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Zürich's Grossmünster church

Zürich, Switzerland - Grossmünster

ABOVE: Limmat River, Zürich, with Grossmünster's towers visible on the west bank..

Zürich 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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