Cologne Cathedral

Coordinates: 50°56′29″N 06°57′30″E / 50.94139°N 6.95833°E / 50.94139; 6.95833
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Cologne Cathedral
The Cathedral of St. Peter
  • Hohe Domkirche St. Petrus
  • Kölner Dom
Cathedral façade
50°56′29″N 06°57′30″E / 50.94139°N 6.95833°E / 50.94139; 6.95833
DenominationRoman Catholic.
DedicationSaint Peter
Functional statusActive
Years built
  • 1248–1560
  • 1842–1880
  • 1950s–present (restoration)
Length144.5 m (474 ft)[1]
Width86.25 m (283.0 ft)[1]
Number of spires2
Spire height157 m (515 ft)[1]
ProvostGuido Assmann[2]
Vice-provostRobert Kleine
Vicar(s)Jörg Stockem
Director of musicEberhard Metternich
Organist(s)Winfried Bönig[3]
Organ scholarUlrich Brüggemann
Building details
Record height
Tallest in the world from 1880 to 1890[I]
Preceded byRouen Cathedral
Surpassed byUlm Minster
Antenna spire157.4 m (516 ft)
CriteriaCultural: i, ii, iv
Inscription1996 (20th Session)

Cologne Cathedral (German: Kölner Dom, pronounced [ˌkœlnɐ ˈdoːm] , officially Hohe Domkirche Sankt Petrus, English: Cathedral Church of Saint Peter) is a cathedral in Cologne, North Rhine-Westphalia belonging to the Catholic Church. 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 in 1996.[4][5] It is Germany's most visited landmark, attracting an average of 6 million people a year.[6] At 157 m (515 ft), the cathedral is the tallest twin-spired church in the world, the second tallest church in Europe after Ulm Minster, and the third tallest church of any kind in the world.[7]

Construction of Cologne Cathedral began in 1248 but was halted in the years around 1560,[8] unfinished. Attempts to complete the construction began around 1814 but the project was not properly funded until the 1840s. The edifice was completed to its original medieval plan in 1880.[9] The towers for its two huge spires give the cathedral the largest façade of any church in the world.

Cologne's medieval builders had planned a grand structure to house the reliquary of the Three Kings and fit for 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".[5] In Cologne, only the telecommunications tower is higher than the cathedral.[4]


Ancient site[edit]

When construction began on the present Cologne Cathedral in 1248 with the laying of a 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 of Mercurius Augustus.[10] 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.[11]

Medieval beginning[edit]

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.[note 1] 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 Saturday, 15 August 1248, by Archbishop Konrad von Hochstaden.[12] 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.[citation needed]. 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.[13][page needed] 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.[14][page needed]

19th-century completion[edit]

The cathedral in 1880, nearing the end of its construction.

With the 19th-century Romantic enthusiasm for the Middle Ages, and spurred by the discovery of the original plan for the façade, the Protestant Prussian Court working with the church, committed 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.[15]

Work resumed in 1842 to the original design of the surviving medieval plans and drawings, but using 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.[citation needed]

The completion of Germany's largest cathedral was celebrated as a national event on 15 October 1880, 632 years after construction had begun.[16] The celebration was attended by Emperor Wilhelm I. With a height of 157.38 m (516.3 ft), it was the tallest building in the world for four years until the completion of the Washington Monument.[17]

World War II and post-war history[edit]

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.[18]

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. A nearby Panther, a German medium tank, was sitting by a pile of rubble near a train station right by the twin spires of the Cologne Cathedral. The Panther successfully knocked out two Sherman tanks, killing three men, before it was destroyed by a T26E3 Pershing, nicknamed Eagle 7, minutes later. Film 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.[citation needed]

Repairs of the war damage were completed in 1956. A repair to part 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 restored to its original appearance.

