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Cologne Cathedral*
UNESCO World Heritage Site

Cologne Cathedral.jpg
State Party  Germany
Type Cultural
Criteria i, ii, iv
Reference 292
Region** Europe
Inscription history
Inscription 1996  (20th Session)
Endangered 2004-2006
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List.
** Region as classified by UNESCO.

Cologne Cathedral (German: Kölner Dom, officially Hohe Domkirche St. Peter und Maria) is a Roman Catholic church in Cologne, Germany. It is the seat of the Archbishop of Cologne (currently Cardinal Joachim Meisner), and is under the administration of the archdiocese of Cologne. It is renowned as a monument of Christianity, of German Catholicism in particular, of Gothic architecture and of the continuing faith and perseverance of the people of the city in which it stands. It is dedicated to Saint Peter and the Blessed Virgin Mary. The cathedral is a World Heritage Site, one of the best-known architectural monuments in Germany, and Cologne's most famous landmark, described by UNESCO as an "exceptional work of human creative genius".[1] It is visited by 20 thousand people every day.[2]

Construction of Cologne Cathedral began in 1248 and took, with interruptions, until 1880 to complete– a period of over 600 years. It is 144.5 metres long, 86.5 m wide and its towers are approximately 157 m tall.[3] The cathedral is one of the world's largest churches and the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe. For four years, 1880-84, it was the tallest structure in the world, until the completion of the Washington Monument. It has the second-tallest church spires, only surpassed by the single spire of Ulm Minster, completed 10 years later in 1890. Because of its enormous twin spires, it also presents the largest façade of any church in the world. The choir of the cathedral, measured between the piers, also holds the distinction of having the largest height to width ratio of any Medieval church, 3.6:1, exceeding even Beauvais Cathedral which has a slightly higher vault.[4]

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 of 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".[1]



Rectangular central section of an altarpiece in the International Gothic style, showing the Three Kings adoring the Christ Child. The arrangement is formal, balanced and intricately detailed. The Virgin Mary, in a robe of brilliant blue sits enthroned with Jesus on her knee at the centre of the painting. The figures have a sweet, doll-like quality. On either side kneel the two older kings clothed in robes of patterned velvet, one green and the other crimson, with gifts of a golden box and a silver chalice. The youngest king stands behind one of the kneeling figures, and presents a container of semi-precious stone.
The Altarpiece of the Three Kings by Stephan Lochner.

Ancient site

When the present Cologne Cathedral was commenced in 1248, the site had been occupied by several previous structures, the earliest of which may have been a grain store, perhaps succeeded by a Roman temple built by Mercurius Augustus. From the 4th century the site was occupied by Christian buildings including a square edifice known as the "oldest cathedral" and commissioned by Maternus, the first Christian bishop of Cologne. A free-standing baptistery from the 6th century was located at the east end of the Cathedral. The baptistery was demolished to build the old cathedral in the 9th century. Now only the ruins of the baptistery and the octagonal baptismal font remain. [5] The second church, the so-called "Old Cathedral", was completed in 818. This burned down on April 30, 1248.

Old photo of the cathedral before completion shows the east end finished and roofed, while other parts of the building are in various stages of construction.
Unfinished cathedral, 1856 with ancient crane on south tower.

Medieval beginning

In 1164, the Archbishop of Cologne, Rainald of Dassel had acquired relics of the Three Kings which had been taken from Milan, Italy by the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa. The relics had great religious significance and could be counted upon to draw pilgrims from all over Christendom. It was important that they were properly housed. The loss of the old five-aisled cathedral prompted a building program in the new style of Gothic architecture based in particular on the French Cathedral of Amiens.

The foundation stone was laid on August 15, 1248, by Archbishop Konrad von Hochstaden. 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 in use as the work proceeded. 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 halted in 1473 leaving the south tower complete up to the belfry level and crowned with a huge crane which was destined to remain in place, and the landmark of Cologne for 400 years.[6]

The completed cathedral in 1911

Some work proceeded intermittently on the structure of the nave between the west front and the eastern arm but during the 16th century, this ceased.[7]

19th century completion

With the 19th century romantic enthusiasm for the Middle Ages and spurred on by the lucky 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 (over US$ 1 billion in today's money), while the Prussian state supplied the remaining third. The state saw this as a way to improve its relations with the large number of Catholic subjects it had gained in 1815.

Work resumed in 1842 to the original design of the surviving medieval plans and drawings, but utilising 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 completion of Germany's largest cathedral was celebrated as a national event in 1880, 632 years after construction had begun. The celebration was attended by Emperor Wilhelm I.

US soldier and destroyed Panther tank, 4 April 1945.

