Cologne Cathedral

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Cologne Cathedral
  • Hohe Domkirche St. Petrus  (German)
  • Kölner Dom  (German)
Kolner Dom von Osten.jpg
Cologne Cathedral from the east
Cologne Cathedral
Coordinates: 50°56′29″N6°57′29″E / 50.94129°N 6.95817°E / 50.94129; 6.95817
Location Cologne
Country Germany
Denomination Roman Catholic
Status Cathedral
Dedication Saint Peter
Functional statusActive
Style Gothic
Years built1248–1560
1950s–present (restoration)
Length144.5 metres (474 ft) [1]
Width86.25 m (283.0 ft) [1]
Number of spires 2
Spire height157 m (515 ft) [1]
Archdiocese Cologne
Province Cologne
Provost Guido Assmann [2]
Vice-provost Robert Kleine
Vicar(s) Tobias Hopmann [3]
Director of music Eberhard Metternich
Organist(s) Prof. Dr. Winfried Bönig
Organ scholar Ulrich Brüggemann
Building details
Cologne Cathedral
Record height
Tallest in the world from 1880 to 1890 [I]
Preceded by Rouen Cathedral
Surpassed by Ulm Minster
Antenna spire157.4 m (516 ft)
Criteria Cultural: i, ii, iv
Reference 292
Inscription1996 (20th session)
Endangered 2004-2006

Cologne Cathedral (German : Kölner Dom, officially Hohe Domkirche Sankt Petrus, English: Cathedral Church of Saint Peter ) is a Catholic cathedral in Cologne, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. It is the seat of the Archbishop of Cologne and of the administration of the Archdiocese of Cologne. It is a renowned monument of German Catholicism and Gothic architecture and was declared a World Heritage Site [4] in 1996. [5] It is Germany's most visited landmark, attracting an average of 20,000 people a day. [6] At 157 m (515 ft), the cathedral is currently the tallest twin-spired church in the world, the second tallest church in Europe after Ulm Minster, and the third tallest church in the world. [7] It is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe and has the second-tallest spires. The towers for its two huge spires give the cathedral the largest façade of any church in the world. The choir has the largest height to width ratio, 3.6:1, of any medieval church. [8]


Construction of Cologne Cathedral began in 1248 but was halted in the years around 1560, [9] unfinished. Work did not restart until the 1840s, and the edifice was completed to its original Medieval plan in 1880. [10]

Cologne's medieval builders had planned a grand structure to house the reliquary of the Three Kings and fit its role as a place of worship for the Holy Roman Emperor. Despite having been left incomplete during the medieval period, Cologne Cathedral eventually became unified as "a masterpiece of exceptional intrinsic value" and "a powerful testimony to the strength and persistence of Christian belief in medieval and modern Europe". [4]


The Dombild Altarpiece of the Three Kings by Stefan Lochner. Dombild Maria Anbetung-5195 (cropped).jpg
The Dombild Altarpiece of the Three Kings by Stefan Lochner.

Ancient site

When construction began on the present Cologne Cathedral in 1248 with foundation stone, the site had already been occupied by several previous structures. The earliest may have been for grain storage and possibly was succeeded by a Roman temple built by Mercurius Augustus. From the 4th century on, however, the site was occupied by Christian buildings, including a square edifice known as the "oldest cathedral" that was commissioned by Maternus, the first bishop of Cologne. A free-standing baptistery dating back to the 7th century was located at the east end of the present cathedral but was demolished in the 9th century to build the second cathedral. During excavations of the present cathedral, graves were discovered in the location of the oldest portion of the building; including that of a boy that was richly adorned with grave goods and another of a woman, popularly thought to be Wisigard. Both graves are thought to be from the 6th century. Only ruins of the baptistery and the octagonal baptismal font remain today.[ citation needed ]

The second church, called the "Old Cathedral", was completed in 818. It was destroyed by fire on 30 April 1248, during demolition work to prepare for a new cathedral.

