What is it?
Hohe Domkirche St Petrus or the High Cathedral of St Peter is the largest gothic church in all of northern Europe. It features the second tallest spires and the largest facade of any church in the world. It is the centre of German Catholicism and is Germany's most visited landmark attracting over 20,000 people per day. Construction of the church spanned over 632 years.
The Ancient World
The land chosen to be the home of the new cathedral has played host to many buildings of the ancient world. The oldest ruins that have been found are those of a Roman Temple that dates to the time of Mercurius Augustus. Starting from the 4th century the site would play host to many Christian buildings, the oldest of which is the square edifice called the "oldest cathedral".
From the 6th century the remains of a free-standing baptistery have been located on the east wing of the modern cathedral. This was demolished to make way for the second church or the "old cathedral". This cathedral which reached completion in 818 was later burned down in 1248 to make way for the "New Cathedral".
Ground Breaking and Phase 1 Construction
Construction of the cathedral began out of necessity to store some of the most precious relics of Christendom. In 1164 Rainald of Dassel obtained the relic of the three kings. the relic was sent to cologne by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. These relics are the centrepiece to many ancient and modern pilgrimages and as such the church felt that they be provided with a home worthy of reverence.
In 1248, under archbishop Konrad von Hochstaden, construction of the cathedral began in the new gothic style drawing much inspiration from the French cathedral of Amiens. construction of the East wing reached completion in 1322 and was sealed off by a temporary wall so it could be used while work continued. Construction of the west front commenced in the mid 14th century but halted in 1473. The unfinished work left the southern tower complete only to the belfry level where an ancient crane sat for 400 years.
In the 19th century construction resumed after the discovery of the original plan for the facade. The enormous cost of over 1 billion US dollars by modern standards was raised by the newly founded Central-Dombauverein (Central Cathedral Building Society) and one-third of the funds were provided by the Prussian State as a way to improve relations with the large number of Christian subjects gained in recent years.
Work resumed in 1842 after the original design with the addition of more modern building techniques such as iron girders in the roof. The bells were added to the completed towers in 1870. On august 14 1880, completion of the cathedral was celebrated as a national event after 632 years of construction.
WWII to Present Day
During WWII the cathedral suffered seventy strikes from allied bombs however it never collapsed. It is rumored that the twin spires were used for navigational purposes and that is why it was never destroyed by allied troops.
Repairs to the cathedral were completed quickly by 1956 with the exception of an emergency repair to the base of the northwest tower carried out in 1944. This repair was done with poor quality bricks and rebuilt in 2005 to restore the original appearance of the cathedral.
Today the cathedral is never completely free from scaffolding. The constant erosion by wind, and water are always being combatted by some of Germany's best stonemasons. The Dombauverein is still responsible for half of the maintenance costs of the cathedral.
UNESCO World Heritage Site
In 1996 the cathedral was added to the UNESCO world heritage list of culturally important sites. In the 21st century legal battles have been fought over the skyline of the area around the cathedral. This battle palced the cathedral on the "World Heritage In Danger" list.
It was argued that construction of a proposed high rise building nearby would visually harm the skyline. It was removed from the Danger list in 2006 following a decision by the government to limit the height of all buildings surrounding the cathedral.
As a world heritage site and with its convenient place on tourist routes the church has become a major attraction for tourists and christians. Even in the modern world the cathedral is the destination for the pilgrimages of many Christians.
To this day the cathedral plays the music of eleven church bells. St. Petersglocke being the largest free swinging bell in the world.
St Peter's Bell - 24 tons (St. Petersglocke)
Pretiosa - 10.5 tons
Speciosa - 5.6 tons
Bell of the Three Kings - 3.8 tons (Dreikönigsglocke)
St Ursula's Bell – 2.55 tons (Ursulaglocke)
St Joseph's Bell – 2.2 tons (Josephglocke)
Chapter Bell – 1.4 tons (Kapitelsglocke)
Hail Bell – 0.83 tons (Aveglocke)
Angelus Bell – 0.763 tons (Angelusglocke)
Vespers Bell – 0.28 tons (Mettglocke)
Consecration Bell – 0.425 tons (Wandlungsglocke)