Cologne Cathedral – a spectacular example of Gothic architecture.
For a very lapsed Catholic, I seem to spend a lot of time in churches when I travel.
Of course the beautiful and imposing churches and cathedrals of Europe are far more awe-inspiring than the ugly 1970’s churches which popped up all over Australia when I was a Catholic schoolgirl. Standing, dwarfed, in the nave of one of these centuries-old architectural masterpieces it becomes a little easier to understand the devotion of a congregation faced with such religious majesty and might. Certainly the attention to detail, colour and gilding in even some of the small village churches in Italy is testament to the faith and piety of the local parishioners.
On our recent trip we spent a few days in the German city of Cologne (or Köln in the German). We caught trains all around Europe and as we exited the railway station in the centre of Cologne we were smacked right in the eyes by the massive spires of the Cologne Cathedral – the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe.
Larger, more ornate and far more striking than Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, the Cologne Cathedral took a mere 600-700 years to complete and is now the seat of the Archbishop of Cologne, one of the greatest examples of Gothic architecture in the world and is a World Heritage site.
It was badly damaged during World War II, but remained standing through 14 strikes while the rest of the city was more or less flattened. Post-war repairs to the church were finally completed in 1959, but some section of it is always under scaffolding as the cathedral is constantly under repair or restoration. This work is supervised and financed by the Dombauverein – an organisation formed to promote and finance the maintenance of the Cologne Cathedral – which employs the finest stonemasons in the Rhineland.
The cathedral is one of the most visited sites in Germany, but is still a place of worship and mass was being said while we visited, which obviously limited the access for tourists. Nevertheless, there was still plenty for us to be awestruck about. The towering spires are over 150 metres tall and the height of the roof in the nave is over 43 metres.It has a length of of 145 metres and the width of the cross nave is 86 metres, giving it a footprint of over 8,000 square metres. The details on the spires, towers and flying buttresses is utterly fantastic.
The church is home to various treasures including a 1,000 year old crucifix and an ornate reliquary said to hold the remains of the Three Wise Men. The treasury of the cathedral is housed in the crypt, which is open to the public for a small fee and the more sprightly tourist can sprint up to a 100 metre high viewing platform on the southern tower, via 533 steps – again for a small fee.
Some might say it is miraculous that the cathedral survived the extensive bombing it endured and while this magnificent church is blackened with age and time, it is not in the least diminished by it.