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Cologne Cathedral, as seen from Wallraf

Published May 20, 2022
Updated Oct 27, 2022

📍 🇩🇪 Cologne Cathedral, as seen from the Wallraf Museum

From afar, the Cathedral’s plan looks spectacular - two giant spires at the main entrance, one smaller lantern-tower rising above the transept crossing, where the choir is located. A familiar sight, perhaps?

Well, familiar, if you have frequented cathedrals in France.

Cologne’s architectural principles are heavily correlated with that of Normandy’s earlier Gothic churches from the late 12th/13th centuries, when the Middle Ages was beginning its end.

Just consider the Cathedral of Coutances or that of Caen for instance, both situated in the north of France and launched a few decades before Cologne: a massive front when entering the building there as well, and a gentler bell tower at the center of the cross. Traveling was difficult back then, dangerous even, but we know that architects and craftsmen were circulating to some degree. The similarities between Normandy and Cologne are no coincidences.

“Cologne’s Cathedral is obviously a French import in a Germanic environment, wrote (French 🙂 historian Henri Focillon - a forest of buttresses, of strained nerves, of high windows… it is only by inspecting details, particularly when looking at this Cathedral’s rather coarse sculptures, that one rediscovers Germany’s Romanesque [early medieval] spirit.”

The German Holy Roman Empire then dominated Europe (and a still nascent France) but the cultural influence of France began its rise through the export of the Gothic style.

____ Sources ____

>> Henri Focillon, "The Art of the West in the Middle Ages", 1938

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13-19th CE