The Beauty of Cologne Cathedral

AN “epic in stone” the cathedral at Cologne may well be called, for it is a heroic epic in greatness, grandeur, glory a wonderful stone epic, with a creation period of six hundred years ! It was in August, 1248, that Archbishop Conrad laid the first stone, and slowly the monument has been rising since that day — now halting, now progressing, now falling back, now just rescued from ruin. Ninety years of slow work, after that August day, and the wonderful choir, with its amazing stone tangle of pinnacles and buttresses, gives promise of the glory of the completed structure. A hundred and twenty years more, and the North tower begins to rise, yet soars no higher for a full century. The next hundred years saw a portion of the transept reared, and the north aisle partially roofed, but when the sixteenth century arrives the work stands still, and the myriads of travellers stop to admire the unfinished ruin, for such it had become –a relic of the Middle Ages, yet one day to be the glory of modern time. Yet the well known crane, seeming almost a part of the structure, continued to promise a renewal of labor and a completion which still lingered in its fulfilment. Gradually the old stones were gathering about them a history — the majestic pile, as the epic hero, passing through many adversities, crises, and yet destined to triumph. It had seen feudalism and chivalry, had hidden within its gloomy shadows brave knights and stern warriors ; then suffered in the sad misery and bloodshed following in the wake of the Reformation, and more in the terrible time of the Revolution, when canons and bishops were dispersed, and the rich treasury robbed, and when the sinking roof and separating stones seemed to threaten ruin to the work of ages, and to mock the early fair promise for the future. Light breaks ! — this gloom shall not overwhelm and carry away all the labor, hope, aspiration here embodied. This great structure shall be rescued, and the past purposes shall not be defeated. A thrill of pity touches the German heart at this grandeur in the throes of death. An enthusiasm to carry out the great architectural design is awakened, which spreads and grows, until the whole land rises to rescue it from the impending gloom. Contributions of all kinds came from all sides money, labor, material the city of Stuttgart sending a vessel of hewn stone. Forty years of active labor bring a completed but not a finished work. The original plan had been changed many times —indeed, the sketch of it was lost. A story is current that Boiseree, the ardent enthusiast for the completion of the cathedral, in his diligent search for this plan, discovered part of it in an inn in Darmstadt, where a housewife had nailed it down on a stretcher to serve some kitchen need. Yet, after all these ages of effort, of failure, of hope, despair, it remained for Wilhelm I., the first Emperor of united Germany, to enroll among his many renowned achievements for the glory of the Fatherland the completion of this great stone-epic. What a flood of thoughts sweeps over the soul as one stands before the massive stone .structure, and reflects upon that interval ! What is here what dreams, ambitions, toils ! what a heap of treasure ! Those patient years of waiting ! We must admire a work that could wait so long: years during which a mysterious sea has changed into a common highway for the nations, a new world has been born, a land peopled, and, as a young nation, having passed through the trial days of its foundation, has become a Republic of might, honored among the old civilizations of the world. Think of all the grand structures erected in our land in our short existence, and then of this one waiting its day of final completion ! What a history what gathered thoughts are here ! We must admire those who labored to this end, who sought to bring to perfection so great a wonder of architecture, —a work which they would neither see nor enjoy. They render a moral service to mankind who thus labor for future generations, to give to them a monument which must awaken in the beholder elevated sentiment and noble ideas. These are benefactors to whom grateful tribute is due. Walk about the great pile and enjoy its architectural beauty alone. There is that wondrous, ingenious irregularity, a luxurious extravagance of detail which would take days to examine and appreciate, but which affords an exciting pleasure upon first survey. The towers, chapels, pinnacles, the buttresses, flying and standing, the amazing arched doorways with myriad sculptured figures, the rosettes, the airy filagree, the slender graceful arches —all with a lightness and delicacy — is bewildering, and more so when we realize that it is stone and built solidly and in strength. The great towers, the soaring spires seek the heavens far aloft, and from the cloudy distance comes the melodious jangle of bells. Man seems so little by the side of his work. Such a work has the effect of a work of creation —a strange experience the work of man having the effect of a great work of creation. And as you mount the winding stair-case, and ever the world beneath grows more distant and more diminutive, until, from dizzy