Basel Minster (German: Basler Münster) is one of the main
landmarks and tourist attractions of the
Swiss city of Basel. It adds
definition to the cityscape with its red sandstone architecture and
coloured roof tiles, its two slim towers and the cross-shaped
intersection of the main roof. The Münster is listed as a heritage
site of national significance in Switzerland.
Catholic cathedral and today a Reformed Protestant
church, it was built between 1019 and 1500 in Romanesque and Gothic
styles. The late Romanesque building was destroyed by the 1356 Basel
earthquake and rebuilt by Johannes Gmünd, who was at the same time
employed for building the Freiburg Münster. This building was
extended from 1421 by Ulrich von Ensingen, architect of the towers at
Ulm Minster and the
Strasbourg Cathedral. The southern tower was
completed in 1500 by Hans von Nußdorf.
1 Building history
1.1 Early structures
1.2 Second church structure - the Heinrich Münster
1.3 Third church structure - late Romanesque
2 Important historical events
2.1 Pope's Election at
2.2 Destruction of religious paintings
3.1 Georgsturm and Martinsturm
3.2 Main Porch
9 External links
Gallic wall near the Minster
The hill on which the Minster is located today was a Celtic fortified
city in the late Celtic Era in first century BC. The Gallic wall of
this city, was uncovered during archeological excavations in 1970.
Both the gate site, and the historical run of the street, can be
partly retraced. This road parted at today's position of the Minster
where it is presumed there was a small temple that later was replaced
by a Roman fort.
The first bishop of
Basel is claimed to be Justinianus 343-346 AC. The
bishop's see was relocated from
Augusta Raurica (today Kaiseraugst) to
Minster hill during the Early Middle Ages. According to the
archeologist Hans Rudolf Sennhauser this transfer presumably took
place at the beginning of the 7th century under bishop Ragnacharius, a
former monk of monastery Luxeuil. There is no historical evidence for
the existence of a cathedral before the 9th century.
Second church structure - the Heinrich Münster
Design for organ shutters for
Basel Minster by Hans Holbein the
Younger, c. 1525–26. Holbein includes a view of the cathedral
between its founders Kunigunde and Henry II.
Built on the old foundations of the Haito Minster some time after the
turn of the first millennium a new building in the early Romanesque
style of the Ottonian period was built by order of Bishop Adalberto II
(approx. 999 - 1025). Sometimes called “Adalberto Cathedral”, the
three-nave cathedral is actually named after its patron Emperor Henry
II, in German “Heinrich”. The cathedral is dedicated to Henry II
and his wife Kunigunde. The prince-bishop governed the city as
representative of the Emperor who gained possession of
Basel in 1006.
Excavations from 1973-1974 prove that the crypt of this building,
consecrated in 1019, had not been expanded. At the end of the 11th
century a tower made of light-colored limestone and molasse was
erected on the western side of the building. This historic structure
remains forming the bottom part of the north tower (Georgsturm) today.
Heinrich Minster did not possess a tower on the south side.
Third church structure - late Romanesque
The building as it stands today dates back for the most part to the
late Romanesque building constructed in the last third of the 12th
century and completed around 1225. On the foundations of the previous
buildings a church with three naves and a transept was built. The
western facade was finished sometime in the latter part of the 13th
century. A third storey was added to Georgsturm, and the
Martinsturm'[clarification needed]' was started.
Even though supported by massive pillars, an earthquake in 1356
destroyed five towers, the choir and various vaults. Johannes von
Gmünd, who was also the architect of Freiburg Minster, rebuilt the
damaged cathedral and in 1363 the main altar was consecrated. In 1421
Ulrich von Ensingen, who constructed the towers of the minsters in Ulm
and Strasbourg, began the extension of the northern tower
(Georgsturm). This phase ended in 1429. The southern tower
(Martinsturm) was completed by Hans von Nussdorf on 23 July 1500. This
date marks the official architectural completion of the minster. In
the 15th century the major and the minor cloisters were added. The
minster served as a bishop’s see until 1529 during the Reformation.
