I am currently in the city of Essen Germany on business. I have been here probably a dozen times over the years but I have never made the less than one hour trip down to the Cathedral in Cologne. Oh, I’ve planned to many times but I was either too tired or my schedule didn’t permit it. Last year I took the train from Dortmund to Frankfurt and I saw, across the river, the spires of the Cathedral along the way and I resolved right then that the next time I visited Essen I would make the trip to Cologne.
I arranged my flight so that I would arrive on Monday morning, get some sleep and head to Cologne in advance of my meeting beginning Tuesday. Then, just a few weeks later during Easter, Denis McNamara (CMR contributor, Assistant Director and Faculty Member at The Liturgical Institute at Mundelein Seminary, and my brother-in-law) mentioned that he would be in Cologne in a few weeks. Me too. Turns out DMac is accompanying Fr. Robert Barron on a whirlwind tour of Europe filming segments for Fr. Barron’s upcoming documentary on Catholicism.
As it worked out, we were all in Cologne on the same day. I got off the train this evening and beheld a behemoth. The Cologne Cathedral is more massive than I can convey. I have never seen anything like it. This Gothic structure was for four years back in the 1880’s the tallest in the world. It is a mountain of a building jutting up from the landscape in a way similar to those mountains in the southwest U.S. that seem to pierce the flat ground to make their way skyward only to fall just short.
Time was short so I went into the Cathedral to see it and take some pictures before it closed. Then I made my way along the street heading in the direction of DMac’s hotel when I ran in to him and Fr. Barron. We decided to grab a bite to eat at, don’t judge me, McDonald’s. After some Big Macs, we started a quick little walking tour of the city that surrounds the Cathedral.
We visited the Dominican priory where St. Thomas Aquinas lived when he came to Cologne, along with Albertus Magnus in 1248. This was the same year when the original Cathedral burned. The current Cathedral being built over the centuries since.
We also visited the Church of the Franciscans where Duns Scotus is entombed. As we made our way back toward the Cathedral the sky was darkening. We noticed a brightness on the facade of the Cathedral that we initially took to be artificial lighting kicking in. But it continued to brighten and burn. Since the Church faces east the entrance faces west. The setting sun lit up the facade with burning fire. We simply sat down and watched it in awe until it had completely faded. It was something I will not soon forget.
That is what I did last evening. What did you do?