Süderstapel St Katharinen

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What you need to know about this church

St Katharinen-Kirche Süderstapel

Where to find this church

Church Information

St Katharinen-Kirche is located in Süderstapel, a village in Schleswig-Holstein on the northern shore of the River Eider.

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Süderstapel St Katharinen
Apsidal chancel east view
Süderstapel St Katharinen
Church from south-west
Süderstapel St Katharinen
Church from north-east
Süderstapel St Katharinen
Church entrance

Visiting Süderstapel St Katharinen

St Katharinen Church in Süderstapel is one of the oldest surviving churches in Stapelholm, a region in western Schleswig-Holstein. It is different from the other round tower churches in the Bundesland. On our last visit in the summer of 2020, it was partially covered with scaffolding; as we were to learn later, this was the effect of renovation work that had unfortunately gone wrong. But first things first. The church is locked, however the information box on the churchyard wall tells you that a key can be obtained from the village shop around the corner. Unfortunately, we had chosen the “perfect” time for our visit in this respect: we arrived about half past twelve noon, and the shop was closed for lunch from 12 – 2 p.m., and we didn’t want to wait that long (there’s not that much to see in the village after all…). But as so often, we were lucky again: as we were walking around the church and taking our outdoor pictures, we saw a gentleman who disappeared into the churchyard in an outhouse. When he came out again, I asked him if he might have a key to the church. He had, and was happy to unlock it for us. When I asked him why the church was partially scaffolded, he told us about the last “renovation work”, during which the wrong mortar was used, which now threatened the entire building. Lawsuits are already pending, but as is often the case, the wheels of justice grind slowly. You can read the article from the Schleswig-Holsteinische Landeszeitung linked in the info box above (it is in German, of course…).

But now to the church itself: it was built in two stages. In the 12th century, the choir was built first and was initially low. In the first half of the 13th century, the choir was then raised, the apse was added, and the nave and tower were built, so that we now had a typical Romanesque fieldstone church. In the 15th century, the church was burnt down when the Dithmarschers invaded, but the people of Stapelholm rebuilt it. 

The round tower is not accessible from the outside and, with its walls up to 2.5 metres thick, served as a place of refuge and storage. Originally it was only equipped with slit windows. The spire changed over the course of time: in 1633 and 1783 it burnt down after being struck by lightning and had to be renewed. The current spire dates from 1876 and is made of brick. The year on the west side of the tower indicates this rebuilding work. You can see the state of the church  before the tower was rebuilt in the last picture of the slide show.  However, the spire had to be renewed in 1971 because of dilapidation, and the supporting pillars were also added. Two steel bells from 1923 hang in the tower, replacing their two bronze predecessors which were melted down during the Great War.

You enter the church through a door in the south wall, and find yourself directly in the nave. Here you face the north gallery, which extended the west gallery (originally from the 16th century) when the organ was installed in 1800. On the north gallery are 21 paintings by the Friedrichstadt artist du Ferrang from 1844 with scenes from the Old and New Testaments. The present organ dates from 1968. Unfortunately, the door in the east wall of the tower, which can be seen under the west gallery, is locked. According to the church guide, the tower has an outlook room since the last renovation, but we were not able to see it. The new windows of the church date from 2000.

Further towards the choir, the massive pulpit in late Renaissance style from 1615 is of course striking: a five-sided basket with columns, pilasters and the following reliefs: Fall of Man, Crucifixion, Resurrection and two coats of arms. The inscriptions in Low German read (above): “Gi sindt idt nicht de dar reden sunder iuwes vaders geist isset de dorch iuw redet Math 10” (For it is not you who speak, but it is your Father’s Spirit who speaks through you Matthew 10) and below: “also hefdt godt de werlt gelevet dat he sinen eingen sone gaf up dat alle de an em geloven nicht vorlaren werden sunder dat ewige levent hebben” (So God loved the world that he gave his own Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life).

The ensemble includes the six-sided sounding board with putti and ornamental attachments as well as a gable-crowned door with the date 1616. The painting dates from 1954.

Through a round arch decorated with tendrils, one finally reaches the choir. Here is the late Gothic baptismal font from the 15th century, made of blue marble imported from Namur in Belgium. It has the shape of an octagonal cup and is decorated with heads on the cupola, and is the oldest piece of furniture in the church. The altar dates from 1609 and has a richly carved late Renaissance structure with columns, pilasters, figures of virtue, angels and images of the Crucifixion, the Last Supper, Baptism and the Resurrection.

Conclusion: unusual Round Tower Church with plenty to see inside

Süderstapel St Katharinen
Pulpit with sounding board
Süderstapel St Katharinen
Font 15th century
Süderstapel St Katharinen
View west from the chancel
Süderstapel St Katharinen
Modern window in the nave