Today's congregation forms part of the Evangelical-Reformed Church of
the Canton Basel-Stadt. In the 19th century two major restorations
took place. From 1852 until 1857 the rood screen was moved and the
crypt on the western side was closed. In the 20th century the main aim
of renovations has been to emphasize the late Romanesque architecture
and to reverse some modifications made in the 1850s. Additionally, the
floor was returned to its original level in 1975 and the crypt
reopened. A workshop dedicated to taking care of the increasingly
deteriorating sandstone exterior was set up in 1985.
Important historical events
Pope's Election at
Antipope Felix V
Pope Martin V
Pope Martin V informed Basel’s government that their city
has been chosen to be the site of the next council. The main goal of
the meetings held by
Basel’s council between 1431 and 1449 was to
implement a church reform. Following the orders of Pope Eugene IV,
president of the council at that time, Julian Cesarini, left
1438. One year later, on 24 July 1440,
Felix V was elected as a
counter pope at Basel’s Münsterplatz. The German Emperor, Frederick
III, arranged for the dissolution of the council in
Felix V could not prevail. After the closure of the pontifical
university, citizens made an effort to establish a new university. The
council’s secretary, Pope Pius II, made it possible to enact the
papal bull and to open the
Basel University as an independent
university on 4 April 1460.
Destruction of religious paintings
Iconoclasm in Zurich, 1524
During the iconoclasm of the
Protestant Reformation, many valuable
pieces of art belonging to the city of
Basel and the minster were
destroyed in 1528 and 1529. Numerous citizens stormed many of the
churches in Basel, some of them by armed force in order to demolish
religious paintings and statues. Huldrych Zwingli, an influential
church reformer, condemned the worship of God in the form of pictures
A group of 40 armed men is said to have ascended to the minster from
the crowded market place at approximately 1 pm on 9 February 1529.
After a first attack on the church, during which an altarpiece was
tipped over and smashed, they departed for reinforcements. The
chaplains took the opportunity to lock the gates of the minster. The
returning mob of 200 loud and rowdy men assaulted and finally smashed
through the barrier. Once inside the church they destroyed altars,
crucifixes, and images of the Virgin Mary and saints. In the course of
the afternoon the iconoclasm extended to other churches in
The impressive treasure of the minster was saved and remained complete
until the Canton of
Basel was split into "half-cantons" in 1833. In
the 1850s new stained glass windows by
Franz Xaver Eggert
Franz Xaver Eggert installed.
Georgsturm and Martinsturm
Martinsturm (62.7 m) and Georgsturm (64.2 m)
The main front which points at the west is bestrided by two towers.
The northern tower is called Georgsturm (64.2 m) and the southern
tower is called Martinsturm (62.7 m). The towers are named after Georg
and Martin, saints of the knights. Copies of both saints are portrayed
by corresponding equestrian sculptures next to the main entrance upon
high pilasters below the particular towers. The statue of Holy Martin
originated from the year 1340; today, the archetype can be found in
the Klingentalmuseum. A mechanic clock and a sundial are located above
the archetype. It is remarkable that the sundial of the Basler
Münster shows the “wrong time” due to the Basler Zeit. Below the
Georgsturm a monumental picture (1372) can be found which shows knight
Georg fighting against a remarkably small dragon.
After a heavy earthquake in 1356 the Münster, which originally had
five steeples, was reconstructed with only two steeples remaining. At
the older Georgsturm, the lower brighter part that has remained
untouched, can still be seen. In 1500 a gorgeous finial was put on top
of the Martinsturm. By using the steep spiral stairs in the southern
steeple it is possible to see the old church clock from 1883. The
belfry is situated in between the two steeples which are connected
through a gallery. Georgturm and Martinsturm can both be accessed by
242 stairs. From there one can get an overwhelming view of the city of
Basel and the foothills of the
Black Forest and the Jura Mountains.
