St. Canute's Benedictine Abbey (Skt Knuds Kloster) was built to support the pilgrimage centre for the relics of the royal Danish martyr Saint Canute (died 1086), and was the successor to the priory of St. Mary and St. Alban, Denmark's earliest monastic house. Located in Odense, it was the island of Funen's most important medieval religious institution.
St. Canute's Abbey was founded in connection with the pilgrimage site at the tomb of Saint Canute, otherwise King Canute IV of Denmark, in 1096 when his remains were translated into the new church, St. Canute's Cathedral. The land was perhaps originally that of the royal farm at Odense where Canute, his brother Prince Benedict and their followers stayed until they sought sanctuary in the nearby Benedictine priory church of St. Alban's where they were killed.
Twelve monks were brought by King Erik I Ejegod from Evesham Abbey in England to build and operate the new monastery in Denmark. They are credited with planting the firstapple trees in Denmark in the abbey garden. Over the years the abbey acquired extensive land holdings on Funen making it a pre-eminent institution until the Reformation.
St. Canute's Cathedral formed the north side of the extensive abbey complex. Erik III Lam spent his last days in St. Canute's Abbey, where he died on 27 August 1147.
The abbey was sacked by the Wends in the same year, and the church and parts of the abbey were burned again in 1247 when Duke Abel 'laid Odense in ashes'. St. Canute's was rebuilt by 1301, and the Gothic Brick structure forms the core of the present St. Canute's Cathedral. Its form was unusual in that the shrine with the remains of Saint Canute and his brother, Prince Benedict, was placed beneath the high altar, so that pilgrims could visit it without interfering with the monks' services above them.
A cathedral school was first established in 1283. Later, additional schools were established with connections to other monastic houses in Odense. The most famous student wasHans Tausen, who later became one of Denmark's prominent Lutheran reformers.
The amount of income brought by pilgrims made it possible for the abbey to grow and expand its school and other works. In 1474 a quarrel between the Benedictine monks and Bishop Charles Rønnow resulted in the monks being driven from the abbey. They were able to return in 1489 upon orders from Pope Innocent III.
By the 1520s the winds of change were blowing in Denmark. Many Danes were weary of the economic burdens imposed by church tithes, fees and alms. Hans Tausen, a pupil ofMartin Luther, and others returned to Denmark determined to free the country from the influence, beliefs, and institutions of its long Roman Catholic past. Monastic houses, beginning with the Franciscans and Dominicans, were forced to close. In 1529 the last Roman Catholic bishop of Odense resigned. The Count's Feud decided the question to the advantage of the Lutherans. By the time Denmark became officially Lutheran in 1536, the great monasteries had reverted to the crown. The income properties were sold off or given away to nobles to whom Christian III was indebted or in return for services. In 1537 the three grammar schools associated with the former monasteries were consolidated.
The abbey buildings were among the largest in Odense until the 1800s and were used for a variety of purposes both private and public. The buildings were modified many times and older sections demolished and other structures built in their places.
In 1913 a fire destroyed the entire abbey complex and additions made over several hundred years. It was quickly decided that it should be rebuilt as a reminder of the historic nature of the site, without much thought to how the new building was to be used. It was completed in 1919 and eventually housed the Odense city library and reading room, which it remained until 1976 when the library was relocated. The building on the site of St. Canute's Abbey now houses Skt Knuds Kloster Historiens Hus, a museum of the site's history.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.