I was nineteen years old the first time I visited a European cathedral.
It was a doozy!
It was the magnificent Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom) in Cologne, Germany.
My best friend, Sheila, and I were living in England at the time and working with an organization called Community Service Volunteers. Sheila's roommate was from Germany and invited both of us to come and stay in her family home for a few days. As it so happened, our visit corresponded with the famed Cologne Carnival, so our gracious hosts drove us into the city to witness the festivity.
As great as it was to see thousands of costumed people filling the streets, seeing the spectacle of the Cologne Cathedral was far greater. I fell in love with cathedrals the moment I crossed the threshold of Cologne's massive basilica.
I stared dumbstruck at the vaulted ceiling soaring above my head; I marveled at the intricacy of design found in every feature, and was moved by the fervor of some of the visitors lighting candles and uttering silent prayers.
Having grown up in a tiny town, I was used to humble "country church" buildings. In college, I had been "wowed" by a visit to an Episcopalian church simply because it had stained glass and a wood ceiling with beams. So you can imagine my awe upon entering the architectural wonder that ranks as
N0. 21 on the "Largest Cathedrals in the World" list!
I sat for awhile in a pew and took in the magnificence; thinking about the number of hands, the amount of time, and the sheer faith it took to build such an incredible building. While basking in my surroundings, I began whispering my own earnest prayers for friends and family. Suddenly, I became deeply aware of the nonexistence of time and place in the realm of prayer. I must have been absorbing the residue of centuries of requests and thanksgiving that had gone up from that same spot, because I definitely felt that I had a direct line to God. I felt like my prayers were being answered as fast as I could utter them.
And isn't that what cathedrals are for?
Aerial view of Kölner Dom
It is also worth noting that the distinct height, size, and shape of the cathedral was easily visible from the air during World War II. Cologne underwent over 250 Allied air raids that dropped over 30,000 long tons of bombs. The cathedral was hit fourteen times. Yet it remained standing throughout the duration of the war while most of the city was flattened (proving miracles do happen).
In addition to being introduced to Kölner Dom by our German friends, there was another aspect of our trip there that was quite special. Our host's father had served (as had my father) in the army during the WWII. He had been a German POW, held in Canada until the war's end. (And not treated too well from the sound of it).
Afterwards he became a Baptist minister back home in Germany. That week we attended his church service and as he preached the message in German, I found myself marveling again; marveling at the way in which God, if allowed, can give people the amazing ability to forgive the worst of enmity and atrocities and bring peace between nations. I am so glad that today we call the German people our friends.
A Scripture For Thought:
(1)First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men,
(2)for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.
(3)This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,
(4)who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
~ 1 Timothy 2:1-4
Cologne Cathedral: A Few Fast Facts
It is a Roman Catholic church.
It is the seat of both the Archbishop of Cologne and the administration of the Archdiocese of Cologne.
It's the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe and has the second tallest spires.
It took 632 years to build (with a start date of 1248).
It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.
It's bell, St. Petersglocke ("Bell of St. Peter"), weighs 24 tons and is the largest free-swinging bell in the world.
All images courtesy of Pixabay and Wiki Commons.