August 14th in German History: The Cologne Cathedral is Completed

Cologne Cathedral (Cologne, 1880) | Structurae
The Cologne Cathedral.

Yesterday, I discussed the start of construction on the Berlin Wall. On that day a symbol of oppression began to rise in Berlin, and when it fell the people of Germany rejoiced. Today is the anniversary of the completion of the construction of an entirely different symbol, the Cologne Cathedral. The Cathedral was completed on August 14th, 1880, after six hundred and thirty-two years of construction.

A series of churches and secular buildings occupied the site of the Cologne Cathedral from the 4th century until construction began in the 13th century. In 1164, the relics of the three wise men were acquired and plans were drawn up for an appropriate building to house them in. However, construction only began when the foundation was laid down in 1248. The east wing was completed and consecrated in 1322, but construction stopped in 1473. It was difficult to secure funding for massive construction projects at the time, and further, the construction itself was difficult in the absence of machine tools. The Cologne Cathedral is not unique in its drawn-out state of partial completion. In 1842, the Kingdom of Prussia looked to completion of the Cathedral as a way to improve relations with its Catholic subjects. Original plans were used but more modern construction techniques, mainly the use of cast-iron girders, were substituted for older ones. The cathedral was completed on August 14th, 1880, and celebrations were held when it opened. It was the tallest building for four years, and is still the third tallest church in the world. The cathedral was hit by fourteen bombs during WWII but it remained standing. It was repaired by 1956, although further restorations have been conducted since then.

The Cologne Cathedral has been a spiritual symbol for centuries. While Christianity has faded in Germany along with the rest of Europe, the building still stands as a beacon of German unity and progress. Today, it stands against intolerance as ethno-nationalists march outside its walls. It has been damaged and rebuilt, a testament to its importance to the German people. While the Berlin Wall may have been built faster, the Cologne Cathedral will stand for centuries after the wall was consigned to the ash heap of history.

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