“That's where i wanted to light a candle just now”

No more public services to be held because of Corona. There was not even such a ban in the Second World War. But many churches remain open for prayer, to stand by people right now.

The silence is new. Anyone entering Cologne Cathedral, Germany's most important church, these days hears a rustling through the floor grids under which the historic excavations lie.

Almost nothing else. Before the outbreak of the Corona epidemic, several thousand visitors flocked to the cathedral every day. A barely suppressed whispering, giggling, clicking and rustling filled the sacred space. Now only individuals, often elders, come in silence.

Simply going to church or even celebrating a service together has become unthinkable in Corona times. To slow the spread of the virus, federal and state governments want to ban public mass celebrations. This did not even exist during the Second World War. Many churches close but not completely. For prayer they remain open – so to speak as a slimmed-down pastoral assistance.

Hamburg's Michel off-limits to worshipers

Even Hamburg's Michel, the city's popular landmark, is off-limits to worshippers and tourists for the moment. In the large baroque church, the heating system hisses quietly, and now and then the wooden pews crackle. Antje Schneemann takes a seat for a few minutes. After an appointment nearby, she has come to the Protestant house of worship for a brief gathering in times of crisis, she says. "I find that really pleasant."

The Michel doorman provides a piece of normality. As for more than 300 years, he continues to trumpet his 10 o'clock chorale every day from the tower of the main church. This can now be seen and heard on the Instagram channel of Sankt Michaelis. In the neighboring Catholic church of St. Ansgar, the so-called little Michel, priest Philipp Gortz invites people to personal prayer via a sign at the entrance – and asks churchgoers to touch as little as possible.

Almost emptiness in St. Paul's Cathedral in Munster

St. Paul's Cathedral in Munster is also almost empty. An elderly nun places flowers in front of a Madonna and sinks into prayer.

A young man sits in a pew with his hands folded, gazing at the large cross above the altar. All in all, about a dozen visitors found their way to the cathedral that morning.

"Yesterday, on market day, there were a whole 17 in the afternoon," says the sexton on duty. She's more than a keeper in these days when the coronavirus is messing with people's mental lives. "Most are happy to be able to speak a few words, too," she says.

In the morning, Bishop Felix Genn celebrated a service here, which was broadcast live on the Internet. The sexton was there, the cathedral organist and the cathedral cantor – no one else. The cathedral will only be opened for praying people after the morning live broadcasts. "It takes some getting used to," bishop says afterward.

But he knows that he is not really alone. "I don't speak into the empty church space, I pray and sing in my thoughts with the faithful at home."

"It's a disaster"

Two women take photos of the statue of St. Corona, which has been standing in the sanctuary for several days, along with flowers. "We come from Stuttgart and we are in the city for a week," reports one of them.

Despite everything, they want to make the best of the visit – by "keeping their distance and washing their hands". And then another very pregnant woman comes in with her four-year-old daughter. "We are about to give birth," she says. "Just then I wanted to light a candle."

In Cologne Cathedral, only a few candles burn in front of a larger-than-life image of the Sorrowful Mother of God. Otherwise, the many visitors from all over the world light rows and rows of sacrificial candles. Two sisters from Cologne, both in their eighties, look at the abandoned pews.

"I always pray to God to take the virus out of the world, so that the world can go back to what it was," the younger woman says with tears in her eyes. She says she was disappointed when public church services were canceled. At least churches remained open for prayer. "Because now you need pastoral support. It is a catastrophe."

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