Roskilde Cathedral

Roskilde, Denmark

Roskilde Cathedral is the earliest major ecclesiastical building in brick in northern Europe and had a profound influence on the spread of brick for this purpose over the whole region. Both in its form and in its setting it is an outstanding example of a north European cathedral complex, especially noteworthy for the successive architectural styles used in the ancillary chapels and porches added during the centuries during which it has served as the mausoleum of the Danish royal family.

The first religious structure on the site was a wooden church built around 980 by King Harald Bluetooth. This was replaced successively by two travertine structures, built in 1030 and 1080 respectively. In the mid-12th century brick-making was introduced into Denmark by craftsmen from Lombardy, and Bishop Absalom decided around 1170 to rebuild his cathedral in this new material; his work was continued after his death in 1191 by his successor, Bishop Peder Suneson. The original structure was Romanesque; however, when only the eastern half had been built the plan was changed, under the influence of Gothic. The transept was located further back and the towers planned for the choir were removed to the west end. Work was virtually complete by around 1275, apart from the north tower, finished at the end of the 14th century.

Roskilde Cathedral is an aisled basilica in Gothic style with a semi-circular chancel gallery. The structure is essentially in brick, with occasional use of small boulders in the interior. Externally the walls stand on a plinth of granite ashlars two courses high; in the interior there is a hollow chamfered plinth of the same material. Traces have been found of the use of squared oak beams for reinforcement, further evidence of the early date of the structure, at a period when the builders were still uncertain about the properties of the new material, brick. The interior walls were originally bare, apart from the vaulting and the soffits of the arches, which were plastered. Most of the original rich wall paintings have disappeared.

Oluf Mortensen's Porch, named after the mid-15th-century bishop who commissioned it, is one of the finest examples of Danish brick Gothic architecture. Stylistically it is linked with the Gothic brick architecture of northern Germany. It is noteworthy for its fine roof gable and for the asymmetrical but finely balanced form of the lower part of the gable facade. The bricks used for the walling are remarkable for their richness of shading, which demonstrates excellent control of the brick-making process.

In the centuries that followed, chapels, porches, and other structures were built around the cathedral, first by bishops and nobles and later by the royal family, which partly hid the original structure. These included the chapter-house, gradually extended from the early 13th century to the end of the 15th century, the chapels of St Andrew (1387) and St Bridget (later 15th century). Royal additions included the Chapel of the Magi (Christian I: 1460), the Chapel of Christian IV (early 17th century, replacing two earlier chapels), and the Chapel of Frederik V (1772, in neoclassical style). Two royal chapels were built in the present century: the Chapel of Christian IX (1924) and the detached New Royal Ground (1985).

The two-storeyed Chapel of the Magi, completed around 1463, was originally built from glazed brick, but little remains of the glazing. The second storey, known as the Knights' Hall, contains some noteworthy carved stone. The main feature of the Chapel is, however, its rich late medieval mural decoration, which entirely covers the walls and vaults. Christian IV's Chapel, designed as a sepulchral chapel for the king, was the first post-medieval addition to the cathedral. It is constructed in the Dutch Renaissance Style. The steep ribbed vault is the largest in Denmark.

Frederik V's Chapel has a cruciform central chamber connected by a transverse building to the south aisle of the cathedral. Many of the medieval furnishings of the cathedral disappeared at the Reformation, and more were sold at a notorious auction in 1806. Of what remains the outstanding piece is the reredos, a masterpiece of Dutch religious art dating from around 1560. It is a triptych, probably from Antwerp, and bears scenes from the life of Christ. The canons' stalls of 1420 are of considerable importance because of the unique series of pictures on them.

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Details

Founded: c. 1170
Category: Religious sites in Denmark
Historical period: The First Kingdom (Denmark)

Rating

4.6/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Aldo Gustavo Saretti (2 years ago)
Great cathedral built in many different stages and styles through the years. You can see the Kings and queens of Denmark tombs inside and underground.
Sigrid Vinter (2 years ago)
Always worth a visit. Even for me who grew up in the town. Do visit the chapels even though they have begon charging for them as they are lovely. Don't forget to take a walk around the church too to appreciate the development of styles and building techniques.
Dagobert Weiß (3 years ago)
Roskilde Domkirke is a very beautiful Church/ cathedral. The building is very massiv and can been seen long before you reach to Roskilde. The spirit of the church is very unique.
prajakt pande (3 years ago)
Amazing architecture and historical significance. Located in the centre of Roskilde, in the city's old part. It's especially wonderful to visit it during a nice and sunny day. The cathedral is as beautiful from inside as it is from outside.
James LaBranche (3 years ago)
Steeped in history and tradition. A must see while you're in Denmark. Very nice ministers too
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