The Gothic choir in Cologne Cathedral is 700 years old

The city must shine in golden colors and flaming light: this is how the last book of the Christian Bible – John’s Revelation – describes the heavenly Jerusalem. Cologne Cathedral, one of the largest Gothic cathedrals in the world, is said to be an earthly image of this in the middle of the Rhineland. This year he celebrates a special anniversary. 700 years ago, the so-called choir was consecrated – the core of the building. This is the eastern part of the cathedral, which also houses the magnificent shrine of the Three Kings.

If you enter the cathedral through the main portal, the sanctuary shines on the other side about 130 meters away. The work of art, made in the late 12th and early 13th centuries, preserves the bones of the three kings who came to Cologne from Milan in 1164. The ornate coffin, which is itself a small basilica, was the reason for the new construction of the cathedral, which attracts six million visitors every year.

Due to the influx of pilgrims, the cathedral was expanded

Thanks to the remains of the Epiphany, Cologne became an important place of pilgrimage already in the Middle Ages. The old cathedral, the forerunner of today’s church, did not seem to do justice to either the influx of pilgrims or the importance of the archbishop’s seat. The judicial chapter therefore voted for an extension. But fires that were carelessly set during the construction work immediately burned down the entire cathedral. The foundation stone for the new Gothic building was laid at Mary’s ascension in 1248.

Less than 75 years later, Archbishop Heinrich II of Virneburg celebrated the first service at the new high altar, on which the reliquary also sits. After that, another 600 years had to pass before the cathedral with its two mighty towers was completed. In the beginning and for a long time, Cologne Cathedral consisted only of the choir, which today appears to be just one of several parts in relation to the entire building.

Nevertheless, this first phase of construction is of unique importance; Cathedral provost Guido Assmann talks about “the heart of the cathedral”. The altar slab on which the reliquary rests weighs a whopping six tons, making it the largest stone in the cathedral. On the front, white marble depicts the coronation of Mary surrounded by the twelve apostles. They have another prominent place in the choir: as choir column figures. Thomas, Philip, Simon and their companions stand on 14 tall columns. The two easternmost figures, where the sides meet, show Christ and Mary.

The medieval choir stalls in the inner chancel are more conspicuous. The oak structure provides space for 104 people. Small figures and leaves decorate the seats. The choir screens that mark the back wall of the choir stalls are also artistically designed. The mural cycle from the early 14th century shows various scenes, such as the Adoration of the Three Kings and the journey of their relics to Cologne. The Maria barrier illustrates seven scenes from the life of the Blessed Mother. The life story of the cathedral’s patron saint, the apostle Peter, is also at the center of a barrier.

The inner choir is surrounded by an ambulatory, which in turn is lined with seven choir chapels. “Riss F” hangs on the wall in one of the chapels – an architectural drawing of the cathedral from the late 13th century. The drawing, which is about 4 meters tall and consists of 20 pieces of parchment glued together, usually remains behind a thick curtain to protect it from sunlight. The last surviving remains of the original painting of the cathedral from around 1330/40 can be seen in the St John’s Chapel: the picture shows the crucifixion of Jesus.

There is a special program for the anniversary

How the painting of the choir looked at the dedication of the altar can be seen particularly well during the anniversary. It is celebrated with a program of festivals lasting several weeks, beginning on Monday, the anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone, with a solemn service and ending on September 27. In addition to concerts, lectures and exhibitions, there is also a technical tour via tablet, which presents the chancel in its medieval design. A high wall then appears digitally exactly where the main altar stands today. It once separated the chancel from the front part of the church, where construction was still ongoing.

The cathedral was only completed in 1880. To this day, however, there are still scaffolding along the cathedral – fortunately: Because once the building is really finished, as it says in the Cologne language, the world comes to an end. By no means the only legend that has grown up around the cathedral. One stormy night in 1434, a stone is said to have dislodged from the vault and almost hit the shrine of the Three Kings. It is said that the devil was at work there. However, God himself saw to it that the stone missed the sanctuary. Whoever you believe, the shrine still shines in its ancestral place in the choir.

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