Zurich’s Magnificent Churches

What would Zurich’s skyline be without its three great churches?

The Zurich skyline with its three great churches

Fraumunster and St Peter dominate the west side of the Limmat River and I took several pictures of them as we walked up the east side toward Grossmunster, the third of the great churches.

Fraumunster and St Peter


The clock face on St Peter is 8.7 meters, making it the largest in Europe.

Fraumunster from Grossmunster Square


According to legend, the original Grossmunster was built by Charlemagne. The present church was built in the Romanesque tradition in the 11th and 12th centuries.  Its two towers were added in the 15th century. The wooden steeples atop the towers burned down in the 18th century and were replaced by the present neo-gothic structures. Richard Wagner once mentioned that they reminded him of pepper dispensers! Modern stained glass windows and ornate bronze doors are 20th century additions to the church.

Huldrych Zwingli instigated the Protestant Reformation in Switzerland with his sermons from the pulpit of this church. A statue of Zwingli stands in the square in front of the church. Another statue, of his successor, Heinrich Bullinger, is on one of the side walls of the church.

The statue of Zwingli in front of Grossmunster

Grossmunster from the Limmatquai below

Statue of Heinrich Bullinger on the south wall of the church

The interior of the church is bare: no paintings, no statues. Zwingli cleaned house when he broke away from the Catholic church. He banned Christian music, too, and even threw out the organ!

When you enter the church you are greeted by a cameras not allowed sign and are asked to respect those who consider the  building a house of worship. The sign is in German but includes the picture of a camera with a red diagonal line running through it.  I saw many illiterate tourists with smartphones, however, shooting with abandon.

Fraumunster from the east end of Munster Bridge

I crossed the Munster bridge to visit Fraumunster and then returned to continue our walk on the east side of the Limmat.

Looking north from Munster Bridge

Looking south from Munster Bridge

Statue of Hans Waldmann at the west end of Munster Bridge in front of Fraumunster. Waldmann was a Zurich leader in the 16th century.

Fraumunster was built in the 9th century as part of a Benedictine Abbey by Ludwig, Charlemagne’s grandson, and for several hundred years the abbess ruled Zurich. In the 14th century, however, the city’s guilds rebelled and appointed their own mayor of the city and at the time of the Reformation the Abbey was closed down. Fraumunster is all that is left of the once powerful abbey. All of the other buildings were demolished in the 19th century to make way for the stadthaus (town hall) adjacent to the church.

Fraumunster is famous today for its five stained glass windows created by the celebrated Russian-French artist Marc Chagall. Just like the Grossmunster across the river, Fraumunster is pretty bare inside and, again just like Grossmunster, photography is not allowed. I was completely turned off,  however, when I entered the church and encountered a store bristling with business right in the middle of the church! To the right of the store was the main part of the church with its rows of pews and organ. It was empty. The store was selling prints of the Chagall windows. Some were going for 3 euros, some for more than 20. The average print seemed to be around  7 or 8 euros. To the left of the store you had to ascend a few steps to the choir and behind a curtain there were a few more pews reserved for admiring Chagall’s wondrous windows. In a way people were worshiping St Chagall instead of Christ! I noticed a few smartphones in use, here, too.

I talked to a few people about my opinions on Fraumunster, including an Anglican priest, and most people disagreed with me, saying they though it was OK to sell prints inside the church while banning the use of cameras.  I guess it’s just the photographer in me. I have come across stores in churches before (mostly Catholic churches); but in most of these I was also allowed to take my own pictures.  We visited 17 more churches on our vacation, some Protestant and some Catholic, and I was allowed to take photos in all of them.

I’m glad there were no rules against shooting the exteriors of these great churches!

About crowcanyonjournal

I am a family man with interests in family history, photography, history and travel.
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1 Response to Zurich’s Magnificent Churches

  1. Michelle says:

    Hmm… That must be a change at Fraumunster. I’m pretty sure I was able to take pictures there when I visited about 15 years ago, unfortunately I lost a roll of film in Zurich and it was from the day I visited Fraumunster so I have no evidence either way that I was there! I definitely don’t remember a store IN the church.

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