Perched on the Württemberg hilltop above the Neckar River, the Memorial Chapel is visible from afar. I has a direct line of sight from Rosenstein Palace and the Wilhelma, two other royal buildings of the Württemberg dynasty. The Memorial Chapel was built for Queen Catharina Paulowna (Katharina Paulowna), who died in the full blossom of her youth at the age of thirty. Catharina was a member of Russia’s royal family. She was the daughter of Czar Paul and his wife Maria Feodorowna, and had enjoyed an unusually careful education for a girl, as the brother of the future Czar Alexander.
In 1816 Catharina had left Russia to marry her cousin, Wilhelm von Württemberg, the Crown Prince of Württemberg in southwest Germany. The marriage cemented an already close relationship between the two families. Arriving in Württemberg she founded several charitable institutions for women within three years, including the Württemberg Savings Bank (Württembergische Sparkasse), which encouraged deposits from women, the Queen Katharina Foundation (Königin-Katharina-Stift) and the charitable hospital, the “Katharinenhospital”. By the time of her sudden death, she was already well loved by her subjects.
Wishing to foster the eternal memory of his wife at one of her favorite spots, King Wilhelm I had the 11th century ancestral castle of the Württemberg dynasty, which once stood here, torn down in 1820. The King held an architectural competition for the design of the Memorial Chapel. His court architect Giovanni Salucci won the competition with his design for a neoclassic building inspired by the Pantheon in Rome, and Palladio’s Villa Rotunda. The King had the words “Our Love Will Never End” written over the entrance.
Through the hole in the center of the dome, just like the Pantheon in Rome, sunlight falls into the interior of the chapel and on into the crypt located below the floor, through a cover of filigree ironwork. Queen Catharine’s sarcophagus was moved here from the Cathedral (Stiftskirche) in Stuttgart in 1824. King Wilhelm was also laid to rest in this double sarcophagus forty years later. Their daughter Marie was also interred in the crypt in 1887. Her sister Sophie became Queen of the Netherlands, and is buried in the in the Cutch city of Delft.
Because Catharina was Russian, she remained a member of the Russian Orthodox Church, an indispensable condition of her marriage to the Lutheran Crown Prince. Therefore the chapel was equipped for Russian Orthodox worship. The chapel has been open to the public since 1907., and Russian Orthodox services continue to be held there. The chancel is separated from the congregation area by an iconostasis (partition decorated with images). This is adorned with paintings and icons from the Queen’s possessions.
The slopes of the Württemberg, formerly known as the Rotenberg, are covered in vineyards. This is still a popular place for outings, and visitors come from far and near to enjoy a fine view of the Neckar Valley. In 1907 the hill was renamed the “Württemberg” by order of King Wilhelm II. Wilhelm I had denied the right to burial for other members of the royal house, and therefore the Chapelwill continue to bear witness to the love between Katharina and Wilhelm von Württemberg.