History Book

NICK EICHER, HOST: Next up on The World and Everything in It:  the WORLD Radio History Book. Today, the death of a well-known music leader and prolific hymn writer, plus 10 years ago, American swimmer Michael Phelps sets an Olympic record.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: But first, construction begins on a medieval German cathedral, the largest building of its time. It’ll take more than 20 generations to complete. Here’s Paul Butler.

PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: We begin today 770 years ago, on August 14th, 1248: the foundation stone is laid for the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter in Cologne, Germany.

The site had been home to a handful of Christian churches since the mid-6th century. But in the late 12th century, the Archbishop of Cologne acquired the supposed remains of the Three Magi and began planning a shrine and cathedral to house the religious relics.

Today, Peter Fussenich serves as the cathedral architect, overseeing all modern preservation projects.

FUSSENICH: Those early Cathedral builders did an incredible job. They were the first people to lay the foundations for a building that they would never see completed…

Audio courtesy of a German Public Television documentary on the Cologne Cathedral.

The first stage of construction took 74 years. In 1322, Church leaders consecrated the Eastern arm or the choir. Work continued off and on for the next 200 years but in 1520 the project came to a stand-still, and remained unfinished for nearly 300 years.

Leaders rediscovered the original plans in 1842, and the building project started again.


On August 14th, 1880, 632 years to the day after the foundation was laid, Germany’s largest cathedral was finally finished. When completed, it stood as the tallest structure in the world. It’s Germany’s most popular tourist attraction, averaging 20,000 visitors a day.

Next, August 13th, 1908. The Sweet Singer of Methodism, Ira Sankey, dies in his sleep.

SANKEY: THE NINETY AND NINE LYRIC — There were Ninety and Nine that safely lay…

Born to devout Methodist parents, Sankey’s earliest memories were of winter evenings spent singing as a family around the fireplace.

As a young man, Sankey was a sought after soloist and music director for conferences and evangelistic meetings. Singer David Willetts is a Sankey reenactor:

WILLETTS: You know folks, I am convinced that singing reaches the heart by the shortcut, whereas more speaking might just lose the road…

In 1871 Sankey began ministering with evangelist D.L. Moody, a partnership that continued for more than 25 years. They travelled the world together, Moody preaching, and Sankey singing, the gospel to millions.

SANKEY LYRIC: God be with you till we meet again…

That’s a rare recording of Ira Sankey from 1898 on an Edison Cylinder Record. Sankey was more than a soloist, he was instrumental in changing the church music of his day. He brought instruments back into church music and published popular hymns and gospel songs, many of which are still sung around the world today.

SANKEY LYRIC: …Till we meet again, till we meet at Jesus…

And finally, August 17th, 2008:

AUDIO: NBC Olympics

The 400-meter medley relay during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, one of the most anticipated swimming events of the summer games.

NBC OLYMPIC COVERAGE: And here comes Michael Phelps with a butterfly leg for the United States…

The Americans come from behind and win the gold, setting a new world record. The victory also means American swimmer Michael Phelps becomes the first athlete to win eight gold medals during one Olympic games.

NBC OLYMPIC COVERAGE: History made in Beijing for Michael Phelps. Move over Mark Spitz!

Mark Spitz set the previous record—seven golden medals—during the 1972 Munich games. Phelps won five individual gold medals, and three relays. He admitted that without his teammates, he could never have surpassed Spitz.

PHELPS PRESS CONFERENCE: It was unbelievable. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve never been a part of a team that was so close in my life…

Phelps retired from Olympic swimming in 2016. He ended his career as the most decorated athlete in Olympic history: winning 28 total medals, 23 of them gold.

That’s this week’s WORLD Radio History Book, I’m Paul Butler.

(Photo/NBC Olympics)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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