Roskilde Cathedral, Denmark

Denmark Roskilde cathedral tomb Frederick II 1200
The beautiful decoration of the tomb of Denmark's King Frederick II shows through the whitewash.

The Roskilde Cathedral (Domkirke) of the ancient capital of Denmark is the first Gothic cathedral to be built of brick. Because of this distinction, it's a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Built during the 12th and 13th centuries, it once featured extensive frescoes on the walls and ceilings. Unfortunately, during the Reformation furor of Northern Europe, like many ancient Catholic churches, the Roskilde Cathedral suffered a “makeover” of iconoclasm. In the case of the Domkirke, this meant all the original frescoes were whitewashed. Later, when sanity took hold again, they tried to uncover some of the frescoes, but the task mostly was in vain. Here is one chapel where the work was done, and you can see the pale simulacra of the original works.

Denmark Roskilde cathedral tombs
Some of the ornate tombs of Danish royalty.

The various chapels of the cathedral now serve primarily as the burial vaults for Danish kings, right up to the current day. The grave memorials themselves are a veritable art history lesson as the installations date from the 13th to the 20th Century. Danish Gothic right up through Danish Modern design. This crypt dates from the early 17th Century.

Denmark Roskilde cathedral choir carvings
The choir carvings are among the surviving decorations in the Roskilde Cathedral.

For some reason, when the Roskilde Cathedral was vandalized by the Protestant reformers, they left the slightly crude, but nevertheless beautiful carvings over the choir seats. The carvings below them, though, were removed, and replaced with bland wooden panels, as you can see in the picture. Maybe the carvings' very state of rough workmanship is what saved them.

The Roskilde Cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage site in Denmark. For a complete list of the Danish UNESCO sites, with links to the ones we've visited, click the link.

Roskilde can be reached easily by car from Copenhagen in about half an hour. Or you can take a train from the Copenhagen Central Station and be in Roskilde in about 24 minutes.

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2 thoughts on “Roskilde Cathedral, Denmark”

    • Unfortunately, not as good a job as those idiots with the white paint brushes of a few centuries ago. I read one account of trying to remove the white wash from other parts of the church. The attempt was abandoned because the results weren’t worth the effort. The originals were too damaged. I would have loved to have seen them. As it is, we don’t get to see many examples of northern European painting that survived the virulent iconoclasm.


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