heights, the city, the winding Rhine, all seems seen through a diminishing glass, an awe fills the soul, an awe deepened by the hollow booming of bells, which to mortals far below is but an earth-wafted heavenly chime. This acquaintance with the cathedral adds to those rare experiences by which the capacity of the mind and soul is enlarged. Here is inspiration to thought this history speaking from every stone, this architectural glory yet all this is faint to the deeper emotions which possess the whole being when within its sacred penetralia. Does not your heart beat as you approach the entrance ? With suspended breath the portal is passed, and you stand in the nave ;up, up, raise your eyes, the great elongated arch soars straight as a lance, and gives a fine idea of its height. The great window below is sixty feet high. When we look upward here, there is a wonderful idea of height which is not felt even when you gaze at the sky, for we give no bounds to the sky, while this is great space within bounds. There is a grandeur and yet a plainness within ; there is not the rich gloom of the Munster at Strasburg, for there is a coldness, a greater severity, which usually distinguishes the cathedrals of the North from those of the South. Yet the colder effect of the glistening white stone accords with the slender fluted columns, relieved with exquisite canopied figures, and all is softened by the rich mellow light that streams through gorgeous stained windows. The chapels with relics and tombs, sculptured marble and sarcophagus, the effigies of knights prone with stiff folded hands, the strange carved kneeling figures, the mingling of grotesque early art and its exquisite later development, —. each has its peculiar effect upon the mind, and all combined working with rare power upon the whole being. More than eye can see is here. The invisible speaks even more than the visible. The very air is full of thought. What an atmosphere is here ! These cathedrals have a season of their own ; neither summer’s heat nor winter’s cold penetrates its unchanging calm. Immensity is all about — an immensity so profound, so religious, that it fills the soul to the exclusion of all usual or trivial things. Everything commands silence; no speech seems worthy in the place where eternity dwells. The least noise so repeats itself that after a few attempts to speak one is awed into silence. Yet there seems a strange appropriateness in the soft chanting of the priest ; and the low accents of woe, of trouble, of sorrow, that come from those kneeling here seem not to jar, but to accord ; and the trembling foot of the aged sounding on these stones, perchance watered by many tears, are but a part of the harmony. This is surely a sanctified place, the dwelling of the Eternal, to be sought by the sufferer, the sorrowing, the aged, where the weary and the heavy-laden may find rest. What serenity ! There is rest in this eternal calm, and the soul tossed by the world’s storms and winds can here regain its peace and serenity, where an everlasting serenity abides. Europe, with its complicated society, its wickedness and woe, may need and may afford such a refuge to many ; yet everywhere the soul is often heavy, and the Lord dwelleth in temples not made with hands, — yea, may be found by all who seek, and in Him is peace, never failing, that floweth as a river. One last look behind as we leave. How little man seems in the midst of all ! Yes, little — if we consider alone man’s material existence. What endurance man gives to his work ! and yet he passes quickly away. This temple of his hands is an image of eternity —one sees no end to the thoughts to which it has given birth, which live on in souls forever. Man fades, but his thoughts, born of the soul, are as it is — eternal. Now we pass from the great cathedral ; and, as we pass from its portals, we seem to pass from celestial thoughts to the interests of the world, from eternal religion to the light air of time. It is well for the soul to have such hours of contemplation in life, when the great entities seem real, and the light, flitting moments of time are seen in their true evanescent relation. The days in Germany draw to a close. I feel how I have learned to love the Fatherland. I may have judged it harshly at times, as prejudice, the prejudice of a foreigner, always does, but in the hour of separation I feel that its faults are the small things, its glory and beauty that upon which memory will love to linger. With gratitude and love I say Lebewohl to the dear Fatherland that has enriched life with happy experiences. Some how the tender yet sad words of the Jungfrau, as an Ahnung, find echo in my heart : — “Lebt wohl, ihr Berge, ihr geliebten Triften, Ihr traulich stillen Thäler, lebet wohl ! Johanna wird nun nicht mehr auf euch wandeln, Johanna sagt euch ewig Lebewohl ! Ihr Wiesen — ihr Bäume—grunet frohlich fort! Lebt wohl, ihr Grotten und ihr kuhlen Brunnen! Du Echo, holde stimme dieses Thais, Die oft mir Antwort gab auf meine Lieder, Johanna geht, und nimmer kehrt sie wieder I” Yet would I rather say as in parting with Berlin and Mrs. M. : — ” Wenn Menschen aus einander geh’n So sagen sie, auf Wiederseh’n—auf Wiederseh’n!”