We hurry through doors, because we want to get inside. But cathedral doors are not ordinary doors; they try to slow you down and get you ready for what’s inside.
The apostles stand at the western door of the Cologne Cathedral. Peter and Paul are nearest the door itself. Above them is the scene of their martyrdom under Nero. They’ve given their lives to the truth that’s told here, that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was sent from above, and by his death and resurrection he calls us to follow him to glory. They’re teachers of faith who invite us to believe. You might call this door a version of the Apostles’ Creed.
Earthly rulers, like Charlemagne, stand at the door too, witnesses of another authority. The faith is to be lived on earth as well as heaven.
The images of prophets, teachers, martyrs and saints on the outside and within the cathedral echo the same promise. The Cologne Cathedral was an important church that welcomed pilgrims from other parts of northern Europe and so, besides the Three Kings, images of the popular saints honored at other shrines along the pilgrim routes of Europe, like St. James of Compestelo, are found there. It encouraged a common vision of life that made the various peoples one.
In days when people couldn’t read, they read the cathedral’s stained glass, paintings and sculpture. With them can we see the building’s reach into the heavens pointing to a world above, a world where the promises of God will be fulfilled?
I took a picture of a stained glass window of the Last Supper in the Strasbourg Cathedral. Jesus hands a morsel to Judas, who then goes out into the night. How beautifully the artist captures the sadness of the Lord.