St. Bendt's Church was originally part of a Benedictine monastery that burnt down in the 18th century. Built in the Romanesque style, it is the oldest brick church in Scandinavia, dating back to about 1170 when it replaced a travertine church from about 1080. It is considered to be one of Denmark's architecturally finest churches. Furthermore, it is of special historical interest as it is first Royal church in Denmark and it houses the tombs of many of Denmark's earlier monarchs and noblemen.
During comprehensive restoration work at the beginning of the 20th century, the foundations of the former travertine church (1080) were revealed, indicating that the older nave was approximately the same length as today's. The church was originally dedicated to St. Mary. In 1157, Saint Canute Lavard's bones were moved into a new chapel in the church with the approval of St. Canute's son, Valdemar the Great. Many miracles were said to have occurred there and the church immediately became a popular site for pilgrimages. With the funds raised from the pilgrims and thanks to Valdemar's royal patronage, the abbey church was expanded and, in 1170, was dedicated with great ceremony to Benedict of Nursia.
Valdemar had from the beginning designed the church for the Danish monarchy. He took advantage of the inaugural celebrations not only to have the relics of his father, St. Canute, enshrined but, also a devil statue erected in his honor and above all, to have his seven-year-old son Canute crowned and appointed by the archbishop in order to ensure the succession.
The church formed the north wing of a large monastery, probably built at the same time as the church. The architectural style indicatesLombard influence, possibly because the Benedictines brought Lombard builders to Denmark. The structure of the church is cross-shaped with a central tower, typical of Romanesque architecture. There were, however, some later modifications in theGothic style such as the vaults, replacing the original flat ceiling, and the pointed arches in the tower.
A fire in 1806 destroyed the monastery and damaged the church. As a result, the western wall was pulled down and replaced with an Empire style facade. The brickwork of the church's outer walls was covered with cement and limewashed. Large-scale restoration work was carried out between 1899 and 1910 by the Danish architect H. B. Storck who set out to restore the church to its former Romanesque style. It was the first time such extensive restoration work had been carried out in Denmark. The church took on its old appearance with new Romanesque windows in the nave. A pyramid-shaped spire was added to the tower. The cement was removed from the outer walls revealing the church's original red brickwork.
As the church houses the tomb of Valdemar the Great, it is of great historical significance to Denmark. Since St. Canute's relics were enshrined in a chapel behind the high altar, the monarchs of Valdemar's line were buried in front of it. Indeed, from 1182 to 1341 all the Danish kings and queens were buried in St. Bendt's. Apart from Valdemar the Great, they included Canute VI, Valdemar II, Eric VI and Eric IV. It is second only to Roskilde Cathedral for the number of royal Danish tombs it contains.
The rather poorly restored wall paintings are significant in that they provide an idea of the violent struggles that once took place. Jacob Kornerup uncovered murals in the chancel in 1868. In 1889, he restored them, or possibly repainted them, as they are indeed in very poor condition. Others were uncovered during the 1900–09 repairs and restored by Mads Henriksen. They depict various monarchs, some with Latin inscriptions. There are also images of the Virgin Mary and of Christ.
Of particular note are the frescos of Erik IV, also known as Erik Ploughpenny for the unpopular taxes he imposed on ploughs. They were painted around 1300 in an unsuccessful attempt to have the assassinated king canonized. To the left of a painting of Queen Agnes sitting on her throne is a picture of the king's murderers stabbing him with a spear while, on the right, we see fishermen retrieving the corpse from the sea.
The oak choir stalls from 1420 are similar to those in Roskilde Cathedral. The sandstone font (c. 1150) is of Gothlandic design and believed to be one of Sighraf's earlier works.
The altarpiece (1699) presents a painting of the Last Supper flanked by panels with cherubim, John the Baptist and Moses. The pulpit (1609) presents the four elements: earth, fire, air and water.References:
Tyniec Benedictine abbey was founded by King Casimir the Restorer probably around 1044. Casimir decided to rebuild the newly established Kingdom of Poland, after a Pagan rebellion and a disastrous Czech raid of Duke Bretislaus I (1039). The Benedictines, invited to Tyniec by the King, were tasked with restoring order as well as cementing the position of the State and the Church. First Tyniec Abbot was Aaron, who became the Bishop of Kraków. Since there is no conclusive evidence to support the foundation date as 1040, some historians claim that the abbey was founded by Casimir the Restorer’ son, King Boleslaw II the Generous.
In the second half of the 11th century, a complex of Romanesque buildings was completed, consisting of a basilica and the abbey. In the 14th century, it was destroyed in Tatar and Czech raids, and in the 15th century it was rebuilt in Gothic style. Further remodelings took place in the 17th and 18th centuries, first in Baroque, then in Rococo style. The abbey was partly destroyed in the Swedish invasion of Poland, and soon afterwards was rebuilt, with a new library. Further destruction took place during the Bar Confederation, when Polish rebels turned the abbey into their fortress.
In 1816, Austrian authorities liquidated the abbey, and in 1821-1826, it was the seat of the Bishop of Tyniec, Grzegorz Tomasz Ziegler. The monks, however, did not return to the abbey until 1939, and in 1947, remodelling of the neglected complex was initiated. In 1968, the Church of St. Peter and Paul was once again named the seat of the abbot. The church itself consists of a Gothic presbytery and a Baroque main nave. Several altars were created by an 18th-century Italian sculptor Francesco Placidi. The church also has a late Baroque pulpit by Franciszek Jozef Mangoldt.