Sunday, August 5, 2012

Cologne Cathedral

Cologne Cathedral, or Kolner Dom in German, is the seat for the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Cologne and the most visited landmark in Germany.
With spires that are 516 feet tall, it is the third-tallest church in the world (behind Ulm Cathedral [530 feet] and Our Lady of Peace Basilica in Cote d'Ivoire [518 feet]).  
Because it is so large and difficult to get a good picture, I have borrowed a couple from the internet. This one a side view. 
And this one an amazing aerial view that shows it from the air and its shape as a cross.
A view of the front. 
Having just visited Strasbourg Cathedral, I was struck by the fact that the outside of Cologne Cathedral does not have the same level of artistic detail or statuary. It is also strikingly black, a result of pollution, primarily from coal used for heating as well as railroad steam engine smoke, unlike the still mostly beautiful reddish sandstone at Strasbourg. The front, or west facade, has three portals and the portals are very similar to Strasbourg. Each has statues fanning out from the doors, a tympanum with scenes from the featured subject and archivolts (ornamental moldings surrounding the arched opening) with mini scenes in them. The center portal has two doors with Mary as the main figure, just visible below, with the tympanum and archivolts above her. 
Statues to the left of Mary
and to her right.
The left portal, with one door, is the Magi portal, an important theme in the cathedral. The right portal, also with one door, has Peter as the main figure, to whom the cathedral is dedicated.  Above the door, in the tympanum, one of the scenes from the life of Peter shows him being crucified on an upside down cross. 
Statues to the left of the door
and to the right.
A couple of scenes from the archivolts.
Two medieval figures between the center and right portal that I really like.
Different views of the flying buttresses.

The most precious work of art in the cathedral, which inspired this enormous building, is the Shrine of the Three Kings, golden sarcophagi studded with jewels, holding the crowned skulls and bones of the three wise men who followed the star to visit the infant Jesus. Mathew 2 mentions them as follows: "[A]fter Jesus was born in Bethlehem...wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, 'Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.'" After a meeting with King Herod, the wise men "set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh." Tradition is that the three wise men converted to Christianity and were martyred for their faith. Although the number of wise men was not given in the biblical story, the three gifts led to the assumption that there were three men. Although called wise men, they are also referred to as magi and as kings. In Western Christianity, they have commonly been known as Melchior, a Persian scholar or king; Gaspar, an Indian scholar or king; and Balthazar, an Arabian scholar or king.  Tradition is that the bones of the three wise men were discovered by Saint Helena on her pilgrimage to Palestine. She took the remains to Hagia Sophia in Constantinople and they were later removed to Milan. Holy Roman Emperor Fredrick Barbarossa took them from Milan in 1164 and gave them to the Archbishop of Cologne. Around 1199, King Otto had three golden crowns made, one for each of the wise men, and gave them to the church. The Coat of Arms of Cologne still shows these three crowns symbolizing the three kings. 
The golden sarcophagi were designed, in part, by the medieval goldsmith Nicholas of Verdun, who worked on them beginning in 1180. They have sculptures of prophets and apostles and scenes from the life of Christ. They were completed in 1225. It is the largest relic in the Western world and protected by heavy glass. Construction of the present Cologne Cathedral was begun in 1248 to house these relics. The golden sarchophagi were opened in 1864 and the bones of three persons, almost their entire skeletons, were found. One set of bones was of a youth, another was in his early manhood and the other was aged. The bones were then wrapped in white silk and returned to the sarcophagi. Two sarcophagi stand next to each other, with the third resting on their roof ridges, in the shape of a basilica. The ends are completely covered, so there is no visible space between the sarcophagi. 
The site of the cathedral originally was a grain store, then a Roman temple, then a Christian cathedral built in the 4th century. A newer cathedral was completed in 818, which was destroyed by fire in 1248. During demolition, the current cathedral was started and work continued to 1473 when it stopped, with the cathedral still unfinished.  In the 19th century, after the plans for the original facade were discovered, it was decided to complete the cathedral. Work started again in 1842. It was completed in 1880. We got a distant view of the original plans when we were in the cathedral.
Our guide said it was the only time he'd seen them in all the times he'd been there. They were being shown to a group of VIPs.
While most of Cologne was flattened by bombing during World War II, the cathedral remained standing. The tall spires were apparently used as a landmark by Allied aircraft and may have been the reason it was spared. It was hit 70 times by aerial bombs, but did not collapse. War repairs were completed in 1956. 