Medieval beginning

In 1164, the Archbishop of Cologne, Rainald of Dassel, acquired the relics of the Three Kings which the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa, had taken from the Basilica of Sant'Eustorgio, Milan, Italy. (Parts of the relics have since been returned to Milan.) The relics have great religious significance and drew pilgrims from all over Christendom. It was important to church officials that they be properly housed, and thus began a building program in the new style of Gothic architecture, based in particular on the French cathedral of Amiens.[ citation needed ]

The foundation stone was laid on 15 August 1248, by Archbishop Konrad von Hochstaden. [11] The eastern arm was completed under the direction of Master Gerhard, was consecrated in 1322 and sealed off by a temporary wall so it could be used as the work continued. Eighty-four misericords in the choir date from this building phase.

In the mid 14th century work on the west front commenced under Master Michael. This work ceased in 1473, leaving the south tower complete to the belfry level and crowned with a huge crane that remained in place as a landmark of the Cologne skyline for 400 years. [12] Some work proceeded intermittently on the structure of the nave between the west front and the eastern arm, but during the 16th century this also stopped. [13]

19th century completion

With the 19th century romantic enthusiasm for the Middle Ages, and spurred by the discovery of the original plan for the façade, it was decided, with the commitment of the Protestant Prussian Court, to complete the cathedral. It was achieved by civic effort; the Central-Dombauverein , founded in 1842, raised two-thirds of the enormous costs, while the Prussian state supplied the remaining third.[ citation needed ] The state saw this as a way to improve its relations with the large number of Catholic subjects it had gained in 1815, but especially after 1871, it was regarded as a project to symbolize German nationhood. [14]

Work resumed in 1842 to the original design of the surviving medieval plans and drawings, but utilizing more modern construction techniques, including iron roof girders. The nave was completed and the towers were added. The bells were installed in the 1870s. The largest bell is St. Petersglocke.

The completion of Germany's largest cathedral was celebrated as a national event on 14 August 1880, 632 years after construction had begun. [15] The celebration was attended by Emperor Wilhelm I. With a height of 157.38 metres (516.3 ft), it was the tallest building in the world for four years until the completion of Washington Monument.[ citation needed ]

World War II and post-war history

The cathedral suffered fourteen hits by aerial bombs during World War II. Badly damaged, it nevertheless remained standing in an otherwise completely flattened city. The twin spires were an easily recognizable navigational landmark for Allied aircraft bombing.

On 6 March 1945, an area west of the cathedral (Marzellenstrasse/Trankgasse) was the site of intense combat between American tanks of the 3rd Armored Division and a Panther Ausf. A of Panzer brigade 106 Feldherrnhalle. The Panther successfully knocked out a Sherman, killing three men, before it was destroyed by a T26E3 Pershing hours later. Footage of that battle survives. The destroyed Panther was later put on display at the base of the cathedral for the remainder of the war in Europe. [16]

Repairs of the war damage were completed in 1956. An emergency repair to the base of the northwest tower, carried out in 1944 using poor-quality brick taken from a nearby ruined building, remained visible as a reminder of the war until 2005, when it was decided to restore the section to its original appearance.

Repair and maintenance work is constantly being carried out in one or another section of the building, which is rarely completely free of scaffolding, as wind, rain, and pollution slowly eat away at the stones. The Dombauhütte, established to build the cathedral and keep it in repair, is said[ by whom? ] to employ the best stonemasons in the Rhineland. Half the costs of repair and maintenance are still borne by the Dombauverein.[ citation needed ]

21st century

On 18 August 2005, Pope Benedict XVI visited the cathedral during his apostolic visit to Germany, as part of World Youth Day 2005 festivities. An estimated one million pilgrims visited the cathedral during this time. Also as part of the events of World Youth Day, Cologne Cathedral hosted a televised gala performance of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Philharmonic Choir conducted by Sir Gilbert Levine. [17]

On 25 August 2007, the cathedral received a new stained glass window in the south transept. The 113 square metres (1,220 sq ft) glass work was created by the German artist Gerhard Richter with the €400,000 cost paid by donations. It is composed of 11,500 identically sized pieces of colored glass resembling pixels, randomly arranged by computer, which create a colorful "carpet". Since the loss of the original window in World War II, the space had been temporarily filled with plain glass. [18] The then archbishop of the cathedral, Cardinal Joachim Meisner, who had preferred a figurative depiction of 20th-century Catholic martyrs for the window, did not attend the unveiling. [19] Holder of the office since 2014 is Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki. On 5 January 2015, the cathedral remained dark as floodlights were switched off to protest a demonstration by PEGIDA. [20]

