The blog kinda fell apart over the summer, primarily because I was working stupid amounts of overtime – between the end of May and mid-July, I had a grand total of two days off – and I simply didn’t have the energy to do any writing.
Why was I working all these hours? Well, it was because, after the Wacken Open Air music festival was cancelled in both 2020 and 2021, it went ahead in 2022. I was travelling again, which meant I needed cash for a trip that was finally happening in a very different, more expensive, world. And my workplace was offering unlimited overtime.
I’m sure you can do the math.
So come August, off Ron and I jetted on a trip that looked very different than the one we originally had planned. It was shorter, and instead of visiting multiple countries like we normally do, we’d decided to stay in Germany. (Because when we were booking things, we were still in Fuck Knows When Border Requirements May Change Again territory.) Not that staying in Germany was a hardship, as we both love it, and this gave us a chance to go to some areas we’d not visited before.
One of these spots was Cologne. Now, the main reason I wanted to visit Cologne was its world-famous cathedral. I’m an atheist, but one of my favourite things to do when I travel is visit churches and cathedrals, because for a large chunk of history, organized religions held all the money, and it shows in the buildings they built. If you want to see amazing architecture, churches are the place to go, as they could afford the architects and artisans that few others could. And I do love me some architecture.
Cologne Cathedral certainly doesn’t disappoint on that front. It’s an absolute monster of a building that completely dominates the skyline. I’ve visited a lot of churches over the years, many of them huge, but none of them have had the ponderous weight that Cologne Cathedral does. If the Catholic Church was looking to make a statement with it – which of course they fucking were – that statement was very much We Are The Power And We Won’t Let You Forget It.
However, as imposing as the cathedral is from the exterior, once you get inside, it’s actually pretty average. And by ‘average’ I mean that, when you visit enough of them from the same era, they all start to look alike. From the perspective of basic style, they’re pretty similar – vaulted ceilings, an aisle bordered by pews, an altar, and stained glass windows. The details of these basic features may differ – carvings in the stone may be simple in some churches while incredibly elaborate in others, for example, or classical versus modern designs in the stained glass – but the overall structure is the same.
The interior of Cologne Cathedral falls into the I’ve Seen This Before category. That may be why I had enough attention to spare to notice a bothersome detail.
It was the donation boxes.
Not that other churches don’t have donation boxes. In fact, most of them have one right inside the door, asking for tourists to donate, kind of like a voluntary admission fee. There might even be one or two others further inside.
Cologne Cathedral? It has 22 of them.
At least, that’s how many I counted. There may have been some that I missed.
Each donation box was marked for a particular purpose. By far the most were labelled Kerzen-opfer – which Google Translate tells me means “candle sacrifice” and I can’t stop laughing – coming in at a total of seven. There are lots of places in Cologne Cathedral where you can light a candle, and there was at least one of these boxes by each one. (There were also two electronic stations in the main “candle sacrifice” areas, so you could pay by phone. It’s the first time I’ve seen this upgrade in a church, and I’m genuinely surprised it took this long. Even though they’re not traditional donation boxes, I’m adding them in to bring the candle donation options to a total of nine.)
The next highest count was four boxes “For the Adornment of the Cathedral.” These were clearly older than the rest, a different style attached directly to the church’s columns, as opposed to sitting on plinths. The other multiples were three labelled with a generic Spenden für den Kolner Dom (Donate to Cologne Cathedral), and two Für Schriften (For Writings). There was one box to fund Domführer (cathedral) guides. And then there were two that seemed important enough to warrant being labelled in both German and English: one for St. Andrew’s Bread, and my personal favourite, one “For the Training of the Priests.”
If you’ve been adding as we go, you’ll know that brings us to 21, while I said there were 22 in total. And this is where my problem with the whole thing comes into play. Because the 22nd box, tucked off to one side, in an area that seemed to get considerably less foot traffic than the rest of the building, was this one.
22 donation boxes scattered throughout the church, and only one of them is for the poor. Yes, there’s an argument to be made that the proceeds from the St. Andrew’s Bread donations also go to the poor. But considering its transactional nature – “Hey, St. Andrew, find my car keys and then I’ll give to the poor!” – I’m not buying it. I’ll stand by my assessment. There is only one poor box in Cologne Cathedral.
Now, I normally do pay the voluntary admission fee at the churches I visit. I figure that the entertainment value I’m getting is worth a coin. (Never more than a coin, mind.) But Cologne Cathedral rubbed me the wrong way. I worked my ass off for months to be able to afford to visit, and now they expect me to pay to train their priests and print their guides, while the poor get shunted off to a dim corner?
I have a better idea. Maybe they should sell this gold box and use the proceeds to help the poor.
Or this eight foot long behemoth.
Or maybe some of the really shiny stuff they have behind glass in the treasury, that you’re not allowed to take photos of.
There’s a Bible story where Jesus famously trashes a temple because it’s full of vendors and money changers who are turning his house of prayer into a ‘den of thieves.’ If he ever does make his much-vaunted return, I have a suggestion of where he should go first, to overturn some more tables – or at least knock over 21 donation boxes.
Because it’s clear that Cologne Cathedral didn’t get his message the first time around.
For the adornment of the cathedral? Yeesh. These things don’t need any more adornment. But some of them might do better to say “for maintenance and restoration work on the cathedral”, because that’s probably a worthier cause.
I had a similar reaction to a building we have here in DC: The Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. It doesn’t have the advantage of being an attractive building from the outside, and inside it’s stuffed with statuary and chapels and racks of candles, all with the donation boxes to separate the sheep from their money. (I didn’t count them, though!) I wrote about it more here: https://boldquestions.wordpress.com/2014/11/17/basilica-of-the-shrine-of-our-lady-of-conspicuous-consumption/
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Love your article! That Jesus mosaic is something else.
In a lot of churches, the donation boxes that are right inside the door have a sign saying the proceeds will go to maintenance and restoration. Those are the ones I’ll throw a coin into. And honestly, Cologne Cathedral could use a bit of maintenance. Several of the columns are being held together with strapping – which isn’t at all concerning, when you’re strolling through the building and round a corner to see one of the things that’s holding the roof up is crumbling to dust before your eyes.
Thanks for reading. See you at the beer volcano! 😉