Odense Cathedral

Odense, Denmark

The present Odense Cathedral dates primarily from the 13th century, but it was built on the foundations of an earlier travertine church that was built in 1095. During the civil war between Eric IV and his brother, Abel, Odense and the cathedral were burned down in 1247. The present church was constructed in several phases to replace the aging and inadequate stone church in about 1300 by Bishop Gisico (1287–1300). The new cathedral was built in Gothic style with its typical pointed arches and high vaulted ceilings. The building material of choice for the time was over-sized red brick which was cheaper and easier to work with than the porous stone available. Portions of the stone cathedral were taken down and the new building expanded around the old. In all it took approximately two hundred years to complete the cathedral, which was finally dedicated on 30 April 1499.

The church is dedicated to St. Knud, aka King Canute IV. In 1086, Canute was murdered by Jutish peasants angry at his heavy taxation. He was slain along with his brother Benedict and 17 members of his entourage while kneeling at the altar of the nearby St. Alban's Church, where they had taken refuge. The remains of the church have been excavated in the city park. When the first church of St. Canute was completed, a three day fast was proclaimed for the entire kingdom and the remains of Canute and Benedict were moved to the cathedral. It was believed that if the king was truly a saint that the shroud should be set on fire and the body would not be harmed. The shroud of Saint Canute was set alight, but the fire indeed left no mark upon the body of the king.

Odense Cathedral is the purest example of Gothic architecture in Denmark. Inside, it boasts a splendid 16th-century altarpiece by Claus Berg. Other highlights of the cathedral are definitely the reliquaries containing the skeletons of King St. Knud and his brother Benedikt. The skeleton believed to be that of Knud has undergone forensic investigation and it bears evidence of a club swing from behind - supporting the tradition that Canute was murdered while kneeling at prayer.

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Details

Founded: c. 1300
Category: Religious sites in Denmark
Historical period: The First Kingdom (Denmark)

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