Maribo Abbey, established in 1416, was the first Bridgettine monastery in Denmark and became one of the most important Danish abbeys of the late Middle Ages. The monastery is in ruins, but the abbey church still remains in use as Maribo Cathedral.
Originally dedicated to the Virgin Mary and Saint Bridget of Vadstena, the church was built in the early 15th century. It was Queen Margrethe I who provided land for a monastery to be built there, encouraged by her childhood tutor, Merete, St Bridget's daughter. In 1418, in connection with recognition of the monastery, the pope decreed that the town should be renamed 'Habitaculum Mariae' (the community of Mary) leading to the adoption of Danish Marienbo, later Maribo. A note from the journal of Vadstena Abbey, the mother church, states that monks left to found a monastery in Skimminge in 1416. After the Reformation in 1536, the monastery continued to exist but in 1556 was converted into a protestant convent for young ladies. When the town's main church burnt down in 1596, the convent church became the parish church of Maribo. After the convent was finally demolished in 1621, ownership of the church was transferred to the town. From 1803, with the establishment of the Lolland-Falster diocese, the church was usually referred to as a cathedral but it was only in 1924 that it officially received the status of 'domkirke' ( cathedral).
The Gothic cathedral is built of red brick as a hall church with a nave flanked by equally high aisles with a common roof. In accordance with St Bridget's instructions, to the west (rather than the east), there is a lower and narrower chancel. Completed in 1446, the four west bays of the nave (which has a total length of 60 m) are built of the same bricks as the chancel but the four east bays, completed around 1470, were apparently built by another mason. Designed by Hermann Baagøe Storck, the tower on the west gable is relatively recent (1891) but replaces an earlier tower built in the Middle Ages, similar to that in the former Mariager Church which was also built according to St Bridgit's instructions. The two doors at the west end of the building were for ordinary people: men used the south door while women entered through the north door. The relief in the gable wall represents Christ on the Cross surrounded by the sun and moon and by instruments of torture. The chancel has the same star-vaulting as the nave, supported by octagonal pillars. The galleries above the aisles and at the east end of the church were built to accommodate the nuns who had to be carefully separated from the monks and the congragation.
The Baroque altarpiece (1641) carved in the auricular style is the work of Henrik Werner from the north of Germany. The central panel, flanked by columns, depicts the Last Supper. Below Christ can be seen in the Garden of Gethsemane and, above, at the Resurrection. Figures of the four Evangelists are also presented.
The Late-Renaissance pulpit (1606) has five arcaded panels with the Evangelists and the figure of Christ. The figure of Christ on the chancel arch crucifix is from the late 15th century although the cross itself is recent. The font is centred on the church's oldest font from the early 17th century. The figures of the Evangelists are presented in relief. It was renovated in 1777. The Augustinian Altar from the late 15th century depicting Saint Augustine in pontifical attire flanked by paintings of the Trinity, Pope Gregory's mass, the Annunciation and Saint Anne.
Of particular note is the Birgitta Alter (Bridget Altar) from the late 15th century with a painting of a woman in flowing clothes, thought either to be St Bridgit or the Virgin Mary. Housed in a cupboard with two doors, it is said to be the oldest painting on canvas in Scandinavia.References:
From 1239, Raynaud, the Bishop of Quimper, decided on the building of a new chancel destined to replace that of the Romanesque era. He therefore started, in the far west, the construction of a great Gothic cathedral which would inspire cathedral reconstructions in the Ile de France and would in turn become a place of experimentation from where would later appear ideas adopted by the whole of lower Brittany. The date of 1239 marks the Bishop’s decision and does not imply an immediate start to construction. Observation of the pillar profiles, their bases, the canopies, the fitting of the ribbed vaults of the ambulatory or the alignment of the bays leads us to believe, however, that the construction was spread out over time.
The four circular pillars mark the start of the building site, but the four following adopt a lozenge-shaped layout which could indicate a change of project manager. The clumsiness of the vaulted archways of the north ambulatory, the start of the ribbed vaults at the height of the south ambulatory or the choice of the vaults descending in spoke-form from the semi-circle which allows the connection of the axis chapel to the choir – despite the manifest problems of alignment – conveys the hesitancy and diverse influences in the first phase of works which spread out until the start of the 14th century.
At the same time as this facade was built (to which were added the north and south gates) the building of the nave started in the east and would finish by 1460. The nave is made up of six bays with one at the level of the facade towers and flanked by double aisles – one wide and one narrow (split into side chapels) – in an extension of the choir arrangements.
The choir presents four right-hand bays with ambulatory and side chapels. It is extended towards the east of 3-sided chevet which opens onto a semi-circle composed of five chapels and an apsidal chapel of two bays and a flat chevet consecrated to Our Lady.
The three-level elevation with arches, triforium and galleries seems more uniform and expresses anglo-Norman influence in the thickness of the walls (Norman passageway at the gallery level) or the decorative style (heavy mouldings, decorative frieze under the triforium). This building site would have to have been overseen in one shot. Undoubtedly interrupted by the war of Succession (1341-1364) it draws to a close with the building of the lierne vaults (1410) and the fitting of stained-glass windows. Bishop Bertrand de Rosmadec and Duke Jean V, whose coat of arms would decorate these vaults, finished the chancel before starting on the building of the facade and the nave.
Isolated from its environment in the 19th century, the cathedral was – on the contrary – originally very linked to its surroundings. Its site and the orientation of the facade determined traffic flow in the town. Its positioning close to the south walls resulted in particuliarities such as the transfer of the side gates on to the north and south facades of the towers: the southern portal of Saint Catherine served the bishop’s gate and the hospital located on the left bank (the current Préfecture) and the north gate was the baptismal porch – a true parish porch with its benches and alcoves for the Apostles’ statues turned towards the town, completed by an ossuary (1514).
The west porch finds its natural place between the two towers. The entire aesthetic of these three gates springs from the Flamboyant era: trefoil, curly kale, finials, large gables which cut into the mouldings and balustrades. Pinnacles and recesses embellish the buttresses whilst an entire bestiary appears: monsters, dogs, mysterious figures, gargoyles, and with them a whole imaginary world promoting a religious and political programme. Even though most of the saints statues have disappeared an armorial survives which makes the doors of the cathedral one of the most beautiful heraldic pages imaginable: ducal ermine, the Montfort lion, Duchess Jeanne of France’s coat of arms side by side with the arms of the Cornouaille barons with their helmets and crests. One can imagine the impact of this sculpted decor with the colour and gilding which originally completed it.
At the start of the 16th century the construction of the spires was being prepared when building was interrupted, undoubtedly for financial reasons. Small conical roofs were therefore placed on top of the towers. The following centuries were essentially devoted to putting furnishings in place (funeral monuments, altars, statues, organs, pulpit). Note the fire which destroyed the spire of the transept cross in 1620 as well as the ransacking of the cathedral in 1793 when nearly all the furnishings disappeared in a « bonfire of the saints ».
The 19th century would therefore inherit an almost finished but mutilated building and would devote itself to its renovation according to the tastes and theories of the day.