The Fransiscan Church
(Church of the Grey Friars)
Sct. Mogensgade 16 

In 1232 “The Minor Brethren” came to Denmark for the first time – walking on their bare feet. Both King Valdemar, the clergy and the population welcomed them willingly and affectionately, and in 1235 these “Minor Brethren” founded a monestary in Viborg. In all the order built 26 monestaries in Denmark.

They were called The Minor Brethren of St Frans, Fransiscan Friars or Grey Friars after their habit, and their house in Viborg was placed with the monestary to the north of the church. The ground plan was like that of a nobleman’s residence with a brick-built, one-nave church for sermons. The monestary was NOT an enclosure, the very duty of the friars being to go out into the world to preach, hear confessions and beg, as well as to provide social help in the caring for sick and poor persons.  

The main building was the impressive church, which was designed for at great congregation. It was in function as parish church from 1529 until 1812, and the last remnants of it did not disappear until 1830. Today its size/outline is marked by the well-cut beech-hedges in the garden “Tausens Minde” (“Memorial of Tausen”). In Danish history this is “the church of reformation”, from where Hans Tausen – main figure of the Danish Reformation – from 1527 until 1529 preached the new, Lutheran teachings.

The Reformation

The Reformation brought about a complete upheaval for the monestary. Around New Year 1530 the last friars had left – were almost kicked out – but already before that, the building had been taken into use for other purposes. Here Hans Tausen organized the first Lutheran theological seminary in the kingdom, and The building also accommodated sessions for the King’s Counsil or legal proceedings.

In 1975-77 a restoration revealed that from ab. 1500 two buildings had been built together - with a passage between them through a gate at basement level.

King Christian III was a very devote king, who, as a very young man, had been present at the Diet of Worms in 1521, when Luther made his stand against emperor and pope. This influenced the king for life, and he had a wish to set his mark on the former monestary of the Grey Friars in Viborg. He had it re-built as an aristocratic establishment with two elegant rooms in the late Gothic style on the ground floor, and above those a huge hall covering the whole extent of the building. This was called the dance-hall or flower-hall – the latter name referring to its decoration with frescoes. Here the local noble families had got a place for their celebrations.

At the restoration in 1970 one of the rooms on the ground floor was successfully re-constructed, so that it today presents itself almost as in the days of King Christian III. It was used as residence for the king, when he stayed in Viborg, and therefore it is today called “Chamber of the King” (Kongens Kammer).

From monestary to hospital

In 1541 a deed of foundation was confirmed by the king, according to which the monestary of the Grey Friars was changed into a hospital, i.e. a home for the sick, old and poor. This existed until present days, and the history of the hospital describes a very important corner of the history of Danish social care. The economy of the hospital came from extensive landed property, the remnants of which were not sold off until the present time.

Until 1680 the big hall – the dance-hall – was used as infirmary, and downstairs was church and rooms for patients. In 1680 the “hospital-inmates” were moved to the lower floor, where they were lying in box beds – placed along the walls, built together and with straw as mattresses.

Originally the inmates were fed by the hospital,  but from this time they received socalled weekly allowances and were supposed to make their own food at the fireplace. Accounts, reports and other documents – all of them yellowed through time – give us a touching picture of distressed people and the circumstances they have been living under through the years.

From 1739 and until the start of the 19th century there were small, primitive cells for lunatics on the northern side of the building.

The Hospital Church

Not until the middle of the 19th century were the big hospital halls divided into smaller rooms for the inmates. Until then an altar and a pulpit had been placed in the middle of each hall. Now a hospital church was established on the first floor of the southern wing. In 1949 this was moved to the vaults in the basement under the added wing. This church was inaugurated on December 4th 1949, and services still take place here – on the last Sunday of the month.  During the summer (except in July) there is a morning-service on Sundays, and during the winter an afternoon-service on the last Sunday of the month.

There is a very special atmosphere, contact and intimacy in this church.

The church consists of 6 crossing vaults, carried by two solid buttresses. The small windows with “flat” arches and stained glass were given to the church by Peter Skovgaard - son of Joakim Skovgaard. The altar of the church is built of brick, and the heavy, brass-candelabra originate from a reconstruction in 1853. In front of the altar is a beautiful carpet woven by the artist Grethe Sørensen.

The small baptismal font was designed by Thomas Havning in 1956 and has been built into the wall. The room did not leave space for a pulpit – only for an organ, which has earlier been standing in the church of the island Venø.

“Graabroedre Kloster” (Monestary of the Grey Friars) of today

Apart from “Kongens Kammer” and the church, the building consists today of 7 flats for elderly people. The current deed dates from 1987, but is without big alterations since the start in 1541. There still is a superintendent, and the foundation is run by a board, of which among others the bishop and the mayor are members, together with the superintendent.

Finally it should be mentioned that appointment and dismissal of the superintendent must be approved by royal resolution.