Cologne Cathedral
Cologne Cathedral
Cultural Germany Europe And North America State Of North Rhine-westphalia (nordrhein-westfalen)

Cologne Cathedral, constructed over more than six centuries, has an exceptional intrinsic value and contains artistic masterpieces. It is a powerful testimony to the strength and persistence of Christian belief in medieval and modern Europe.

Christians met for worship in a private house in Roman Cologne near the city wall. Following the Edict of Milan in 313, when Constantine proclaimed religious freedom, this building was enlarged as a church. Alongside it were an atrium, a baptistry and a dwelling-house, possibly for the bishop. This modest ensemble was extended and enlarged in the following centuries. This immense building, known by the 13th century as 'the mother and master of all churches in Germany', was consecrated in September 70.

Post-Second World War excavations, as well as contemporary documents, provide evidence of its form and decoration - a basilica, with a central nave flanked by two aisles and a large atrium in front of its western facade. A two-storeyed Chapel of the Palatinate, in the style of Charlemagne's chapel in Aachen, was added to the south transept at the beginning of the 11th century, and later that century it was connected by two lofty arcades at the east end with the Collegiate Church of St Mary ad Gradus.

Despite its generous dimensions, this cathedral was found to be too small to accommodate the throngs of pilgrims who visited it after the relics of the Magi were brought there from Milan in 1164. The ambition of Engelbert to make his archiepiscopal cathedral into one of the most important in the Holy Roman Empire led him to urge the construction of an entirely new building, but the start of the work was delayed by his murder in 1225, and it was not until 1248 that work began. In 1560 much of the nave and the four side-aisles had been completed, along with the main structure of the lofty south tower of the west end. Despite numerous efforts, the cathedral remained in an uncompleted state for the following centuries.

When the French seized Cologne in 1794 the Archbishop and Chapter moved to Aachen, and the building was used first for storage of grain and fodder and then as a parish church. Work was to begin again after Cologne passed to Prussia in 1815. Karl Friedrich Schinkel visited the cathedral in 1816 and sent his talented pupil Ernst Friedrich Zwirner there as cathedral architect. The work did not begin, however, until 1840. By 1880 the building was complete, after 632 years and two months.

Cologne Cathedral is a High Gothic five-aisled basilica, with a projecting transept and a two-tower facade. The construction is totally unified. The western section, begun in 1330, changes in style, but this is not perceptible in the overall building. The 19th-century work followed the medieval forms and techniques faithfully. The original liturgical appointments of the choir are still extant to a considerable degree. These include the high altar on an enormous monolithic slab of black marble, the carved-oak choir stalls (1308-11), the painted choir screens (1332-40), the 14 statues on the pillars in the choir (1270-90), and the stained-glass windows, the largest extant cycle of 14th-century windows in Europe. There is an outstanding series of tombs of 12 archbishops between 976 and 1612.