Cologne Cathedral – the greatest cathedral in Germany

Cologne Cathedral

Cologne Cathedral is the symbol of Cologne and the entire city is subject to it like a stone guard, the world’s third-largest Gothic cathedral is the heart of the city.

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General Information

Officially it is called the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Mary, but it is better known simply as Cologne Cathedral. It is the most distinctive example of the High Gothic style in the world. Cologne Cathedral at a height of 157 m is the second highest in Germany and third highest in the world. From 1880 to 1890 it was the tallest building in the world. Its entire monumental bulk, including the two majestic towers, covers an area of 7,000 square meters, which is a world record for a religious building.

The cathedral is 144 meters high and 86 meters wide, and the towers on the west side of the building rise to 157 meters, making it the largest church in Germany.

The square on which the Cologne Cathedral is built has been a place of pilgrimage for Christians since the Roman era. It was here that the first Christians erected one of their first churches and dubbed it “the oldest cathedral” back in the 4th century AD. In the early 9th century, construction began on the first cathedral of the Carolingian dynasty. This temple was finished in 873 and stood until XIII century.

In 1164 the newly ordained bishop Reynald von Dassel brought the miracle-working relics of the three Magi to Cologne. Captured in the Cathedral of Milan by Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, they were in need of a proper home. To this end, Reynald von Dassel began the construction of the most magnificent monstrance in Europe.

It was the shrine with the holy relics that attracted crowds of pilgrims to Cologne from all over Europe. The old temple was not able to withstand such an influx of believers. In 1225 it was finally decided to erect a new cathedral, and in 1248 the first stone was laid. However in 1288 the construction slowed down greatly. The choirs were finished in 1322, and by 1410 only 2 floors were built in the south tower. In 1530 the problems with money and indifference of the powers that be stopped the construction altogether. And following 300 years the cathedral remained unfinished. But the worst was yet to come. In 1794, French revolutionary forces broke in, and the bishop fled with the treasury. The soldiers who invaded Cologne had no particular reverence for the creeds. They turned the cathedral into stables and a warehouse. It was not until 1801 that it was re-consecrated.

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A blue enamel plaque, nailed to the main entrance of the church, is a reminder of those barbaric years. It reads, “Domkloster, 4,” the postal address of the building. No church in the world can boast anything like this. Until France occupied Cologne, there was no need for signs on houses here at all, but the conquerors had too much trouble sorting out the unfamiliar streets. An order was issued to name each street and assign a number to each house. The cathedral did not escape the same fate.

Sometime between 1814 and 1816, long-lost plans of the cathedral were found in two different places, Darmstadt and Paris. This was a time when Gothic architecture was going through its second period of popularity, and it was decided to complete the cathedral according to the original Gothic scheme. King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia acted as the patron of the construction. Archbishop Johann von Heissel arrived from the Vatican and on September 4, 1842, the inauguration of the new front entrance took place in the presence of the Prussian king. Out of an abundance of feeling, the king uttered: “Here the stone is laid, here will stand the gate between the two divine towers.”

The Prussian kingdom undertook one third of the construction costs. The rest of the money was raised by a civic organization that collected voluntary donations. It was not only the citizens of Cologne, but also Germany as a whole, that were enthusiastic about seeing their precious cathedral in all its glory.

And finally, on October 15, 1880, the cathedral, which had been under construction for 600 years, was completed. Having found the original plans for the building, the 19th century architects decided to carry out the design drawn up in 1280 by their medieval colleague, who remained nameless. As a result, the cathedral retained its classic Gothic appearance, despite the use of modern technology-for example, the ceiling beams were no longer made of wood but of iron. These beams played a role during World War II, when the cathedral was severely bombed. Despite 14 direct hits that destroyed the entire interior, the vaults of the cathedral stood indestructible.

Cologne Cathedral, the seat of the Archbishop of Cologne, is one of the most beautiful Christian churches in the world. But it should not be regarded solely as an example of Gothic architecture. The interior, also in Gothic style, is no less admirable. The choir, which accommodates 104 singers, is the largest in Germany. In addition, there are two chairs, which no one occupies during the service. One is reserved for the Pope, the other for the Emperor.

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The golden sarcophagus, the shrine of the Three Kings, holds the relics of the three wise men who brought the gifts of the newborn Jesus Christ to Bethlehem. It is the most popular pilgrimage site among Christians. Every year, hundreds of thousands of believers visit the Cologne Cathedral to pray to the holy relics.

Twelve bells ring the bell tower of the Cologne Cathedral. The largest of them is Peter, cast in 1924. The people of Cologne pride themselves on the fact that it is the largest free-hanging bell in the world – it weighs 24 tons.

The size of the cathedral is truly astonishing, but it is also of great importance as the oldest pilgrimage site and a monument to the immortal faith of its creators.

Cologne Cathedral was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1996. In recent years the main threat to this unique building has been the high level of pollution in the city. Acid rain erodes the masonry and leaves ugly marks on the light and light sandstone. Since construction was completed in 1880, the cathedral has been renovated and repaired continually, and without end. There is already a saying about this eternal construction site: “When we finish building the cathedral, it will be the end of the world!”

Cologne Cathedral

Cologne Cathedral in Germany is a popular attraction that tourists include in the list of must-see places to visit. One of the most recognizable religious buildings is the third tallest in the world. It is one of the popular long-running structures, as the first stone was laid in 1248, and the final work is still unfinished. Some Germans tell a long-standing story that the completion of the Cologne Cathedral will bring about the end of the world. This explains why the builders are in no hurry.

