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Cologne Cathedral and the Jewish song, "The Inspiration of Hope"

Updated on June 20, 2012
Cathedral in Cologne, Germany.
Cathedral in Cologne, Germany. | Source

Once upon a time and long ago, I lived in Germany for a time and one of the most impressive of Catholic cathedrals in Germany is in the city of Cologne northwest of Frankfurt. It is one of Germany's most visited landmarks and is the seat of the Archbishop of Cologne. It is a UNESCO and World Heritage Sight.

The Cathedral in Cologne, Germany has quite an unusual history. Construction on the cathedral began in 1248, and construction continued until 1473. It remained uncompleted from 1473 until the late 19th century when construction was restarted and completed in 1880 to the original. That's a long time without a roof. What is most recognizable about this cathedral are the two large spires that raise up to the heavens through the Cologne sky. It was built in the Gothic style of architecture that was so popular in the medieval times when construction began and the architectural plans were based on the cathedral in Amiens, France.

The reason the cathedral was begun in Cologne was because in 1164, Rainald of Dassel, Archbishop of Cologne at the time, acquired the bones of the Three Wise Men that had been taken from a basilica in Milan, Italy by the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa when Milan was sacked and conquered by others. Sacred bones had great religious significance to church goers at the time and would draw religious pilgrims from all over Europe and the rest of the Christian world. So a magnificent home and resting place had to be built for these bones of the Three Wise Men. So the Cathedral in Cologne, Germany was begun but abandoned in 1473.

By the middle of the 19th century, there was again a rebirth of neo-Gothic architecture and interest for all things from the Middle Ages. Also, around this time the original plans for the construction of the cathedral from 1248 had been lost and now found, so a committee was appointed in Cologne to complete the cathedral. Funds were raised in 1842 and work resumed on the cathedral following the original design of the now found medieval plans and drawings. Only Germany's best stonemasons were permitted to work on the cathedral. The nave was completed and the towers were added. The bells were installed in the 1870's. On August 14, 1880, the cathedral was opened to the general public and Germany's largest cathedral was celebrated as a national event. The Cathedral at Cologne was so important that the ceremonies were attended by Emperor Wilhelm I.

Nave of the Cologne, Germany cathedral.
Nave of the Cologne, Germany cathedral. | Source

"Inscription of Hope"

As I said earlier, the Cologne Cathedral has an unusual history. Part of that history is that a pair of Jewish tablets were embedded in an interior wall of the cathedral. The tablets are important because on them were carved the instructions worked out by Archbishop Englebert II (1262-67) under which the Jewish were permitted to reside in Cologne. They are still there in the cathedral and of course, the Jewish are permitted to live there today. They are also important to what happened approximately 700 years later.

During WWII, as you know, the allies were in a huge battle with Adolf Hitler over the persecution and "Final Solution" of the Jewish population of Europe. Because the cathedral was so recognizable, it suffered seventy-five hits by aerial bombs during the war. It had been so well constructed that it never collapsed and became an aerial landmark by the allied aircraft raiding deeper into Germany during the last years of war.

The basement also became the hiding place for Jewish families hiding out from Hitler. At the end of the war, fragments of a poem, believed to have been written by a Jewish child. were scrawled on the wall. Those words from the poem were taken and put to music, the melody coming from an old Russian folk tune, and was turned into the choral arrangement, "Inscription of Hope." The music and choral arrangement were done by composer Z. Randall Stroope. Below are the lyrics of the first stanza of the song, taken from the words inscribed on the wall of the Cologne Cathedral:

Inscription of Hope

I believe in the sun

even when it is not shining

and I believe in love

even when there's no one there

and I believe in God

even when he is silent

I believe through any trial

there is always a way.

And it has been the honor of the Voices of Naples, the community choir I sing with here in Naples, to sing this song in our performances and concerts. We were especially honored when asked to sing this lovely song this past January when the Naples Holocaust Museum presented a Holocaust Remembrance Day for the community.

Inside a cathedral spire.
Inside a cathedral spire. | Source

NJ elementary school Honor Choir (2007)


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    • profile image

      Suzi Byrd 

      23 months ago

      Thank you so much for your post. I was wondering what the actual German words were and who translated them into English. Any knowledge about this?

    • Sparrowlet profile image

      Katharine L Sparrow 

      2 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      The inscription of hope is truly lovely! I lived in Germany for a time too, and will never forget the day I first saw the Cologne Cathedral! Such a massive beauty! I walked around and around it for a few hours, just mesmerized! Thank-you for bringing that memory back for me and for teaching me much that I didn't know about this gorgeous cathedral.

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      5 years ago from Taos, NM

      Hi Thelma: Yes, I have been to it a few times myself and never tire of seeing this beautiful cathedral, one of the most beautiful in Europe. It is magnificent and my soul just soars when there. I found this story connected with the cathedral to be so poignant and sad, but at the same time uplifting and positive. It is amazing how the Jewish population suffered so much and many times died, but believed and trusted in God. Thanks so much for stopping by to read this hub as it is one of my favorites.

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      5 years ago from Taos, NM

      cam: I am so pleased you enjoyed reading this. Yes, there are so many interesting stories out there in Europe. I have visited the Cologne Cathedral and it is one of the most beautiful of cathedrals in Europe. When I sang with Voices of Naples, we sang the song, "The Inspiration of Hope," and this is when I learned of the story behind the song. I think that story is sad but lovely at the same time. Thanks so much for the visit and I am glad you enjoyed the children singing this song. I found that so special.

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 

      5 years ago from Germany and Philippines

      I have been to this lovely Gothic church many times and it´s always great to see that architecture. Thanks for sharing this very useful and informative hub. Well done!

    • cam8510 profile image

      Chris Mills 

      5 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      I really enjoy European History and Church History. You've written a very interesting article. Thanks for the well researched information. The Children's choir is a wonderful addition. Voted up.

    • suzettenaples profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzette Walker 

      8 years ago from Taos, NM

      Isn't this an amazing story? Our choir director told us about this and I was just touched by this story. Out of all that evilness, comes something like this. Thanks so much for stopping by to read and I'm glad you enjoyed this.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      8 years ago from England

      Hi suzette, this was really interesting, such a beautiful building and history, and how strange to have the Jewish stones there from back in history, and then finding those words that have now been turned into a hymn, human beings are strange cruel people, but sometimes we see a light shine out with those words of the repressed, wonderful hub, and voted up! cheers nell


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