Graubünden - Culture of Construction

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Chantun Grischun
Cantone dei Grigioni
Romanesque Church Construction
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Kathedrale St. Mariä Himmelfahrt*

Hof | 7000 Chur/Cuira/Coira
Massive, Late Romanesque basilica with extraordinary architectural sculpturing and rich furnishings, stretching from Carolingian until post-Baroque periods; significant cathedral treasury.

During the excavations of 1921, the remnants of two previous buildings were discovered: a smaller apse probably belonging to the 5th century cathedral, and a larger one to the church of Bishop Tello (deceased around 773), from which fragments of marble reliefs from the choir screen have also been preserved. The construction of the present-day building was probably begun by the Cistercian bishop, Adalgott (1151-60), with the choir consecration in 1178, the cross altar completed in 1208, and the final consecration in 1272 under Bishop Heinrich von Montfort. Addition of the Laurentius Chapel in 1467; in the 17th century, embellishment to the aisles and construction of the upper sacristy. After a fire in 1811, replacement of the roofs, reconstruction of the tower on the old foundations in 1828-29; renovation in 1921 and 1924-26 by the Sulser brothers, who exposed vault ribs and wall sections in order to do justice to the materials used; restored from 2001-2007 by architects, Rudolf Fontana and Gioni Signorell. The unusually strong asymmetrical alignment of the church’s axis may be due to a pattern set by the construction of the smaller previous church buildings so near to the steep, rocky cliff above the Plessur, but possibly also to one of the project changes that occurred after the construction of the altar house. 

Simple Exterior Construction. Late Romanesque portal in the west front of the central nave, built of ashlars and flanked by two shallow pilaster strips; in front of the sloping jambs, columns with bud capitals, worn-out painted archivolts; set lunette grid from around 1730. Above the main entrance, a large Late Romanesque round arch window. In the northern aisle nave, traces of a former cloister and the old fenestration are visible in the plaster. Between the choir and northern aisle nave, a tower with a dome crest above an octagonal bell storey, rebuilt after the fire of 1811 by Johann Georg Landthaler in 1828-29. Recognizable within the truss above the choir bay, are remnants of the tower originally conceived of for the cathedral. In the north face of the choir, a wheel window from the 14th century. In the south wall, a group of three windows, restored to their original use in 1924-25. Beneath rises the two-storey sacristy building. In the northeast corner of the choir, a lion sculpture from the beginning of the 13th century. On the east wall of the altar house, fragment of a wall painting with a depiction of the Crucifixion from the 1st third of the 14th century (restored in 2004); visible above it, the original roof line (until 1811).

Interior. The basilica structure, set upon a conspicuously irregular layout, consists of a nave with three bays converging in the centre, as well as narrow aisles, a starkly raised choir accessible by steep side stairs and a retracted, recently closed altar house. On clustered pillars are heavy, elevated cross vaults with rectangular ribs. At the east bay of the southern aisle is the entrance to the St. Laurentius Chapel, with its own small net-vaulted polygonal choir, dated 1467 on the northern bevel, 1491 in the tabernacle; the year 1544 above the choir arch signifies the date of reconstruction, when the nave of the chapel was extended, newly vaulted and fenestrated, and connected to the main building through a larger opening.

Crypt, beneath the choir and altar house, toward the nave, with a shallow arch spanning the two descending staircases and opening to the entire width of the crypt. Forward crypt with an unusually shallow cross rib vault - the junction of the broad vault ribs was later given the added support of an octagonal pillar enhanced with a crouching lion rider; behind it, under the altar house, a twin-nave room, with four cross vaults supported by two squat columns. Decorative Regency stucco piece from 1730 on a pink and green background. An early 16th century grid, set with diagonally placed bars, separates the rear crypt.

Capital Sculpture. Capitals of varying artistic quality, related to works of the Lombard sculptor, Benedetto Antelami. In the rear crypt are cushion, leaf and figural capitals with animal heads and the face of a bearded man from the 2nd half of the 12th century. The capitals of the altar house and the choir, display from the east to the west, among other depictions, four caryatid angels with a knight (altar house), the Holy Family together with the Annunciation of Mary or Eve, and the Adoration of the Kings (on the arch between the choir and altar house). On the choir arch, symbolisation of the threat of evil to mankind (in naïve representation), and as a classical-styled counterpart to it, Daniel in the Lion’s Den. In the nave, on the arcades and in the vault area, other figural capitals, e.g., King Solomon in the northern clerestory. To the west and in the aisles, vegetable forms, primarily bud capitals, on the impost plates, among other forms, those of cymatium and wave tendrils. On the column bases, spurs with leaf and animal motifs from the 1st half of the 13th century.

