Together with Rome and Jerusalem, the shrine of St. James the Apostle at Santiago de Compostela in Spain becomes one of the most important destinations for Christian pilgrims during the Middle Ages. Whereas in the 10th and 11th centuries the pilgrims are predominantly members of the aristocracy, bishops and abbots, from the 12th century onwards the common people, too, set off on this arduous journey. All over Europe the pilgrimage to Spain grows into a mass movement which results in a whole network of St. James‘ Ways. The scallop shell becomes the symbol of the St. James’ pilgrims.
On their way to Santiago de Compostela, the pilgrims also pass through Oberlahnstein, about 2200 km from the shrine of St. James. Here they find lodgings in the almshouse with its chapel on the market square. It is built in 1330 to enable patients and travellers to participate in religious worship. St. James is the chapel’s patron.
At the beginning of the modern era the hordes of pilgrims dwindle and the Hospital loses its significance. In 1802, to avoid impending dispossession, the chapel is sold and is no longer used for religious purposes. It now serves a series of different owners as a stables, a barn, a storage shed and a garage. At times, this former place of worship even accommodates a coffee-roasting establishment and a photo laboratory.
In 1981 the town of Lahnstein acquires the chapel and it undergoes complete restoration, during which the remains of an earlier, smaller chapel are discovered under the nave together with a medieval pilgrim’s grave containing two scallop shells.
Above the restored portal is a stone relief by the sculptor Hans Gerhard Biermann (Maria Laach). It shows St. James and the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. In the background, a boat full of pilgrims recalls how they crossed the Rhine here in the Middle Ages. And thus the history of this place of worship is still visible. A small window in the door, decorated with pilgrims’ paraphernalia, allows visitors to see inside the chapel even when the doors are locked.
Today the chapel is used for weddings, concerts, lectures and exhibitions. Each year on the Feast of St. James (25th July) the Friends’ Association and pilgrims from the Lahnstein area celebrate Holy Mass here.