Monday, 6 April 2009

What to see: Christiansborg Palace Church, Copenhagen

One of Scandinavia’s most beautiful interiors can be found in Christiansborg Palace Church in Copenhagen, built by Denmark’s most famous neoclassical architect, Christian Frederik Hansen (1756-1845). The drawings for the church were ready in 1810 and the church was built between 1813 and 1826.
C. F. Hansen’s brand of the empire style was noticeably Roman and Christiansborg Palace Church was obviously inspired by what he saw on his journey to Rome in 1783-1784. Hansen was particularly fascinated by the many cupolas he saw in the churches of Rome and the Palace Church’s cupola is one of its most prominent characteristics. One would naturally think of Pantheon as an inspiration, but more important were probably the church of Sant’Andrea in Via Flaminia (by Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola, 1554) and the ancient mausoleum Tor de’ Schiavi outside Rome.
Christiansborg Palace Church is today all that remains of the second Christiansborg Palace, built by the same architect after the first Christiansborg had burnt down in 1794. The second palace of that name was completed in 1828, but that grand structure also burnt down in 1884. Only the Palace Church was saved from the flames. The foundation stone for the third (and current) Christiansborg Palace was laid in 1907, built in concrete to prevent yet another palace fire.
The third Christiansborg Palace is still standing, but during the night of 6-7 June 1992 Christiansborg Palace Church was ravaged by fire. The fire in the roof was most likely started by the fireworks of the Whitsun carnival and soon spread to the entire roof. The greatest damage was done when the cupola collapsed and fell into the church’s interior, smashing much of those interior pieces which had not been removed. The masses of water did further damage.
Luckily it was deemed possible to rebuild the church. This was done under the leadership of Jens Fredlund at the architectural firm Erik Møllers Tegnestue. The beautifully executed work was completed at the end of 1996 and on 14 January 1997 Christiansborg Palace Church was re-inaugurated at a service of thanksgiving to mark the silver jubilee of Queen Margrethe II.
The first royal occasion to take place in the Palace Church was the wedding of Frederik VI’s daughter, Princess Vilhelmine Marie, to her second cousin, Prince Frederik (VII) Carl Christian, on 1 November 1828. It was the parish church of the royal family until 1926 and served as one of Copenhagen’s regular parish churches between 1930 and 1965. Among the many royal events which took place in the Palace Church were the confirmations of the future kings Christian IX (1835), Frederik VIII (1860) and Christian X (1887, together with his brother, the future King Haakon VII of Norway). Princess Thyra married the Duke of Cumberland there in 1878 and in 1897 it was the scene of the wedding of Princess Ingeborg to Prince Carl of Sweden and Norway.
The church has also seen the lyings-in-state of King Christian IX in 1906, Frederik VIII in 1912, Christian X in 1947 and Frederik IX in 1972. Queen Alexandrine’s funeral was held there in 1953 and in 2000 Queen Ingrid became the first consort to lie in state for 204 years. Queen Ingrid had never been fond of the Palace Church as it was, but came to appreciate it after the restoration work brought back its original colours and materials.
In May 2004 Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary became the first royals to marry in another of C. F. Hansen’s churches, Copenhagen’s Cathedral. It seemed only natural that the christening of their firstborn child and heir, Prince Christian, was held in Christiansborg Palace Church on 21 January 2006.

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