Church of the Holy Spirit history

The site of the current Church of the Holy Spirit has a long history. The first mentions of a “Church of the Holy Spirit” can be found in documents dating back to 1239, where the church was the local parish church. This church, probably from the late Romanesque period, had been erected in the place of an even older one.

The church was replaced in 1398 by the Church of the Holy Spirit that stands today, which makes it the third sacral building on the site. The order to construct a new church was given by the Elector Ruprecht III, in combination with founding the university in 1386.


The mayor of the time, Arnold Rype, is according to the documents the master builder. This did not however mean he was the architect, only the financial coordinator. The choir of the Church of the Holy Spirit was consecrated in 1411 and the nave was finished 30 years later, at which time the construction of the steeple started. However, the work got interrupted and the tower did not finish until 1544.

Thus, the work of constructing the Church of the Holy Spirit took around 150 years in total. Throughout these years, there have been numerous architects working on the designer, both more local architects and architects brought in from surrounding areas.

The Library

As the Church of the Holy Spirit became the university church for the University of Heidelberg, the church sometimes served as a lecture hall during its early stages. The Church of the Holy Spirit also had a library in the gallery section; the world famous Bibliotheca Palatina, founded by Ludwig III.

The Bibliotheca

The Bibliotheca Palatina is a collection of around 5000 books and over 3200 manuscripts. This collection did however get stolen during the Thirty Years War, by the Holy Roman Empire commander, General Tilly.

These spoils of war were later given to pope Gregor XV, as a gift by the elector of Bavaria, Maximilian I. In 1816, a mere 885 of the books and manuscripts were returned to the church, the rest remains in the Vatican Library where it forms the Bibliotheca Palatina section of its library.


The Church of the Holy Spirit has not only been subject to theft. In 1633 the church was set on fire by the French army of King Ludwig XIV in the Palatine War of Succession. The damaged caused by the fire later forced a reconstruction of the roof in 1709. The roof got a more Baroque style and a new spire; the very one that stands today.

Another major damage caused by the fire was done to all the elector graves. Prior to the fire, the church housed the graves all the former Palatine Electors. However, after the fire, only the grave of the church founder, Ruprecht III, remained intact – the rest were destroyed.

Religious use

During the years, the Church of the Holy Spirit has been used by both Catholics and Protestants, even simultaneously. In 1706, a partition was used so that both congregations could hold their services without any mutual disturbance. However, in 1720 the current Elector Palatine, Karl III Philip, made enemies within the Protestant ranks as he handed over full control of the Church of the Holy Spirit to the Catholics.

The elector did however change his mind, after pressure from Prussia, Holland and Sweden. The wall which as used to separate the different disciplines were tore down in 1936 and the church is now exclusively Protestant.

Why visit Church of the Holy Spirit ?

The Church of the Holy Spirit is Heidelberg’s most famous church. The church, with its beautiful steeple rising high above the roofs, is of the very first things one notices when entering Heidelberg.

One fun fact of the Church of the Holy Spirit is that it became somewhat of a tourist attraction and a symbol of the Hippies and the Flower Power movement in the beginning of the 1970’s. In 1972, a rock concert by Werner Pieper and the English band Quintessence was organized in the Church of the Holy Spirit. The concert was met with great enthusiasm by students and Hippies alike. However, in conservative church circles this performance was viewed; let’s just say “more critically”.

It is also possible to access the Church of the Holy Spirit steeple. It will provide an amazing view over the roofs of Old Town Heidelberg, all the way from the river up to the castle.

Church of the Holy Spirit location

Church of the Holy Spirit is located in Bremen, Germany. The church stands in the middle of the market place in the old center of Heidelberg, not far from Heidelberg Castle. For the exact location of Church of the Holy Spirit, check out the location map to the right.

Church of the Holy Spirit Video

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