The Cologne Cathedral.
Establishing an 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 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 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.
architecture, sacred, spiritual, masterplan, materiality, history
Pilgrimage Site, Archdiocesan Cathedral
1880, ongoing maintenance
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 limestone of the cathedral is constantly being replaced, as it slowly disintegrates.
The striking silhouette of iconic gothic spires anchors the cologne skyline.
The legacy of the Archdiocese of Cologne predates the current cathedral by centuries.
As a functioning church, the cathedral is constantly being modified and updated to suit its program. In 1960, a modern bronze altar was designed and installed by German sculptor Elmar Hillebrand. In 1996, the cathedral was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 2007 saw the addition of new stained glass windows designed by artist Gerhard Richter with a collective area of nearly 1,076 square feet. These have sparked strong reactions in both parishioners and visitors. The inflammatory nature of all of these interventions has not prevented further modifications and additions to the church. Today, secondary programs such as the treasury museum and tower bell tours have supplemented the religious program.
The experiential qualities of the cathedral were explored in watercolor and ink.
The atmosphere surrounding and infiltrating the Cologne Cathedral is ripe with age. A patina of permanence and history coats every surface. Additions and renovations, even in their attempts to accurately match the materiality of the original, stand out for the lack of weathering. There is a timeless quality bestowed by centuries that cannot be duplicated through design. Sacred spaces often possess a sense of timelessness, reinforced through careful craftsmanship, intentional material selection, and thoughtful use of light, shadow, and acoustics. Time tests timelessness. The Cologne Cathedral has been tested for the past six centuries. Though many of the original surfaces and materials have been maintained, replaced, or renovated in the Cologne Cathedral, it has an identity that transcends its changing forms and temporal material nature.
Hierarchy of Reverence
The entire nave serves as a threshold to the altar and collection of relics that ring the apse. The stone columns frame the procession down the nave, and they alternately shield and reveal alcoves. Their relentless repetition serves a series of thresholds leading towards the altar and apse. As each threshold is crossed, the palpable aura of reverence increases.
The Cologne School
The legacy of the Cologne Cathedral and the Archdiocese of Cologne is still felt today in the Cologne School of architecture. Centuries of pilgrimage and the slow acquisition of financial wealth made the Church in Cologne powerful, the one stable authority in the shifting political climate of the Rhineland. During the late nineteenth and up through the present day, in particular, the Archdiocese would fund and encourage many cultural and religious projects throughout the area immediately surrounding Cologne. This practice provided many architects both local and international with employment and allowed for the establishment of architectural dynasties. One of these is the Böhm family, which has been working in Cologne and with the Archdiocese for five generations and is still practicing today. Gottfried Böhm, a third-generation architect and member of the family, would design a Pilgrimage Church in Neviges.
Matthias Deml, “A Brief History of Cologne Cathedral.” Kölner-Dom.de. Accessed November 12, 2019.
Douglas Pritchard, J. Sperner, S. Hoepner, and R. Tenschert, “Terrestrial Laser Scanning for Heritage Conservation: the Cologne Cathedral Documentation Project,” ISPRS Annals of the Photogrammetry, Remote Sensing and Spatial Information Sciences 2, no. W2 (2017).