World War II and post-war history

The cathedral suffered seventy hits by aerial bombs during World War II. It did not collapse, but stood tall in an otherwise flattened city. The great twin spires are said to have been used as an easily-recognizable navigational landmark by Allied aircraft raiding deeper into Germany in the later years of the war, which may be another reason the cathedral was not destroyed. In June 1945, the cathedral was supposedly used as a rifle range by American troops.[8] The repairs to the building were completed in 1956. In the northwest tower's base, an emergency repair carried out in 1944 with bad-quality brick taken from a nearby war ruin (see German Wikipedia "Kölner Domplombe") remained visible until the late 1990s as a reminder of the War, but then it was decided to reconstruct this section according to the original appearance. The brick-filling can be seen in the image on the left.

Some repair and maintenance work is constantly being carried out in some section of the building, which is almost never completely free of scaffolding, since wind, rain, and pollution slowly eat away at the stones. The Dombauhütte, which was established to build the cathedral and repair the cathedral, is said to employ the best stonemasons of the Rhineland. There is a common joke in Cologne that the leader of the Dombauhütte, the Dombaumeister (master builder of the cathedral), has to be Catholic and free from giddiness. The current Dombaumeisterin is Barbara Schock-Werner. Half of the costs of repair and maintenance are still borne by the Dombauverein.

On August 25, 2007, the cathedral received a new stained glass in the south transept window. With 113 square metres of glass, the window was created by the German artist Gerhard Richter. It is composed of 11,500 identically sized pieces of coloured 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.[9] The archbishop of the cathedral, Joachim Cardinal Meisner, who had preferred a figurative depiction of 20th-century Catholic martyrs for the window, did not attend the unveiling.[10]

World Heritage Site

Cologne Cathedral across the Rhine.

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

As a World Heritage Site, and with its convenient position on tourist routes, Cologne Cathedral is a major tourist attraction, the visitors including many who travel there as a Christian pilgrimage.

The cathedral is open every day from 6.00am to 7.30pm; admission is free except for tower ascent and the treasury. Visitors can climb 509 steps of the spiral staircase to a viewing platform about 98 metres above the ground.

On May 12, 2001, the American rock band R.E.M. performed a free concert in Roncalliplatz, the square to the south side of Cologne Cathedral. The concert was organised to promote the eradication of violence in schools, and was in part broadcast live on MTV Europe.

On August 18, 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.


The nave looking east.

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 ill-fated Beauvais Cathedral, much of which collapsed. Externally the outward thrust of the vault is taken up 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.

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 which 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 is enhanced by a good many 19th century stained glass windows including a set of five on the south side called the "Bayernfenster" which were a gift from Ludwig I of Bavaria, a set highly representative of 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 and Regensburg Cathedrals. [11]


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 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.[12]

The most celebrated work of art in the cathedral is the Shrine of the Three Kings, a large gilded sarcophagus dating from the 13th century, and the largest reliquary in the Western world. It is traditionally believed to hold the remains of the Three Wise Men, whose bones and 2,000-year-old clothes were discovered at the opening of the shrine in 1864.

Near the sacristy is the Gero-Kreuz,[13] 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.[14]

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 altar piece by the International Gothic painter, Stephan Lochner is in the Marienkapelle ("St. Mary's Chapel"). Other works of art are to be found in the Cathedral Treasury.

The altar also houses the relics of Saint Irmgardis.

Jewish tablets

Embedded in the interior wall are a pair of tablets on which are carved the provisions worked out by Archbishop Englebert II (1262-67) under which Jews were permitted to reside in Cologne.[15]


The cathedral has eleven church bells, four of which are medieval. The first was the 3.8-ton Dreikönigenglocke ("Bell of the Three Kings"), cast in 1418, installed in 1437, and recast in 1880. Two of the other bells, the Pretiosa (10.5 tons; at that time the largest bell in the Occident) and the Speciosa (5.6 tons) 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 the 11th of May 1872. Andreas Hamm in Frankenthal used them to cast a bell of over 27,000 kilos on the 19th of August 1873. The tone was not harmonious and another attempt was made on the 13th of 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 the 3rd of October 1874. The colossal bell was shipped to Cologne and on the 13th of May 1875, installed in the Cathedral. This Kaiserglocke was eventually dismantled in 1918 to support the German war effort.

The 24-ton St. Petersglocke ("Bell of St. Peter", "Dicke Pitter" in the Kölsch dialect), was cast in 1922 and is the largest free-swinging bell in the world.[16] (See below: Gallery, Petersglocke)

Petersglocke, note person to right of bell clapper.

