A gothic masterpiece, in Koln (as the German’s say), or Cologne (as us Americans say), the Kolner Dom, sitting near the Rhine River, in the Altstadt (Old Town) right next to the train station, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Finished in 1880 after only 600 years in the making, that would place it being started in 1248, square in Medieval days. Think Monty Python’s Holy Grail’s times only a bit more German. There’s a sense of wonder you get from it, taking it in from the train inbound to Koln as you see it from the train windows, even more standing in front of it, almost overwhelming in it’s size, then again inside of the massive cavernous space, able to hold 20,000 people at a time. Regardless of your beliefs (it’s a catholic archbiship seat btw), you feel spirituality, man’s sense that there must be some kind of higher power, or at least this reverence for the belief in such a thing.
We were stationed in Western Germany with the Air Force from like 1995 – 1998 and got the privilege of visiting the Cologne Cathedral several times, once with my parents, Jim and Sarah Swinney. It was not too long after Nanny, Lazelle Johnson, my Mom’s mother passed away, and a choir was singing inside the nave. As we sat on the benches with voices soaring up through the immense gothic space, it surrounded us… a feeling of peace, a gift of comfort, a sense of awe and wonder.
That is something I miss about Europe, the churches and cathedrals, even the minor ones in the villages we lived, Orenhofen and Kyllburg, were mankind’s reminder of beautiful buildings erected communally, a space of respite, a cool oasis of sacred spirituality, both graceful inside and out. During World War II (labeled as a total war), the Cologne area was bombed heavily being a production center of the Nazi logistics machine, the Cathedral was targeted but despite the whole area of Altstadt Koln being razed to the ground all around the cathedral, the 515 feet tall edifice stood. A few bombs found direct hits on the cathedral, one of them luckily being a dud, and damage was minimal to the cathedral itself.
Architecturally, the Cologne Cathedral is a massive achievement to what mankind can create. It has a bit of everything, as long as that thing is gothic. Flying butresses, gothic spires, gorgeous stained glass windows coloring filtered light through the darkened interior, gargoyles stand watch each a work of art, a narrow set of spiraled stone stairs lead you up and up inside the spires until you feel you are standing on top a mountain with windows out to the world. I can’t express my love enough for this place.
If you get a chance to go to Europe, to Germany, don’t miss the chance to see and visit and sit inside as many cathedrals as possible. There are so many beautiful ones, the Familia Sagrada in Barcelona, the Westminster Abbey in London, the Ulm Minster in Bavaria, Notre Dame in Paris, and St. Peter’s in the Vatican.
Of all the ones we saw, the Koln Cathedral was my favorite. Darkened by soot and coal over the years, the blackened facade seems appropriate, painted and coated in the color that matches it’s gothic feel.
Just remember there is permanence in this world still. The human will to survive despite dark and confusing times. With the world in flames, with people solving their differences through violence during World War II, the Cologne Cathedral still stands as a monument to man’s ability to rise above. Like the bombs that fell on the cathedral and the tanks that raged outside, those things shall pass. This too shall pass. Peace.