Vox de Celis

Pilgrimage to the Cologne Relics of the Middle Ages

Music from Cologne and Europe: Hachenberch Codex (Schnütgen Museum, Cologne) Cologne Cathedral and Archdiocese Museum, Codices Firenze and Cortona (Italy), Cantigas de Santa Maria (Galicia), Codex Montpellier (France), Pie Cantiones (Scandinavia), etc.


The cult of relics as well as the pilgrimage has its roots in the early Christian burial culture. With it, one honored since the 2nd and 3rd centuries those Christians who were killed because of their beliefs. IMG_5089An altar could only be erected over the grave of a martyr. However, since there were soon more churches than martyrs, it was decided in the 10th century to cut the relics into pieces. And to the present day, every altar in a Catholic church has a relic in or under it. During the course of the centuries, this acquired almost sacramental importance. And because the relics attained such an extraordinary significance, they not only were extremely valuable, but also afforded numerous possibilities for fraud. IMG_5105kleinA prime example is Petrus Martyr from Verona, who is known in Cologne not only as the patron saint of the beer brewers, but also as the name giver of the small beer cask “Pittermännchen.” He was murdered on 6 April 1252 in Milan, buried there, and canonized only eleven months after his death. In the reports of his life, there is suddenly mention of a second body: one half of which is found in Prague, the other in Palermo. The arm missing in Milan can be admired in Toledo. A fourth hand is preserved in Escorial, and his twenty-first finger was located in Cesena, the twenty-second in Verona … and the thirty-first in Cologne!

With the arrival of the relics of the Magi over 850 years ago, Cologne became one of the most important pilgrimage centers and trading places for relics in the Middle Ages. The many streams of pilgrims ultimately led to the construction of the Cologne Cathedral and many other churches, an example being the Romanesque St. Ursula’s Church with its chamber of bones in which the “Holy Ossicles” of Saint Ursula and her companions are said to lie.

IMG_5139kleinAlongside songs from the Cologne Harchenberch Codex and manuscripts from the Cologne Cathedral and Archdiocese Museum, the focus of our program is on songs from the pilgrims’ countries of origin. These songs stem from famous manuscripts of the Middle Ages: Laudario di Cortona and Laudario di Firenze (both 2nd half of the 13th century), Codex Montpellier (late 13th century), and the Cantigas de Santa Maria (13th century). Less well-known here is the Codex “Piae Cantiones,” a Swedish-Finnish collection of church hymns that was printed in Greifswald in 1582. The hymns are however partly much older, as in our case: the original melody of “Personent hodie” was written already around 1360 at Moosburg Abbey in Germany.

Is it possible that these streams of medieval pilgrims from throughout Europe contributed to the fact that to the present day Cologne enjoys a reputation as a cosmopolitan city?

Ars Choralis Coeln (dir. Maria Jonas)
Maria Jonas – voice
Bassem Hawar – djoze (Iraqi fiddle)
Dominik Schneider – medieval flute and gittern

and our friend:
Riccardo Delfino – harp & hurdy-gurdy


Listen to the programmes audio teaser in the mediathek!

(Fotos von Jean-Brice Demoulin, 12.11.2014)