St Paul's Odessa

St. Paul’s Church in Odessa

Welcome to the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church . ln our city it is known as “Kircha”, the German word for ‘church’, because St. Paul’s is the old German church in Odessa.

The history of this church

At the change of the 18th. to the 19th. century Catherine II and her successor, Tsar Alexander I, invited settlers from Germany to “New Russia”, as they called the region around the Black Sea at that time. Many craftsmen and farmers followed this invitation. They settled in newly founded villages along the Black Sea coast. Under Richelieu they con tributed to the construction of Odessa. ln 1827 they built their first church on this site.

ln the course of the 19th century the congregation grew rapidly. Salesmen and manufacturers moved into the area, as well as officers, civil servants and university teachers. By the end of the 19th century approximately 10,000 Germans lived in Odessa. Their centre was the so-called “Lutheran yard” around the church. Apart from the houses for the pastors and the organist there were also two orphanages, an old people’s home and several school buildings. When the church became too small the Germans built a new, larger church. lt was consecrated in 1897. lts builder was the famous architect, Hermann Scheurembrandt, who also built many other buildings in the city. During the reconstruction works a few years ago the labourers discovered an iron box in the ground containing the foundation stone document with Scheurembrandt’s signature on it. You can see this in one of the display cases.

The new St. Paul’s Church was built in New-Romanesque style. There were large galleries. On the left and right and a further small balcony above the main entrance where the organ was situated. The vault and the galleries were out of dark oak. That is why the in terior of the church was also rather dark. When the Orthodox church was blown up in 1937 the Bolsheviks also closed St. Paul’s Church. During the period of communism the church became very derelict. Also in 1937 the last German pastor was shot without any trial. ln 1941 the organist Theophil Richter, father of the famous pianist Swjatoslaw Richter, suffered the same fate. For many decades there was no church life at all.

Theophil Richter

Theophil Richter, organist martyr of St. Paul’s

After the Second World War the building was used as a sports hall. Toilets and showers were installed where the altar had been. This did the building no good as water leaked into the brickwork, causing big cracks in the walls. The entire building began to tip backwards.

ln 1966 it was planned to pull the church down and replace it by a students’ residence. However, the citizens of Odessa protested – particularly the professors and students of the music conservatory and the university. They did a real sit-in strike around the church. A delegation travelled to Moscow and achieved a decision from the minister of culture that the church would not be demolished. Thus, during the darkest period of our country, the citizens of Odessa saved St. Paul’s church from demolition.

Later the church was due to be changed into a concert hall. However, during the night of 9th May flames came out of the tower. The whole church burnt out. Even today many believe that the church was set to fire on purpose. Ever since then a ruin stood in the centre of Odessa, without a roof, its spires completely gutted by the fire and with destroyed walls. For years it was exposed to wind and weather. On the boards to the right and left of the entrance you can see photos from that time.

ln 1990 the Lutheran congregation was founded again in Odessa. ln 1992 this congregation made an application to retrieve the old people’s home and the ruin. The newly founded German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine, together with its Bavarian partner church, first of all then rebuilt the old people’s home. The neighbouring “House of the Church” was then opened in 2002. After that the restoration of the church began.

The concept for the rebuilding of St. Paul’s

The outside of the church was reconstructed to a large extent as it had been originally. The interior, however,had been completely destroyed. Therefore, entire new plans had to be created. ln addition, the apse had been so badly damaged that it had to be demolished. ln its place – that was the plan – a new building should be erected, resembling the style of the church outside but containing modern offices inside.

The church interior

History even has its effect on present times. This had to be taken into consideration when redesigning a church like St. Paul’s. Therefore, in memory of the victims of persecution and violence, a commemoration plaque was put up in the entrance hall, under the tower. Representing the many other victims, the names of pastor Karl Vogel and the organist,Theophil Richter, are mentioned – both were shot by Stalin’s henchmen. The carved wooden cross is a present made by Andreas Loquai from Pottmes/Upper Bavaria and the two baroque angels probably come from a catholic church in the Ural. ‘

However, Christian faith does not stagnate in recollections. The big glass door invites one to go further into the church itself. lt greets you, the visitors, with the sentence that the resurrected Jesus said to his disciples: “Peace be with you.” ln eight languages, both ancient and new, from north and south, east and west, this greeting welcomes you. This is the wish of our church for you as guests or citizens of Odessa, the city of 137 nationali ties.

