Siegfried von Westerburg refound in Bonn Minster

Siegfried von Westerburg refound in
Bonn Minster

The story of a forgotten archbishop

Siegfried von Westerburg, archbishop of Cologne, was buried in 1297 in Bonn Minster, where he seems to have had the unfortunate fate to get forgotten.

Siegfried von Westerburg refound in Bonn Minster

Bonn Minster from the north looking west

Bonn Minster, in the middle of the pedestrian area of Bonn, has a long and interesting history.  In the second half of the 4th century, a cella memoriae was built in the middle of a cemetery, on the outskirts of the Roman camp Castra Bonnnensia.  In the 6th century, the cella was replaced with a Christian building.  In the 8th century, a college of priests was founded adjacent to this early church.  The early building was demolished in the first half of the 11th century and a church dedicated to two Christian martyrs, Cassius and Florentius, was erected in its place.  Out of this building the present church developed.  After all this time, the building is now in need of structural renovations.   Since January 2014, engineers have analysed the damage and necessary work.

Just a few days ago, on 22 March 2017, it was announced that the engineers made a surprising find.  While assessing water damage to the western crypt, they found a cavity behind slate panels covering a wall.  Inside the cavity, there were some metal bars, pieces of wood and a lead capsule. The capsule contained a document from 1948 explaining that this was the burial chamber of Siegfried von Westerburg.

Siegfried had been archbishop of Cologne from 1275 until his death on 7 April 1297.  The archbishop of Cologne was not only the spiritual leader of his see, but also the prince of the electorate of Cologne.   In a dispute about the succession in the duchy of Limburg, Siegfried and the city authorities of Cologne were on opposing sides.  As a consequence of the battle of Worringen in 1288, which Siegfried’s side lost, the gates of Cologne were closed to him and so he resided in elsewhere.  Among his residences were Bonn and the Godesburg, a bit south of Bonn, in today’s suburb of Bad Godesberg (where many embassies were located, when Bonn was the capital of West Germany).  Even after his death, he was not welcome in Cologne and that is why he was buried in the Bonn Minster.

Originally, a western crypt had been constructed in the mid-11th century.  Then, in 1220, it was filled up again to support a row of arches constructed above. At this western end of the Minster there was in the 13th century an altar dedicated to St Peter.  Siegfried’s tomb was located in front of this altar and was covered with a bronze slab.  He was not the only archbishop of Cologne to be buried in Bonn Minster, there are three others in the same church.

You can’t help but feel sorry for Siegfried that the Minster keeps forgetting him.  And that in spite of him being the one who was instrumental to Bonn being granted town status.  Bonn had grown over the centuries from a Roman camp into a fortified trade hub.  By the 13th century, it had developed into the administrational centre of the electorate of Cologne.  On 28 March 1286, it was Siegfried von Westerburg which gave permission to elect a town council of 12 men – the last privilege legally required to qualify for town status.[i]  Siegfried was clearly fond of Bonn, as shown by the so-called “Verona Pfennigs”.  These coins were probably minted in Bonn, after the Battle of Worringen.  On the back is a picture of the Minster and the text beata, Verona, vinces, “you, blessed Bonn, will be victorious”.[ii]

After his burial, Siegfried was left to rest in peace for nearly 500 years, largely forgotten.  However, in 1794, Bonn was occupied by French revolutionary troops.  They took off the bronze slab to melt it down.  In the process, they opened the tomb. The archbishop would have been buried with his crosier as well as a communion cup and plate, which were probably made from gold or silver.  These particularly valuable items are gone.  Perhaps the thieves were in hurry, as they missed some smaller pieces.

Then Siegfried was forgotten again for another 150 years.  Parts of the Minster were severely damaged by a bombing raid in 1944.  After the war, between May 1947 and March 1948, archaeologists were trying to establish where the 11th-century western crypt had been situated.   They discovered the tomb and concluded that it was Siegfried’s.  In it, they found a ring, a medallion showing Jesus as a teacher, a single gem stone, a mitre, gloves and other textile remnants, all of which are now in the LVR LandesMuseum.  The pieces of textile are among the oldest in the museum’s collection.

The tomb measured 2.25 m by 0.88m, it had been built out of tufa, the inside walls were plastered and painted red.  The wooden coffin had originally been placed on three metal bars.  The researchers left all this information in the detailed document in the lead capsule, which was found a few days again.  They also included were a few coins and notes of the currency which was in use in early 1948 (the Deutsche Mark was only introduced on 20 June 1948).

In the 1960s, a new western crypt was built, smaller than the 11th-century one.   In the process, a small part of the grave was removed, but only as much as necessary.  The rest was covered with a slate panel.  Then, it seems, Siegfried was forgotten again, which is why it came as such a surprise when he was discovered now.  The archaeologists plan to analyse the grave and the remains found in it, including the items removed during the 1947/48 dig, with the means available to them now.  The tomb will be part of the renovation process.  There is no point to rush to Bonn to see anything though, the Minster will be closed once the building works start, probably later this year.  The works are expected to take at least two years.  At this time, it is too early to say, whether the public will be able to view it once the process has been concluded.

Siegfried von Westerburg seems to share his fate with at least one other person:  last year another unknown tomb had been found in the eastern crypt.  It seems quite possible that the renovation process might bring some further surprises.

I find it surprising that the discovery of this archbishop now came as such a surprise.  It has been only 70 years, since he was found the last time.  In 1948, the research would have been recorded, especially as some of the contents were placed in the museum.  Let’s just hope that this time Siegfried will be remembered!

Further Reading:

Bodemann, S., Das Bonner Münster – ein europäisches Monument. Promo-Verlag, Freiburg, 2009

Eckert, S., ‘Bonner Münster: Grab von Erzbischof Siegfried von Westerburg wiederentdeckt‘, Bonner Münster (22 March 2017).  URL: [last accessed 23 March 2017]

Erkens, F.-R., ‚Siegfried von Westerburg‘, in: Neue Deutsche Biographie, 24 (2010), pp. 344-345.  Available online at URL: [last accessed 23 March 2017]

Köhl, B., ‘Überraschungsfund im Bonner Münster: Vergessenes Grab entdeckt’, General-Anzeiger (23 March 2017).  URL: [last accessed 23 March 2017]


[i] Zewell, R., Kleine Bonner Stadtgeschichte.  Verlag Friedrich Pustet, Regensburg, 2007, p.33

[ii] Rey, M., ‚Bonns zweitausend Jahre:  Ein Überblick‘, in: Bonn 2000.  Der Kalender zum Jubiläumsjahr, ed. by Bonner Heimat- & Geschichtsverein.  Bouvier GmbH & Co KG, Bonn, 1988, p.22

3 thoughts on “Siegfried von Westerburg refound in Bonn Minster

  1. Pingback: Forgotten archbishops everywhere | Dottie Tales

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