The Churches of Gotland

THE CATHEDRAL CHURCH OF ST MARY

The German merchants, who visited Gotland, began in the latter part of the 12th century to collect money in order to build a church for themselves in Visby. The building started in the last decades of the century. Only some parts of this oldest church are preserved in the present building. It was a basilica with transept and a west tower with galleries, the height of which is marked by the arched moulding; in its first storey is a chapel or gallery, looking out to the nave (like several princely churches in West Germany). The northern portal of the transept is now the en trance to the vestry. The resident Germans wished the church to be given the status of a parish church; their wish was fulfilled at the consecration of the church by the bishop of Linköping in 1225. Shortly thereafter the church was enlarged in the east with a new chancel, flanked by two low towers, and a broader transept with four heavy pillars, which may indicate that a central tower was planned. In the southern wall of the transept a magnificent romanesque portal was installed, the so called Bride-portal. In the next building stage, about the middle of the century, the nave was widened to equal breadth with the transept and all aisles were made equally high: the building was thus transformed from a basilica into a hall-church of Westphalian pattern. The high Gothic style made its appearance in the church's building history in the first part of the 14th century, when the great Southern chapel was erectec by Gotlandic stone masons and sculptors, who had been at work at the Uppsala cathedral. Its southern facade was remodelled in the 1760s in classicistic baroque style but was once again shrouded in Gothic splendour in connection with the thorough restoration of the whole church 1899-1901, directed by the Gotland-born architect and etcher. A.H.Haig of London (cf. Ardre, Dalhem). A good deal of the sculptural decoration is derived from preserved original pieces (though not the effigies of Christ, the Virgin and St Catherine). After the completion of the chapel the whole of the nave.was provided with big gothic windows, and at the same time a huge attic was built over the middle aisle, which shows in the exterior as the clerestory of a basilica. It was used by the German guild of merchants as a store-house; its crane jib is yet to be seen in the eastern gable. In the last building stage of the church all towers were built up to their present height in order better to harmonize with the new basilical exterior; the slender octagonal east towers were pierced by Gothic windows. (The spires date from the 18th century). These additions were completed in the 1420, s. When the Lutheran reformation was carried through, after the partial devastation of the town by the Lübeck troops in 1525, Visby was brought down to misery and could not afford to maintain all churches, and St Mary was elected to be retained as church of the city, and when the see of Visby was established in 1572 she obtained the dignity of cathedral. Only two medieval objects of art have been preserved in the church: the imposing baptismal font of Gotlandic marble from the middle of the 13th century, and the wooden staue of Christ resurrected (polychrome original), a work very close to the master of the Öja crucifix (end of the 13th century, of Öja). From the restoration of about 1900 date the retable, made in England after Haig's design, a painted frieze of apostles on the chancel wall and the organ facade. The pews were made at the restoration of 1945. In the southern aisle stands a sandstone altar piece from 1682, a Burgsvik work. The pulpit of walnut and ebony was made, probably in Lübeck, in 1684. Most remarkable among the many epitaphs would be the one on the northern chancel wall erected for the Lübeck admiral Bartholomew Tinnapfel and at the same time a memorial of the greatest sea catastrophe known to have happened in the Baltic: the wreck of the Danish-Lübeckish fleet in the roads of Visby in 1566.

Photo Hans Hemlin

Text Dr. Bengt G Söderberg


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