World Heritage Site

In 1996, the cathedral was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List of culturally important sites. [21] In 2004, it was placed on the "World Heritage in Danger" list, as the only Western site in danger, due to plans to construct several high-rise buildings nearby, which would have visually impacted the site. [22] [23] The cathedral was removed from the list in 2006, following the authorities' decision to limit the heights of buildings constructed near and around the cathedral. [24]

As a World Heritage Site and host to the Shrine of the Three Kings, Cologne Cathedral is a major attraction for tourists and pilgrims, and is one of the oldest and most important pilgrimage sites of Northern Europe. [25]

Visitors can climb 533 stone steps of the spiral staircase to a viewing platform about 100 m (330 ft) above the ground. [26] The platform gives a scenic view over the Rhine.

There is ongoing conservation at the cathedral to address the problem of the black discoloration caused by the sandstone reacting with sulfuric acid during rainfall. The acidic rain is a consequence of air pollution. [27]

St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Washington, D.C. was modeled after the cathedral. [28]


The design of Cologne Cathedral was based quite closely on that of Amiens Cathedral in terms of ground plan, style and the width to height proportion of the central nave. The plan is in the shape of a Latin Cross, as is usual with Gothic cathedrals. It has two aisles on either side, which help to support one of the very highest Gothic vaults in the world, being nearly as tall as that of the Beauvais Cathedral, much of which collapsed. Externally the outward thrust of the vault is taken by flying buttresses in the French manner. The eastern end has a single ambulatory, the second aisle resolving into a chevet of seven radiating chapels.[ citation needed ]

Internally, the medieval choir is more varied and less mechanical in its details than the 19th-century building. It presents a French style arrangement of very tall arcade, a delicate narrow triforium gallery lit by windows and with detailed tracery merging with that of the windows above. The clerestory windows are tall and retain some old figurative glass in the lower sections. The whole is united by the tall shafts that sweep unbroken from the floor to their capitals at the spring of the vault. The vault is of plain quadripartite arrangement.

The choir retains a great many of its original fittings, including the carved stalls, which is made the more surprising by the fact that French Revolutionary troops had desecrated the building. A large stone statue of St Christopher looks down towards the place where the earlier entrance to the cathedral was, before its completion in the late 19th century.

The nave has many 19th century stained glass windows. A set of five on the south side, called the Bayernfenster, were a gift from Ludwig I of Bavaria, and strongly represent the painterly German style of that date.

Externally, particularly from a distance, the building is dominated by its huge spires, which are entirely Germanic in character, being openwork like those of Ulm, Vienna, Strasbourg and Regensburg Cathedrals. [29]


Jahrbuch MZK Band 03 - Gewolbesystem - Fig 75 Chordurchschnitt des Domes zu Coln - Sudseite.jpg
19th century cross-section, south elevation of the choir
External length144.58 m (474.3 ft)
External width86.25 m (283.0 ft)
Width of west façade61.54 m (201.9 ft)
Width of transept façade39.95 m (131.1 ft)
Width of nave (with aisles, interior)45.19 m (148.3 ft)
Height of southern tower157.31 m (516.1 ft)
Height of northern tower157.38 m (516.3 ft)
Height of ridge turret109.00 m (357.61 ft)
Height of transept façades69.95 m (229.5 ft)
Height of roof ridge61.10 m (200.5 ft)
Inner height of nave43.35 m (142.2 ft)
Building area7,914 m2 (85,185.59 sq ft)
Window surface area10,000 m2 (107,639.10 sq ft)
Roof surface area12,000 m2 (129,166.93 sq ft)
Gross volume without buttresses407,000 m3 (14,400,000 cu ft)


One of the treasures of the cathedral is the High Altar, which was installed in 1322. It is constructed of black marble, with a solid slab 15 feet (4.6 m) long forming the top. The front and sides are overlaid with white marble niches into which are set figures, with the Coronation of the Virgin at the centre. [30]

The most celebrated work of art in the cathedral is the Shrine of the Three Kings , commissioned by Philip von Heinsberg, archbishop of Cologne from 1167 to 1191 and created by Nicholas of Verdun, begun in 1190. It is traditionally believed to hold the remains of the Three Wise Men, whose relics were acquired by Frederick Barbarossa at the conquest of Milan in 1164. The shrine takes the form a large reliquary in the shape of a basilican church, made of bronze and silver, gilded and ornamented with architectonic details, figurative sculpture, enamels and gemstones. The shrine was opened in 1864 and was found to contain bones and garments.

