Friday, June 29, 2012

Basel Munster (or Cathedral)

Basel Munster, or Basel Cathedral, located in Basel, Switzerland, was built between 1019 and 1500. It is also known as the Heinrich Munster (Henry in English) as Emperor Henry II is its patron. Unfortunately the facade was having restoration work so we did not see it in its full splendor.

The building, as it looks today, was completed about 1225. 

Then a massive earthquake in 1356 did significant damage. The architect who did the towers in Ulm and Strasbourg (both towers we have climbed), Ulrich von Ensingen, extended the north (or left) tower known as Georgsturm, finishing it in about 1429. The tower is named after St. George of the Golden Legend. St. George killed a dragon, that had defeated whole armies, in a lake near Silena, Libya, with a single blow of his lance. St. George is portrayed in an equestrian statue below the tower. He is shown lancing  a very small and un-intimidating dragon. 

The statue originated in 1372 (but I believe must be a later replica).The southern (right) tower, known as Martinsturm, was completed in 1500 and was the architectural completion of the building. Martinsturm is named after St. Martin, the same saint for which St. Martin's Cathedral in Bratislava is named after. St. Martin, in the Roman army in Gaul, cut his own military cloak in half to share it with a beggar. Saint Martin's statue is below that tower, showing Martin in the act of cutting his cloak with a dagger. 

That statue originated in 1340.  A beautiful clock on the facade above St. Martin and below Martinsturm.

An outside statue.

Henry II was born in 973 and died in 1024. His wife, Kunigunde, was born in 975 and died in 1040. They were married in 998 and took vows of virginity. Henry became king of Germany in 1002, king of Italy in 1004, and Holy Roman emperor in 1014, and maintained those tittles until the end of his life. Henry was canonized as a saint by Pope Eugenius III in 1146, the only king of Germany to be given that honor. Kunigunde was canonized as a saint by Pope Innocent III in 1200. Henry is the patron saint of the city of Basel and the benefactor of Basel Cathedral. There are a number of representations of them on the outside and inside of the cathedral. Between the two towers are statues of Henry and Kunigunde, Henry with a model of the church in his arms and Kunigunde holding a cross. 

Inside the cathedral is stained glass with both Henry and Kunigunde holding a model of the church. 

Below is a bust of Kunigunde. 

There are some wonderful memorials. I particularly love knights. The tomb of Rudolf III who died in 1318

 represents him dressed in chain mail, a sword by his side, and feet up against a lion. 

The tomb of Heinrich V who died in 1403 is dressed in armor, 

a sword by his side, also with feet up against a lion. 

A beautiful series of scenes that look like they are carved out of stone.

 Basil was the site of an ecumenical council, selected by Pope Martin V, trying to enact church reform. Basel was selected because it was outside the territories of the Papacy, the Holy Roman Empire and the kings of Aragon and France. The council began in 1431 and was presided over by the cardinal, Julian Cesarini. It adopted an anti-papal attitude and prescribed an oath to be taken by every pope on his election. It was transferred to Ferrara in 1438 by the decree of Pope Eugene IV and then to Florence in 1439 and became known as the Counsel of Florence. When the council was moved from Basel, some of the participants remained, still claiming to be the council, and elected Amadeus VIII, Duke of Savoy, as Antipope. They were eventually driven out of Basel in 1448 to Lausanne.

On February 9, 1529, during the iconoclasm of the Protestant Reformation, the church was attacked. About 40 men destroyed crucifixes, images of the Virgin Mary and saints, and altars. Up until that time the church was the church of the bishop and the cathedral of the Diocese of Basel. After the attack, the church became the main building for the Protestants in the city of Basel and it has remained that way to present. From 1648, under the Treaty of Westphalia, until 1848, what is now Switzerland was composed of cantons, each of which was a sovereign state with its own border, currency and army. Basel City was a canton. In 1848, the federal state of Switzerland was established, with each canton becoming a member state.  Each canton already had its own Reformed Protestant church. In 1920, these churches joined together to establish the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches which serves as a legal umbrella, but organizationally, the churches remain separate units. Together, they are commonly referred to as the Swiss Reformed Church.

Now that the cathedral is Protestant, it is much more simple than a Catholic cathedral. From the back, looking toward the front.

Looking toward the back and the organ.

Beautiful arches.

The altar. We entered on a Sunday, just as a service was ending.
There are beautiful stained glass windows. Jesus and John the Baptist?
Jesus, in his red robes, returns for his second coming, heralded by trumpets.
Moses and Jesus?

I particularly love the ones showing medieval dress.

Behind the altar, in what I believe may be the crypt, were some beautiful frescoes on the ceiling that look very old.

After the Council of Basel, Basel became important in the intellectual life of late medieval Europe. The first university in Switzerland was founded in Basel in 1459. Scholars from all over Europe came to live and work there. One was the Dutch humanist, Desiderius Erasmus, who died in 1536 in Basel and was buried in the cathedral. Another was the mathematician, Jacob Bernoulli.

We took the stairs up into the right tower, Martinsturm. The most fun church stairs I've climbed. We wound up and around, through doors, and around the outside of the building, in places so tight that you could hardly pass.

The views from the top were spectacular. A beautiful grassy courtyard.

The Rhine River just a short distance below. 

A beautiful roof of colored clay tiles 

in mosaic. 
A wonderful framed view of Georgsturm.

And my favorite embellishment, the gargoyles. The gargoyles are carved of stone and have a trough cut in the back to channel rainwater through the open mouth away from the side of the building to keep it from eroding the mortar.

The elongated shape gives greater distance to the water. 

They were representations of evil and scared some people into coming to church.

They also believed that their presence on the outside of the church encouraged evil spirits to move on because this church was already occupied.


  1. Great post. I wish I'd know all that info about Henry and Kunigunde (great name, by the way) when I was there! I also love the gargoyles. They remind me of certain family members.

  2. I love the gargoyles, too. They were always enjoyable silly.

    That was a fun climb to the top, wasn't it? I really like those climbs, with the expectation of a rewarding view of the city and I was never disappointed.