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BERNER MÜNSTER / BERN CATHEDRAL
Outstanding Late Gothic Monument
Bern Minster stands out among the Swiss churches from the late Middle Ages with its monumental sculpture (notably the Doomsday Tympanon over the Main Gate), its stained glass and choir stalls as well as its impressive steeple.
The new parish church of Berne was built to the plans of Matthäus Ensinger, the master builder from Strasburg, on the site of the first church of Berne and to a certain extent around that of its 13th century three-nave predecessor, which was only demolished in the mid 15th century. It was dedicated to St Vincent and entrusted to the Teutonic Knights of Köniz. After violent discussions it was assigned its own chapter house in 1484. The foundation stone was laid on 11 March 1421 and construction continued, with occasional lapses, until after the Reformation of 1598, well after the Reformation, basically according to the original plans. The steeple was completed only in 1889 - 1893; its spire rises to a height of 100 m. The additional or renewed elements employed the greyer sandstones from Oberkirch (Germany) or Zug, and are therefore distinguishable from the softer greenish Gurten sandstone used for the original building and contemporary restorations. The basic plan is that of a late Gothic basilica with three naves. The chancel, which incorporates the collegiate choir, has an apse in the shape of five sides of an octagon. The west end, fronted by recessed portals and including the tower, adjoins the central nave, and the aisles also end in portals and chapels. The impressive tower and the continuous saddleback roof make the Minster a landmark in Bern's townscape.
The Central Portal
The Central Portal - the only one of the three to be spared by the Reformation - is the last remaining gothic portal with a comprehensive iconography. The sculptures were made in the last third of the 15th century by Erhart Küng - the architectural parts, tympanum and vaulting are in their original condition, except for repainting in the former colours in 1913 / 1914, but the free-standing figures are copies, the originals of which are kept on display in safe keeping at the Bern Museum of History. In comparison with older examples the composition is freer: there are several degrees of depth; the tympanum is without any architectural division into reisters (horizontal image fields); figures (e.g. virgins) are theatrically represented; and the apostles, contrary to tradition, are vertically disposed.
Christ of the Last Judgement is centrally placed and flanked by the intercessors, Mary and John the Baptist, and the Twelve Apostles. In the middle channel of the archivolt are the prophets, and in the inner one five angels together with the instruments of Christ's Passion. In the tympanum is the Last Judgement. To the right (from Christ's viewpoint) the chosen and blessed are on their way to the Gates of Paradise, and to the left the damned face the Jaws of Hell and eternal torment. Standing before the Last Judgement is the archangel Michael with sword and scales. On the trumeau (between the entrance doors) is the figure of Justice by Daniel Heintz I, flanked by two angels (in 1575, this replaced that of Mary or St Vincent). Beneath this are workmen holding a scroll commemorating the laying of the foundation stone in 1421.
On either side of the portal is the cycle of the wise virgins (to the right with their lighted oil lamps) and the foolish virgins (to the left with extinguished lamps). Below are the Queen of Sheba, King Solomon and prophets.
The 16'h century metal gates have been altered on numerous occasions.
The tower is one hundred meters high and tapers from a solid square shape into an elegant octagon with an open spire. The octagonal corners have spiral staircases or buttresses and are richly ornamented with decorative sculptures. On the lower part of the octagonal tower are eight stone portrait busts in the form of consoles. The belfry, accessible by a winding staircase, contains nine bells, including the largest in Switzerland. In the interior, the magnificent clarity of the construction is impressive.
Minster Square (Münsterplatz) came into being when several town houses were taken down at the beginning of the 16th century.
The Chapter House (Stiftsgebäude)
formed the living quarter of the lay canons who, until the Reformation, served the cathedral. The wide and imposing palatial facade has central and lateral projections, each with a flight of steps up to the doorway, which are accentuated at roof level. The pediment bears a coat-of-arms.
is a very tall building whose height and breadth counterbalances that of the cathedral belfry. Stylistically it is on the threshold of late Baroque and the triangular pediment has the Tscharner coat-of-arms supported by griffons.
The Moses Fountain (Mosesbrunnen)
is late Gothic and has a rectangular basin and half-oval outward projections, as well as the usual features of its kind such as spur posts, steps, unloading benches and lateral troughs; the figure of Moses points to the Second Commandment.
The Minster Terrace was built between 1334 and the mid 15th century as an extensive churchyard, and has at various times been reinforced. During the Reformation it became a dumping ground for discarded works of art. A sensational find of outstanding medieval sculptures was made about twentyNo longer a graveyard, the terrace was turned over to pleasure purposes ("zur Lust"), planted with lime (later with rows of chestnut) trees and provided with elegant late Baroque angle pavilions to replace the former late Gothic turrets. With its attractive views into the Aare valley and over the town, it has now become a popular summer resort for residents of the old town.