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Church Or Cathedral?

Nov 22, 2007
Attracting droves of tourists every year, Europe promises the ancient, the diverse, and the completely fascinating. Most travelers scurry past the major sites and cram in as much as possible in order to get through a list of 'must sees.' Unfortunately, much is overlooked due to lack of time and money while the infinite unique treasures sometimes hidden for the resourceful traveler remain undiscovered and unappreciated. Not that visits to the key attractions should be dissuaded!

On the contrary, I'm simply inviting the European travelers to dig a little deeper into their destination country and find the gems that will make them smile as they recall them even decades later. Remember and celebrate the taste of a fresh German pretzel, the sweet smell of the air in a Tuscan vineyard, or the baby soft petals in a colorful field of Dutch tulips. Savor an entire spectrum of sensory bliss as you skip from one country to the next, searching for that tiny unique detail that you will fondly relish for the rest of your life.


Did you know that there's a difference between a 'church' and a 'cathedral?' When you travel throughout Europe, you'll run into them in all sizes - from the rural, humble ones that are content to be nestled next to a mountain to the majestic 'I dare you to not feel in awed when you step inside' ones. How do you tell which boast the title of 'cathedral?' I'll give you a hint...it's not in the architecture...

I didn't learn the answer to this question until I visited Cologne, Germany last year. Cologne (or Köln) is home to Germany's second tallest cathedral (515 feet). Archbishop Konrad von Hochstaden began construction in 1248 and it took on 14 aerial bombs during WWII yet stood its ground. My Grandpa Krape remembers seeing it after the bombing.

He says, "when I went through [the cathedral] during the war, there was mounds of rubble inside on the floor. Several priests were walking around the rubble on paths through it, saying their prayers. One could see daylight through the roof in spots. The 3 doorways lined with statues had been defaced and some beheaded. Someone obviously stood outside with a machine gun - the bullet knick marks rose as he turned due to the gun climbing as it's fired."

Wandering through the Cologne Cathedral leaves you taken aback by its sheer magnitude. Stand at the very end of the center aisle and watch the sanctuary almost grow in front of you, higher and higher. The walls are almost covered in stunning stained glass windows which let a rainbow of light in and make the stone pillars glow. Study each glass panel, which is a work of art in and of itself.

I recommend the tour...normally I don't take these but this one was very good...and you learn the answer to nagging questions such as 'what's the difference between a church and a cathedral?' Have you guessed it yet (I gave a tiny hint in the second paragraph). It's actually very simple...much more than I would have guessed. A 'church' is a building where religious services are held. A 'cathedral' is that AND enjoys the presence of a bishop or archbishop. So even if a building is monstrously gothic-sized, if there's no bishop it's only a 'church.'

The Cologne Cathedral will also let visitors climb up into her spires. The staircase will give your legs a hearty work-out and when you get to the top, look straight up through the pinnacle as the sun casts interlacing shadows all around you. Leave the spire for a walk around the top while enjoying the almost limitless view of the surrounding area. Make sure you rest before heading down - my legs felt like Jell-O by the time I got back down to the bottom!
About the Author
Vicki Landes is the author and photographer of Europe for the Senses, a Photographic Journal. She has been soaking up Europe for the last six years and has visited 42 countries. Learn more at Europe for the Senses
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