A cathedral for the ages

Although I haven’t been back to Cologne since I last visited at age 16, its cathedral has loomed large in my imagination. I’m pleased to report that I found it just as glorious in real life as I remembered in my mind’s eye.

Even if you’re not particularly devout, standing in front of this monument to faith — and this masterpiece of art and engineering — you can’t help but feel awe. Its very existence is somewhat miraculous: 95% of Cologne and its inhabitants were firebombed in World War II. It’s only because the Allied pilots used the Döm as a landmark that it survived at all.


File photo via Wikipedia

I found it moving to consider what the few survivors might have felt when they scrambled out of the rubble to see this church still standing. Even today, it towers above its rebuilt city.

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But I’ll be quiet for a moment, and let the stone speak for itself.

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As impressive as the overall effect may be, though, it becomes downright mind-boggling when you start noticing the details. Esteban remarked that any one of these doors would represent a lifetime’s work.

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The same could be said of the ornate sculptures that adorn every surface. Imagine carving each of these arches out of a single slab of stone!

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And the same goes for the glorious stained-glass windows …

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… even the ones that were replaced after the war.

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I was especially taken with the medieval mosaic floors. The men who once bore these crests may be long gone, but their thirst for power and glory still echoes through the ages.

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I found a couple of the mosaics especially telling. They’re probably meant to portray generosity or benevolence toward the “common folk,” but to me they’re a reminder that none of this magnificence could have been possible without the commoners.

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The enormous cathedral houses a wealth of other treasures, too. Some of the original paintwork survives in the small side chapels — in case the statuaries, windows and floors aren’t already enough decoration.

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And behind the altar, encased in gold, are supposedly the Three Wise Men’s bones. I’m not sure exactly how the Magi ended up here, or how anyone knows it’s really them. I guess you just have to take some things on faith.

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I wish we could stay another day or two and see more of Cologne. But I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to see the Döm again — and I hope it won’t be 30 years before my next visit.

Next up: Heidelberg!


  1. I haven’t seen the Dom since I was 15, and this year marks 30 years since I climbed all 509 steps to the top of the right tower.

    Your photos are wonderful. They capture both the Dom’s immensity and its endless sea of detail.

    • I’ve grown to associate you a bit with this cathedral, Jim — both because of our past conversations, and because of the wonderful composite image you posted — so I’m especially honored that you like my photos. Of course, I don’t think they do the Döm justice! It’s difficult to capture the immensity, even if you do manage to fit it into a single frame. And I still haven’t managed to climb the tower, so I guess I have no choice but to go back one more time. Grin.

    • So glorious, indeed, Fiona! I could have spend a day alone looking at that door. Did your textbook by chance provide any details on who may have made it, and when? It’s very rare for the names of the craftsmen to be handed down, I suppose, but it would be interesting to know if there’s a back story. In any case, thanks for your kind words!

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