St. Catherine's Church is one of the five principal Lutheran churches (Hauptkirchen) of Hamburg, Germany. The base of its spire, dating from the 13th century, is the second oldest building preserved in the city, after the lighthouse on Neuwerk island. It is situated on an island near what was formerly the southern boundary of the medieval city, opposite the historic harbour area on the Elbe river. It traditionally served as the church of the seamen.
The earliest attestation to the existence of the church dates back to 1256. The main body, consisting of a triple nave, was rebuilt during the mid-15th century in the north German Brick Gothic style. In 1657 a Baroque rooftop was added to the spire, which thus reached a height of 115 meters. The church was heavily damaged in an air-raid during World War II, on 30 July 1943. It left only the outer walls and the base of the spire standing. The building was restored between 1950 and 1957.
Famous pastors have included Joachim Westphal and Philipp Nicolai.
St. Catherine's had an organ as early as the late 15th century, and by the 16th century it was considered the most important in Hamburg. This organ was replaced by a new organ built by Hans Stellwagen, rebuilt in 1670 and repaired by Johann Friederich Besser. In 1720, according to Johann Mattheson, this organ consisted of some 58 stops and approximately 88 ranks—disposed over 4 manuals and pedals—which may have made it the largest organ in the world at that time.
Among the organists who played here were Heinrich Scheidemann, Johann Adam Reinken and Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach first visited the church in the summer of 1701 and played here again in October/November 1720 when he auditioned for the post of organist at the nearby Jacobikirche; his Fantasy and Fugue in G minor, BWV 542 dates to this occasion. Bach greatly admired this organ, which featured two 32-foot ranks in the pedal, with four 16-foot ranks on the Hauptwerk (or Great) division and 16 diagonal shoe bellows to supply the wind to the instrument's windchests. Repairs were made in 1742, and a new lavishly carved decorated case was built; it was adorned with gilding and cherubs along with statues of angels playing trumpets.
The organ and its case were destroyed during bombing of Hamburg during the Second World War, though 520 pipes from 20 different stops were preserved. Together with photographs of the case and a pre-1943 description, these pipes form the starting point for a scientific reconstruction of the instrument. The restoration, conducted by the Flentrop firm, was scheduled to be completed in June 2013. The Rückpositiv is already playable and was inaugurated on Easter Sunday 2009. The building of the three other manuals and the pedal towers started in September 2012. Two new registers will be added to the 58 described by Mattheson, bringing the total to 60.
- Philipp Nicolai
- Johann Heinrich Scheidemann
- Johann Adam Reincken