Aarhus Cathedral

Aarhus Cathedral

Aarhus Cathedral ( _da. Århus Domkirke) is the main religious edifice of Aarhus, Denmark, in the Jutland peninsula in the western part of the country. The cathedral is dedicated to the patron saint of sailors, St. Clemens.


It is unknown exactly when people settled near the mouth the Århus River on the coast of Jutland. Certainly by the 900'sthere was a Viking town there. Recent research has dated the building of the first city wall to 934. Aarhus was a town of some importance as there are six runestones in or near the city. Århus' name, even the 1400s,was variously called Aros, Arus, Aarhus, or Aars. The city's charter of 1449 names it "Aarss". After the Reformation, Århus became current.

Aarhus' first church, Holy Trinity Church, a timber structure, was built during the reign of Frode King of Jutland about 900 on a pagan burial site in what was then the center of town.Damm, Annette. "Viking Aros" (2005) ISBN 87-87334-63-1] The first bishop was Reginbrand as missionary bishop of Aros in 948 under the Archbishop of Hamburg. Aros came under the Archbishop of Viborg in 1060. According to Adam of Bremen, Aros was made an dependent diocese before 998. St Nikolai church was the first cathedral of Aros. The second cathedral was a timber structure built in 1102 by bishop Ulfketil near the present site to house relics of St Clement. St Clement was an early Bishop of Rome who was martyred by having an anchor tied to his neck and thrown into the Black Sea according to a fictional biography of the saint. Clement was the patron saint of sailors and especially popular in Scandinavia. The first St Clement's burned at some point before the 1190s. This timber church was the center of the local veneration of St Niels of Aarhus (also called St Nickolas).

St Niels was a younger son of King Canute VI. As a young man Prince Niels lost interest in life at court and withdrew to the village of Skibby near Aarhus and built a church with his own hands. He lived a saintly life and helped the people in the area around Aarhus. One day as he and a few men from the town were felling trees to build the church at Viby near the sea, one of the men complained that he was thirsty. St Niels prayed for water and a spring appeared to slake the men's thirst, St Niels Spring has run ever since. It has been a place of pilgrimage for hundreds of years and many miraculous healings are said to have taken place there, especially on St John's Day. On his death bed in 1180 St Niels asked to buried in "the little church by the sea" (St Clements). He was buried in the churchyard at St Clements.

The construction of Århus Cathedral began in the 1190s by Bishop Peder Vognsen of the powerful Hvide family from Zealand. Bishop Vognsen built the cathedral because local people worshiped St Niels, and Vognsen wanted to harness that devotion for his cathedral. Vognsen also established the cathedral school before the cathedral was completed. The church was finished in 1300 in typical Romanesque style with half-rounded arches supporting a flat timber ceiling. The second St Clements was built of large red bricks which was a new building material that became popular all over Scandinavia and northern Germany for ecclesiastical and public buildings. Four chapels were built in to the north transept. The episcopal chair was moved from Our Lady Church to St Clements.

However, in 1330 the cathedral and much of the town burned down, and the church was abandoned until 1449. By then the Gothic style of architecture had reached Denmark, and the cathedral was enlarged in stages until it reached its present size in year 1500. The nave was lengthened to 93 meters, the longest in Denmark. The transept was widened, and the typical Gothic vaulting raised the ceilings and permitted high windows which fill the building with light.

The Reformation changed life in an around the cathedral in many significant ways. In 1524 Hans Tausen, the Danish Luther, taught a Good Friday sermon at Antvarskov Abbey proclaiming the doctrines of Luther. His superior ordered him imprisoned in the Hospitallers monastery in Viborg, Jutland. Tausen taught from his cell and ordinary people responded with enthusiasm. His superior tried to silence Tausen, but a near riot forced his release. In the beginning he was allowed to preach in the open air but his supporters broke open a Franciscan church, and soon Tausen had more followers than it could accommodate. Within a year he was the king's own chaplain. Luther's ideas quickly spread to Aarhus and soon the townspeople demanded the right to hear the liturgy in Danish. The bishop and canons attempted to stop the spread of Lutheran doctrine in their diocese, but Tausen had caught the imagination of the people and they would not be cowed by anything the bishop might threaten. Most nobles were staunchly Catholic and that brought even more support from common people. By 1528 most of the cities had begun the process of reforming their churches. Tausen taught that tearing apart ancient churches was wrong and that orderly change should be used to reform the church.

