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Viborg Cathedral

St Mary or Our Lady of Viborg

The diocese of Viborg was created ab. 1060 when the king, Svend Estridsen, divided Jutland into 4 dioceses: Ribe, Aarhus, Viborg and Vestervig (now Aalborg). Already at that time Viborg was an important church-town with its 12 parishes.


There is no proof of an older church on the site where the granite cathedral was built under king Nils (1104-34). These years of growth also saw the building of the related cathedrals of Ribe, Lund and Slesvig.


Viborg Cathedral was built as a long cruciform church with two western towers, 2 beautiful eastern towers, as well as aisles, choir and crypt. The latter was not finished until after the murder of bishop Eskild, who was killed while praying in the church of St Margrethe in Asmild across the lake on October 20th 1133. The murder of the bishop was part of the ongoing civil war, and the later king Erik Emune was suspected of being responsible.


Whereas the cathedral in Ribe was built of calcareous tufa, the church in Viborg was erected mostly of granite ashlars. The difficult granite was defeated by local doggedness and a desire for beauty, and the use of this building-material for the cathedral is quite unique. Viborg Cathedral is presumably the biggest granite church in the world (the second-largest in Denmark is the church in Vestervig).


Already before the church was quite finished, a fire in the town threatened it ab. 1145. But according to the legend, the dean Kjeld (who died in 1150) ran up into one of the towers, and as a result of his prayers the fire died down at the foot of the church.


In 1501 a lightning fire hit the church. The western towers, the gables of the transepts and the upper part of the apse were destroyed. The bishop Niels Friis succeeded in rebuilding the church before he died in 1508.


During the years of reformation Hans Tausen turned Viborg into a center of spiritual growth. The evangelical service was introduced in the cathedral as early as in 1530. But already in 1567 the town was again ravaged by fire. About 100 noblemen’s houses were burnt down, and the cathedral was not spared either. The reconstruction took a long time. The towers got slim spires of fully 55 meters – 13 meters higher than the present ones.

The next fire occurred in 1726 – causing these high spires to fall down and break the vaults of the church. After this disaster only the naked walls and some remains of the vaults were standing.This time the reconstruction was accomplished – and in record time - by the Altona-builder Claus Stallknecht. He reconstructed the cathedral, the Dominican church and the bishop’s residence and also built the town hall and a wing of the hospital at the sum of 36.000 rix-dollars. 

The church got special “twisted” sediments and “caps” on the towers. Inside the church new vaults were built as well as a huge pulpit and a colossal alter piece, and the church was re-opened in 1730. But the work had been poorly done. In spite of repeated repair, the vaults threatened to fall down, and in 1862 it was decided to close the church.

In 1864 a national appeal resulted in 100.00 kr. and the reconstruction started – the foundation stone being laid by the king in December. The architects Nebelong and Julius Tholle led the work, but they both died in 1871, so the work had to be completed by professor H.B.Storck. The inauguration took place on September 10th 1876.

At the reconstruction the architects planned painted ceilings, and the historical painter F.C. Lund was chosen to decorate the middle vault and the apse (with the same motives as later Skovgaard). The pulpit - made from “Bremer-sandstone” by the sculptor C. J. Rosenfalk – is supported by three polished granite pillars, resting on lying granite lions. The latter modelled by H. Bissen.

The nave of the church is lit by 8 bronze angels (2 meters high) with clusters of light bulbs and the choir by 2 angels with clusters of light bulbs - all of them designed by Joakim Skovgaard in 1911.

The purpose of this great reconstruction was to re-create the original church. Ruthlessly the building was stripped of almost its entire history, but as the church stands today, it is the clearest example of the ideal Romanesque (Norman) cathedral. Its first builders have decided the harmonious proportions of the room: the length of the nave is the double of that of the transepts, and the square of the choir is repeated in each of the three parts of the transept.

Later on the frescoes by Joakim Skovgaard were made as a protestant illustrated Bible – unique in its kind. This has turned the church into a tourist attraction and a place of pilgrimage - a “must” to enjoy when visiting Viborg.

The golden altar was designed by H. B. Storck and modelled in gilded metal on oak by the sculptor, professor C. C. Peters in the style of the metal altars of the Middle Ages. The central part shows a painting of Our Lady with Jesus, surrounded by pictures from the life of Jesus.

In front of the communion rail lies a big, black stone in the floor. It marks the place where the king Erik 5th (Klipping) was entombed after he was murdered in Finderup on the night of St Cecily November 22th 1286. His body – which was penetrated by 56 deadly wounds – was by the loyal members of the chapter wrapped in red silk and placed in a lead coffin together with the king’s large sword and other belongings.

Stairs to both sides of the stairs to the choir lead to the crypt – or “hidden church”. This is the crypt of bishop Eskild and at the same time the oldest, Romanesque (Norman) room in Denmark. The vaults rest on 6 pillars – the 2 in the middle of polished porphyry, the rest of granite. In the granite walls is also used hard-pan from the moor – or perhaps it is the special “redstone” from the island Fur, and tufa (locally known as “stone of the hills”). The first altar of the church was presumably placed in a western niche of the crypt.

In a northern chapel of the crypt stands a very rare granite coffin – cut from one stone. It has special room for the head, and at the bottom it has drains! Presumably the coffin dates al the way back to the 12th century – the very first years of the church. The question arises whether it was the coffin of one of the bishops who built the church – Eskild, Svend or Niels? Or perhaps the local saint of the church, the dean Kjeld. In the southern chapel of the crypt we find the well of St Kjeld, which was wellknown for its healing powers – especially in connection with blindness.

Viborg Domkirke

With over 100.000 annual visitors Viborg Cathedral is the main attraction of the region.

The cathedral's history dates back to 1140, while the intior of the catredral is dominated by a magnificent picture bible - 84 paintings by Joakim Skovgaard, early 20th century. The Church bronze door is created in 2012 by Maja Lisa Engelhardt.

Angel with clusters of light bulbs
The golden altar
The krypt