Church of Our Lady (Copenhagen)

Church of Our Lady (Copenhagen)
Church of Our Lady
Basic information
Location Copenhagen, Denmark
Affiliation Lutheran
District City Centre
Ecclesiastical or organizational status Protestant church
Website Official web site
Architectural description
Architect(s) Christian Frederik Hansen
Architectural style Neo-Classicism
Completed 1829
Height (max) 60 m
The spire of the Church of Our Lady on fire in 1807 as painted by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg. (Rundetårn and the Trinitatis complex is seen to the left of the Church of Our Lady.)

The Church of Our Lady (Danish: Vor Frue Kirke) is the cathedral of Copenhagen and the National Cathedral of Denmark. It is situated on Vor Frue Plads and next to the main building of the University of Copenhagen.

The present day version of the church was designed by the architect Christian Frederik Hansen in the neoclassical style and was completed in 1829.



Construction of the original Collegiate Church of St. Mary, began no later than 1187 under Bishop Absalon located on the highest point near the new town of Havn, later Copenhagen. Bishop Absalon (1128–1201) was Bishop of Roskilde, and spent the rest of his life securing Denmark from foreign attacks and building many churches, monasteries, and founding of Copenhagen as a Denmark's Baltic port city. He was named Archbishop of Lund in 1178 and accepted only under threat of excommunication. Building at St Mary's continued on and off until 1209 when it was consecrated by Absalon's successor, Bishop Peder Sunesen on Ascension Sunday in March, the traditional feast day of the cathedral. The church was built in Romanesque style with its half-rounded arches inside and out. The church belonged to Roskilde Cathedral, the seat of the Bishop of Zealand and the capital of Denmark at the time.

In 1314 a fire destroyed the limestone cathedral so completely that it was rebuilt in the popular new building material of the day, over-sized red brick. The style of building was Gothic, with its typical pointed arches. The rebuilding of the simple church with a long nave and choir continued until 1388. Due to a lack of money, the great tower was not built until the reign of Christian II. It was as high as the church was long, and from artwork of the day, out of proportion to the size of the church.

A school was established early on and in 1479 parts of the church school were chartered to become the University of Copenhagen. Professors were brought from Cologne, Germany. The university brought an international faculty that widened Denmark's exposure to the great ideas and philosophies of the day. The university challenged the growth of the Protestant movement, but was eventually closed. By 1537 the university reopened as a center for Lutheran studies.

The Protestant Reformation was hard on the St Mary's. Citizens of Copenhagen had elected to follow Luther, but Catholic officials at St Mary's tried to maintain the church as a center of Catholic resistance to change in Copenhagen. By royal decree both Catholic priests and Lutheran preachers were commanded to use the church jointly which incensed the majority of Copenhagen's population. On 27 Dec 1530 hundreds of citizens stormed St Mary's and destroyed every statue and tore the choir stalls to pieces. The richly gilt 17 altars were stripped of anything of value and smashed. Vestments, and altar equipment were stripped of jewels and gold, reliquaries were broken open and the contents destroyed. Even the name "St Mary's" became "Vor Frue Kirke", Our Lady's Church in a desire to keep the historic reference to Mary without the use of the un-Lutheran "Saint" appellation. Just a year later Our Lady Church celebrated the acceptance of the Lutheran Order presided over by Johan Bugenhagen, an associate of Martin Luther. 1539 saw the installation of the first Lutheran superintendents, later bishops, of Denmark. In 1568 the dean of Our Lady Church was charged with defining accepted practice for Lutheran church services in Denmark under the direction of the Bishop of Zealand, and since that time the dean and later bishop of Our Lady Church has retained that role in the Danish National Church.

Lightning strikes damaged the church in 1573 and 1585 collapsing the some of the vaulting, tower, and roof. The tower was eventually torn down and rebuilt by 1609. It had an extremely tall pyramidal central spire with four shorter spires at each corner.

The medieval cathedral along with about a third of the rest of the city burned down in a four day long conflagration in October 1728. Our Lady was completely destroyed. In addition, all the many chapels and eighty epitaphs commemorating some of Denmark's most prominent nobles and Our Lady's wealthy parishioners were destroyed. The church was reconstructed in red brick by 1738 with a simple long nave and rounded choir added at the end, essentially on the same plan as the medieval church. The interior was a combination of Gothic and the ornate Baroque style of the time. Ranks of tall half-round windows let in natural light and the ribbed brick vaulting arched high over head from two long rows of squared pillars supporting the roof. A row of side chapels ringed the nave and choir giving the appearance of a five aisled church which impressed all who entered, including King Christian the VI who oversaw the building's progress with impatience. Friedrich Ehbisch carved a magnificent new altarpiece and pulpit in the finest Baroque tradition. The best-preserved ancient gravestones from the floor of the old church were replaced in the floor although not in the same locations as before. The exterior was plain red brick with the exception of an ornate sandstone doorways beneath the spire.

