Cologne Cathedral and 'The Jews'-The painted choir stall screens

The inside of the choir stall screens are decorated with precious paintings that illustrate the lives of saints who are closely connected to Cologne Cathedral.

 The legend of Pope St Sylvester, of whose skull there once were relics in the cathedral treasury, covers two choir stall screens on the north side and is intermingled with scenes from the life of the first Christian emperor, Constantine.

Cured of a serious case of leprosy by Pope Sylvester, Constantine converted to Christianity. His mother, Helena, on the other hand, continued to view Judaism as the one true religion. During a disputation, Sylvester succeeded in winning over the scribes summoned by Helena with his arguments. Only the Jewish scholar Zambri insisted on proof in the form of deeds and not words: in front of everyone present, he killed a bull by whispering the name of the devil in its ear. When Sylvester raised the animal to life in the name of Jesus Christ, Helena and the Jews agreed to be baptised by him. To identify the converts as Jews, the candidates for baptism squeezed together in the baptismal pool in this painting all wear conical Jewish hats.

The images on the choir stall screens are not just descriptions of legendary events, they also highlight contemporary debates about the dispute between Christianity and Judaism and the question of the forced baptism of Jews. However, most such disputations took place in books and not between real people. The results of these disputations were a foregone conclusion because they were thought up by Christian theologians at their desks. Nevertheless, most theologians agreed that Jews should not be baptised out of fear or coercion, but as a result of the theological reasoning of representatives of the institutional church and, therefore, on the basis of their own discovery. Those in favour of forced baptism were in the minority. However, all agreed with the notion that by being baptised, Jews could be saved from eternal damnation.
Klaus Hardering

KulturstiftungDombau Verein