By Carola Meusel
USAG Stuttgart Public Affairs Office
Most people in Stuttgart describe the Sepulchral Chapel on Württemberg Hill, located in the Stuttgart city district of Rotenberg, as a monument to eternal love.
The chapel was built by King Wilhelm I between 1820-24 for his beloved wife and Queen of Württemberg, Katharina Pawlowna. She was only 30 when she died in Stuttgart on Jan. 9, 1819.
After her death, Wilhelm ordered that the House of Württemberg family seat, the Wirtenberg Fortress, be torn down and a chapel built in its place to memorialize Katharina and prove his everlasting love for her.
The fortress had been built in 1083 by Konrad, the first Duke of Württemberg. It is located between idyllic vineyards, but and strategically overlooks the Neckar and Remstal valleys. According to Hans Kauz, a tour guide at the Sepulchral Chapel, there are not too many places in Stuttgart where people have such an impressive view of the city. “This is one of Stuttgart’s most beautiful places and worthy of kings and queens,” Kauz said.
That’s probably why the Württemberg fortress was one of Wilhelm’s and Katharina’s favorite places in Stuttgart. “They used to celebrate many fests up here,” said Kauz. Legend has it that Katharina once told her husband that she would like to be buried there. Wilhelm respected her wish.
The chapel was constructed by the Italian architect Giovanni Salucci and is, along with the Rosenstein Castle, one of the most popular landmarks of classicist architecture in the greater Stuttgart area.
Salucci, inspired by the antique Pantheon in Rome, built a rotunda to include three portals consisting of columns and stairs leading up to each portal of the chapel. The chapel features a cupola decorated with stucco rosettes, as well as columns and statues of the four apostles (St. Luke, St. Mark, St. Matthew and St. John).
Since Katharina also was a Russian duchess — her father was the Russian Emperor Paul — she was a member of the Russian-Orthodox church.
Therefore, the chapel follows the typical design of a Russian-Orthodox church and was used by Stuttgart’s Russian-Orthodox congregation up until 1890. The so-called “Iconostasis” (a wall of icons and religious paintings) separates the altar from the congregational room.
Directly beneath the cupola and in the center of the chapel is an artfully designed iron grid, which illuminates the underground mausoleum with light that reflects from the glass “opaion,” the round opening at the highest point of the cupola.
Katharina was entombed in a marble sarcophagus at the chapel in 1824. In 1864, Wilhelm was entombed next to her. Wilhelm and Katharina’s oldest daughter, Marie, was entombed next to her parents in 1887.
Visitors can get to the mausoleum by using the narrow spiral stairs found right after the main entrance to the chapel. When entering the mausoleum, visitors should walk right underneath the iron grid to listen to the “mystical” echoes.
Wilhelm chose the quote from Katharina’s funeral sermon to be depicted above the main entrance of the mausoleum. It reads: “Und die Liebe höret nimmer auf,” or “love never ends.”
That’s probably why, according to the informational brochure, many people — mainly lovers — describe the chapel as one of the most romantic places in the state of Baden-Württemberg.
Kauz, the tour guide and local history enthusiast, who also knows a lot of anecdotes about Wilhelm and Katharina, is convinced that they “truly loved each other.”
For Kauz, the mausoleum and the adjacent vineyards, as well as the bird’s-eye view of Stuttgart, make this place a “magical enclave” above the city.
“It’s very peaceful, quiet and simply wonderful out here,” he said.
The Sepulchral Chapel is located at Württembergstrasse 340, 70327, Stuttgart.
The main gate to the chapel site is open year round (not withstanding severe weather) from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. For chapel hours, entrance fees and tours — all in English — visit www.grabkapelle-rotenberg.de/en/sepulchral-chapel/Home/268297.html.