Saint Stephen’s Church in Strasbourg is located inside the catholic ‘Saint-Étienne’ college, for which it serves as a chapel. Saint Stephen's is one of the oldest churches in Strasbourg. The crypt contains the remains of a fifth-century Roman basilica. The site was originally occupied by a Roman fort. A new church was built on the site in early in 717 by Duke Adalbert of Alsace, brother of Saint Odile, as part of a new convent, in which he installed his daughter Attala as the first abbess. The church was rebuilt in 1220 in Romanesque-Gothic style.
At the beginning of the 16th century, St Stephen's was a parish church, the parish of Stephen's being one of the nine parishes of Strasbourg. In 1534, as the reform was being introduced in Strasbourg, the parish of St Stephen's was transferred to St William's, on account of the opposition of the cannonesses of St Stephen's to the new teaching.
In the 17th century Louis XIV closed the abbey and transferred it to the Visitandines to serve as a boarding school for young women, a function which continued up until the French Revolution. In 1714 the church was equipped with an organ by Andreas Silbermann, which is now in Bischheim. After the French Revolution, the building was used as a warehouse, then a synagogue, and finally as a ballroom. In 1802, the church was deprived of its tower and in 1805 this was transformed into a theatre.
The college, of which the church now forms part, began life in 1861 as a 'Petit seminaire' (literally 'little seminary'), educating future priests as well as lay students.
Allied bombing destroyed much of the building in 1944. Only the wide transept with its triple apse survived. In 1956, the ancient site was excavated and a Merovingian apse was discovered beneath the foundations of the old tower. In 1961, the nave was renovated, exposing the timber structures. The church was classified as a historical monument in 1962.
As the Church is now part of a school, public access is only possible on special occasions, such as European Heritage Days. The school owns some valuable historical tapestries from the abbey church, some of which can be seen in the nearby Notre Dame museum.References:
The Porta Nigra (Latin for black gate) is the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps. It is designated as part of the Roman Monuments, Cathedral of St. Peter and Church of Our Lady in Trier UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name Porta Nigra originated in the Middle Ages due to the darkened colour of its stone; the original Roman name has not been preserved. Locals commonly refer to the Porta Nigra simply as Porta.
The Porta Nigra was built in grey sandstone between 186 and 200 AD. The original gate consisted of two four-storied towers, projecting as near semicircles on the outer side. A narrow courtyard separated the two gate openings on either side. For unknown reasons, however, the construction of the gate remained unfinished. For example, the stones at the northern (outer) side of the gate were never abraded, and the protruding stones would have made it impossible to install movable gates. Nonetheless, the gate was used for several centuries until the end of the Roman era in Trier.
In Roman times, the Porta Nigra was part of a system of four city gates, one of which stood at each side of the roughly rectangular Roman city. The Porta Nigra guarded the northern entry to the Roman city, while the Porta Alba (White Gate) was built in the east, the Porta Media (Middle Gate) in the south, and the Porta Inclyta (Famous Gate) in the west, next to the Roman bridge across the Moselle. The gates stood at the ends of the two main streets of the Roman Trier, one of which led north-south and the other east-west. Of these gates, only the Porta Nigra still exists today.
In the early Middle Ages the Roman city gates were no longer used for their original function and their stones were taken and reused for other buildings. Also iron and lead braces were broken out of the walls of the Porta Nigra for reuse. Traces of this destruction are still clearly visible on the north side of the gate.
After 1028, the Greek monk Simeon lived as a hermit in the ruins of the Porta Nigra. After his death (1035) and sanctification, the Simeonstift monastery was built next to the Porta Nigra to honor him. Saving it from further destruction, the Porta Nigra was transformed into a church: The inner court of the gate was roofed and intermediate ceilings were inserted. The two middle storeys of the former gate were converted into church naves: the upper storey being for the monks and the lower storey for the general public. The ground floor with the large gates was sealed, and a large outside staircase was constructed alongside the south side (the town side) of the gate, up to the lower storey of the church. A small staircase led further up to the upper storey. The church rooms were accessible through former windows of the western tower of the Porta Nigra that were enlarged to become entrance doors (still visible today). The top floor of the western tower was used as church tower, the eastern tower was leveled, and an apse added at its east side. An additional gate - the much smaller Simeon Gate - was built adjacent to the East side of the Porta Nigra and served as a city gate in medieval times.
In 1802 Napoleon Bonaparte dissolved the church in the Porta Nigra and the monastery beside it, along with the vast majority of Trier"s numerous churches and monasteries. On his visit to Trier in 1804, Napoleon ordered that the Porta Nigra be converted back to its Roman form. Only the apse was kept; but the eastern tower was not rebuilt to its original height. Local legend has it that Napoleon originally wanted to completely tear down the church, but locals convinced him that the church had actually been a Gaulish festival hall before being turned into a church. Another version of the story is that they told him about its Roman origins, persuading him to convert the gate back to its original form.
In 1986 the Porta Nigra was designated a World Heritage Site, along with other Roman monuments in Trier and its surroundings. The modern appearance of the Porta Nigra goes back almost unchanged to the reconstruction ordered by Napoleon. At the south side of the Porta Nigra, remains of Roman columns line the last 100 m of the street leading to the gate. Positioned where they had stood in Roman times, they give a slight impression of the aspect of the original Roman street that was lined with colonnades. The Porta Nigra, including the upper floors, is open to visitors.