Zürich's Grossmünster church
ABOVE: Limmat River, Zürich, with Grossmünster's towers
visible on the west bank..
is a modern city by most standards, but it does have its share of historic buildings. One
of the most important is the Grossmünster, a cathedral (once Catholic, now Protestant)
that dates back to the 11th Century. The church is open from 9 a.m. to 4 or 5 p.m. daily,
and there's no admission charge. (You'll pay a small fee if you ascend the tower that's
normally open in good weather.)
The Grossmünster is on the west bank of the Limmat
River, several blocks inland from the Bürkliplatz and the Zürichsee. It's almost
directly across the river from another historic church, the Fraumünster, which is just a
few steps away from the Bahnhofstrasse in the
main shopping and banking district.
Instead of describing the church at length, I'll quote
from a delightful book titled The Stories of Basel, Berne, and Zürich, by M.D.
Hottinger, which was published by J.M. Dent & Son of London in 1933. The book is no
longer in print, unfortunately, although you may be able to find it in a bookstore or--as
I did--in a university library.
As far back as human history goes, some kind of cult has
been practiced on the moraine hill on which the Grossmünster stands. Tradition [says] that
the first minster was the work of Charlemagne himself, who has always enjoyed great
popularity in Zürich, and to whom every good work has been attributed for which no
historical author existed. The light of history first breaks in upon the story when the
old wooden minster was burnt down in 1078, and a new one in stone at once begun. By 1107
building was so far advanced that Mass could be sung in the crypt. Then comes a lull.
There is no more talk of building on the minster until between 1170 and 1230, when the
church we know was substantially built. Then it received the impressive rectangular choir
with the three high windows such as we see again in more modest form in the Fraumünster,
while such decoration as the minster still shows was made. That decoration is
characteristically high Romanesque.
It was Lombard masons who built the minster, and their hand is visible in the
fine even courses of the masonry and in the capitals of the columns, some of which are of
great beauty, although others are quite rough work. Two of these capitals, in the flat
relief of the church, are especially interesting. On the third column on the north side of
the nave, we see [the Zürich martyrs] Felix and Regula with a mounted Emperor, presumably
Charlemagne; on the corresponding south side, a curious scene in which two warriors are
fighting; the hand of one is held by a man behind his back while he is stabbed by his
opponent. Two other men dance for joy at the treachery. No meaning has been discovered for
this strange scene. Presumably some story was current at the time, and the mason carved it
for his own pleasure.
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