After the fire of 1728 the new tower rose higher than the previous one tapering to a tall spire modeled after the spire of St. Martin in the Fields in London. The bells from St Nikolai Church were moved to the new spire in 1743 and a set of four new bells were cast and added to the tower. The largest bell "The King's Bell" weighed just over 6000 kg. In time the tower held 42 bells. It was popular at the time to pay for extra ringing after weddings and funerals, which was a source of complaint by university students who were trying to study. A smaller tower in the same style was added to the roof line above the choir.

In September 1807 the cathedral fell victim to the bombardment of Copenhagen by the British Navy under Admiral James Gambier in the Napoleonic Wars. The English demanded the surrender of the Danish Fleet and the city. The Danes refused, and with most of the army on the border of Schleswig-Holstein, the city was nearly defenseless. For three days the British fleet bombarded the city and the coastal forts. British gunners used the tower of Our Lady Church for range practice setting it ablaze. The church was burned to the ground along with nearby sections of Copenhagen. Copenhagen surrendered and the fleet was turned over to the British, a humiliating defeat for Denmark.

Christus at Church of Our Lady, Copenhagen by Bertel Thorvaldsen

Denmark's finest architect, Christian Frederik Hansen, and the city magistrate redesigned the cathedral in the Neo-Classical style. Due to a lack of resources they incorporated elements of the surviving walls. The old surviving vaulting was blown up to make way for a church built in the new style. A pillared portico and a flat interior ceiling and simple classical lines are very different from the medieval church. The cornerstone was laid in 1817 and the work completed by Whitsun Day 1829. Bertel Thorvaldsen was commissioned to decorate the interior with statues of Christ and the apostles; Judas Iscariot replaced by St Paul. Other artists also contributed sculptures and paintings.

The tower, based on the older medieval tower, was a controversial afterthought. The Neo-Classical style did not include towers. But citizens demanded and got a tower modeled on the older medieval tower. The tower is 60 meters high and contains four bells. "Stormklokken" cast in 1828 by Soren Hornhaver is the heaviest bell in Denmark at 4 tons. The oldest bell in Denmark also hangs there cast in 1490 by Olug Kegge. It was transferred to Our Lady Church from Antvorskov Abbey Church (Klosterkirke). A third bell was cast in 1699 by Friderich Holtzmann. The fourth cast by Anker Heegaard in 1876.

Thorvaldsen carved and donated the modern font as a personal gift to the cathedral.

Our Lady Church was designated the National Cathedral of Denmark only in 1924. Its relatively recent cathedral status stems from the splitting of Zealand (Sjaelland) into two Lutheran dioceses in 1922.

Major renovation organized by Professor Vilhelm Wohlert in 1977-79 removed various additions that had accrued in the interior of the church over the years. A new large central organ was completed in 1995, with a choir organ added in 2002. The crypt has been converted into a museum which contains models of the various iterations of the building.


Statues by Bertel Thorvaldsen depicting Jesus Christ and his Apostles

The building measures 83 m in length and 33 m in width. The interior of the nave is 60 m long and over 25 m from floor to ceiling. With all galleries open, the church can seat more than 1100 people. The tower is 60 m high and houses the four church bells (Stormklokken weighs 4 tons and is the largest bell in Denmark. The smallest bell in the tower, used at morning service among other occasions, is the oldest bell in the country, dating from 1490 and taken from Antvorskov Klosterkirke).

The pediment is decorated with bronzes of Jesus Christ and the Apostles. The interior is likewise decorated with the twelve apostles (one in front of each of the piers of the central nave), the Risen Christ displaying the wounds in his body (in a niche above the altar) and in front of the altar the baptismal fount in the form of an angel holding a large scallop shell, all in Italian carrara marble. All of these sculptures were completed in Rome by the famous Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen.

In the aisles, a bronze bust of Bertel Thorvaldsen, modelled by Herman Wilhelm Bissen, is on display along with many portraits of bishops and deans.

Royal events in the church


Danmarks Radio broadcasts a morning act of worship from the cathedral daily except Sundays between 8.03 and 8.21 local time (8.07 and 8.25 on Saturdays) and makes a recording of the latest transmission available via the internet [1].

External links

Coordinates: 55°40′46″N 12°34′22″E / 55.67944°N 12.57278°E / 55.67944; 12.57278

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