Both of the steeples consist of three lower, undivided storeys and
several Freigeschosse. The two lower storeys are simple and
block-like. The steeples’ upper storeys soar up the tracery gallery.
As those were not constructed simultaneously, they differ slightly in
their outer appearance. In contrast to the southern steeple, the
octagonally cross-sectioned steeple and the steeple topping attach
only over a rectangle storey at the northern steeple. Comparable to
the Freiburger Münster, lank Fialentürme project at the corners of
The benefactor Henry II at the main entrance
An empty column, which originally carried a statue of the Virgin Mary,
is situated between the doors of the main porch. As it is typical of
many other Gothic church porches, the tympanum above is likely to have
depicted the Last Judgement. Both were destroyed during the
Reformation Era. In contrast, the curvatures depicting prophets and
kings, roses, dancing angels and
Abraham have been preserved.
The benefactors Henry II and his wife, Empress Kunigunde, are
portrayed left of the main porch. In the portrait, the emperor,
depicted as a surprisingly young and beardless man, is carrying a
church model in his arms, which identifies him as the benefactor. Only
after the renovation of the exterior (1880 – 1980), the empress was
given a cross as another symbol of identification. Originally, she was
On the right one can see the pictures of a seducer (“Prince of this
World") and a misguided virgin.
While the virgin smiles and starts to undress, toads and snakes crawl
in the back of the seducer. They should embody the evil. The image
dates back to roughly 1280. The statues and brickwork of the cathedral
consist of red sandstone which was found in Wiesental and Degerfelden.
Coat of arms of the Diocese of
Basel from 1605
Until the Reformation, the
Basel Minster was the church of the bishop
and the main church of the Diocese of Basel, whose metropolitan bishop
was the Archbishop of Besançon. The bishop’s residence and the
original living quarters for the canons of the cathedral chapter were
part of the Minster. From the 12th century onwards, the canons lived
in their own private homes in the vicinity of the cathedral.
On 9 February 1529, all religious images were removed from the
cathedral and the Minster became the main congregation in the city of
Swiss Reformed Church, which has been the sole owner of the
building ever since the separation of church and state. The City of
Basel, however, still contributes three quarters of the building's
maintenance costs. Currently the congregations of the Gellert Church
and St. James Church, two other churches in Basel, also make up part
of the congregation of the Minster. Regular services and special
musical events take place in the church throughout the year. The
church also hosts many concerts of the
Basel church choir, choral
society and various other church organisations.
Tomb of Gertrude of Hohenberg
In the choir passage is the sarcophagus of Queen Anne of Habsburg and
her son Charles. She had married in 1245 as
Gertrude of Hohenberg
Gertrude of Hohenberg the
future King Rudolf of Habsburg and died in 1281 in Vienna. From there,
her body was transferred to Basel. The bones found in her grave (a
woman, a child, a man) were transferred in 1770 to Saint Blaise Abbey,
Black Forest; later on to Saint Paul's Abbey, Lavanttal.
Except for some text in the introductory paragraph, this article is a
translation of the German language article.
Swiss inventory of cultural property of national and regional
significance (1995), p. 75.
^ Christian Müller; Stephan Kemperdick; Maryan Ainsworth; et al, Hans
Holbein the Younger: The
Basel Years, 1515–1532, Munich: Prestel,
2006, ISBN 978-3-7913-3580-3, pp. 346–47.
Basel Münster website - Architecture 12th and 13th centuries (in
German) accessed 29 June 2014
Basel Münster website - Architecture 14th and 15th centuries
Archived February 28, 2012, at the Wayback Machine. (in German)
accessed 4 May 2012
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Münster (Basel).
"Baugeschichte des Basler Münsters" (PDF). , Universität Freiburg
seminar paper, Oct. 1979, 38 pages. Retrieved 28 March 2014.
Coordinates: 47°33′24″N 7°35′32″E / 47.55667°N
7.59222°E / 47.55667; 7.59222