Many anti-Semitic artefacts in Cologne Cathedral


Central Europe


Judensau fountain at the Cathedral in Cologne. It shows a Jewish person underneath the sow. Photo Wikipedia

A German church is using its art to educate visitors on its anti-Semitic past.

For years, the Cologne Cathedral and the city’s Jewish community have discussed how to deal with church’s art, which has been later seen as anti-Semitic, according to a Die Tagespost report.

Some examples include a depiction of Jesus being flogged and beaten by two men donning a “plate-shaped funnel” hat. The hats indicate that Jesus was beaten by Jews, not the Romans. The church’s “children’s window,” reveals a depiction of Judas’ betrayal. Judas is shown giving Jesus an oversized bag of money, which is said to dwell on the “anti-Semitic stereotype of greed.”

Others have included Judas and other opponents of Jesus with physical characteristics that are often observed in many anti-Semitic texts. Another significant relic of contention has been the “Judensau” on the choir stalls. A Wikipedia entry on the Cologne Cathedral’s “Judensau” (Jew’s Pig), says that the scene shows “Jews in obscene contact with a large female pig.”

Pigs are considered unclean animals by the Jewish community. “Judensaus” can be found in other German churches –for instance in Martin Luther’s Wittenberg– which have shown Jews sucking on a pig’s teats or being positioned near its anus.


Instead of eradicating the anti-Semitic references, members from the Jewish community and the Cathedral staff have created a special booklet to guide visitors in understanding their historical contexts. The Cathedral also offers tours that are guided by those who have been “appropriately sensitised and trained.”

“One of the downsides is that Christians have always interpreted their relationship to Judaism, the origin of their faith, one-sidedly – unfortunately all too often characterised by exclusion, hatred and persecution,” Abraham Lehrer said. Lehrer is the vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany and a member of Cologne Synagogue Community (SGK).

Christian churches

He also says that there are two answers in dealing with the depictions.

“One side clearly advocates that anti-Semitic statements should no longer exist in Christian churches, or rather the cathedral, we are allowed to have. The other side is in favour of naming these objects and their location exactly, making them easy to find and leaving them in their positions to find out about the anti-Semitic content of the works,” he said.

Now that the church has embraced Lehrer’s second argument, it has worked hard in leaving a good impression within the Jewish community. Previously, it hosted an exhibition entitled “1700 Years of Jewish Life in Germany”. Now, it wants to organise an international art competition on Christian-Jewish relations.

Lehrer says that he is grateful that they have been able to work well with one another, although not everything has been perfect. At the day of the 775th anniversary after the foundation stone was laid, there was an intense debate within the working group.

“We discussed the controversy for so long until we had reached consensus,” he said.



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