Ad Limina Apostolorum (Blog) | St. Augustine's Library
Sunday, August 21, 2005

Cologne, Day 6 

This is a bit scary, I've spent enough time on German computers that my fingers have started to instinctively go to the 'z' key when I want to type a 'y' (which is, as I said earlier, how German keyboards are set up).

Saturday was day six in Cologne, and the last full day before we depart on Sunday. After a full day on Friday, I slept in until nearly 9:00 on Saturday. We have nothing on the agenda today, so it's more for sightseeing, etc. I spent the late morning reading in a cafe by myself.

I met Fr. EJB and Msgr. Fay at noon, to grab sandwiches together outside the cathedral. Afterwards, Fr. EJB and I headed to the cathedral, which was now opened for tours of the south tower. For 5 Euro apiece we took the climb. Steps only, no elevator, and, although I don't know the height of the tower, it's got to be twice the height of the Washington Monument, if not more. The staircase is, of course, in the round and winding, and just wide enough for two fairly thin persons to squeeze by, one going up and the other down. Cramped and hot near the bottom, although as we go upwards windows start appearing, which cool things down. Midway up are the bells of the south tower, which are incredible, about twice the height of an average person. The central one, which I believe is St. Peter's (all the bells are named for saints, or virtues), is supposedly the largest bell in the world. It is really amazing that someone can fashion a bell that large, which still makes a perfect pitch. Further upwards was the view from the top of the tower, where all of Cologne was spread out around us. A stunning view of the Rhein. We ran into the American Catholic musician Vince Nims near the top; he looked a few steps short of a heart attack. I wasn't in the best shape myself.

Once we made it back down Fr. EJB tried to find out whether an English-speaking mass was being offered on Sunday. I should note that, at this point, all of the pilgrims are gone, and the cathedral and plaza are nearly empty. They've all gone to Marienfeld, which is right outside the city, for the papal vigil for the mass on Sunday. We had originally planned on going, but after facing the crowds already at the papal opening, and since we have already seen the Holy Father a heck of a lot closer than we would see him at Marienfeld, we abandoned ship, and decided to enjoy the empty city. Fr. EJB talked to one cathedral staff after another, finding none that spoke English. He finally found one, who spoke enough English to get the mistaken impression that Fr. EJB was a bishop, so he took him into the sanctuary and let him see the papal chair (where the Holy Father sits/sat during mass). I, of course, do not look like a bishop.

While I was waiting for him I sat and took in some of the stained glass windows. They're not at all like ours, which tend to focus on one, isolated scene from Scripture or devotion. These windows are epics. Around one central artistic motif, entire narratives are woven, in smaller sections of the window. In one relatively small window one can 'read' the entire life of a saint, from birth, education, vocation, miracles, and death. Figurines embodying the virtues are present, with angels and demons to bring in the supernatural dimension. A whole life's story in glass. Rather, the Bible in glass. It is phenomenal to realize that this is precisely how generations upon generations of Christians were catechized, by coming here from hundreds of miles away to meditate upon a window.

Fr. EJB got all lined up for tomorrow's 10:00am English-speaking mass, and then we headed back to San Andreas (he wanted to see St. Albert). The Dominicans are still there, but it still amazes me how they maintain the atmosphere of piety despite all the tourists. During mass and office they actually close the church entrance, so literally no tourists can enter until mass is over. I picked up a Dominican pamphlet describing the order, which, on a page which lists the 'saints' of the order, lists Aquinas, Albert, Catherine of Siena, Eckhart and Savonarola. Go figure that one out and get back to me.

We hiked from San Andreas down the road to the Cologne City Museum. On the way we notice that the proselytizers were now out in force. The plaza, now nearly empty of tourists, is now filled with propagandists. Fundamentalists, anti-globalization protestors, anti-war (in Iraq) peaceniks, Falun Gong agitators, and some weird guitar-strumming love cult calling itself the 'Community of the Twelve Tribes.' You can't walk through the plaza without coming out the other end with your hands filled with literature. Much of it blatantly anti-Catholic. I imagine they were there in previous days as well, but are easier to spot without the pilgrims here. Ah well.

We reached the museum, which offered an entire history of the city of Cologne, stretching back to its foundations by Agrippa as a Roman colony in the age of the Caesars, to the fall of the Third Reich, all in artifacts and paintings. It is awesome to have a city this old, in which the history of European civilization can be traced. What stands out most of all is the resilient Catholicism of the city of Cologne, which served as a bastion of traditional religion amidst the ebb and flow of political and religious changes. The University of Cologne, which once stood in the middle of the city, helped to solidify this conservatism, with the help of a few militaristic Archbishops, who tended to have not only religious but military-political governance of the city for most of its existence.

The cathedral, too, is a history textbook in itself. It took six hundred years to build. I cannot imagine beginning construction on a project which I knew my great-great-great-great grandchildren would never see finished. All without the help of modern technology. Apparently the original plans to the building were lost a few decades after the project started, so the rest had to be made up as it went along. When the plans were discovered again centuries later, the final product was found to be vastly different from its original concept.

The traditional piety of the people of Cologne also stands out. Around the thirteenth century a wealthy businessman was arrested and thrown in jail, and all the possessions he was carrying confiscated; these possessions were later found intact, allowing a reconstruction of what a man would have carried around in that day. Besides a belt and seal, there were about six delicate, tiny bags, which would have contained relics. Apparently the average citizen of Cologne carried several with him whenever he left the house. Some of the furniture, too, is as catechetical as the stained glass windows of the Cathedral. A bureau and oven on display both contain ornate paintings which narrate the life of Christ or some saint (usually Ursula, who was really big here), so even in your kitchen or living room catechesis would be ready at hand, not to mention a call to devotion and piety.

One painting depics a street procession through Cologne after the city was bombed during one of the world wars (the second, I think). Nearly every building in the vicinity, including most churches, were bombed to the ground, but the Cathedral stood relatively undamaged (thanks to a rare display of restraint on the part of the allies). The Archbishop immediately called for all the relics from the rubble of the city's churches be gathered, and carried in procession, along with the tomb of the Magi, through the city to the Cathedral. This was how the city responded to tragedy: a rugged, communal sense of profound religious piety.

This is how most of the day played out. Sorry I have little to report as far as pilgrim activities, it's just that there are almost no pilgrims left in the city. I've been keeping up with the Holy Father's activities on the television back in the hotel. Unfortunately BBC (the only English channel we get here) has been doing the most wretched coverage I've ever seen. They brought one religious commentator in to explain the significance of the Holy Father's visit, and he spent five minutes discussing why the Catholic Church's position on gay sex was self-contradictory, since it blamed God for creating homosexuals. He was eventually, thankfully, cut off by the anchor, who asked him what that had to do with the papal visit. The good coverage is on the German stations, who are all giving the WYD nearly round-the-clock coverage. No blathering, either, almost all just straight-up live coverage of the Pope's activities. Unfortunately my German is terrible, but at least I can see what's going on.

Unfortunately or no, this will be my last blog report from Cologne. On Sunday we'll spend the morning making final arrangements, and will depart early afternoon, so I won't get to a computer. Thanks to everyone for reading, thanks especially to Amy Welborn for networking to so much positive blog coverage, and including my own humble attempts. God bless you all, and please keep the young pilgrims in prayer.

# posted by Jamie : 8:53 AM


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Ad Limina Apostolorum: An ecclesiastical term meaning a pilgrimage to the sepulchres of St. Peter and St. Paul at Rome, i.e., to the Basilica of the Prince of the Apostles and to the Basilica of St. Paul "outside the walls".

"Augustine of Hippo Refuting Heretic"
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