After departing from the Netherlands, our Viking riverboat moved up the Rhine into Germany. The great city of Cologne was our next stop.
The Romans established a military post and colony at this place in 50 AD, and that gave Cologne its name. The city eventually became one of the most important trade and production centers in the Roman Empire north of the Alps. The imperial soldiers stationed in Cologne were part of a Roman cordon along the Rhine. Barbarian tribes had ambushed and destroyed a Roman army in the Teutoburg Forest, a hundred miles northeast of this place, in AD 9, and after that the Rhine River marked the limits of Roman control in north Europe.
Cologne is the fourth most populous city in Germany, with 3.5 million people in the urban area and 1.1 million in the city proper.
The Cologne Cathedral is the third tallest church and tallest cathedral in the world. In 1164 the Archbishop of Cologne acquired the relics of the Three Kings that the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa, had taken from Italy. In order to properly house these important and sacred religious relics, a building program was begun. The catherdral’s foundation stone was laid on August 15, 1248. Work continued in phases over the next 300 years, but construction stopped in the 1560 during the religious wars. Work was resumed in 1842, and completion of Germany’s largest cathedral was celebrated as a national event on 14 August 1880, 632 years after construction had begun.
The cathedral suffered a number of hits by aerial bombs during World War II, but it emerged largely intact. It remained standing in an otherwise completely flattened city.
As I view photographs of the World War II destruction, I reflect on the stupidity and barbarity of man. Europe is such a beautiful continent, and it is filled with amazing, beautiful, energetic people. How could they have allowed a man like Adolph Hitler to lead them to destruction?
Members of our tour group had an opportunity to individually tour the cathedral. It is a truly impressive structure, though I did not think it as beautiful as some other Gothic churches I have seen. That is partly due to the darkness of the stone that composes the outer structure. Inside the church, placed above and behind the cathedral’s high altar, we could see the large gilded and decorated triple sarcophagus that is traditionally believed to contain the bones of the Biblical Magi, also known as the Three Kings or the Three Wise Men. The “relics of the Magi” were originally situated at Constantinople, but they were brought to Milan in 314 when Emperor Constantine had entrusted these relics to that city’s bishop. Eight centuries later, Emperor Frederick Barbarossa took the relics of the Magi from Milan and gave them to the Archbishop of Cologne. Since that time the relics have attracted a constant stream of pilgrims.
Shrine of the Magi, Cologne Cathedral
As an unreconstructed Protestant I tend to view religious relics with considerable skepticism (except for the Shroud of Turin). Nevertheless, I appreciate the faithfulness of those pilgrims to whom this is a sacred place. We are all believers in Jesus Christ, our Savior. May God bless us all.
Cologne is much more than the cathedral. It is a vibrant city filled with interesting people and many attractions. We saw much of the city center, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there