The Holy Place

Next to the construction crews at the Cologne Cathedral you can see several groups of archaeologists. It has long been known that construction is taking place on the site of earlier religious buildings, traces of which are hidden in the thickness of the earth. Scientists have found out that back in the VI century BC the place where the cathedral stands was considered holy, there were pagan temples and sanctuaries. After the advent of the Christian era, churches were built there several times and often burned down.

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During the excavations, archaeologists found a small tomb that dates back to the V century AD. In it were found the bodies of a woman and a child. Even after the passage of centuries, the tomb was surprisingly rich and had not been looted. The great amount of gold and silver jewelry, inlaid with precious stones, suggests that the remains belonged to members of the noble dynasty of the city.

The grandeur of Cologne Cathedral

For devout Catholics, Cologne Cathedral is not only an architectural marvel but also the burial place of the now holy archbishops. Important religious relics are also concealed within the sacred walls.

Cologne Cathedral is shrouded in many age-old beliefs and legends, but it’s up to everyone to decide what they expect from a visit to this great structure. Even a total non-believer, seeing the cathedral for the first time, is shocked by its superiority. The building is 157 meters high and thanks to the many arches and sharp spires it seems quite light and openwork. It is not for nothing that crowds of tourists constantly occupy the area in front of the cathedral and take thousands of photos of Cologne Cathedral. Film crews are not uncommon guests at its walls. Cologne Cathedral more often seen in mystical films. The reason for this is the austere features and legends about the devil, which has been retold by Germans for several centuries.

The legend of the bargain with the Devil

There is a belief that Gerhard (the architect who came up with the plan for the Cologne Cathedral) could not create the drawings himself. He was often mistaken and already wanted to give up the impossible task. In a moment of despair he resolved to make a bargain with the devil, who promised to bring the finished work in exchange for his immortal soul. The deal was set for the hour of dawn, when the rooster crowed. Gerhard’s wife tried to protect her beloved and crowed before the time, the devil appeared and handed over the ready-made blueprints. When the real bird cried out, the terms of the bargain were broken and the architect’s soul was out of danger. For such treacherous actions, the devil cursed the cathedral and declared that the day of completion would be the last day for mankind.

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It seems that the devil himself guarded the cathedral during World War II. Shells dropped from planes and fired from artillery guns did not even come close to the cathedral. Some believe that the military deliberately kept the towers high to use them as a landmark. But it’s hard to believe that, because the Cologne Cathedral remained unscathed when the whole neighborhood was covered in ruins.

History of construction

The idea for the construction came to the minds of God’s servants long before the work began. As early as 1164 after the conquest of Milan, soldiers brought the remains of the Holy Magi to Cologne. For such important relics a dignified structure was needed. The relics were placed in a secure sarcophagus, which all visitors can still see today. Ancient craftsmen made a gold shrine for the relics and finished it with silver details. Sometimes in tourist brochures you can see a reference to the relics of the three kings, not the Magi. In this case, they are synonymous.

The whole period of construction of Cologne Cathedral can be divided into several stages. The first stage began in 1248. Bishop Konrad von Hochstaden wanted to surpass the French cathedrals and started the great construction. Gerhard was the architect and developer of the project, although he borrowed the basic idea from the French masters.

According to the architect’s idea in the temple was to prevail natural light, so the building consists of many arches and pilasters, which create minimal obstruction to the sun’s rays. To increase the distinction with French architecture, the arched openings were made pointed.

Seventy years later the east facade of Cologne Cathedral was completed. At the same time the main altar and the choir surrounded by galleries appeared. Then the creation of the northern facade began. In order to make room, it was necessary to demolish the old church, in which all that time services were held.

During the XIV and XV centuries, the southern facade, three floors of the belfry were rebuilt and the bells were installed. Later the northern part was covered with a roof. So the first phase of the work was completed, and all activities were suspended until the middle of the XVIII century.

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The long idle time negatively affected the construction. Under the influence of natural forces its ready parts were in need of repair. Especially the choir suffered. The next active stage of the cathedral’s construction began in 1842 under the leadership of Friedrich Wilhelm IV. Construction continued according to the original plans, which were once again revised and fully approved.

Forty years later the towers were completed and the cathedral reached its present height of 157 meters. Now began a phase of constant reconstruction and improvement. The elements of furnishings and glass damaged by time were replaced, the decor was added. In 1906, one of the towers collapsed, which had to be urgently restored and the stability of the others checked.

How the cathedral looks

The austere Gothic silhouette of the building is adorned by two pointed towers. The broad, dark stone facade has colorful stained-glass windows with biblical themes. The tower can be climbed up a long staircase, which consists of more than 500 steps. From the great height offers an excellent view of the city center.

The total area of the Cologne Cathedral is 8.5 thousand square meters. The interior consists of a main hall, galleries, chapels and several chapels. The walls are richly decorated with stucco and there are fine patterns on the surface of the columns. Along the walls and at the chancel a whole collection of fine sculptures is gathered.

The floor is finished with the same gray stone as the facades. On the walls there are bright mosaics and gilded elements. The Cologne Cathedral is the greatest building, but it is especially famous for its relics and treasures:

  • the chest of three wise men;
  • the statue of the Madonna of Milan;
  • the sepulchres of the bishops;
  • the cross of Hero.

Especially for the storage of relics, a treasury is equipped at the base of the cathedral. Ancient swords and staffs from pre-Christian and later eras are adorned with precious stones. Clever lighting shades the jewels and covers them with a magical glow. There are also chronicles and ancient scrolls that recount the lives of the saints.


To get to Cologne Cathedral, take the subway and get off at the Dom or Hauptbahnhof stations. Take a car or cab to Domkloster 4.

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