The organ of Johann Peter Geissel

A brief history of the organ and its specification

Author:  Klaus Minden; Translation by David Parker



For lovers of the arts, one of the attractions of a visit to Gau-Bischofsheim is the parish church and its organ, which was bought from the parish of St. Christopher in Mainz over 240 years ago. The organ owes its survival to this move, in fact, had it stayed in Mainz, it would have been destroyed when the city was bombed on 27th February 1945.


Thanks to the research carried out by Franz Bösken, the noted Mainz organ historian, we have a full and well-documented record of the history of the organ, which is the oldest in Rheinland-Pfalz. It was built for the Church of St. Christopher in Mainz in 1667 by Johann Peter Geissel, who was born in Worms in 1636 and whose father, Georg Geissel from Gernsheim, was also an organ-builder. The contract for the organ, which is dated 9th July 1667, has been preserved and contains details of the original specification. The organ was a single-manual instrument of nine speaking stops, without pedalboard. The stops were as follows:


Coppel 8’

Oktav 4’

Hohlpfeif 8’ gedackt

Superoktav 2’

Mictur 1’ dreifach

Quintflöt 2 ½ ‘

Hohlflötgen 4’

Nasard (Sesquialter) 1 ½ ’

Trompete 8’


The cost was 450 florins. The first modifications to the instrument were made in 1688 by Johann Peter Geissel himself, who had also been the church’s organist since 1668. Over a century later, in 1772, the Geissel organ was replaced by a new instrument made by the Frankfurt organ builder Ernst Weegmann. The following year, the old organ was sold to Gau-Bischofsheim. The evidence for this transaction comes from a duplicate invoice found by Franz Bösken in the diocesan and cathedral archives in Mainz in the mid-1950s. It confirms that the community, then called “Gaubissheim”, bought the organ for 150 florins on 3rd March, paying for in three instalments over a period of three year.


In 1847, the high-pitched Nasard stop was replaced by a more delicate Salicional 8’ and the sonorous Trompete was replaced by a gentler Flöte 8’, giving the organ a softer, more romantic tone. These alterations were carried out by Jakob Köhler. In 1870, Philipp Embach of Mainz added an independent pedal which stood on a separate wind chest behind the organ case and controlled a


Subbass 16’.


The tall, narrow case, with its striking central tower and characteristic outlines, must have formed a splendid visual harmony with the Gothic architecture of the St. Christopher’s church.


In 1917, the display pipes were requisitioned by the military authorities and used for arms manufacture. After the war, the Mixtur 1’ dreifach was removed and replaced by a new Mixtur 2’ dreifach.


Geissel-OrgelThe organ was restored in 1972 by Oberlinger Bros of Windesheim. Working from contemporary research, they carried out the restoration in a way which enabled the original sound quality of 1667 to be recreated. The pedalboard was retained, however, and two further stops were added.


Oktavbass 8’

Flötbass 4’


The organ as it stands today is therefore capable of meeting the varied demands of diverse styles and literature and of providing lively support for congregational worship.


The compass of the manual is 4 octaves (C – c’’’), whilst the pedal has a compass of 2 octaves (C – d’). The instrument is tuned to a pitch of 440 Hz (at 18° C).


Of Johann Peter Geissel’s original organ, therefore, five manual stops and large sections of the case survive to the present day. Thus is can justifiably be said that the “Jewel of Gau-Bischofsheim”, which is still fully playable, is the oldest organ in both the bishopric of Mainz an the whole of Rheinland-Pfalz.