchen church can be dated to around 650/680. With its cemetery and its early medieval predecessor buildings, the Sülchen church is one of the most outstanding sites of Christian history in today’s Baden-Württemberg.

Sülchen in the Early and High Middle Ages

Early medieval Sülchen existed at the latest since the 5th century. The Alamanni had settled north-east of the town of Sumelocenna, which had been abandoned by the Romans. In the Vita of Saint Meinrad, written around 900, the Sülchgau is mentioned as his home. The saint, who was murdered in 861 and over whose hermitage the monastery of Einsiedeln in Switzerland was to be founded in 934, came from a local noble family.

Shortly after the turn of the millennium, the Hessons are mentioned as counts of Sülchgau. They moved their centre of power to the Backnang area around the middle of the 11th century. The Sülchgau became less and less important and was mentioned for the last time in a document in 1057.

After the foundation of the town of Rottenburg

In the last quarter of the 12th century, the Counts of Hohenberg succeeded in acquiring property in the area around Sülchen. They founded the town of Rottenburg in 1280. The village of Sülchen was gradually abandoned. At the end of this development, only the Sülchen church and a few buildings belonging to it were to remain and bear witness to the once important settlement. With the flourishing of the town of Rottenburg, the pastoral care of the inhabitants quickly shifted to the Liebfrauenkirche. As early as the 14th century, the Sülchen priest was described as an “incuratus”, i.e. a priest without a pastoral mandate.

The Beguine Hermitage

Since the middle of the 14th century, there is evidence of a beguinage in Sülchen. Since the hermitage did not have its own chapel, the sisters, who had been affiliated with the Third Order of St. Francis since 1384, used the Sülchen church for their services.

It is reasonable to assume that the Beguines were active in funeral services, in commemorating and praying for the dead, and in tending the graves in the cemetery around the church.

The parish of Sülchen in the late Middle Ages

In the course of the 15th century, there was a growing tendency to transfer the parish rights still held by the Sülchen church to the market church in the town. It is therefore all the more astonishing that a new building of the Sülchen church was undertaken again in the years from 1447 onwards. It coincided with a phase in which the manorial circumstances were in a state of flux. In 1410, the county of Hohenberg, which had belonged to Austria since 1381, was pledged to an association of Swabian imperial cities under the leadership of Ulm. It was not until 1450 that Archduke Albrecht VI of Habsburg (1418-1463) succeeded in seizing the county of Hohenberg and its capital Rottenburg by force. In 1452 he gave the dominion of Hohenberg as a morning gift to his wife Mechthild of the Palatinate (1419-1482). The coats of arms of the Archduchy of Austria and the County of Hohenberg on the choir arch of the Sülchen church point to the sovereignty as the builder.

The Sülchen Church after the loss of parish rights

The process of transferring the parish rights to the Marktkirche was not prevented by the new construction of the Sülchen Church. In 1491, the translocation of the parish rights can be considered complete. Even though the designations in contemporary sources continued to fluctuate for a long time, the Sülchen church has since been regarded as a filial chapel of the Rottenburg Marktkirche in terms of ecclesiastical law. Sülchen was only occupied by one chaplain. Parallel to the transfer of the parish rights, the patrocinium was also transferred.

The Sülchen church had been a St Martin’s church, the chapel on the market originally a St Mary’s church (“Liebfrauenkapelle”). In a process that lasted for decades, the patrocinium of St. Martin was transferred to the Marktkirche, which was first documented as “St. Martin’s Church” in 1436. Conversely, the patrocinium of St John the Baptist has been documented for the Sülchen church since the 16th century. Beyond the loss of parish rights, the Sülchen church retained its function as a convent church. The Franciscan convent suffered from looting and destruction during the Thirty Years’ War.

In 1631 the hermitage was considered so destroyed that the sisters had to take temporary shelter in the city. In 1643 the Tyrolean Province of the Order decreed that the convent be merged with the Obere Klause in Rottenburg-Ehingen, so that monastic life in Sülchen ceased.

The Sülchen church retained its importance as a cemetery church.

The Sülchen church as the episcopal burial place

With the founding of a Württemberg state bishopric in 1821, Rottenburg became an episcopal see. In 1828, Johann Baptist Keller (1774-1845) was enthroned as Rottenburg’s first bishop. The simple parish church of St. Martin, the former market church, became Rottenburg Cathedral. Catholic tradition and canon law require bishops to be buried in their cathedral churches. However, St. Martin’s Church, which had been raised to the status of a cathedral without major construction work, did not have a corresponding crypt. When Bishop Keller died in 1845, he was therefore buried in the ordinary cemetery in Sülchen, which had become the sole burial place for the parish of St Martin after the Carmelite monastery was dissolved and the cemetery there was abandoned.

An initial application by the cathedral chapter to be allowed to set up a bishop’s crypt, if not under the cathedral, then at least under the Sülchen church, was initially rejected by the Württemberg state with reference to the fundamental ban on burial in churches. It was not until 1869 that the government approved such a crypt with the explicit justification that in a predominantly Protestant state it was desirable in the spirit of tolerance to also respect the Catholic tradition. The installation of the bishop’s crypt under the choir of the Sülchen church therefore also marks a step towards the increasing equality of the two Christian denominations in the Kingdom of Württemberg. It took the form of an architecturally unpretentious gallery crypt.