The bishop’s court in Chur
23 January 2023
The bishop’s court in Chur (canton Graubünden) consists of the Palace, the cathedral of St. Mary’s Assumption (St. Maria Himmelfahrt) and the residences for the chapter. A Part of the bishop’s Palace is used by the Domschatz Museum today. The other part is being renovated and will be opened to the public.
The Obere Spaniöl, 17th century
1,600 years of church history
Chur is one of the oldest episcopal cities north of the Alps. Moreover, its liturgical art treasure has survived almost intact, despite the reformation of Chur in 1527, the permanent tension between the Protestant city council and citizens, and the Catholic enclave of the episcopal court.
The bishop’s Palace. Photo: Alice das Neves Photography
This situation can be compared to St Gall. This city, too, changed faith in 1524 and 1525. However, the centuries-old abbey St. Gall did not fare as well as the cathedral in Chur. Many liturgical objects were sold, destroyed or looted. St Gallen even had one of the first political walls in Europe: a wall separated the territory of the abbey in the middle of town from the rest of the Protestant city.
Back to Chur. The first predecessor of Chur Cathedral was built in the fifth century, perhaps during Bishop Asinio. Archaeological research has revealed another predecessor from the eighth century, the so-called Tellokirche from the period 750-760. Bishop Tello was the last descendant of the Rhaetian ruler dynasty of the Zaccones or Viktorids. The late Romanesque church was consecrated on 19 June 1272 after a 120-year construction period.
Its intact Romanesque sculpture, decorations and capitals, supplemented in later centuries by Gothic and Baroque elements, are among the best preserved in Europe. The Gothic frescoes are probably the work of the Rhäzuns Master in the style of the Waltensburg Master.
The Premonstratensian St. Luzius Monastery was founded in 1149. St Luzius and St Florinus are the patron saints of the diocese. However, the first construction of the complex dates from the eighth century as a Carolingian church.
The Carolingian crypt in St Luzius has been preserved. Tomb plaques of the Viktoriden dynasty members from the eighth century are still there. The dynasty died out in 765, after which Charlemagne (748-814) appointed Frankish abbots and, from 806, earls as secular rulers.
The Domschatzmuseum in the former Baroque bishop’s Palace is a museum and a repository for liturgical objects still in use. For example, the display of the 13th-century triumphal cross in the cathedral is one of the regular parts of the liturgy at Easter.
Photo: Ralph Feiner
The Triumphal Cross, 13th century
Moreover, since 2020, the world-famous 25 intact images of the Totentanz (death of dance) from 1543 have been displayed in the palace’s wine cellar. These images were created from woodcuts by Hans Holbein the Younger (1498-1543). This unique series hung in the palace until 1882. After a stay at the Rätische Museum, they are back on display.
This series consists of grisailles (the unknown painter used only grey, black and white colours) in a latticework of three rows with a length of 15 metres and a height of 3.40 metres.
Photo: Ralph Feiner
The nearby parish church of St Martin has been Evangelical-Reformed since 1525 and is mentioned as early as around 800 for the first time. It indicates the isolated position of the episcopal court after the reformation in 1527.
St. Martins Church and the saint Martinus
(Source and further information: Domschatzmuseum Chur)
The Saints Luzius and Florinus