The stained glass of Cologne Cathedral has been enrapturing visitors for centuries.
The Story of the Cathedral
The tale Cologne’s cathedral starts all the way back in 1164, before the cathedral was even built. This plot of land had been the go-to spot for Christians to celebrate religious services since Roman times, but it was this faithful year that Archbishop Rainald Von Dassel brought the relics of the Three Wise Men to town. This was, understandably, a big deal — so much so that a cathedral was in order.
Modeled after other prominent cathedrals of the time — Paris, Strasbourg and Amiens — the cornerstone of Cologne’s cathedral was laid at the Feast of Assumption of Mary on August 15, 1248. Construction continued at a slow and steady pace … until it didn’t. Progress ceased in the 16th century, due to both a lack of funds and a general lack of interest in Gothic architecture (“Gothic architecture was sooo 200 years ago,” they might’ve said). Work on the cathedral was suspended for roughly the next 300 years.
But then! In the 19th century, history, the Middle Ages and the Gothic style were all in vogue once again. King Frederick William IV of Prussia nudged the citizens of Cologne to found the Central Cathedral Building Society, and also helped fund the construction work. Cologne Cathedral was finally finished in 1880, only 632 years after it started.
Cologne Cathedral. Main Portal Tympanum
Must-See’s When You Visit
When you see this multiple-century passion project for yourself, there are a few points of interest to keep an eye out for.
- The Shrine of the Three Kings: The marquee showstopper of the cathedral! The bones of the three kings have been drawing crowds of pilgrims to town since the Middle Ages. If you happen to visit on January 6 — Epiphany on the church calendar — you’ll be allowed to file past the fabled bone box and pay your respects.
- Saint Peter’s Bell: If you happen to be present for the angelic ringing of the church bell, take a moment to appreciate that Cologne’s is in a class of its own. As the world’s largest free-swinging bell, Saint Peter’s Bell measures a massive 10 feet in diameter and is over 10 feet tall. Perched in the south belfry, its sharp C’s sound idyllic on the ground floor, but will likely result in hearing loss if you’re near it when it rings.
- The Woodwork: Cathedrals are a showcase of technical mastery both large and small, and this extends beyond the stone pillars. There are some 104 carved oak seats within storied walls, but the real point of pride is the Madonna of Milan. Dating back to 1290, this exquisite wooden sculpture of Mary and the child Christ has been purported to be associated with miracles.
- It’s Just (Barely) Uneven: Even with 600 years of double-checking, triple-checking and maybe even centuple-checking, the cathedral’s towers aren’t the same height. The north tower (or: the one closest to the train station) is 516.33 feet tall, while the south tower is 2.75 inches taller. If you squint in just the right spot, you might be able to see the difference.
- It’s Not Black Stone: It Stands More Than the Test of Time: If you notice sections of the church that appear a bit run down, it’s likely intentional. Cologne Cathedral was hit by more than 14 bombs over the course of World War II. Repairs to the damaged parts were completed in 1956, with some sections left purposely unrepaired as a memorial.
Visitors of all ages can find something to appreciate within a cathedral.
Enthralled by the idea of witnessing Cologne’s cathedral for yourself? Getting there is half the fun, especially with a travel agent doing all the heavy lifting. As for the other half … there’s a palatable joy in getting to ask, “What’s next?” Discoveries of faraway lands are a salve for the soul, especially if they’re offered one after another on board an immersive cruise. Such is the case with Viking Cruises and their eye-opening itineraries along Europe’s most fabled rivers. The only way you could have a more immersive experience exploring Europe is if you packed up and moved there.
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