Cologne Cathedral

Amidst the noble architectural works which are in progress throughout Europe, the completion of the Cathedral of Cologne must rank pre-eminent, either as regards the extent and cost of the labour, or its elaborate richness and beauty, or the masterly skill which its consummation must call into exercise. Hitherto, tourists have lingered in the splendid choir, with its surrounding chapels, and its superb painted glass windows; and the edifice has been yet more worthy of notice from the pilgrim of romance than the searcher after antiquity, for here, behind the grand altar, is the tomb of the three kings of Cologne, with the relies of which legend has raised a thousand tales. Behind the tomb three Gothic windows cast their "dim religious light" over the tessellated pavement and along the Ionic pillars. The bones of the Magi are still supposed to consecrate the tomb, and on the higher part of the monument the artist has delineated their adoration to the infant Saviour.

But, if these attractions rivet the traveller to this haunted region of the Rhine, how deep will be the enthusiasm and ecstasy of the antiquary and the architect when this vast cathedral shall be completed! Then will Cologne hold within its crescent-walls one of the noblest monuments of the architectural triumphs of Germany, and the most magnificent monument of Gothic architecture in Europe. Still, the merit of the design must be awarded to other times--that of its execution alone to our own. It was designed by Archbishop Engleberg, of Berg, and was begun, in 1284, by Archbishop Conrad, of Hochstedten, called the Solomon of his age. The only part which was finished is shown in the second engraving. Strange to say, the drawings of the incomplete work were lost for ages, and have only by a romantic chance been recovered in our own century This incident, and the history of the cathedral, have been so accurately and pleasantly related by a living architect (Mr. George Godwin, jun., F.R.S., &c.), that we shall quote his narrative:

"They dreamt not of a perishable home, Who thus could build."---------

The cathedral of Cologne, if completed as proposed by the powerful mind which designed it, would probably be one the most wonderful and beautiful monuments of the skill of man in the whole world; — its enormous size, the elegance of the details, its completeness a whole, would alike strike the beholder as unequalled and surprising. Cologne may be termed the Rome of this side the Alps, containing more objects of interest to the architectural antiquary than any city in this position. Foremost amongst them all, however, is the cathedral, even unfinished as it is. No one who his seen it will easily forget the effect produced by it, or cease to desire that it should be worthily completed, knowing, as nearly all do know, that, by a series of lucky accidents, some of the original drawings are preserved to us. The designs for the principal front, which it seems were formerly kept, one with the archives of the cathedral, and the other in the masons' lodge, were lost when the French occupied the city in 1794.In 1814 one of the drawings, namely, that which represents the north tower, was accidentally discovered in a corn-loft at Darmstadt, by a decorative painter, who was about to occupy the loft as a studio. Being drawn on parchment, it had been used for many years as the bottom of a sort of tray in which to dry beans, but, with the exception of the marks left by the nails which fastened it to the wooden rim, and a fracture in the lower part of it, was little injured. It fortunately came into the possession of Dr. Moller, the distinguished architect, of Dramstadt, who published a fac-simile of it in 1818. At the time of the discovery of this drawing M. Willemin was publishing his work, "Monuments Français inédits," and Dr. Moller was struck by the analogy which appeared between the style of a large window represented in the twelfth number of that work, and that of the details of the tower at Cologne. He mentioned the circumstance to M. Boisserée, who was then occupied on his large work, on the cathedral of Cologne; inquiries were made of M Willemin, and it was learnt that the window in question formed part of a very large drawing of a church on parchment then in the possession of M. Imbart, an architect, at Paris, who had obtained it from M. Fourcroy. M. Fourcroy, it seems, had found it in Belgium. M. Boisserée contrived to purchase the drawing, and it was at once recognised as representing a part of the façade of Cologne cathedral.* It was afterwards sold to the King of Prussia, and his Majesty presented it to the city of Cologne. United with the drawing discovered at Darmstadt, it represents the whole of the principal front. The size of the drawings, together, is about 6 ft. 6 in. wide, and 15 ft. long.


* It is supposed that the plan had been. carried from Cologne about the middle of the 15th century, to serve as a model for the numerous churches which were then built iii the Low Countries.


The longevity, it may almost be said the immortality, of an idea hardly needs illustration; if it did, the design of this cathedral might in part serve the purpose. Recorded centuries ago by the mind which conceived it, the intention is but now about to be fulfilled; and what its realisation at this moment may further lead to yet remains to be seen. Another and an analogous instance is now before us. Two hundred years ago Sir Christopher Wren proposed to rebuild London with the Exchange in the centre, and the main streets radiating from this building on all sides. Circumstances were opposed to it, and the intention has lain dormant. In our day, however, one of our countrymen, called in to advise on the rebuilding of Hamburg, has re-urged this idea, and, if I am rightly informed, so successfully, that the senate is about to adopt it in the new city. The emanations of the mind, like the mind itself, may be said to endure for ever--they continue to operate through the world, and to influence the future long after their origin has been lost sight of.

To return, however, to Cologne cathedral. Thanks to the power of steam, and the situation of the city on the Rhine, this structure has been viewed by most of us, and it would be impertinent to make remarks upon that with which you are as well or better acquainted than myself. A short time ago, however, M. Daly, the editor of the "Revue Générale de l'Architecture," of Paris, kindly forwarded to me some information on the late repairs and decoration of the building, and an account of the enthusiastic efforts which are being made, not merely in Germany, but in other countries, to ensure the completion of the building. It is the substance of this information, which seems to be sufficiently interesting to be worthy your attention, that I propose briefly to bring before you.

The first stone of the present building was laid on the 14th of August, 1248, and the choir was consecrated September 27th, 1322, or seventy-four years afterwards. It was more than a hundred years after this date before the south tower was taken up to its present altitude, hardly half its proposed height; the north tower is even now not more than twenty feet, perhaps, above the ground.

When the soldiers of the French republic had possession of the city at the end of the eighteenth century, the cathedral was used by them as a stable, and was considerably injured. Moreover, iron cramps, which had been extensively used in the construction, caused great ravages in the stone work, and there being no funds with which to repair the evil as it became apparent, the destruction of the building seemed more than probable. After the peace, endeavours were made to restore the damage, but it was not till 1821 when the King of Prussia interfered zealously, that the .matter was taken up in earnest.

In 1829 the complete restoration of the choir was commenced (including the rebuilding of the flying buttresses, galleries, arid windows), which most desirable work is now achieved, and as it would seem most satisfactorily. A very hard and durable stone has been employed in the restoration, and the architect has studiously avoided the use of iron in the masonry, so far as was practicable, either dovetailing the stones together where additional solidity was required, or, when this was deemed insufficient, employing clamps of bronze. The outlay since 1829 has been more than 40,000, partly furnished by the Prussian Government. The immense scaffolding which still fills the choir of the cathedral is about to be taken down, so as to expose the decorations that have been applied.

Beneath the whitewash with which the exterior of the choir was disfigured in the last century, they discovered the painted decorations that originally adorned it, and in which the colours were applied with a sobriety and wisdom rarely met with in the works of the middle ages. All the principal parts of the construction, such as the columns and ribs, have been re-covered with a yellowish plaster, to remove the cold tint of the stones . . . .


"The Completion of Cologne Cathedral." The Illustrated London News (27 May 1843): 371.

Last modified 19 October 2006