#56 From Economic Power to Political Dominance – Cologne’s Brotherhood of the Rich in the 12th century

A look into how wealthy citizens of different classes also became rulers that could challenge the city lord. This episode tells the story of how the Cologne “Richerzeche” (brotherhood of the Rich) transformed from a group of merchants, unfree ministerials and court magistrates into powerful clique who shaped the politics of medieval Cologne.

This episode delves into how the Cologne’s “Brotherhood of the Rich” Richerzeche rose to political prominence in the 11th century, and how it became a major political force in medieval Europe.

City Seal of Cologne from the 12th Century

This first seal from the early 12th century shows St. Peter sitting on a bench in the center with the Key to Heaven in his right hand and the Book of Life in his left. St. Peter is considered the gatekeeper of heaven. Whoever wants to go to heaven after death must first pass Peter, who checks in the book whether one is worthy to enter here. A gatekeeper of heaven, so to speak. Who is not on the guest list in his book, he does not come in.

How does one come up with the idea of using St. Peter for a seal for Cologne? Well, Peter was considered the patron saint of Cologne Cathedral and the entire archdiocese. The archbishop in office at the time saw himself as Peter’s representative here on the spot. The wall ring is of course supposed to refer to Cologne’s magnificent city wall, which was also considered a prestige object in those days. Of course, the wall also stands for the heavenly Jerusalem, which is emulated. The seal is round and is surrounded by a saying text, which also refers to an archiepiscopal co-creation. 

There it does not say that this is the seal of the citizens of the city of Cologne but: “Sancta Colonia dei gratia Romane ecclesiae fidelis filia”. This is of course Latin and for many of you certainly not immediately understandable. Therefore gladly here the translation. The transcription says translated: “Holy Cologne, by God’s grace faithful daughter of the Roman Church!” 

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