Bells of the ridge turret:

  • Consecration Bell - 0.425 tons (Wandlungsglocke)
  • Vespers Bell - 0.28 tons (Mettglocke)
  • Angelus Bell - 0.763 tons (Angelusglocke)

Bells of the main bell cage in the south spire:

  • Hail Bell - 0.83 tons (Aveglocke)
  • Chapter Bell - 1.4 tons (Kapitelsglocke)
  • St Joseph's Bell - 2.2 tons (Josephglocke)
  • St Ursula's Bell - 2.55 tons (Ursulaglocke)
  • Bell of the Three Kings - 3.8 tons (Dreikönigenglocke)
  • Pretiosa - 10.5 tons
  • Speciosa - 5.6 tons
  • St Peter's Bell - 24 tons (St. Petersglocke)

Church music



The cathedral contains two Klais pipe organs built in 1948 and 1998.

Transept Organ (Klais 1948/1956)

I Positiv C–
Gedacktpommer 16′
Metallflöte 8′
Rohrflöte 8′
Salicet 8′
Principal 4′
Spitzflöte 4′
Nasard 22/3
Waldflöte 2′
Terz 13/5
Sifflöte 11/3
Mixtur IV-V 11/3
Dulcian 16′
Trompete 8′
I Rückpositiv C–
Portunalflöte 8′
Lieblich Gedackt 8
Blockflöte 4′
Superoctave 2′
Sesquialtera II 22/3
Scharff IV-VI 1/2
Krummhorn 8′
II Hauptwerk C–
Principal 16′
Bordun 16′
Principal 8′
Octave 8′
Offenflöte 8′
Gedackt 8′
Gemshorn 8′
Rohrquinte 51/3
Octave 4′
Rohrflöte 4′
Terz 31/5
Septime 22/7
Superoctave 2′
Weitflöte 2′
Großmixtur IV 4′
Rauschpfeife III 22/3
Mixtur VI-VIII 2′
Trompete 16′
Trompete 8′
Kopftrompete 4′
III Schwellwerk C–
Großgedackt 16′
Principal 8′
Holzflöte 8′
Gamba 8′
Vox coelestis I-II 8′
Octave 4′
Querflöte 4′
Nasard 22/3
Schwegel 2′
Terz 13/5
Nachthorn 1′
Mixtur IV 22/3
Fagott 16′
Trompete 8′
Oboe 8′
Vox humana 8′
Trompete 4′
IV Solowerk C–
Metallflöte (Pos) 8′
Rohrflöte (Pos) 8′
Quintade 8′
Principal (Pos) 4′
Koppelflöte (Pos) 4′
Nasard (Pos) 22/3
Waldflöte 2′
Sifflöte (Pos) 11/3
Septime 11/7
None 8/9
Nonenkornett IV 13/5
Mixtur IV-V (Pos) 11/3
Aliquot II-III 1′
Terzcymbel III-IV 1/3
Dulcian (Pos) 16′
Trompete (Pos) 8′
IV Hochdruckwerk C–
Konzertflöte 8′
Stentorgambe 8′
Tuba magna 16′
Tuba major 8′
Tuba mirabilis 8′
Tuba episcopalis 8′
Tuba capitularis 8′
Pedal C–
Vox Balenae 64′ (211/3′)
aus Principal 32′
Principalbass 32′
Untersatz 32′
Principalbass 16′
Contrabass 16′
Subbass 16′
Zartbass (SW) 16′
Octavbass 8′
Flötenbass 8′
Gedacktbass 8′
Choralbass 4′
Bassflöte 4′
Principal 2′
Hintersatz VI 22/3
Mixtur IV 11/3
Contraposaune 32′
Posaune 16′
Fagott (SW) 16′
Basstrompete 8′
Clarine 4′

Nave Organ (Klais 1998)

Nave Organ.
I Rückpositiv C–c4
Bourdun 16′
Praestant 8′
Rohrflöte 8′
Salicional 8′
Principal 4′
Spitzflöte 4′
Nasard 22/3
Waldflöte 2′
Terz 13/5
Quinte 11/3
Scharff V 1′
Dulcian 16′
Cromhorn 8′
Vox Humana 8′
II Hauptwerk C–c4
Praestant 16′
Principal 8′
Doppelflöte 8′
Gemshorn 8′
Octave 4′
Rohrflöte 4′
Quinte 22/3
Superoctave 2′
Mixtura Major IV 2′
Mixtura Minor IV 22/3
Cornet V (ab f0) 8
Trompete 16′
Trompete 8′
Trompete 4′
III Schwellwerk C–c4
Salicet 16′
Principal 8′
Bordun 8′
Gambe 8′
Vox coelestis 8′
Octave 4′
Traversflöte 4′
Quintflöte 22/3
Flageolet 2′
Terzflöte 13/5
Mixtur IV 2′
Fagott 16′
Trompete 8′
Oboe 8′
Pedal C–g1
Violon 32′
Principal 16′
Subbaß 16′
Quinte 102/3
Octave 8′
Bartpfeife 8′
Superoctave 4′
Flöte 4′
Posaune 16′
Trompete 8′
Clarine 4′
  • Couplers: I/II, III/II, III/I, Sub III/III, Sub III/II, Super III/III, Super III/II, Super III/I, I/P, II/P, III/P.


