Fraumünster, Zurich

Of all the church spires that pierce Zürich’s skyline, the slender, blue spire of Fraumünster (Minster of Our Lady) is the most graceful. And it is best known for housing magnificent stained glass windows by Marc Chagall.

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History of Fraumünster

A Benedictine convent was founded on this site in 853 by Emperor Ludwig (Louis the German), the grandson of Charlemagne. Even before that, there was already a convent on the site.

Ludwig's daughter Hildegard became the first abbess of the convent. In 874, Hildegard's sister Bertha added a simple basilica with a crypt beneath to hold the relics of Felix and Regula, the patron saints of Zürich who were martyred nearby.

The abbesses gained considerable rights in the 11th century and the convent was the home of many German noblewomen until the 13th century. The present church dates from about 1250, but the crypt of the old abbey church is preserved beneath.

The convent was closed at the Reformation (which was led from the Grossmünster across the river). On November 30, 1524, the last abbess (Katharina von Zimmern) converted to Protestantism and donated the church and abbey to the city of Zürich. As at the Grossmünster, all the icons, images and the organ were quickly destroyed.

In the following centuries, the Fraumünster was used as a place of worship by Veltliner and Huguenot refugees and later the Russian Orthodox Church. Between 1833 and 1844 it hosted by Catholic and Protestant services.

The Fraumünster was extensively renovated in the 20th century, including the addition of masterful stained glass windows by an 80-year-old Marc Chagall.

What to See at Fraumünster

The small Fraumünster is recognizable by its an elegant clocktower topped with a slender blue spire. It stands on the left bank overlooking the lovely Münsterhof square, which was once a pig market. A splendid view of the church can be had from the tower of the Grossmünster across the Münsterbrücke.

The church is entered through a small door beneath the spire. Inside, there are three aisles, a Romanesque choir (1250-70) and a Gothic nave. The choir is notable for its height (18m) and elegant simplicity. There is a modern series of frescoes by Paul Bodmer in the cloister to mark the founding of the Fraumünster.

In the north transept is a large stained-glass window by Giacometti (1940s). This beautiful work - depicting God and Christ, eight prophets, the Four Evangelists, and ten angels - might get more attention if it did not share a church with Chagall windows.

The main attraction of the Fraumünster is the set of five stained-glass windows designed by Marc Chagall in 1970. Best seen in bright morning light, the windows are 10 meters high and each has its own color theme. Chagall may have used the colors symbolically, with blue and green representing the earth and red and yellow representing the heavens.

Beginning on the north (or left) side, the red-orange "Prophets" window depicts Elisha watching Elijah's ascension in a fiery chariot. Above that is a blue area in which Jeremiah sits above, head in hands, lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem. At the top is a multicolored God in heaven, sending beams of enlightenment to his prophets. This window is lit artificially, as it's on an interior wall.

The left-most of the three east windows is the blue "Jacob" window, which shows the patriarch's wrestling match with an Angel of the Lord and his dream of the ladder full of reddish-colored angels.

On the far right is the yellow "Zion" window, which depicts the End of Days: an angel is blowing his trumpet as the New Jerusalem (with multicolored walls, domes and towers) comes down from the heavens. Below are King David and his mistress Bathsheba. What do they have to do with it? They are the parents of King Solomon, who built the Temple in Jerusalem.

In the center is the green "Christ" window, the largest of all. It begins with a Tree of Jesse (family tree of Jesus) at the bottom. In medieval art, the tree usually sprouts from Jesse's loins; here he stands next to it. At the top of the tree is the Virgin and Child. A jumble of events from Jesus' life in the middle lead to the magnificent scene at the top, which masterfully combines Crucifixion with Ascension. Christ's arms are outstretched as at the Crucifixion, but there is virtually no trace of the cross and he seems to float effortlessly upwards inside a great bubble.

Finally, the south wall contains the blue "Law" window, in which Moses holds the Ten Commandments and looks down disapprovingly at horsemen who are either heading to war or generally making trouble. At the bottom, a red-colored angel inspires Isaiah to predict the coming of the Messiah. Note that Isaiah seems to point across the room to King David, ancestor of Christ, in the Prophets window.

Quick Facts on Fraumünster

Site Information
Names:Church of Our Lady · Fraumünster
Country:Switzerland
Categories:churches
Styles:Romanesque; Gothic
Dedication: Virgin Mary
Dates:853; rebuilt 1250
Status: active
Visitor and Contact Information
Coordinates:47.369648° N, 8.541344° E
Address:Fraumünsterstrasse
Zurich, Switzerland
Phone:None
Website:www.fraumuensterchor.ch
Hours:May-Sep: Mon-Sat 9am-noon and 2-6pm, Sun 2-6pm
Oct, Mar-Apr: Mon-Sat 10am-noon and 2-5pm, Sun 2-5pm
Nov-Feb: Mon-Sat 10am-noon and 2-4pm, Sun 2-4pm
Lodging:View hotels near Fraumünster
Note: This information was accurate when first published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours and prices can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip.

References

  1. Personal visit (exterior only - closed for renovations, December 2006).
  2. Rick Steves' Switzerland 2007, 53-54.
  3. Frommer's Switzerland
  4. The Rough Guide to Switzerland

More Information

View of the Fraumünster (and St Peterskirche) from the tower of the Grossmünster. © Holly Hayes
Slender tower of the Fraumünster. © Holly Hayes
The Chagall windows. © Al Ianni
The Jacob window by Marc Chagall. © Rael B
Frescoes in the Fraum © Doug R

Map of Fraumünster, Zurich

Below is a location map and aerial view of Fraumünster. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.