To investigate whether the bombings had damaged the foundations of the Dom, archaeological excavations began in 1946 under the leadership of Otto Doppelfeld and were concluded in 1997. One of the most meaningful excavations of churches, they revealed previously unknown details of earlier buildings on the site.[19]

Repair and maintenance work is constantly being carried out in the building, which is rarely 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, employs skilled stonemasons for the purpose. Half the costs of repair and maintenance are still borne by the Dombauverein.[citation needed]

21st century[edit]

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.[20]

On 25 August 2007, the cathedral received a new stained glass window in the south transept. The 113 m2 (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 coloured glass resembling pixels, randomly arranged by computer, which create a colourful "carpet". Since the loss of the original window in World War II, the space had been temporarily filled with plain glass.[21] 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.[22] 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.[23]

World Heritage Site[edit]

Cologne Cathedral on the banks of Rhine

In 1996, the cathedral was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List of culturally important sites.[9] 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.[24][25] The cathedral was removed from the "in danger" list in 2006, following the authorities' decision to limit the heights of buildings constructed near and around the cathedral.[26]

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.[27] Visitors can climb 533 stone steps of the spiral staircase to a viewing platform about 100 m (330 ft) above the ground.[28] The platform gives a scenic view over the Rhine.

Ongoing conservation at the cathedral is addressing the black discolouration caused by the sandstone reacting with sulfuric acid during rainfall. The acidic rain is a consequence of air pollution.[29]

St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Washington, D.C. was modeled after the cathedral.[30]


The ground plan design of Cologne Cathedral was based closely on that of Amiens Cathedral, as is the 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 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, despite French Revolutionary troops having 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 the time.

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.[31]


19th century cross-section, south elevation of the choir
External length 144.58 m (474.3 ft)
External width 86.25 m (283.0 ft)
Width of west façade 61.54 m (201.9 ft)
Width of transept façade 39.95 m (131.1 ft)
Width of nave (with aisles, interior) 45.19 m (148.3 ft)
Height of southern tower 157.31 m (516.1 ft)
Height of northern tower 157.38 m (516.3 ft)
Height of ridge turret 109.00 m (357.61 ft)
Height of transept façades 69.95 m (229.5 ft)
Height of roof ridge 61.10 m (200.5 ft)
Inner height of nave 43.35 m (142.2 ft)
Height of side aisles18 m (59 ft)
Building area 7,914 m2 (85,185.59 sq ft)
Window surface area 10,000 m2 (107,639.10 sq ft)
Roof surface area 12,000 m2 (129,166.93 sq ft)
Gross volume without buttresses 407,000 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 ft (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.[32]

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 of 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 Crucifix,[33] 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.[34][page needed]

In the Sacrament Chapel is the Mailänder Madonna ("Milan Madonna"), a high Gothic carving, depicting the Blessed Virgin and the infant Jesus. It was made in the Cologne Cathedral workshop sometime around 1290 as a replacement for the original which was lost in a fire. 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 a 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.[35] 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.[36]

Church music[edit]

Cologne Cathedral has two pipe organs by Klais Orgelbau: the Transept Organ, built in 1948, and the Nave Organ, built in 1998.[37] Cathedral organists have included Josef Zimmermann, Clemens Ganz (1985–2001) and Winfried Bönig (2001).


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.

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

During the 19th century, as the building neared completion, there was a desire to increase the number of bells. This was facilitated by Kaiser Wilhelm I who gave French bronze cannon, captured in 1870–71, for this purpose.[38] 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.

Sound of St. Petersglocke

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, Romania.[39] This bell is only rung on eight major holidays such as Easter and Christmas.

On Thursday, 3 March 2022, landmark cathedrals across Europe chimed in unison "[…] in a gesture of solidarity with Ukraine, as bystanders gathered to mourn those killed during Russia's invasion and pray for peace." The Kölner Dom was among them.[40]

