Cologne: Judenprivileg of the Cologne Cathedral

Cologne Cathedral

The Cologne Cathedral is one of the biggest and most beautiful houses of prayer in the world. Within its walls, right next to the choir one can find the so-called Judenprivileg (“Jews privilege”), a stone plate in which the arch bishop of Cologne engraved the rights of the Jewish population. Even though many statesman and clergyman granted the Jews certain rights, it was in Cologne where these rights were made public in written form within the church building, showing the whole population the unalienable rights the Jews enjoyed. These included the right to freely bury their dead and to own the monopoly on lending money against the payment of interest. 

As taxes from the Jews were one of the most important sources of income for the clergy, the protection of most Jewish citizens was of vital interest for them. But of course the Judenprivileg was not only a means of insuring the safety of Cologne’s Jewish citizens, it was also used as a method to control and to discriminate them. 

Jews were not allowed to settle next to Christians, but had to live in predestined quarters which were shut off from the rest of the city. And even the protection of the clerical government did not always ensure the safety of the Jews. During the outbreak of the black death in the 14th century, many Christians blamed the Jews for the illness, resulting in pogroms throughout Europe, including Cologne.