Near the sacristy is the Gero-Kreuz , [31] a large crucifix carved in oak and with traces of paint and gilding. Believed to have been commissioned around 960 for Archbishop Gero, it is the oldest large crucifix north of the Alps and the earliest-known large free-standing Northern sculpture of the medieval period. [32] [ full citation needed ]

In the Sacrament Chapel is the Mailänder Madonna ("Milan Madonna"), dating from around 1290, a wooden sculpture depicting the Blessed Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus. The altar of the patron saints of Cologne with an altarpiece by the International Gothic painter Stefan Lochner is in the Marienkapelle ("St. Mary's Chapel"). After completion in 1265, the radiating chapels were immediately taken into service as burial place. The relics of Saint Irmgardis found a final resting place in the St. Agnes’ Chapel. Her trachyte sarcophagus is considered to be created by the cathedral masons’ guild around 1280. [33] Other works of art are in the Cathedral Treasury.

Embedded in the interior wall are a pair of stone tablets on which are carved the provisions formulated by Archbishop Englebert II (1262–67) under which Jews were permitted to reside in Cologne. [34]

Church music

Cologne Cathedral has two pipe organs by Klais Orgelbau: the Transept Organ, built in 1948, and the Nave Organ, built in 1998. Cathedral organists have included Josef Zimmermann, Clemens Ganz (1985–2001) and Winfried Bönig (2001).


Petersglocke; a person stands to the right of bell clapper CologneCathedralBell02.jpg
Petersglocke; a person stands to the right of bell clapper

The cathedral has eleven church bells, four of which are medieval. The first was the 3.8-tonne Dreikönigsglocke ("Bell of the Three Kings"), cast in 1418, installed in 1437, and recast in 1880. Two of the other bells, the Pretiosa (10.5 tonnes; at that time the largest bell in the Western world) and the Speciosa (5.6 tonnes) were installed in 1448 and remain in place today.

During the 19th century, as the building neared completion, there was a desire to extend the number of bells. This was facilitated by Kaiser Wilhelm I who gave French bronze cannon, captured in 1870–71, for this purpose. The 22 pieces of artillery were displayed outside the cathedral on 11 May 1872. Andreas Hamm in Frankenthal used them to cast a bell of over 27,000 kilos on 19 August 1873. The tone was not harmonious and another attempt was made on 13 November 1873. The Central Cathedral Association, which had agreed to take over the costs, did not want this bell either. Another attempt took place on 3 October 1874. The colossal bell was shipped to Cologne and on 13 May 1875, installed in the cathedral. This Kaiserglocke was eventually melted in 1918 to support the German war effort. The Kaiserglocke was the largest free-swinging bell in history.

The 24-tonne St. Petersglocke ("Bell of St. Peter", "Decke Pitter" in the Kölsch language or in common parlance known as "Dicker Pitter"), was cast in 1922 and was the largest free-swinging bell in the world, until a new bell was cast in Innsbruck for the People's Salvation Cathedral in Bucharest in Romania. [35]

Bells of the ridge turret

  • Mettglocke – 280 kilograms
  • Wandlungsglocke – 425 kilograms
  • Angelusglocke – 763 kilograms

Bells of the main bell cage in the south spire

  • Aveglocke – 830 kilograms
  • Kapitelsglocke – 1.4 tonnes
  • Josephglocke – 2.2 tonnes
  • Ursulaglocke – 2.5 tonnes
  • Dreikönigsglocke – 3.8 tonnes
  • Speciosa – 5.6 tonnes
  • Pretiosa – 10.5 tonnes
  • St. Petersglocke, Great Bell of Germany – 24 tonnes

See also

(video) Cologne Cathedral in 2014

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  35. The World Peace Bell in Newport, Kentucky is larger, but turns around its center of mass rather than its top.


Preceded by
Rouen Cathedral
World's tallest structure
157.38 m
Succeeded by
Washington Monument
Tallest building in the world
157.38 m
Succeeded by
Ulm Minster
Tallest building in Europe
157.38 m