We climbed the 509 stone steps up a spiral staircase to a viewing platform about 322 feet above the ground.  We had similarly climbed to the viewing platform at Strasbourg Cathedral a few days earlier and were disappointed in Cologne by the comparison, for several reasons. First, downtown Strasbourg is much older and more beautiful than Cologne, so the view is not as nice or dramatic. 
Second, the Cologne viewing area is much more limited and closed in overhead by wire so that you feel like you are in a cage. 
Third, the Strasbourg graffiti is carved into the stone, has some beauty, and is hundreds of years old. The Cologne graffiti is painted onto the stone and is only a decade or so old and is quite unsightly. 

In our climb down from the platform we had an opportunity to see a number of the eleven bells. 
The newest bell, the Bell of St. Peter, was cast in 1922 and is 24 tons, the largest free-swinging bell in the world. 

Below, the theme of the stained glass is the birth of Christ and the adoration of the Magi. As discussed above, because of the relics, this is of particular pertinence in Cologne Cathdral, and is a theme of other stained glass windows and other art. This window, as are several others below, was made in 1846 in Munich and was a donation of King Ludwig I of Bavaria. Ludwig I was the grandfather of Ludwig II, sometimes called Mad King Ludwig, the king who commissioned Neuschwanstein Castle. King Ludwig's coat of arms are in the bottom left corner and his donation inscription is in the lower right corner.
Below that scene, in the same window, are the major prophets of the Old Testament: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel. They are termed major because of the length of their writings, not because of their importance. In this case, their significance is that they foretold of the coming of Christ.
Another window with the Adoration of the Magi theme.
The next window was also donated by King Ludwig and is of the dead Christ in the lap of his mother, Mary.
In the frame above it, in the same window, is Christ with his disciples at the Last Supper.
The frame below the dead Christ is of the Evangelists, the authors of the four gospels and their symbols: Matthew, symbolized by a winged man or angel; Mark, by a winged lion; Luke, by a winged ox or bull; and John, by an eagle.
The next window, also a King Ludwig I donation, shows the descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, which is celebrated as the date of the foundation of the church.
Beneath it, in the same window, are the original Doctors of the Church, a title given to them in 1298 for their contribution to theology and doctrine. First is St. Augustine, who lived from 354 to 430, was Bishop of Hippo (present day Algeria) whose writings were influential in the development of Western Christianity and one of the theological fathers of Reformation in his teachings on salvation and divine grace. His written works included Of the City of God, On the Trinity, and Confessions, a personal account of his early life. Second is St. Jerome, who lived from 347 to 420,  translated the Bible into Latin (the Vulgate), the official version of the Catholics. Third is St. Gregory, also known as Gregory the Great, who lived from 540 to 604, and was pope from 590 to 604. In the Middle Ages he was known as the"Father of Christian Worship" because of his efforts in revising Roman Catholic worship. Fourth is St. Ambrose, who lived from 337 to 397, was bishop of Milan at the time of Augustine's conversion to Christianity and contributed greatly to Augustine's development. He was also a great author but his works are less well known, at least to me.
I love medieval themes in stained glass. The following are some of my favorites in the cathedral:

A modern stained glass window built in 2007 by Gerhard Richter is composed of 11,500 four inch sized pieces cut from antique stained glass in a total of 72 colors. Richter used a mathematical formula to systematically mix permutations of the three primary colors and gray. There are 4,096 colors that display consistently on old computer screens and Richter did a 1974 painting titled 4096 Colors. For this window, he weeded out most of the colors as historically inaccurate or too pale (they would have out-shown the squares around them).  This replaced a window that was destroyed by bombs in World War II. 
Finally, a beautiful and unusual rose window.
The Gero Cross is the oldest surviving crucifix north of the Alps. It was carved in oak in 976 and hangs in its own chapel. It previously hung in the old cathedral.
The altar-piece of the city's patron saints is a tryptich painted by Stefan Lochner in about 1442. The theme is the now familiar visit to the infant Jesus by the three kings. 
Finally, some segments of the floor that I enjoyed

and a statue of St. Christopher.
All in all, I really loved Cologne Cathedral. It is massive and breathtaking. I love the theme of the three kings or magi that is found again and again among the decoration and the stained glass is marvelous. In a head to head comparison with Strasbourg, I liked the latter for reasons I've set forth, but both are among the most amazing churches in the world. 


  1. I had not realized this connection to the three kings. Okay, now I want to go back! I also was unaware that modern geometric window was done by Gerhard Richter, an artist Andrew has exposed me to and who is considered one of the greatest living artists in the world. Lots of fun info here.

  2. I like the really interesting information you included about the wise men.

    I loved that modern window-one of the few modern stained glass creations that really stood out as spectacular in our visits. And a decent trade-off for the disappointing caged view from the top as well as the horrid graffiti. (Nice that both you and Judy covered graffiti in today's posts, the good, the bad, and the ugly).

  3. Cologne Cathedral inspired Chris Rea to write the song Bones of Angels