The Richter window

In his initial rage about the Richter window, Cardinal Meisner wanted to destroy his bishop’s seat in Cologne cathedral so that he would no longer have to see it.

He had not made his peace with the work of art. But his sense of outrage over the colourful, abstract window by the renowned artist Gerhard Richter in Cologne cathedral soon blew over. There are more important things to get angry about, concluded the late cardinal Joachim Meisner. The window, which combines old architecture and modern art, was unveiled in a special ceremony ten years ago, on 25th August, 2007. Since then, the 106-square metre area on the south side of the cathedral has radiated its magical light into the cathedral. Pieces of antique glass the size of a beer mat in 72 different shades were fixed with silicon onto a large supporting panel. In order to mix most of the 11,263 glass tiles, Richter used a random generator. He designed one half in this way, which is in turn mirrored in the other half. The window mix allows the rays of the sun to flow into a colourful colour carpet and ensures a mystical atmosphere in the crossing where the altar occupies a central location in the cathedral. The first south transept window, which had shown three holy rulers and bishops, was destroyed along with its plans in the Second World War and replaced by colourless ornamental panes. The resulting light influx was considered too bright. The cathedral chapter decided to replace the 19-metre high and almost 10-metre wide window, which was anyway in need of renovation, so it announced a competition. The discussion focused on dedicating the window to martyrs of the 20th century, such as Edith Stein or Maximilian Kolbe. However, the two historical representations submitted did not convince the cathedral chapter. In 2005, they voted almost unanimously for the abstract Richter.

The window would fit "more in a mosque or another house of prayer" than in the Gothic cathedral, ranted Meisner after the inauguration. "If we get a new window, it should also clearly reflect our faith. And not just any faith." The cathedral chapter later regretted that the cardinal had not been involved in the consultations. Norbert Feldhoff, who was in charge of the planning and implementation during his early days as cathedral provost, admitted personal errors. He had assumed that the Archbishop had been informed of Richter’s participation in the competition and had no problem with it.

Meisner’s statement of displeasure triggered a wide debate. Richter himself, who did not accept a fee, pointed out that he had been asked to submit an entry by the former cathedral master builder Barbara Shock-Werner and art expert and bishop Friedhelm Hofmann - then Cologne’s Auxiliary Bishop and today spiritual leader of Würzburg. "I was startled at first - and then found the idea very, very fascinating", claims the lapsed Protestant. Even though he is unable to share the beliefs of the Catholic church, he sees himself as "very affected" by them and "sympathises" with them. With the abstract design, he wanted to show that the church lives on in a new era with all its difficulties. "If I were to try and paint saints it would seem to me like a kind of theatre."

Approval for the work came from the former Hamburg Archbishop Werner Thissen. "The countless coloured rectangles can be seen as the fragments of one’s own soul landscape," he writes in a book. "And the cathedral with its abundance of Christian symbols can bear it." The then cathedral provost Gerd Bachner saw it in a similar light. He said that of course such a window could also be installed in a railway station hall. "But when it is in the cathedral, then I can interpret it from the point of view of the cathedral", claimed the cleric. As such the colour spectrum might represent the joy of faith. Or the inexpressible, which is connected with the name of God. And the many colour nuances symbolise the fact that no individual can be excluded from God’s people. In his initial anger, Meisner wanted to have his bishop’s seat moved to the other side of the altar so that he would not have to see the window during the church services. However, Feldhoff pacified him: The so-called cathedra remained in its original place.


Source: (Status: 21/08/2017), "When cardinal Meisner had a fit of rage"
Author: Andreas Otto


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