Østerlars Round Church

Gudhjem, Denmark

Østerlars Church is the largest and, possibly, the oldest of the Bornholm island's four round churches. Built in about 1160, it was dedicated to St. Lawrence. It consists of an apse, an oval chancel, a large round nave and has three storeys. There is evidence the church was once fortified, the top storey serving as an open shooting gallery. The fieldstone wall stands on foundations of Bornholm limestone. The double-arched apse bears similarities to that in Lund Cathedral. The round nave has an external diameter of 16 meters. In its centre there is a large round hollow column, six meters wide. An opening, known as the oven, leads into a small room inside the column.

Originally there were small Romanesque windows but these were enlarged after the Reformation. During the 16th century, a number of pillars were added to support the outer wall. The conical roof was replaced in the 17th century. The porch is from 1870. The bell tower stands separately from the church in the churchyard, and the bell tower was the original entrance and gate tower. There are two runestones, one inside the porch (c. 1100) and another outside (c.1070).

The church's central column is decorated with frescos from 1350 showing biblical scenes from the Annunciation through to the Passion, ending with Day of Judgment where Jesus judges mankind. Many of the naked figures are sent to hell, symbolized by a huge dragon. They were probably painted some 140 years after the church was built. The frescos, which had been hidden with limewash since the Reformation, were uncovered in 1882. The pulpit is from 1595. The carved altarpiece is from c. 1600.

Erling Haagensen, co-author of The Templars' Secret Island, believes there is a connection between the round churches of Bornholm and the Knights Templar. He believes there are similarities between the geometrical precision of the churches' locations and those of churches in Rennes-le-Châteauin France. He concludes that Østerlars, and the other round churches, could have been used as supply stores for the crusades.



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Vietsvej 25, Gudhjem, Denmark
See all sites in Gudhjem


Founded: ca. 1160
Category: Religious sites in Denmark
Historical period: The First Kingdom (Denmark)


4.3/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Nikolaj Erik “WhoopzPlays” Bay Theilgaard (9 months ago)
Sadly we were unable to go inside due to the ongoing pandemic, but it does look beautiful from the outside as well.
Surajit Pathak (12 months ago)
Quite a magnificent church. Located centrally in Bornholm, reaching here is dependent on public transport and can be a little troublesome if you miss your bus. If you are on private transport this place is a must see. Remember to climb to the top of the Church for some good countryside views.
xavi olivella (15 months ago)
One of the most interesting churches I’ve visited. It’s really interesting in the outside, but also in the inside. When you get in it really feels like going 700 or 800 years ago. If you want to go up to the first and second floor be aware that the steps are not suited for people who are using crutches, as they are very uneven and irregular (they where meant to be like that so no knights could go up easily)
Lora Nielsen (15 months ago)
Lovely - from outside and inside. Free parking. Entrance fee is 20aed (3 euro). Children are for free. As part of the entrance fee you are allowed to climb up the narrow stairs all the way to the top of the tower and experience the feeling of medieval setting. Nice view from above. There is a graveyard as part of the church garden. One of the few round churches on the island. The climbing of the tower is not recommended for people with claustrophobia as well as small children unless carried by their parents.
Johnny Damm (17 months ago)
Impressive building techniques for the time period.
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