Bern Munster: The Cathedral of Berne
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Bern Munster: The Cathedral of Berne

At the first look of the Bern Munster, it looks a bit like a great Gothic rocket, the tallest spire in the country. The cathedral also houses some important medieval art, including painted sculptures over the portal and fine stained glass windows. The unique Bern Münster or the Church of Berne dates from 1421.


At the first look of the Bern Munster, it looks a bit like a great Gothic rocket, the tallest spire in the country. The cathedral also houses some important medieval art, including painted sculptures over the portal and fine stained glass windows. The unique Bern Münster or the Church of Berne dates from 1421.

The first church on this site was a small chapel, built around the time Bern was founded in the 12th century. Its existence was first recorded in 1224. It was replaced by a bigger church with a tower and three naves. Berne conquered many lands and became a powerful city state. Berne started building the present church in around 1421. The master builder was called from Strasbourg to Berne – Matthaus Ensinger. The new church was built around the first church and it was only pulled down after they could hold the choir of the new structure.

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Matthaus Ensinger had already built three other cathedrals. The huge new church could accommodate large numbers of worshipers, yet only more than 5,000 people lived in Bern at the time.

Work continued on the structure for over a century using local sandstone. It was not fully completed until 1893, when the bell tower was added. Incidentally, Bern had become Protestant and the Berner Dom (huge church) was now the Berner Münster, a collegiate church.

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Last Judgment Main Portal

The magnificent features of the Last Judgment over the main portal which contains more than 200 carved wood and stone is the most exceptional boast of Bern Munster. This large collection of late Gothic sculpture is a very rare survival in Europe. The 170 smaller figures are 15th-century originals; the 47 larger freestanding statues are replicas (originals in the Bern Historical Museum). This intricate depiction of the Last Judgment was the only part not destroyed by the Swiss Reformers.

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Depiction of Justice occupies the center, flanked by angels and the Wise and Foolish Virgins. Above is Michael the Archangel, with a sword and scales. The saved are on the left and the lost are on the right. Such a significant survival of religious images is rare in Protestant Switzerland, but apparently the graphic depictions of salvation and damnation appealed enough to the Reformers to spare it from destruction.

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The immense interior of the Münster features lacy ceiling vaults dating around 1572-73, a long nave with diagonally-placed square pillars, and two side aisles flanked by small chapels. As part of its conversion for Protestant use, the side chapels now contain pews instead of altars. The pulpit dates back from 1470.

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Dance of Death

Other notable element is the large stained glass windows in the chancel which dated from 1441-50. The right-hand windows were damaged by a hailstorm in 1520 and were replaced in 1868. The most remarkable window in Bern Münster is the "Dance of Death," found in the Matter Chapel at the top of the right aisle. As a lesson on the inevitability and equality of death, grinning skeletons dance across the glass while harassing people from all walks of life.

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The choir stalls, carved with prophets and images from everyday life, dated from the 1520s. Roof bosses of saints, Mary, Christ and others survived the Reformation, possibly because they were too high to reach.

The Münster's bell tower is the highest in Switzerland and can be seen from almost anywhere in the city. The tower's viewing platform provides a panoramic view of the Bernese Alps, the old town, Bern's bridges, and the Aare River. A spiral climbs up 254 narrow stone steps to reach the top. The bell weighing ten tons more was cast in 1611 and is the largest in Switzerland.

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Outside at the cobbled Münsterplatz hosts the largest of Bern's annual Christmas markets as well as the Moses Fountain, built in 1545. A statue of Moses points to the Second Commandment - "You shall not make for yourself any graven image" and faces the Munster, where many images were destroyed during the Reformation.

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On the south side of the church is the Münsterplattform, a terrace above the River Aare built 1334-1434. During the Reformation, smashed religious images were dumped here. Later it received a graceful makeover as a promenade, with lime and chestnut trees and corner pavilions, making it an attractive place to relax and enjoy panoramic views over the river.

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A view of the alps at the tower – Photo by ricci

Bern's Cathedral took 150 years to complete, and was erected entirely by residence volunteers. The cathedral was built for the purpose of housing a bishop, but Protestantism reached Bern before its bishop did and the seat of bishop was aborted. But the term ‘cathedral’ is always use. The cathedral represents the last major work of late Gothic architecture in Europe.


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Comments (11)

Another gem as usual.excellent work.thanks Sir

Thanks a lot Sir Abdel.

Been learning so much architecture these days. Thanks to you, to Abdel, and Michael Johnson...

thanks, love the pictures

Thanks a lot Guims. Thanks Sue.

Thanks, Mr Guims, for your kind comment. Ron and Abdel-moniem are both inspirations to me.

Thanks Michael, its a great honor, and likewise both you and Sir Abel-moniem serve encouragements.

I think the supportive community of fellow writers is the best thing about Factoidz, certainly better than the negligible earnings.

Definitely, from the bottom of my heart, it is the best thing happening here in Factoidz.

These designs show how painstakingly the artists worked on them.

Thanks a lot Patrick.