St. Joseph’s is the Catholic Church down the street from my apartment in Cologne. The church dates back to the early 20th century. Like the rest of the city, it was destroyed during the Second World War and rebuilt during the 1950’s. Of the original church building, little more than the foundation survived. The steeple changed from a more slender, pointed structure (pictured above) to a less pronounced, pyramid shape. Even the original bells—there were six—are gone. They were removed and repurposed into military arms.
One thing that did remain was the rooster. Atop the church, visible from the gardens and balconies surround the church and well beyond the nearby train tracks, is a rooster. I see it every day as my train leaves the station and pushes into the city. There are roosters on a number of church steeples in the region. There’s another rooster when the train leaves the city and crosses the Rhine, and one more on top of the church beyond the canola field.
Today, Egypt finds itself two weeks into a three-month national state of emergency following Palm Sunday attacks on two of its Coptic churches. They are holding Easter services, but refraining from festivities in order to mourn the 45 worshippers killed in the bombings. On April 7th, President Trump ordered 59 tomahawk cruise missiles to strike a Syrian military airfield. Less than a week later the “Mother of All Bombs” was dropped on ISIS fighters in Eastern Afghanistan. The city of Chicago has seen over 130 homicides in 2017. Globally, the World Health Organization estimates about 125,000 abortions take place per day. These are just a few places where resurrection is far from reality, where the stone might yet seem secure.
Recalling Peter’s denial of Christ, Pope Gregory I called the rooster the “most suitable emblem of Christianity” in the late sixth century. Consequently, a few churches started using the cock as a weathervane on their steeples. Pope Nicholas allegedly mandated the practice in the ninth century. There are other surmised explanations for the rooster’s place on church steeples, but this account seems the most plausible to me.
Gregory I’s claim can be called into question. What makes the rooster the “most suitable emblem?” What about the lion, designating Jesus as the ultimate descendent of tribe of Judah? Or the lamb, whose once and final sacrifice took away sins of the world? Why the rooster?
This morning at St. Joseph’s, the bell rang at 11 AM, as it has every Sunday morning since the mid-1950’s, when the new bell was installed. The weathervane squeaked and swiveled with each gust of the wind. A few congregants filed into the pews for an Easter service. More than a few stayed home, sitting on their balconies or tending to their gardens. All of them, if they were looking carefully, could have seen the rooster, which sits atop the weathervane, crowing for churchgoers and gardeners alike.
On the night in which he denied Christ, it was the rooster’s crow that renewed Peter’s sense of contrition and pointed to the coming Easter. This is why the rooster makes sense: That wont as we are to turn church bells to warheads, to rejoice in or resign to our neighbor’s peril, we, like Peter, have the crow of the rooster to awaken us to our denial and reorient us toward resurrection.