History of Sanct Toenis

von Werner Lessenich                         translated by Helga La Motta


One of the beginnings of Sanct Toenis is lost in the kingdoms of legends: Once upon ... there was a shepherd at the "Osterheide" (land of the east), the name of the not occupied area then. There, he found a portrait of "Santa Antonius!" Despite taking the picture with him, he found it on the same spot over and over again. Therefore he decided to build a chapel at this place in honor of Santa Antonius.

Proof in fact is a document of Friederich von Saarwerden, “Kurfürst” (electoral prince) and archbishop of Cologne (Köln), giving allowance to build a chapel with a graveyard at the Osterheide. In that time, Osterheide belonged to the "District of Kempen” and was therefore part of the electorate (territory of the Kurfürst) of Cologne.  The certificate dates from September 10, 1380 and is supposed to be the beginning of Sanct Toenis, because the present Catholic Church "Sancta Cornelius" was built on the  remains of this very chapel.

Now we know the two patrons of Sanct Toenis: Sancta Antonius, who became patron of the village, its residents, pets and animals and Santa Cornelius, who became the patron of the church, which is named after him. A document from 1441 indicates portraits of both side by side.

The place got converted from "Neuenrath in der Osterheide" to "Sanct Antonius in der Heyde", later "St.Toenihs” ... “St.Toenis”!

Around the chapel settled the first people, mainly farmers. In the 17th century, the village became temporary a pilgrimage. Farmers with their animals, burdened with health problems, came from abroad to seek help by Sancta Antonius. They prayed to him as patron for people and animals to protect them from deadly sicknesses of the time like the plaque etc.

St.Toenis and its surroundings suffered a lot during the many battles throughout the centuries. Especially during the "Truchsessischer Krieg” (a local war) in 1585, the population experienced much harm and misery. Part of the church got badly damaged and the steeple collapsed. This in mind, the residents decided to protect themselves by building a fortress around St. Toenis. 

According to a map of 1827, the village could only be entered through three gates. Street names like "Alter Graben” (old moat) and “Ringstrasse"  indicate their former role as part of the fortress then.

But even the fortress could not prevent another attack in the year 1642 (during the Thirty Years´ War). After a battle at the nearby "Hueckelsmay", St.Toenis got destroyed again and its residents robbed. The church, just rebuilt, was damaged by fire.

In 1758, during the Seven Years´ War, there was another battle at the Hueckelsmay-site. Thanks to the count Ferdinand von Braunschweig, united with soldiers of Prussia, Hessen and Hannover, the much bigger French armies could be defeated. This time, St.Toenis escaped severe damage. A monument, built at Hueckelsmay, still reminds of this victory.

The "Mertenshaus" (house of the Mertens´ family) in the “Kirchstrasse” (Churchstreet) is a solid witness of  this time. Built thirteen years before the second battle at Hueckelsmay, it is in fact the oldest house in St.Toenis that remained quite unchanged.

Nearly the same age is the windmill at the “Gelderner Straße” (“Road to Geldern”), built in 1769. It was in use until 1945, when it was damaged during the Second World War. In 1978, the sails of the mill were restored and since then it is one of the symbols of our town.

When Napoleon occupied the left border of the river Rhine from 1794-1814, St.Toenis became "Saint Antoinne" and belonged to the "Arondissement Crefeld." The Congress of Vienna finished this episode by annexing the whole area to the state of Prussia. St. Toenis and its 2.600 residents became part of the newly-founded district of Kempen, established in 1816.

The next important development was the start of the “Crefeld-Kreis-Kempener-Industrie-Eisenbahn” (dialect "dae Schluff") in 1870, an industrial train linking the district of Kempen with Crefeld - with St. Toenis being one of the stations. In the meantime, plenty of new residents, trained and skilled as weavers, had settled and could now travel by train to Crefeld, where they earned their money by working on one of approximately 1,400 hand-looms. Nowadays, the “Schluff” is still in use, but only for pleasure trips.

The electrical tram to Krefeld however,
put into service in 1904,
still plays a vital role in public transport. 

In 1877, a farmer’s house beside the church became the dignified City Hall. Fortunately saved from the idea of pulling the building down in 1977, it is now completely renovated and again the seat of the mayor and the city chambers. 

Der Wasserturm im Bau (1929)  

After World War I, the foundation stone for the new water-tower was laid in 1929, its silhouette being a picturesque addition to the skyline of St.Toenis.

The Second World War brought a lot of pain again. According to notified papers, St. Toenis was hit by 2394 bombs, destroying 66 houses, among them the "Marienheim" (the cultural meeting point and kindergarden). The church suffered severe damage again. 421 residents died as soldiers, 44 are still missing and twelve citizens were victims of the bombings. Marienheim

As a result of the Second World War, many refugees from the eastern part of Europe came, mainly protestants. Some 2000 of them found a new home in St. Toenis. After years of provisional solutions, they built a church and a school for their own in 1952/53.

The following years, reconstruction dominated everything. Completely new settlements were built around the former city-centre. School-buildings, sports grounds, a hospital, an old people’s  home and other public buildings enriched the infrastructure of St. Toenis. And its population grew from 10,000 residents in 1946 to more than 14,000 by January of 1970.


This date means an important change in the history of St. Toenis, as the two until then totally independent communities of St. Toenis and Vorst were merged to the community of Toenisvorst with 19,474 residents.

In 1979, Toenisvorst even got full city-rights.

In 1998, the population reached the 30,000 residents-mark and still continues to grow, which surely is to do with Toenisvorst, and especially St. Toenis, of course,  being such a lovely place at the Niederrhein (Lower Rhine).