© Axel Schulten, KölnTourismus GmbH

Cologne Cathedral: Interior

An atmospheric feeling created by light and architecture

6:00 a.m. in Cologne. Hardly anyone, not even Cologne residents, knows that this is when the Cathedral opens its doors. You’ll then be one of the few visitors there to enjoy the stunning atmosphere of the interior. Such an opportunity won’t come up again until tomorrow, given that the Cathedral attracts about 20,000 visitors per day.

As you enter through the main portal, you walk into the 144-metre long nave and a space 43.35 metres high rises above you. Even the Statue of Liberty could almost stand upright here.

© KölnTourismus GmbH, Andreas Möltgen

A space made of light and colours

Light falls through the numerous windows, causing the walls to dissolve into glistening light, depending on the sun’s angle and intensity. Then you will find fulfilled the claim that “Gothic churches are built of light,” as cathedral architect Peter Füssenich puts it — like a “heavenly city.”

The play of colours must have been overwhelming for people in the Middle Ages — and even today, a more recent cathedral window triggers similar emotions: the Richter window. Some visitors even return to the Cathedral at different times of the day to experience the changing lighting conditions.

Altar and choir stalls

Cologne Cathedral’s interior atmosphere is complemented by historical furnishings of artistic significance. In the transept is a modern bronze altar that was created by Elmar Hillebrand between 1960 and 1971. Behind the altar are the choir stalls, which were carved from 1308 to 1311. The 104 seats make it one of the biggest surviving medieval choir stalls in Germany. The seats include one that was reserved for the Pope and another for the Emperor.

Choir screen paintings from the early 14th century

The choir screen paintings with their 21 narrative representations date from 1340 and certainly formed the largest and most ambitious mural painting cycle of that time. Above the paintings in the choir are older pier sculptures of Jesus, Mary and the twelve apostles.

Highlight: the Shrine of the Three Kings

In the centre of the chevet is the high altar, which is consecrated to St. Paul the Apostle. Behind the high altar is the cultural highlight: the Shrine of the Three Kings, which, like a basilica, embodies the Trinity.

This piece of medieval goldsmith’s art measures 1.10 metres in width, 1.53 metres in height and 2.20 metres in length. It weighs 300 kilograms. The shrine was created at the behest of Archbishop Phillip von Heinsberg to house the relics of the Magi. Along with the remains of the Three Wise Men, the shrine contains those of the venerated martyrs Felix, Nabor and (possibly) Gregory of Spoleto.