In 1533 Frederik I died and his son, Christian III was proclaimed King of Denmark at the Viborg Assembly (Danish:landsting), but the State Council deominated by the Catholic bishops refused to accept the election and called upon count Christopher of Oldenburg to assist in restoring Catholic Christian II to the throne. This resulted in a two year war called the Count's Feud. Despite the odds, Christian III prevailed and in the summer of 1536 arrested several of the bishops and threw them into prison. The last Catholic Bishop of Aarhus, Ove Bilde, was imprisoned in the summer of 1536 when Denmark officially became a Lutheran nation.

In 1642 lightning struck the tower and set it ablaze, destroying some of the historic bells, but damage to the interior of the church was minimal.

The tower is the tallest in Denmark at 96 meters. It received it's present form in 1931.


Århus cathedral is remarkable for its contents as well as its size. Visitors can enjoy the many fresco paintings from the 1470 to 1520's. The cathedral has 220 meters2 of painting, more than any other church in Denmark. The paintings of St Christopher and St Clement are the tallest in the country. The earliest painting was saved from the first cathedral in the northwest corner, the so-called "Lazarus Window" which was painted about 1300. It is believed that the window as used to give food to the lepers who weren't permitted inside the building.

The cathedral has a wonderful altar piece carved by the famous Lübeck sculptor "(right)" and painter Bernt Notke. It was dedicated on Easter Sunday 1479 and is one of Denmark's great treasures. The altarpiece is unusual in that it has five movable sections, so different scenes may be viewed during the liturgical calendar.

The pulpit was carved in oak by sculptor Michael Von Groningen and dedicated in 1588. It shows scened from the Old and New Testaments.

The baptismal font was created in copper by the famous bell maker, Peter Hansen of Flensborg, in 1481. It was a gift of Bishop Jens Ivarsen Lange, who just two years before gave the great altar piece to St Clements. The font stands on the heads of the four evangelists in human form, but with the heads of the animals that often symbolize the four gospels in ecclesiastic art. The font has scenes from the life of Christ and nine of the apostles. For the first hundred years the font was open and the priest dipped the child three times, later a brass top was added and a silver tray used for the baptism of children that is over 300 years old.

The main organ was built by the famous organ maker Lambert Daniel Kastens in 1730. He was a student of one of Europe's best-known organ makers, Arp Schnitger of Hamburg. It has been restored, enlarged, and updated several times. It is now Denmark's largest organ, but the priceless Baroque facade has been maintained in all its glory.

The "Golden Door" is one of five wrought iron gates that separate the nave from the choir, a reminder of the separation between the clergy and public in Catholic times. The gates were made by Kaspar Fincke, a German-born artist.

As is the custom in many parts of Denmark, a ship hangs at the crossing as a reminder of those lost at sea and of Denmark's close connection to the sea. The cathedral's ship is a replica of the "Enigheden" (Unity) from 1720.

St Clements only has one stained glass window. It was created by the Norwegian artist, Emanuel Vigeland in 1926. its theme is taken from Grundtvig's famous psalm "Da livtræet fæstet i graven rod". It stands 14 meters high and is the largest stained glass window in all of Denmark. The most unusual feature is the Crucifixion scene that shows Jesus head falling to the left, unlike traditional scens which always show Jesus head to the right.

In the huge bell tower hang eight bells. In 1642 lightning struck the tower and set it ablaze and damaged some of the bells. The oldest from the mid 1200's the "Martinus", "pl" cast in 1493, Per Tidichsøn's bell of 1505, Caspar Kønig's cast in 1746, the M C Troschell bell cast in 1762, the cathedral's smallest, a pair of L Andersen's bells from 1893, one of them the largest, and lastly the 1894 S. Frichs bell.

The church has several chapel tombs and memorials, but none finer than the Marselis Chapel built for the Marselis family by the Flemish sculptor Thomas Quellinus. The chapel's high Baroque memorial is the largest of its kind in Denmark. Beneath the floor is the family burial vault.

The crypt of the cathedral houses the remains of thousands of people of all ranks.

Other figures include St Michael and St George and the Dragon.


External links

* [http://www.aarhus-domkirke.dk/ Official website] da icon en icon

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