Today in 1880 Cologne Cathedral was finished. It was Germany's largest cathedral and for four years it was the tallest building in the world until the completion of the Washington Monument. It is Germany's most visited landmark, attracting an average of 20,000 people a day. Today’s completion was celebrated as a national, 632 years after construction had begun
At 157 m (515 ft), the cathedral is currently the tallest twin-spired church in the world, the second tallest church in Europe after Ulm Minster, and the third tallest church in the world. It is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe and the cathedral had the largest façade of any church in the world. The choir has the largest height to width ratio, 3.6:1, of any medieval church .
Cologne's medieval builders had planned a grand structure to house the reliquary of the Three Kings and fit its role as a place of worship for the Holy Roman Emperor. The length of the construction period is a powerful testimony to the strength and persistence of Christian belief in medieval and modern Europe. Near the high altar is the massive gold Shrine of the Three Kings, containing what are said to be relics of the Magi who attended the infant Jesus. The shrine, a masterpiece of medieval goldwork, was begun by the noted goldsmith Nicholas of Verdun in 1182, completed in about 1220, and originally installed in the predecessor cathedral. Devotion to the Magi was especially fervent in the Middle Ages, and they are some of the patron saints of travellers. Their supposed relics were transferred from Constantinople (modern Istanbul), possibly in the late 5th century, to Milan and thence to Cologne Cathedral in the 12th century
The Magi, were mentioned in The Gospel According to Matthew, and probably Zoroastrian astronomers from Iran but their legend became embellished in apocryphal books and Christian folklore. The Opus imperfectum in Matthaeum relates that Magi-Kings lived near the Mountain of Victories, which they climbed every year in the hope of finding the messiah in a cave on the mountaintop. Each year they entered the cave and prayed for three days, waiting for the promised star to appear. Adam had revealed this location and the secret promises to his son Seth. Seth transmitted the mysteries to his sons, who passed the information from generation to generation. Eventually the Magi, sons of kings, entered the cave to find a star of unspeakable brightness, glowing more than many suns together. The star and its bright light led to, or became, the Holy Child, the son of the Light, who redeems the world.
Cologne cathedral suffered fourteen hits by aerial bombs during World War II. Badly damaged, it nevertheless remained standing in an otherwise completely flattened city. The twin spires were an easily recognizable navigational landmark for Allied aircraft bombing. On 6 March 1945, an area west of the cathedral was the site of intense combat between American tanks of the 3rd Armored Division and a Panzer brigade. A destroyed Panther (German Tank) was later put on display at the base of the cathedral for the remainder of the war in Europe. Repairs of the war damage were completed in 1956. The immense stained-glass window by the Cologne-based artist Gerhard Richter, was completed in 2007 as a permanent replacement for 19th-century glass that was destroyed in World War II. Richter’s window consists of more than 11,000 square panes in 72 solid colours, arrayed seemingly at random within the many-mullioned window. Embedded in the interior wall are a pair of stone tablets on which are carved the provisions formulated by Archbishop Englebert II (1262–67) under which Jews were permitted to reside in Cologne. There is ongoing conservation at the cathedral to address the problem of the black discoloration caused by the sandstone reacting with sulfuric acid during rainfall. The acidic rain is a consequence of air pollution
In 2005, Pope Benedict XVI visited the cathedral during his apostolic visit to Germany, as part of World Youth Day 2005 festivities. An estimated one million pilgrims visited the cathedral during this time. Also as part of the events of World Youth Day, Cologne Cathedral hosted a televised gala performance of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Philharmonic Choir.