Perhaps you were surprised on entering the church; maybe you expected something completely different. Within the historical walls one finds a modern, light church which was designed by the Swabian artist, Tobias Kammerer (born in 1968). Straightaway you will notice the large surfaces in different colours. They have to be so big in order to give their effect as the church has very large walls. Do not try to recognize any figures immediately. First of all, just let the colours make their impression on you.

The red and gold colours are dominant on the wall behind the altar. The windows are mainly governed by the colours yellow, white and orange. And finally, on the ceiling, you see predominantly the colour blue. This choice of colours is based on Christian colour symbolism, as is also to be found in the Orthodox Church.


Red and gold behind the altar. ln old times these were the colours of the king’s coat. Red symbolizes suffering and death, gold the victory and the abundance. The cross of Jesus Christ on the wall behind the altar is placed on a red surface, but is surrounded by gold. White, silver and orange in the big opal glass windows. When the sun falls into the church, in the morning from the left and in the afternoon from the right, these colours intensify and symbolize the light, the sun, God’s creation and thus refer to the creator himself. The blue on the ceiling. Blue: this is, of course, the colour of the sky and the sea. The artist leaves it open to your imagination. What do · you see? The open heavens with the radiant golden cross as a sign of hope of redemption and eternal life; the sea and the contour lines of a ship with sails, a ship where people enter in.


The ship is an old symbol for the church. The people there above us are perhaps the Christians of older times who belonged to the church before us. But they are also those of today who are invited into this ship. Christian community bridges time and space. lt is the community which is led by God’s spirit. So three colours dominate the whole of the church. They stand for the three persons of the Holy Trinity. The white-yellow-orange of the windows stands for God, the Father, the red and gold for Christ, the Redeemer, and the blue for the Holy Spirit. This colour concept thus reflects the old Christian statement of faith: “Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit … “

An Orthodox church must always be decorated in accordance with the valid canonic rules. This is different in the western churches. We like to put something of our presentday approach to life into our churches. Here the artist did this by creating a bright, lightflooded room in which he used rich and beautiful colours.


Tobias Kammerer has included traditional elements in his modern artistic concept. When you enter the church, you see the big crucifix on the wall behind the altar: Jesus Christ, who died for us on the cross and whom God raised from death, is in the centre of the Evangelical Lutheran faith. This carving of Christ is about 250 years old. lt dates from the baroque period,such as the two wooden figures to the left. They depict the apostles Peter and Paul. The figures were donated by the catholic diocese of Regensburg – a wonderful gesture of ecumenical fellowship.

lf you look closer at the wall behind the altar you will not only see thin but also broader coloured lines, both around the cross and starting from the cross outwards. Take notice of the wide blue ribbon to the left of the cross. lt leads down to the ground between the two apostles, then changes into high-grade steel and ends at the baptismal font. There the people are joined with Jesus Christ for ever by the sacrament of baptism. This blue and white shining ribbon symbolizes the baptismal water which joins the baptised person directly with Jesus Christ. ln the corner to the right of the entrance there is an icon of the Mother of God from the Western Ukraine. An old woman saved it from a burning village church during the revolution and kept it in her house until a few years ago. When she became old and her daughter’s life was saved after surviving a very severe accident she then donated this precious icon to St. Paul’s. ln front of the icon is a good place for praying and lighting a candle. Take your time to let the room and its artistic decoration make its impression on you. Explore with your eyes and your fantasy.

The organ was donated by a Lutheran congregation in Nurnberg. lt has 1674 pipes, distributed in 27 stops over 2 manuals and pedal. lt was constructed in 1965 by the Bavarian firm named Steinmeyer. Music and the singing of hymns in church is very important for our Evangelical-Lutheran tradition. With this organ St. Paul’s has a big concert organ which is suitable for both accompanying church services and playing at concerts. A word about the bells: The four bells were cast in a foundry in Bavaria and are named St. Mary’s, St. Peter’s, St. Paul’s and Christ’s bell. Bells are ringing again in the tower of St. Paul’s after more than 70 years. Finally, a short remark about the display cases on the left and the boards on the wall at the back. They tell you about the history of the Germans, our congregation and the reconstruction of the church.

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