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Sacred Archetype


A storied Gothic cathedral constructed over eight centuries, the Cologne Cathedral is considered the most complete and impressive High Gothic church ever constructed. The Cathedral serves as a touchstone and archetype for analyzing other sacred spaces. During the Medieval period, church architecture defined beauty in western Europe. No other building types sought to generate atmosphere or to inspire and uplift at the scale of cathedrals. The Gothic tradition established a new archetype of sacred space. The development of flying buttresses and the resultant transparency found in the cathedral walls enabled the intentional use of light to a degree that had been impossible before. The Cologne Cathedral represents the pinnacle of Gothic architecture. Organized architectural education in the West has taught us that the medieval cathedral is not only a type of sacred space but a rubric for it. The cathedral has had direct and indirect influences on the design of atmosphere. It is a touchstone for sacred space in the Western architectural tradition. The Cologne Cathedral serves not only as an iconic space in the history of sacred architecture but also as an identifying element of place in the landscape of Cologne and the Rhineland.


Cologne Cathedral


Cologne, Germany


1880  ·  Ongoing Maintenance


Archdiocesan Cathedral

Full Text


Cathedral (1880-present)

Cathedral (1225-1880)

Expansion (1000-1225)

Old Cathedral (800-1000)

Original Church (400-800)

Roman Temple (250-350)


In true gothic style, the vast height of the nave is the dominant moment.



The legacy of the Archdiocese of Cologne predates the current Gothic cathedral by centuries. The initial documented reference to a Bishop Maternus II of Cologne appeared in transcripts from the Council of Rome in 313, although the first record of a physical church on the site did not occur until around the fifth century. In 1842, King Friedrich Wilhelm IV pledged the support of the German government by laying a new foundation stone marking the continuation of the building. That same year, the citizens of Cologne founded the Zentral-Dombau-Verein, or Cathedral Association, which raised 60% of the funding needed to complete the church.² The organization remains active today and provides significant contributions to near-constant maintenance and improvements. Thirty-eight years later, in 1880, the final stone was inserted into the South Steeple. Six hundred and thirty-two years after the first foundation stone was laid, the Cologne Cathedral was completed according to its original high medieval plan. The cathedral has undergone three periods of construction, from 1248 to 1473, from 1842 to 1880, and from 1945 until the present. The initiation and duration of each phase and break have reflected the attitude of the city.


The limestone of the cathedral is constantly being replaced, as it slowly disintegrates.