The unique Bern Münster dates from 1421. Looking a bit like a great Gothic rocket, this former cathedral boasts the tallest spire in the country. It also shelters some important medieval art, including painted sculptures over the portal and fine stained glass windows.
History of Bern Münster
The first church on this site was probably a small chapel, built around the time Bern was founded (1191). Its existence is first recorded in 1224.
On March 11, 1421, master builder Matthäus Ensinger began construction on a monumental new cathedral to take its place. Originally from Strasbourg, Ensinger had already built three other cathedrals. The huge new church could accommodate large numbers of worshipers, yet only 5,000 people lived in Bern at the time.
Work continued on the Münster, using local sandstone, for over a century. It was not fully completed until 1893, when the bell tower was added. In the meantime, Bern had become Protestant and the Berner Dom (cathedral) was now the Berner Münster (collegiate church).
What to See at Bern Münster
The most exceptional feature of Bern's Münster is the magnificent depiction of the Last Judgmentover the main portal, which contains more than 200 carved wood and stone figures. Such a large collection of late-Gothic sculpture is a 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).
Justice occupies the center, flanked by angels and the Wise and Foolish Virgins. Above is the Archangel Michael, with a sword and scales. The saved are on the left and the damned 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.
The immense interior of the Münster features lacy ceiling vaults (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 from 1470.
The large stained glass windows in the chancel date 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 harrassing people from all walks of life.
The choir stalls, carved with prophets and images from everyday life, date 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 100m (300-foot) 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. Getting there costs a small admission charge and a spiral climb up 254 narrow stone steps.
The Münster's 10.5-ton bell was cast in 1611 and is the largest in Switzerland. You may wish to plan your tower climb around its resounding ringing!
Outside, 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.
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.
Quick Facts on Bern Münster
|Names:||Bern Cathedral · Bern Münster · Cathedral of St Vincent|
|Categories:||cathedrals; minsters; World Heritage Sites|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||46.947325° N, 7.451397° E|
|Hours:||Easter-Oct: Tue-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 11:30am-5pm|
Nov-Easter: Tue-Fri 10am-noon and 2-4pm, Sat 10am-noon and 2-5pm, Sun 11:30am-2pm
|Lodging:||View hotels near Bern Münster|
- Personal visit (December 21, 2006).
- Matthew Teller, The Rough Guide to Switzerland, 241-42.
- Cathedral of St. Vincent - Frommer's Switzerland
- Münster Cathedral - Bern Info
Map of Bern Münster
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