At the entrance to the crypt, four unique Apostle Columns* on lion pedestals with caryatid capitals, from the beginning of the 13th century. They supported a rood screen-like pulpit, which was accessible from the choir and under which the cross altar was located; current installation dates from 1921. The aforementioned column in the centre of the front crypt originates from the same workshop. The apostles were probably created under the influence of the sculpture of Saint Trophime on the portal in Arles. 

Beside the left choir staircase, a Late Gothic Tabernacle*, probably the richest and most harmonious work of its kind in Switzerland, by the master, Claus from Feldkirch, dated 1484, with two angel figures, as well as statues of Mary, the Diocesan Saints, Luzius and Florinus, and the Apostles Peter and Paul in its pinnacle-beset crown. On the east wall, behind the high altar, is a Late Gothic wall sarcophagus for the reception of relics. 

Wall Paintings. On the formeret wall in the west bay of the northern aisle, Epiphany with a row of saints, as well as the Crucifixion with Mary fainting and Cephalophors, a major work by the Waltensburg Master, from around 1330/40, who possibly also rendered Saint Christophorus on the west wall of the central nave beside the main entrance. Remaining paintings: enthroned Madonna with benefactor, row of saints and coat of arms of Thumb von Neuburg, from the end of 14th century, perhaps by the Rhäzüns Master, fragment of a Last Judgement from the 16th/17th century. Renaissance painting in the Laurentius Chapel from 1546. The aisle vaults painted in the 17th century in two stages, the middle bays probably by Johann Christoph Guserer (deceased 1707). In the west nave of the southern aisle, a stucco embellishment, along with a mural with Christ and Peter out to sea, based on a lapis lazuli image from the 1st half of the 17th century in the cathedral treasury, which also served as a model for the painting in the Joseph Altar from 1657 (see below). Adornments in the Lucius Chapel (behind the prayer box) from the 1st quarter of the 17th century. Glass Painting. Large west window by the Parisians, Claudius Lavergne and sons in 1884; the rest of the glass paintings by Albin Schweri and Louis Halter, 1925.

Furnishings. In the west bay of the northern aisle, the Altar of Catherine. Late Gothic winged retable from around 1500, possibly by Hans Springinklee, Sr., with painted centre picture and stationary wing doors, coat of arms of benefactor, Bishop Heinrich von Hewen (1491-1505, deceased 1509); centre picture based on the Bearing of the Cross from Dürer’s woodcut, the ‘Great Passion’. Baptismal font from 1612, font retable from the end of the 17th century. In the middle bay of the northern aisle, the Altar of Gaudentius, painting of the Assumption of Mary on the altar mensa by Johann Rudolf Sturn, 1652. In the east bay, the Sacred Heart Altar built in 1652, whose lateral figures are ascribed to Erasmus Kern, mensa painting by Felix Baumhauer, 1926. On the northern high nave wall of the east bay, Episcopal prayer box on graded foundation with Early Renaissance paintings in Camaieu technique from 1517; in the balustrade, Adoration of the Kings; Regency wooden grid from around 1730. Pulpit of reddish ‘scagliola’ (false marble out of stucco) from 1733 by Master Joseph. Double row of choral stalls from the middle of the 14th century, expanded from the 2nd quarter of the 15th century, partly transferred from the nave into the choir in 1845; seat backs with intricate tracery. Pontifical throne from 1883 by the Albin brothers, Medel Valley; sculpted pieces by C. Aufdermaur and sons. On the arch in front of the altar house, a Mannerist crucifix from the end of 16th century. 

