Saturday, March 29, 2008

Temple Tales 3 - The Cologne Cathedral

When I started the series on "Temple Tales", I did not mean for it to be an exclusive on South Indian style temples or Hindu architecture for that matter. I had realized the various cultures and rulers around the world shared a common vision to showcase their skill and their devotion by constructing magnificent monuments to the Supreme. When I visited Cologne (Koln) and its awe-inspiring Cathedral, I was drawn to the many similarities between the structure and the temples of India.

The facade of the Koln Dom, 17-35 @17mm, f/9, 1/250s

The Dom as the cathedral is called is right on the city square as one steps out of the Koln Hauptbahnhof (Railway station). It is an imposing structure that can be seen from a large radius within the city. Infact, for four years between 1880 and 1884 it was the world's tallest structure.

I was intrigued about the history and mythology behind this this awesome structure. It is said that in the year 1164 AD, the Archbishop of Cologne, had acquired remains of the Three Kings (The Three Wise Men) and had this cathedral constructed to house the relics and bring pilgrims from all over Christendom. Also housed in the cathedral is the Gero-Crucifix, believed to have been commissioned for Archbishop Gero around 960AD. It is the oldest large crucifix north of the Alps and earliest known large free standing sculpture of the medieval period.

The Gero Crucifix inside the Cathedral, 17-35 @25mm, f/4, 1/4s

Work on the Cathedral started in 1248AD and the cathedral was envisioned in the Gothic style with the design based on the Amiens Cathedral in France. Work went on an off and on schedule, with the eastern arm being completed in 1322. Work was halted in 1473 and the structure remained almost as it was for about 400 years. A nineteenth century revival of saw the last stage of construction start around 1842, and the completion of the cathedral, the tallest structure in the world(at least for the next four years) was celebrated in 1880.
The towers in Black and White, 17-35 @17mm, f/8, 1/250s

During the World War II, the cathedral suffered fourteen hits by aerial bombs. It did not collapse, but stood tall in an otherwise flattened city. Some would maintain it was divine intervention while the truth was a little different. In a world without GPS, the tall building was perfect for allied aircrafts as a landmark from which to calculate bearings to other bomb targets in Germany and southern Europe, and thus was left intact for use of pilots of future missions.

The repairs to the building from the war were completed in 1956. Some repair and maintenance work is almost constantly being carried out in some section of the building, which is almost never completely free of scaffolding, since wind, rain, and pollution slowly eat away at the stones.

The Dom and a nearby building, showing the scaffolding on the side of the church, 17-35 @17mm, f/8, 1/500s

On the exterior, the first thing you notice after the magnitude of the structure is the crowd milling in the city square right outside the cathedral. The crowd is predominantly made of tourists, but there are a lot of local population, picnickers with kids in tow, or a meeting with friends at the cafe at the square, the place is always busy. I guess that was the way our ancient temple courtyards functioned too... as the meeting place of the townsfolk to mingle and gather, or to see a performance...

Activity on the city square outside the Cathedral, 17-35 @25mm, f/8, 1/400s

"A German Kolam!!" I was struck by the pattern of stones on the courtyard and how they match with the stonework in our temple courtyards,
17-35 @22mm, f/8, 1/200s

Another feature of the cathedral that struck me was the numerous sculptures of men, gargoyles and scenes from the bible that lined the exterior walls of the church. That brought to my mind a parallel with the sculptures on our temples.

Sculptures above the grand entrance, 80-200 @80mm, f/8, 1/100s

17-35 @35mm, f/8, 1/125s

80-200 @80mm, f/8, 1/160s

A Gargoyle on the wall of the Cathedral, 80-200 @200mm, f/8, 1/100s

80-200 @80mm, f/8, 1/640s

The many spires over the Cathedral, 17-35 @17mm, f/8, 1/1600s

The Gothic Architecture featuring flying buttresses, 17-35 @17mm, f/4, 1/800s

An interesting modern day sculpture outside the cathedral, 17-35 @35mm, f/8, 1/250s

The interior of the cathedral is in fact as imposing as the exterior. As you enter the great doors, the noise and bustle outside gives way to a quiet and more serene atmosphere. As your eyes get accustomed to the dark surroundings inside, the one feature that catches everyones eyes is the amount of huge stained-glass paintings that decorate the walls of the really high vaulted architecture of the cathedral. Here I have a collection of photos of the stained-glass paintings.

The high vaulted ceiling and stained glass windows, 17-35 @17mm, f/4, 1/320s

17-35 @17mm, f/4, 1/125s

17-35 @17mm, f/4, 1/125s

17-35 @17mm, f/4, 1/30s

17-35 @17mm, f/4, 1/125s

17-35 @35mm, f/4, 1/160s

17-35 @24mm, f/4, 1/13s

While the Dom in Koln is the main cathedral that attracts tourists in Cologne, it is hardly the only major or interesting church in the city. Just like in Madurai we refer to "Mukkuku oru kovil" or a temple at each block, there are a number of churches that catch the eye as you go around the town. Here are a couple of pictures from another church that piqued my interest.

17-35 @17mm, f/11, 1/500s

17-35 @35mm, f/8, 1/100s

Do visit our travel blog for more details and pictures from our trip to Germany.

Previously in the Temple Tales series:
Sri Meenakshi Temple, Houston Texas
Erumbeeswarar Temple, Trichy


Rada said...

Lovely Photos. Excellent Post.

It was not just in ancient times, even today, our temples function as a hub for social interaction. Last year, I went on a temple trip-Chidambaram, Kumbakonam, Trichy-and was pleasantly surprised to find families using the outer courtyard of the temples for discussions, picnics and siesta!

Btw, have you been to the temple in Darasuram? It would be a photographer's dream, really!


Annie said...

There is an FM Radio Station called Dom Radio on the top of the cathedral and it is run by the Church. Hugely popular with the young crowd, it has a RJ of Indian origin called Elvis Katticaren. Small trivia!

Rajan said...

Thanks Rada and Annie for your comments:

Rada: I'm glad to hear of your experience! The Darasuram Temple is indeed on my list of temples to visit - hopefully sometime soon!

Annie: Interesting tit-bit. Wish I'd known of it when I visited!

S.Sivashanmugam said...

The BW photo of the cathedral is remarkably good!

Yet the stained glasses impress me, since i always love the duet of light and dark.