GERMANY  |  Cologne, Germany Travel Guide
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Cathedral of Cologne

Interior of the Cathedral of Cologne, Germany

The Cathedral of Cologne (Dom of Cologne)

[ Related page: Cathedrals of Germany ]

The Cathedral of Cologne is easily the foremost attraction in the city, if not in all of Germany, drawing nearly 20,000 visitors a day! The magnificent High Gothic cathedral, formally the Dom St Peter und Marien (Cathedral of St Peter and Mary), rises in glorious spires that dominate the skyline from virtually any place in the city. Its location is equally important, right next to the Rhine and the Hauptbahnhof, making it an easy destination for travelers even on the briefest of stopovers. The Dom is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site that attracts six million visitors annually – by far the highest number for any monitored sight in Germany.

Building the Cathedral of Cologne

Monumental as the Cathedral of Cologne may seem, what is even more astonishing is that the Dom was more than 600 years in the making! Construction of the High Gothic cathedral started in 1248 to replace a Romanesque predecessor. The chancel was completed by 1300, but the rest followed slowly, with only parts of the south wall and tower completed by 1560, when construction was suspended. For the next three centuries, an enormous wooden crane on the uncompleted Dom tower would be the symbol of Cologne. Construction resumed in 1842 when German Romantics considered Gothic a pure German style – ironically the original commission for the Dom clearly called for a church in the French style – and completion of the Dom became a matter of national honor. In 1880, the Dom was finally consecrated – the presence of the bombastic Protestant Emperor Wilhelm I led to accusations that God had to occupy second place during the ceremony and the archbishop stayed away in protest.

Exploring the Cathedral of Cologne

The cathedral’s twin-towered western façade is the largest in the world and completed according to the original 13th-century plan. The exterior of the church is decorated with statues, gables, and buttresses. The twin towers are 157 m (518 feet) high – on completion, it was the tallest building in the world, as was the intention in the 13th century. In the south tower, 509 steps lead to a viewing platform at 97 m (320 feet). On the way up, note the bells, including the 24-ton Petersglocke (St Peter’s Bell), the world’s largest swinging bell, which rings only on major religious holidays. Admission to the south tower is €2. Combination tickets with the Treasury are €5.

The church’s interior is the third-largest in the world – the nave is 144 m (475 feet) long and 43.5 m (143 feet) high. More than a hundred pillars and columns keep it all together. During a papal visit in 1980, 8,500 visitors were packed into the interior but normally just under 4,000 are allowed in for special occasions. The huge stained glass windows – altogether larger than a football field – let in ample light. The oldest were installed in 1265 in the Achskapelle (also known as the Three Kings’ Chapel). This chapel is painted, as the complete cathedral would have been in the Middle Ages.

The most important artwork is the Dreikönigenschrein (Shrine of the Three Magi) in the choir behind the high altar. This bejeweled, golden shrine is a masterpiece of medieval goldsmithing. It is in the form of a 2.2-m (seven-foot) long basilica. In the Marienkapelle (St Mary’s Chapel) is the Altar der Stadtpatrone (Altar of the City’s Patrons) painted in 1440 by Stephan Lochner. It illustrates the Adoration of the Magi and has such detail that many herbs and other plants, as well as a stag beetle, can be recognized in the grass. The left wing shows St Ursula and the right St Gereon – the two patron saints of Cologne. In the Kreuzkapelle (Cross Chapel) is the AD 980 Gerokreuz (Gero Crucifixion) – a rare sample of Ottonian art. The choir, only open to guided tours, has 104 seats and is the largest in Germany.

The Schatzkamer (Treasury) is at the north of the church. It houses a large collection of religious paraphernalia, shrines, and reliquaries.

Last updated November 12, 2011
Posted in   Germany  |  Cologne
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