Tuesday, 11 August 2009

What to see: Copenhagen Cathedral (Church of Our Lady), Copenhagen

The present Cathedral of Copenhagen was built in the years 1811-1829 by Denmark’s greatest neoclassical architect, Christian Frederik Hansen (1756-1845), but stands on the site of the earlier, Baroque, Church of Our Lady. During the British terror bombardment of Copenhagen in 1807, the spire of the church was used as an aim for the gunboats, something which naturally left the church, as well as large parts of the city, in ruins.
For financial reasons C. F. Hansen was told to use the foundations and parts of the outer walls of the old church for his new church, something which naturally limited his freedom. He would also have preferred a church without a tower, which he considered alien to the neoclassical style, but did not get his views through on that point.
The Cathedral has a temple front with six columns of the Doric order, which sets it apart from Hansen’s nearby Christiansborg Palace Church with its four Ionic columns. It is built in Hansen’s trademark severe, unornamented brand of neoclassicism. In the early 20th century it was suggested to put a spire on the tower, something which led to a great debate and also inspired a renewed interest in Hansen’s architecture, which was probably one reason for the re-emergence of classical architecture in the Nordic countries in the interwar years. In 1975-1979 the Cathedral underwent restoration work to bring it back to what it had originally been like.
The sculptures are all made by the great sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen. His famous sculpture of Jesus stands on the altar, while the twelve disciples are by the walls. They were originally meant to stand in niches, but Thorvaldsen thought that would hide them too much and deliberately made them too big for the niches. Thorvaldsen also created the baptismal font, which is in the shape of a kneeling angel holding a shell (fifth photo).
It was only in 1924 that the Church of Our Lady became the Cathedral of Copenhagen. 85 years on, it has been little used by the royal family, who has preferred other churches in and around Copenhagen, such as Holmen’s Church or the palace churches of Christiansborg, Fredensborg or Frederiksborg, but in May 2004 it was the venue for the wedding of Crown Prince Frederik and Mary Donaldson.
It has also housed less solemn events, such as the blessing of homosexual unions held there during the World Outgames at the end of July, when the portico was fittingly decorated (seventh photo).

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