Bells of the South Tower
Name No Mass Note Founder Year
St. Peter's Bell (Dicker Pitter) 1 24,000 kg C0 Heinrich Ulrich, Apolda 1923
Pretiosa 2 10,500 kg G1 Heinrich Brodermann & Christian Cloit, Cologne 1448
Speciosa 3 5,600 kg A1 Johannes Hoerken de Vechel, Cologne 1449
Dreikönigsglocke (Three Kings Bell) 4 3,800 kg H0 Hermann Große, Dresden 1880
St. Ursula's Bell (Ursulaglocke) 5 2,500 kg C1 Joseph Beduwe, Aachen 1862
St. Joseph's Bell (Josephglocke) 6 2,200 kg D2 Hans Augustus Mark, Eifel Foundry, Brockscheid 1998
Chapter Bell (Kapitelsglocke) 7 1,400 kg E2 Karl I Otto, Bremen 1911
Hail Bell (Aveglocke) 8 830 kg G2 Karl I Otto, Bremen 1911
Bells of the Central Turret
Name No Weight Note Founder Year
Angelusglocke 9 762 G♯2 Unknown 14th century
Mettglocke 10 280 B2 Antonius Cobelenz, Cologne 1719
Wandlungsglocke 11 428 E3 Unknown 14th century

See also[edit]

Cologne Cathedral in 2014 (video)


  1. ^ Parts of the relics have since been returned to Milan.