Detail of a tower, from an albumen print taken ca. 1877-1880
External length 144.58 m
External width 86.25 m
Width of west façade 61.54 m
Width of transept façade 39.95 m
Width of nave (with aisles, interior) 45.19 m
Height of southern tower 157.31 m
Height of northern tower 157.38 m
Height of ridge turret 109.00 m
Height of transept façades 69.95 m
Height of roof ridge 61.10 m
Inner height of nave 43.35 m
Building area 7,914 m²
Window surface area 10,000 m²
Roof surface area 12,000 m²
Gross volume without buttresses 407,000 m³


See also

Cologne Cathedral
Kölner Dom.jpg

Cologne Cathedral was the world's tallest building from 1880 to 1884.[I]
Record height
Preceded by Rouen Cathedral
Surpassed by Ulm Minster
General information
Location Cologne, Germany
Status Complete
Constructed 1248-1880
Antenna or spire 157.4 m (516 ft)
Technical details
Floor count n/a

^ Fully habitable, self-supported, from main entrance to highest structural or architectural top; see the list of tallest buildings in the world for other listings.


  1. ^ a b UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Cologne Cathedral
  2. ^ A Little Closer to Heaven, the official movie, Cologne Cathedral website, accessed 4 March 2010
  3. ^ Cologne Cathedral official website
  4. ^ Banister Fletcher, A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method
  5. ^ Baptismal font behind cathedral
  6. ^ Wim Swaan
  7. ^ Wim Swaan gives the latest date as 1560, but a date of 1520 is considered more probable by other scholars.
  8. ^ Monate im Dunkeln, Dr. Heinrich Schneider, 1955 (Dissertation)
  9. ^ Gerhard Richter digitizes Cologne cathedral, Google translation from German to English, Original German article
  10. ^ Fortini, Amanda (2007-12-09). "Pixelated Stained Glass". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2008-01-12. 
  11. ^ Wim Swaan, Banister Fletcher
  12. ^ Joan Holladay, Iconography of the High Altar in Cologne Cathedral, (1989)
  13. ^ Arthistory, University of Pennsylvania
  14. ^ Howard Hibbard
  15. ^ A social and religious history of the Jews, Salo Wittmayer Baron, 2nd Edition, Columbia University Press, 1965, p. 174
  16. ^ The World Peace Bell in Newport, Kentucky is larger, but turns around its center of gravity rather than swinging about its top.


  • Wim Swaan, The Gothic Cathedral, Omega Books (1969), ISBN 090785348X
  • Banister Fletcher, A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method.
  • Howard Hubbard, Masterpieces of Western Sculpture, Thames and Hudson, ISBN 0500232784
  • Wolff, Arnold, Cologne Cathedral. Its History - Its Works of Arts, Verlag (editor) Kölner Dom, Cologne: 2nd edition 2003, ISBN 9783774303423

External links

Coordinates: 50°56′29″N 6°57′29″E / 50.9413°N 6.958°E / 50.9413; 6.958

Preceded by
Rouen Cathedral
World's tallest structure
157.38 m
Succeeded by
Washington Monument
Preceded by
Rouen Cathedral
World's tallest building
Succeeded by
Ulm Cathedral

Simple English

The cathedral, seen from the west.

Cologne Cathedral (officially:Hohe Domkirche St. Peter und Maria) is the Roman Catholic cathedral, in Cologne. The cathedral has a height of 157.25 metres. This makes it the second-highest in Germany and the third-highest in the world. The cathedral in Ulm, the Ulm Minster at 161 m it is the highest in the world. The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro is also higher, at 158 metres, but it only has the status of a minor basilica, it is not a cathedral. The cathedral is also the third-biggest church, built in Gothic architecture. The Seville Cathedral in Seville, Spain, and the Milan Cathedral in Milan, Italy are bigger.

The Cologne Cathedral was built in Gothic style from 1248. It was planned to make the cathedral like the one in Amiens. The choir was consecrated in 1322. The first bell could be hung in one of the towers shortly after 1410. Around 1510 building was stopped, because people had lost interest. The last payment for its construction was made in 1560.

For 300 years, Cologne had an unfinished cathedral. The cathedral was finished in 1880, still following original plans.

The cathedral is a UNSECO World Heritage Site since 1996. The cathedral is the most popular sight in Germany. In 2001, there were five million visitors, in 2004, there were six million visitors.

Pope Benedict XVI visited the cathedral in 2005.

Images of the Cologne Cathedral


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