|Zurich : the Fraumünster|
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The Münsterhof is dominated by the graceful, slender-spired Fraumünster, a beautiful church that boasts a breathtaking series of stained-glass windows by Marc Chagall and Augusto Giacometti that should not be missed.
It’s not known when the church was founded, but on July 21, 853, King Ludwig the German signed over to his daughter Hildegard a convent which already stood on the site. In 874, Hildegard’s sister Bertha consecrated what was probably a simple, towerless basilica, and built a crypt beneath to house the relics of Felix and Regula. During the eleventh century, the abbesses of the convent gained the title of imperial princesses and considerable rights in the town, and the present structure was built during the thirteenth century. The convent was suppressed under Zwingli’s Reformation, and in 1524 all the icons, ornaments and the organ were destroyed. During the following centuries, the minster became the place of worship for Veltliner and Huguenot refugees, was temporarily a Russian Orthodox church, and – between 1833 and 1844 – hosted both Catholic and Protestant services. There was much renovation around the turn of the century, and again in 1960, when the Romanesque choir was reopened as an integral part of the building. In 1967, Marc Chagall – then 80 – accepted the commission to make new stained glass for the five 10m-high choir windows. The stunning artistry of the windows he produced makes them one of the highlights of Zürich.
Entrance (Mon–Sat: May–Sept 9am–6pm; March, April & Oct 10am–5pm; Nov–Feb 10am–4pm) is into the transept through the small east door beneath the spire, and attention is so concentrated on the choir that you may well find the rest of the church has been roped off. Staff inside sell an excellent colour brochure (Fr.5) on the Chagall windows.
The Romanesque choir dates from 1250–70; it is extremely high (18m) and has a wonderful simplicity of design that would make it a magical place even without its Chagall windows. The blood-red “Prophets” window, on the north wall (left), features Elisha at the bottom watching Elijah mount to heaven in a chariot of fire; above, drenched in a divine blue, sits Jeremiah. The “Law” window, on the opposite, south, wall, has Moses looking down upon the disobedience and suffering of the people, who are following a horseman into war. Below is Isaiah in the arms of a seraph, preparing to proclaim his message of peace to the world. Of the three main windows, the left, known as the “Jacob”, window, shows the patriarch’s struggle with the angel and his dream of a ladder to heaven. The yellow “Zion” window on the right shows an angel trumpeting the beginning of eternity and the descent of New Jerusalem from the heavens; below are a radiant King David and Bathsheba. Finally, the central “Christ” window shows Joseph, standing at the bottom beside a huge tree – the tree of life, and the family tree of Christ – with, floating in its upper branches, a vision of Mary holding the baby Jesus with the Lamb of God at her feet. Scenes from Jesus’ life and parables culminate in an associative depiction of the crucifixion; a cross is barely visible, and Christ is already floating free of the world towards the source of luminescence above.
Giacometti’s 1940s work in the 9m-high window in the north transept, visible as you head out, is equally stunning. Were it not for the Chagall windows, this vision of God and Christ, with eight prophets below, and Matthew, Mark, Luke and John framed by ten angels, would take pride of place; as it is, it’s doomed to play second fiddle.
Emerging from the Fraumünster, the Münsterbrücke leads across the river to the beautiful late-Gothic Wasserkirche, site of Felix and Regula’s martyrdom (see box above) and still used mostly for services (visiting hours Wed 9–11am & 2–5pm), the Baroque Helmhaus (guildhall) and the Grossmünster beyond. It’s an equally short walk south to Bürkliplatz.
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