High Altar*. The most significant and beautifully carved altar of the Swiss Late Gothic period. Romanesque altar table with stipes surrounded by columns from 1178, objects fabricated from spolia obtained from the first churches include: a simple-edged marble mensa, Carolingian columns, and interlaced marble fragments, to name a few. Retable by Jakob Russ from 1486-92; frame and painting by a Master Michel, perhaps from the studio of Hans Huber. Predella with six reliefs of the Suffering of Christ. In the shrine, the Mother of God, between Emerita and Ursula and the Diocesan Saints, Lucius and Florinus; on the inner sides of the wings, reliefs by the cloister patrons of St. Gall, Gallus and Otmar, as well as by the patrons of Disentis, Sigisbert and Plazidus. On the backs of the wings, the Birth of Christ and Adoration of the Magi. On the back of the shrine, a fully sculpted, multi-figured representation of the Crucifixion. In the crest, among other depictions, the Coronation of Mary, groups of apostles and the Trinity with Mary and John the Baptist as intercessor. Crypt altar in the rear crypt. In the altar block, the Carolingian marble slabs found in 1921 have been used. In front of the niche of relics for Saint Fidelis of Sigmaringen, a grid from the end of the 15th century, removed from the wall sarcophagus behind the high altar. As a retable, a small keel-arched wing altar, from around 1480, from the workshop of Ulrich Schreier, with painted renderings of the Coronation of Mary, Annunciation and Saints. In the east bay of the southern aisle, the altar of Saints Plazidus and Sigisbert, 1646; probably at the same time as the altarpiece with the Resurrection of Christ; the Late Gothic statues of the patrons from 1490-1500, presumably by Jakob Russ. Over the entrance to the Chapel of Laurentius, votive painting of the family of Mont-Cabalzar with the Bearing of the Cross, dated 1610, by Dietrich Meuss. In the passageway, a pieta from the workshop of Jakob Russ, from around 1490.

In the chapel, the Altar of Laurentius: Set into the façade and the candle steps, Carolingian marble slabs displaying interlaces, rosettes, wine tendrils and grapes, as well as two lions on either side of the cross on the middle slab of the stipe. Reredos dating from 1545 from the workshop of Bockstorffer, donated by Bishop Luzius Iter; in the elegant Early Renaissance frame, the Adoration of the Magi in the centre, laterally and in the predella, seven scenes from the Life of the Saint; in the retable, Salome with the head of John the Baptist. In the central bay of the southern aisle, the Joseph’s Altar from 1657. In the west bay, the Rosary altar, stucco retable from 1653, mensa with the Holy Family by Johann Rudolf Sturn. In the sacristy (modified in 1964), Late Renaissance retable with depiction of crucifixion by C. or G. Dreher from 1606; predella with interment of Franciscus Schorno from 1684. 

Numerous funerary monuments, particularly from the 17th and 18th centuries. Noteworthy sarcophagus of Bishop Ortlieb von Brandis (deceased 1491) in red Veronese marble by Jakob Russ, from 1485, with the bishop in supine position. On the west wall to the north of the main portal, the epitaph of Bishop Thomas von Planta (deceased 1565) with a demi-figure. To the right in the aisle, the simple memorial plate of Georg Jenatsch (1596-1639), politician and colonel at the time of turmoil in Graubünden during the Thirty Years’ War. Baroque epitaphs, mostly of black marble, for, among others, Bishop Ulrich VI von Mont (deceased 1692), Paul Buol (deceased 1697), Bishop Ulrich VII von Federspiel (deceased 1728), Georg Anton von Rost (deceased 1738) (toward the top in the east bay of the northern aisle). Neo-classical cenotaph in black marble by Joseph Sporer, for Bishop Dionys von Rost (deceased 1793), with the allegorical representations of Death and the Mourning Church in white marble. Neo-classical epitaphs for Johann Anton von Buol-Schauenstein (deceased 1797) and Bishop Karl Rudolf von Buol-Schauenstein (deceased 1833). In front of the main portal, the neo-Romanesque epitaph of the auxiliary bishop, Albert von Haller (deceased in 1858).

Significant Cathedral Treasury*. Exceptionally rich collection of ecclesiastical art since the 5th century.

(Kunstführer durch Graubünden, Hg. Gesellschaft für Schweizerische Kunstgeschichte. Eng. translation of the title: Art Guide of Graubünden, ed. Society for the History of Swiss Art, Zurich 2008. This book has only been published in German.)