Copenhagen’s cathedral (Vor Frue Domkirke) is famous for its Thorvaldsen sculptures of Christ and the apostles, free organ concerts, and a small museum.
The neoclassical architecture of the Copenhagen Cathedral, or Church of Our Lady, is not as interesting as the Gothic churches in the vicinity but the Thorvaldsen masterpieces make this cathedral absolutely worth visiting. In addition to music during services, visitors may also enjoy free half-hour organ concerts on most Saturdays at noon. The church also has free wifi, toilets, and a small free museum on the upper level and crypt.
Copenhagen’s Cathedral – Vor Frue Kirke
The Vor Frue Kirke (Church of Our Lady) only became the Copenhagen Cathedral (Københavns Domkirke) in 1924. Both names are in use. As the church is Lutheran, no statue of Mary is actually in the church but the name used since the 12th century stuck.
The current neoclassical church was erected between 1811 and 1829, following the destruction of the Gothic church, and much of central Copenhagen, by the bombardment of the Danish capital by the British Navy in 1807. C.F. Hansen, the Danish star architect of the time, designed the seventh church for this site in the classical style in vogue during the period but in contrast to the other Gothic churches in central Copenhagen.
The Classical Copenhagen Cathedral
The Vor Frue Kirke is often described as a monument to classical architecture. The well-proportioned external measurements of 83 by 33 m were partly dictated by moneysaving measures requiring reusing some of the wall and tower base that survived the bombardment and fires of 1807.
Hansen thought a tower would ruin the classical lines but the King (and people) demanded and he had to relent. Still, the 60 m high tower is only half the height of the previous tower, which at 124 m was a prime target for the British navy. The tower has only four bells, in contrast to the 42-bell carillon of the previous church, but the Stormklokken is at 4 tons the largest bell in Denmark and the smallest bell, dating from 1490, the oldest in the country.
The pillared portico of the church is more in keeping with Hansen’s concept of classical Greek architecture – and similar to the courthouse he designed on Nytorv – look down the street. The portico is flanked by two large bronze statues of King David by JA Jerichau and Moses by HV Bissen. More impressive are the works by Thorvaldsen: the relief on the freeze showing John the Baptist preaching in the desert and Christ entering Jerusalem (above the main door).
Thorvaldsen Sculptures in the Cathedral of Copenhagen
The bright interior of the Vor Frue Kirke has a 60 m long nave with 25 m high ceiling. The main architectural decorations are a row of Doric columns high up on the nave walls and a paneled ceiling. The current color scheme has been in use since the 1970s when many decorations were removed from the church.
The magnificent sculptures by Berthold Thorvaldsen are arguably the most compelling reason to visit the Domkirke. Bertel Thorvaldsen, the leading European sculptor of the age, was contracted to design sculptures and other decoration for the Vor Frue Kirke.
Thorvaldsen’s Christus Consolator
The 3.2-m Christ Has Risen (Christus Consolator) sculpture above the altar is probably the best known of Thorvaldsen’s works – several copies are in churches and public spaces around the world with several in the USA, including Temple Square in Salt Lake City. It was originally commissioned for the Christiansborg Castle Church, another neoclassical designed by Hansen, but a copy was placed in the Vor Fruekirke for its consecration in 1829 and the final marble sculpture remained here.
Showing Christ as a resurrected savior rather than suffering on the cross was quite revolutionary at the time. Thorvaldsen followed more traditional lines on the relief of Christ’s walk to Calvary on the rounding above the altar.
The baptismal font of a kneeling angel holding a large seashell was a gift from Thorvaldsen to the church. Visitors are usually allowed to walk up for a closer look of the angel and Christ statues.
Thorvaldsen’s Twelve Apostles
The sides of the nave of Copenhagen Cathedral are lined with sculptures of the twelve apostles – Paul standing in for Judas. Most were only transferred from the plaster casts to marble during the 1830s and 1840s. The cast may be seen in the Thorvaldsens Museum along with original statues or copies of all his works.
The original intention was for these sculptures to have been placed in alcoves – see the design in the museum – but when the statues arrived from Rome they proved a tight fit. It was never convincing cleared whether a mistake was made with the measurements, or whether Thorvaldsen never wanted his statues to be only partly visible. Once the alcoves where filled up, even the architect had to agree free-standing was the better option. Thorvaldsen followed strict classical principles allowing his statues to be in perspective from any angle.
The reliefs of floating angels are also by Thorvaldsen.
Concerts and Music in the Vor Frue Kirke
The cathedral has two modern organs. The larger, 87-voices organ by Marcussen is from 1995 and has nearly 8,000 pipes. A smaller, 26-voices organ by Carsten Lund in the choir was inaugurated in 2002.
The organs may be heard during church services but also during frequent concerts. The free half-hour organ concerts (Orgelmatiné) on most Saturdays at noon are popular – simply stroll in and take a seat.
Several of central Copenhagen churches offer free organ concerts throughout the year.
The cathedrals shop is on the upper level with a small museum. Further temporary exhibitions are held in the crypt. The upper level not only gives fine views of the nave but visitors may also peak into the royal box, complete with a private toilet.
The Copenhagen Cathedral is open daily from 8:00 to 17:00. Sightseeing is not allowed during services (not that frequent and usually fairly short).
The church is also open, and beautifully lit, on Thursday and Friday nights from 20:00 to midnight and Sunday from 19:00 to 23:00.
The museum and shop are usually open Wednesday to Saturday from noon to 16:00.
The tower is sometimes open in summer on Sunday and Monday from noon to 14:00 – admission is free. Stairs to the open viewing platform is steep but sturdy.
The Vor Frue Kirke is at Vor Frue Plads next to the old university building in the heart of Copenhagen’s city center.
Nørreport metro, train and bus stations are the closest public transportation but it is within easy walking distance of any bus stop on the edges of Copenhagen’s pedestrian zone.
Thorvaldsen’s lifework, including the plaster models of the statues in the cathedral, may be seen in the Thorvaldsens Museum adjacent to the Christiansborg palace complex with free viewing platform (and an elevator).