Cologne Cathedral and 'The Jews'- The Jewish privilege

From the High Middle Ages onwards, the archbishops of Cologne claimed the protection of the Jews across the entire territory of the archdiocese as its prerogative and consequently issued a number of letters of protection and privileges in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

One of these charters is the Jewish privilege of Archbishop Engelberg of Falkenburg (1261–1274). This privilege, which dates from 1266, was displayed as an epigraph in the cathedral, meaning it was visible to the general public.

According to the text, it was addressed to all 'Jews in the Diocese of Cologne'. It grants the Jewish community the right to bury its dead in the Jewish cemetery, which was outside the walls of the city on what is now Bonner Straße. It also made pledges to the Jews regarding the payment of duties on commercial goods and a practical monopoly on money-lending. This is a clear indication of the strong financial situation of the city's Jewish community.

Contrary to what one might think today, the archbishop at the time was not acting out of the sheer goodness of his heart or Christian tolerance. Ultimately, the privilege was the result of political and economic considerations: the archbishop was keen to protect the Jews' financial clout for his own benefit both for the tax revenue it would bring and in order to be able to borrow money from them.

The imposing epigraph, which is over two metres in height, is made out of two slabs of French limestone. Cologne Cathedral's Jewish privilege is a rare example of a stone charter of the kind that otherwise generally takes the form of a sealed parchment document.
Joachim Oepen

KulturstiftungDombau Verein