Cologne Cathedral and 'The Jews'-Portal of St Michael

The archivolts of the Portal of St Michael on the northern side of the cathedral feature the patron saints of a number of different professions.

The figures were sculpted in the workshop of cathedral sculptor Peter Fuchs in 1880/81. The figure of Werner of Oberwesel as a patron saint of wine-growers used to stand in the third archivolt from the left. The sculpture was severely damaged during the Second World War, but the plaster model in the store of the cathedral Works Department survived.

Werner is seen sitting on a throne. At his feet is a basket overflowing with grapes, which are a symbol both of wine-makers and the Passion. In his hand, he holds the palm frond of martyrdom. This is an obvious reference to the alleged ritual murder of Werner, which is also referenced in the choir stalls and was used in the late thirteenth century as a legitimation for bloody pogroms against the Jewish population in the Mosel, Middle Rhine and Lower Rhine regions.

The fact that an image of Werner was still on the cathedral at the end of the nineteenth century, is evidence of a high degree of ignorance and a lack of sensitivity towards Jewish citizens, many of whom made generous financial contributions to the completion of the construction of the cathedral. The accusations of ritual murder cropped up repeatedly in the nineteenth century—an illustration of how long anti-Jewish propaganda remained potent.

It was only in 1963 that Werner's name was deleted from the register of saints in the Diocese of Trier. The only reminder of this erstwhile cult is the ruin of the Werner Chapel in Bacharach. A commemorative plaque at the site includes a prayer by Pope John XXIII:

'We see today that many centuries of blindness shrouded our eyes, so that we no longer saw the goodliness of Your chosen people and no longer recognised our firstborn brother's traits. We now discover that we carry a mark of Cain on our forehead. Down through the centuries, our brother Abel has lain in blood that we spilled, and wept tears that we brought forth, because we forgot Your love. Forgive us the curse that we unrightfully affixed to the Jews' name. Forgive us for nailing You in their flesh to the Cross for a second time. For we knew not what we did.'

In 2023, the Metropolitan Chapter of Cologne Cathedral decided not to replace the sculpture of Werner with a reconstruction because this would ultimately have meant a renewal and a continuation of the ritual murder legend associated with Werner. The gap resulting from this decision does cause a certain degree of consternation, but one which invites the beholder to ask questions, enter into discussion, and reflect on the subject.
Peter Füssenich

Plaster model of Werner of Oberwesel

Peter Fuchs's figure shows Werner of Oberwesel as a young man. The palm frond in his hand is a reference to the alleged ritual murder of the boy.

KulturstiftungDombau Verein