Church of Our Lady / Vor Frue Kirke

Copenhagen Architecture Cathedral Vor Frue Kirke Bertel Thorvaldsen Christ

Church of Our Lady

– Cathedral of Copenhagen

The history of the Church of Our Lady goes back to the early centuries of the city. But grenades hit the tall spire of the former Gothic church during the English bombing of Copenhagen in 1807. And consumed in flames, it fell on the roof of the church that subsequently burnt beyond repair.

A long line of military defeats and financial decline led to an all time low with a state bankruptcy in 1813.

So not until 1817 the construction began of the present building, reusing remaining walls and foundations.

The already renowned, highly decorated and influential C. F. Hansen was commissioned with the project, which he finished in 1829 in a neoclassical style, inspired by ancient Greek and Roman temples.

Since the ancient temples had no towers, the architect originally didn’t design one for this church. But for centuries before, the towers of the older churches was the pride of the city. And C. F. Hansen obeyed public opinion. He added a strong and voluminous square tower with an abrupt top in the form of a low pitched roof and a simple gold plated cross.

An architectural ugly duckling

Church of Our Lady is a bit of an architectural hybrid – if not an outright monstrosity. Not least for C. F. Hansen’s line of otherwise consistently simple, strong and stern architecture of classical and Palladio inspired origin. Copenhageners and visitors alike sometimes wonder. Why is it so… stark?

But the architecture shows that Danish architects long had a preference for a forceful use of abstract volumes and smooth, plastered walls, uninterrupted by decorations. Also prior to the 20th century moderns!

The Christ & disciples

The Danish sculptor, Bertel Thorvaldsen was commissioned to decorate the space with statues of Christ and the twelve disciples, for which the architect prepared a series of niches.

But such an inferior placement displeased the famous and successful sculptor. So he intentionally made the statues bigger, so they had to be placed very prominently in front of the niches and inside the nave, the grand main space of the classical basilica church.

Many churches around the world – especially Mormon – copied and use the sculpture of Christ. The original attracts a number of Mormon tourists every day for a look. Also some Danish churches use it, and even private homes in small figure size.

The baptismal font has the shape of a kneeling angel, holding a sea shell for a basin. Experts consider it a highly original and personal work of Thorvaldsen’s. He managed a big atelier with staff doing the most of the actual sculpting based on his sketch models and drawings. But the angel was his own work entirely.

The nearby Museum of Thorvaldsen exhibits copies of these sculptures along with many, many more.

Church of Our Lady was not an actual cathedral until 1924, when Copenhagen separated from the diocese of Roskilde. But historically it occupied a special role for royal coronations and weddings and for notabilities, and still does.

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