Katedra w Kolonii
Katedra i widziana od strony Renu. Źródło: Source: Rolf Heinrich, Köln, Processing: User: MathKnight, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Cologne Cathedral – the most perfect example of the Gothic period

Cologne Cathedral (German: Kölner Dom, officially Hohe Domkirche St. Peter und Maria) exemplifies the mastery and craftsmanship of construction. Rising more than 157 metres high, its towers give it one of the top spots on the list of the tallest Catholic churches in the world, and its extraordinary architecture makes the Cathedral of St Peter and St Mary in Cologne one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture.

The city was founded in 38 BC by the leader Marcus Agrippa as a Roman military camp. A Roman temple stood on the site of today’s cathedral. In 50 AD, the camp was named Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium and granted municipal rights. When Emperor Theodosius declared Christianity the only permitted religion, the Christians converted the Roman temple into a cathedral. In 818, the erection of the Romanesque archcathedral began. Construction lasted until 870. The temple was given the patronage of St Peter and the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Cologne Cathedral in 1900. Source: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Katedra w Kolonii

In 1164, Archbishop Rainald of Dassel brought the relics of the Three Kings to Cologne. The construction of the representative reliquary took almost forty years. Due to the rapidly growing cult of the relics, the Romanesque temple soon became too small. In 1225, it was decided to build a new, much larger cathedral. Work began in 1248. The cathedral was intended not only to accommodate numerous pilgrims, but also to testify to the power of the city, the richest and largest in the empire at the time. The light, rich and soaring Gothic-style temple was built from trachyte, a volcanic rock imported via the Rhine from the nearby Siebengebirge mountains. The construction of a Gothic church, however, was much more labour-intensive than a Romanesque church, where almost every stone did not have to be worked and carved. The abundance of decorative elements even overwhelmed the precision of workmanship, which, however, significantly increased construction time and costs.

Cologne Cathedral in 1863. Source: Rijksmuseum, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1410 the south tower was raised to the second storey, and in the following years the bells were hung. After a century, construction had to be halted due to lack of money. For more than three consecutive centuries the cathedral stood unfinished and everyone had already given up hope that the construction could ever be brought to completion. The south tower was crowned for years by a wooden building crane from the 14th century. It was a unique and one-of-a-kind monument through which historians and engineers could learn a lot about the construction of the time. With the 19th century Romanticism came the fashion for Gothic. In 1814 and 1816, forgotten original plans of the cathedral were found in Darmstadt and Paris. The publicity of the discovery triggered an avalanche that resulted in the laying of the foundation stone in 1842 by King Frederick William IV of Prussia for further construction. The main donor was the growing Kingdom of Prussia. In 1880, the building was finally completed, more than six centuries after it had begun. The Cologne Cathedral, with its towers over 157.38 m high, briefly became the world’s tallest building.

Katedra w Kolonii
Facade of the cathedral in 1890. Source: Rijksmuseum, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

During World War II, the entire historic centre of Cologne was razed to the ground by Allied bombers, who dropped 1,455 tonnes of bombs on the city, causing 1,700 fires. Above the endless sea of ruins, only the cathedral stood. Despite a few bomb hits, it survived from more serious damage. The roof and parts of the vaults were damaged in several places, and the façades were also badly damaged by splinters from shell explosions. The temple was repaired and is today one of the few pre-war buildings in the city centre. Soon afterwards, another threat came: acid rain, which began to react with the stone. For decades, the corrosive water has damaged the façade and scaffolding has become an integral part of the building.

Katedra w Kolonii
Colony in 1945. Source: U.S. Department of Defense. Department of the Army. Office of the Chief Signal Officer. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1996, Cologne Cathedral was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its interior is a veritable plethora of masterpieces of sacred art from the entire period of construction – from medieval through modern to modern. These include the reliquary of the Three Kings, the pre-Romanesque crucifix of Geron, the 14th-century Gothic altars of St Clare, Gothic stalls, frescoes and numerous stained-glass windows from the 13th to 20th centuries. Twelve bells hang from the cathedral’s towers, including four Gothic bells from the 14th and 15th centuries and the largest tolling bell in Europe, the St Peter’s Bell. The building is a landmark of both Cologne and the whole of Germany, visited en masse by pilgrims and tourists. In 2001, it was visited by nearly 6 million people. In 2005, the cathedral was one of the highlights of World Youth Day under the leadership of Pope Benedict XVI.

Source: cudaswiata.pl, koelner-dom.de

Read also: Architecture | Monument | History | Sacred architecture | Germany | Interesting facts

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