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07.11.2020

Church of Our Lady, Copenhagen

Church of Our Lady is a cathedral in Copenhagen. It is located in the Frue Plads public square in the center of Copenhagen, next to the historic main building of Copenhagen University.

The modern version of the church was designed by architect Christian Frederick Hansen (1756-1845) in neoclassical style and was completed in 1829.

Construction of the original Monastery Church of St. Mary, began no later than 1187 under Archbishop Absalon (c. 1128-1201). The church was located at the highest point near the new city of Havn, later Copenhagen. Absalon was the bishop of Roskillet (Zealand), the capital of Denmark at the time, and spent most of his life defending Denmark from foreign attacks. He built many churches and monasteries and also founded Copenhagen as Denmark's port city on the Baltic Sea. Named Archbishop of Lund in 1178, Absalon accepted him only under threat of separation from the church. The construction of St. Mary continued from time to time until 1209, when it was consecrated by Absalon's successor, Bishop Peder Sunesen. (c. 1161-1214) on Annunciation Sunday in March, which became a traditional church holiday. The church is built in Romanesque style with semicircular arches inside and outside.

In 1314, a fire destroyed the limestone church to such an extent that it was rebuilt from the popular new building material of the time - large red brick. The building was built in the Gothic style with characteristic pointed arches. Restoration of a simple church with a long aisle and choir lasted until 1388. Due to lack of money, the Great Tower was not built until the reign of King Christian II. It was as tall as the church and disproportionate to the size of the church as a work of art of that time. 

The school was opened early. In 1479, parts of the church school received a diploma and became Copenhagen University. Professors were brought from Cologne, Germany. The international faculty expanded Denmark's acquaintance with the great ideas and philosophy of that time. The university hindered the growth of the Protestant movement, but was eventually closed. By 1537, it had reopened as a Lutheran research center. 

The Protestant Reformation was difficult on St. Mary. Copenhagen citizens chose to follow the Luther, but Catholic officials in St. Mary's Church tried to keep the church as a center of Catholic resistance to change in Copenhagen. By royal decree, Roman Catholic and Lutheran priests were ordered to use the church together, which outraged most of Copenhagen's population. On December 27, 1530 hundreds of citizens stormed St. Mary's Cathedral, destroying all the statues and dismantling the choirs. 17 richly gilded altars were stripped of precious stones and gold and smashed, as were relics, vestments and altar equipment. Even the name "St. Mary" became the Church of Our Lady, preserving the historical reference to the Virgin Mary.

Just one year later, the Church of Our Lady celebrated the adoption of the Lutheran Order of Worship, which was led by Johann Bugenhagen (1485-1558), Martin Luther's companion. In 1539, the first Lutheran superintendents of Denmark, later bishops, were appointed. In 1568, the dean of the Church of Our Lady was entrusted with determining the common practice of Lutheran church services in Denmark under the direction of the Bishop of Zealand. Since then, the dean (and later bishop) of the Church of Our Lady played this role in the Danish National Church.

Lightning strikes damaged the church in 1573 and 1585, and some vaults, the tower and roof collapsed after the fires. The tower was eventually demolished, but restored by 1609. It had an extremely high pyramidal central spire with four shorter spires at each corner.

The medieval protosobor was completely destroyed by a four-day fire in October 1728, which destroyed a third of the city. All numerous chapels and eighty epitaphs, dedicated to the most prominent noblemen of Denmark and rich parishioners, disappeared. Ten years later, the church was reconstructed, essentially according to the same plan as the medieval church, from red brick with a simple long aisle and a rounded choir added at the end, and decorative sandstone doorways under the spire. The interior is a combination of Gothic and ornate Baroque. Rows of tall semicircular windows let in natural light, and ribbed brick vaults were reduced high above the head of two long rows of square pillars supporting the roof. A row of side chapels surrounded the nave and choir, creating a view of the church with five naves that impressed everyone who entered, including King Christian VI, who was eagerly watching the construction. Friedrich Ebisch (1672-1748) carved a magnificent new altar and pulpit in the best traditions of the Baroque. The best preserved ancient gravestones from the old church floor were replaced in the floor, though not in the same places.

After a fire in 1728, the new tower rose above the previous one and turned into a high spire, modeled on the spire of St. Martin's in the Fields in London. The bells from the former Sankt Nikolaj Kirke Church were moved to the new spire in 1743 and four new bells were cast and added. The largest bell "Royal Bell" weighed just over 6000 kg. As a result, the tower had 42 bells. At that time, it was popular to pay for an extra bell after the wedding and funeral, which was the source of complaints from university students who were trying to study. A small tower in the same style was added to the roof above the choir.

In September 1807, the cathedral was destroyed during the bombing of Copenhagen by the Royal Navy commanded by Admiral James Gambier during the Napoleonic Wars. The British demanded the surrender of the Danish-Norwegian fleet and the city. The Danes refused, but with most of the army on the Schleswig-Holstein border, the city was almost defenceless. For three days, the fleet bombed the city and the coastal forts. Gunners of the Royal Navy used the tower of the church for training at the firing range, set it on fire, which, in turn, burned the church to the ground along with nearby areas of Copenhagen. Copenhagen surrendered, and the fleet was handed over to the British.

Denmark's best architect, Christian Frederick Hansen, and the city's magistrate redesigned the cathedral in neo-classical style. Due to lack of resources, elements of the surviving walls were included. The old surviving vault was blown up to make room for a church built in the new style. The portico with columns, flat ceiling and simple classical lines are very different from the medieval church. The corner stone was laid in 1817, and the works were completed by the Day of Trinity in 1829. Bertel Torvaldsen (1770-1844) was commissioned to decorate the interior with statues of Jesus Christ and the Apostles; Judas Iscariot was replaced by the Apostle Paul. Other artists also provided sculptures and paintings. Torvaldsen carved and gave a modern font as a personal gift.

The tower, based on an older medieval tower, has recently become a subject of controversy. The neoclassical style did not include a tower, but citizens demanded and received a tower based on the model of an older medieval tower. The height of the tower is 60 meters, it has four bells. "Stormklokken", cast in 1828 by Soren Hornheiver, is the heaviest bell in Denmark, weighs 4 tons. Here hangs the oldest bell in Denmark, cast in 1490 by Olug Kegge. It was given to the Church of Our Lady of Antwerp Kloster. The third bell was cast in 1699 by Friedrich Goltzmann. The fourth throw was made by Anker Hegoard in 1876.

The Church of the Virgin Mary was declared by the National Council of Denmark only in 1924. Its relatively recent status of the cathedral is associated with the division of Zealand (Sjaelland) into two Lutheran dioceses in 1922.

The major renovation, organized by Professor Wilhelm Wolert (1920-2007) in 1977-79, removed various additions that had accumulated in the interior of the church over the years. Markussen and Son built a new large central organ in 1995, and in 2002 the choral organ was added to it. The crypt was transformed into a museum, which stores models of different versions of the building.

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