Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Cathedral of Bern

The Berner Münster, featured in our recent quiz, was built as the cathedral of Bern, Switzerland; as with many large churches, the construction of the main body of the building spanned a considerable period, from 1421 to 1575, and the bell-tower was not finished until over three centuries later. In this midst of this period, when the city became Protestant, over forty side altars were removed, and a large number of statues and paintings removed from the church, leaving a very sparse interior. However, some of the decorations which early Calvinists would certainly not have created of their own initiative were left untouched, most notably the Last Judgement over the main door, and most of the stained glass windows in the apse of the church.

The exterior ca. 1800; the bell-tower was finally completed in 1893. On the right can be seen the Fountain of Moses, one of several decorative fountains throughout the city.

The back of the church.

The main portal of the Last Judgement, ca. 1460-1480, which contains the only statues left in place after the Reformation. Several of the originals have been moved to a local museum, and replaced with copies here.

The Saved. Note that the first person entering the Gates of Paradise is a Pope, (presumably a martyr, since he is wearing red), with two cardinals shown beneath him. The lack of thoroughness which permitted these decorations to survive is very uncharacteristic of the Swiss.

The Damned.

I visited the Berner Münster at Christmastide, and there were quite a lot of seasonal decorations set up. This photograph from Wikimedia Commons gives a better idea of how the church would have appeared for most of its history after the Reformation. As noted in the recent quiz, the pews between the pulpit and the table are reversible, so that congregants can face the pulpit during the very long sermons, and those services in the which no Eucharist was celebrated. (A reader informs me that such services were imposed upon the Calvinist churches by the local governments, and were not of Calvin's own design.) The truly eagle-eyed may also note that this photograph shows an hourglass on the pulpit (it is still there). I should be interested to know if a time limit was imposed upon the clergy by themselves or by someone else; any reader who knows is of course very welcome to comment.

The angels on the two ends are holding the crest of Bern, named from a bear shot by the founder, Berchtold von Zähringer, while scouting out the Aare peninsula for a good place to found a city.

The ceiling of the apse, which preserves much of the Late Gothic tracery painted onto the vaulting. The crest of Bern appears again here, and throughout the building, since much of the construction was paid for by the city.

The stained glass windows of the apse are in a remarkably good state considering not only their age, (mid-15th century), but also the general lack of sympathy for the use of such decorations in Calvinist churches. (Also an interesting study in the vagaries of cameras and light-settings - I took this photograph only two minutes after the one above of the ceiling.)

The principal organ, built in 1726-30, above the main entrance.

A large number of the pews are marked with the family crests, or initials, or both, of the owners, who had the use of the seats reserved. The full names are noted in an inventory, which is coordinated to the modern numbers added later. One can inquire at the bookshop about a particular name; my mother's paternal grandfather was born in Bern, but his family did not own a seat in the Münster.

This section of the vaulting on the south side of the building, and the stained glass window beneath it, both have the family crests of the donors who paid for them.

The portal on the north side of the building also preserves some very nice late Gothic stonework.

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