  1. ^ a b c "Cologne Cathedral official website". Retrieved 2 February 2024.
  2. ^ "Monsignore Guido Assmann wird neuer Dompropst" (in German). Erzbistum Köln. 29 May 2020. Archived from the original on 3 June 2022. Retrieved 31 January 2023.
  3. ^ "Prof. Dr. Winfried Bönig" (in German). Kölner Dommusik. Archived from the original on 7 March 2023. Retrieved 28 January 2023.
  4. ^ a b "Cologne Cathedral | Cologne Tourist Board". Retrieved 2 February 2024.
  5. ^ a b "Cologne Cathedral – UNESCO World Heritage". UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Retrieved 2 February 2024.
  6. ^ "Der Dom in Zahlen". Retrieved 2 February 2024.
  7. ^ "8 Tallest Cathedrals in the World". HISTRUCTURAL – SAHC. 8 November 2018. Retrieved 3 February 2024.
  8. ^ Leonard Ennen, Der Dom in Köln von seinem Beginne bis zu seiner Vollendung: Festschrift gewidmet den Freunden und Gönnern aus Anlass der Vollendung vom Verstande des Central-Dombauvereins [The cathedral in Cologne from its begin to its completion: Festschrift dedicated to the friends and patrons on the occasion of the completion of the understanding of the Central Cathedral Building Association], 1880, p. 79
  9. ^ a b "Cologne Cathedral". UNESCO World Heritage. Retrieved 2 February 2024.
  10. ^ Pray Bober, Phyllis (1948). "Mercurius Arvernus". Marsyas – Studies in the History of Art. IV. New York: 29–32.
  11. ^ yitsadmin (19 June 2023). "Cologne Cathedral, Cologne, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany". Catholic Shrine Basilica. Retrieved 25 September 2023.
  12. ^ "The Cologne Cathedral". Archived from the original on 1 May 2018. Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  13. ^ Wim Swaan
  14. ^ Wim Swaan gives the latest date as 1560, but a date of 1520 is considered more probable by other scholars.
  15. ^ Gilley, Sheridan; Stanley, Brian (2006). The Cambridge History of Christianity. Vol. 8, World Christianities c. 1815–c. 1914. Cambridge University Press. p. 114. ISBN 978-0-521-81456-0.
  16. ^ Godwin, George, ed. (1881). The Builder. [s.n.] p. 419. Retrieved 18 January 2024.
  17. ^ Lewis, Robert (13 September 2017). "Cologne Cathedral". Encyclopedia Britannica. Archived from the original on 16 August 2019. Retrieved 20 September 2021.
  18. ^ "In the Ruins of Cologne". The National WWII Museum | New Orleans. 5 March 2020. Retrieved 28 December 2023.
  19. ^ Klaus Gereon Beuckers: Der Kölner Dom, Darmstadt 2004, S. 113.
  20. ^ "Apostolic Journey to Cologne: Visit to the Cathedral of Cologne". 18 August 2005. Archived from the original on 26 February 2021. Retrieved 15 January 2021.
  21. ^ "Gerhard Richter digitalisiert Kölner Dom" [Gerhard Richter digitizes Cologne Cathedral]. Der Spiegel (in German). Deutsche Presse-Agentur. 25 August 2007. Archived from the original on 5 April 2022. Retrieved 17 February 2019.
  22. ^ Fortini, Amanda (9 December 2007). "Pixelated Stained Glass". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 13 June 2016. Retrieved 12 January 2008.
  23. ^ "Germany Pegida protests: Rallies over 'Islamisation'". BBC News. 6 January 2015. Archived from the original on 6 January 2015. Retrieved 7 January 2015. In Cologne, the authorities switched off the lights of the city's cathedral as a way of warning Pegida supporters they were supporting 'extremists'. 'We don't think of it as a protest, but we would like to make the many conservative Christians [who support Pegida] think about what they are doing,' the dean of the cathedral, Norbert Feldhoff, told the BBC.
  24. ^ "World Heritage Committee sounds the alarm for Cologne Cathedral". UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Archived from the original on 22 June 2020. Retrieved 7 April 2020.
  25. ^ "Cologne Cathedral on UNESCO Danger List". Deutsche Welle. 6 July 2004. Archived from the original on 7 April 2020. Retrieved 7 April 2020.
  26. ^ "UNESCO Removes Cologne Cathedral From Endangered List". Deutsche Welle. 11 July 2006. Archived from the original on 7 April 2020. Retrieved 7 April 2020.
  27. ^ "Cologne Cathedral". The Complete Pilgrim – Religious Travel Sites. 1 June 2014. Archived from the original on 7 April 2020. Retrieved 7 April 2020.
  28. ^ "Cathedral South Tower". Archived from the original on 7 March 2017. Retrieved 7 March 2017.
  29. ^ Schwedt, Georg (2001) [1996]. The essential guide to environmental chemistry. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons. p. 158. ISBN 978-0-471-89954-9.
  30. ^ Sankowski, Kelly (14 February 2019). "For 150 years, St. Joseph's Catholic Church has served as a place of refuge and unity on Capitol Hill". Catholic Standard. Archived from the original on 15 February 2019. Retrieved 15 February 2019.
  31. ^ Wim Swaan,[page needed] Banister Fletcher[page needed]
  32. ^ Holladay, Joan. Iconography of the High Altar in Cologne Cathedral, (1989)[full citation needed]
  33. ^ "Art History". University of Pennsylvania. Archived from the original on 31 October 2021. Retrieved 15 January 2005.
  34. ^ Howard Hubbard
  35. ^ Reiner Dieckhoff: Die mittelalterliche Ausstattung des Kölner Domes, in Arnold Wolff (ed.): Der gotische Dom in Köln; Vista Point Verlag, Köln 2008, p. 47.
  36. ^ Baron, Salo Wittmayer. A social and religious history of the Jews, 2nd Edition, Columbia University Press, 1965, p. 174.
  37. ^ "Kölner Dom, Cologne, Germany". Archived from the original on 7 March 2023. Retrieved 17 August 2021.
  38. ^ "The Kaiser-Glocke at Cologne". The Argus. Melbourne, Vic. 12 June 1875. p. 10. Archived from the original on 11 January 2023. Retrieved 11 January 2023.
  39. ^ The World Peace Bell in Newport, Kentucky is larger, but turns around its centre of mass rather than its top.
  40. ^ "Europe's cathedral bells ring out for peace in Ukraine". Reuters. 3 March 2022. Archived from the original on 11 January 2023. Retrieved 11 January 2023.


  • Swaan, Wim and Christopher Brooke, The Gothic Cathedral, Omega Books (1969), ISBN 0-907853-48-X
  • Fletcher, Banister, A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method.
  • Hubbard, Howard, Masterpieces of Western Sculpture, Thames and Hudson, ISBN 0-500-23278-4
  • Wolff, Arnold, Cologne Cathedral. Its History – Its Works of Arts, Verlag (editor) Kölner Dom, Cologne: 2nd edition 2003, ISBN 978-3-7743-0342-3

External links[edit]

Preceded by World's tallest structure
157.38 m
Succeeded by
Tallest building in the world
157.38 m
Succeeded by
Tallest building in Europe
157.38 m