Roskilde Cathedral, Denmark

Roskilde became the capital of Denmark in 960 when Harald Bluetooth set up his base here. There was a small wooden church at the time, in which King Harald was buried. This hasn’t ever been located.

In around 991 the town was made the seat of the Bishop of Roskilde as part of the conversion of Scandinavia to Christianity. The first stone Cathedral was completed around 1080.

Around 1200 an expansion programme was started and bricks were chosen to be used as a material. Some 3 million bricks were thought to have been used and at the time it was the largest brick building in the world, although it has been overtaken many times since. During the 1400s much work was done on the interior of the Cathedral, but in 1443 a fire swept through Roskilde and much of the Cathedral was destroyed. It was not until 1464 that it once more reopened. At this time the great Royal burial chapel was added at the expense of Christian I.

A hundred years or so later Roskilde’s Bishops tried to stop the spread of Lutheranism but by 1536 there was no going back. The last Catholic Bishop, Joachim Rønnow was imprisoned and remained in Copenhagen Castle until he died.

Once the Cathedral ceased to be the centre of Roskilde life the city declined very abruptly as Copenhagen began to rise. It was only because of Roskilde’s position as Royal burial place that it was not looted in the way many major Catholic churches were across Denmark.

The Cathedral continued to be the National Cathedral until 1922 when the Zealand diocese was split into two and Copenhagen Cathedral became the National one instead.

Roskilde continued its descent from capital to little market town and the Cathedral became less and less important in Danish life. In 1968 the spire was destroyed by fire, leaving only the two towers over the west front.

Today Roskilde is a pleasing provincial city and the Cathedral is, despite rather plain appearance outside, one of the most rewarding churches in Denmark and is moving towards becoming a place of national importance once more.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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