The Basler Munster. Photo/Foto: TES.

The Basler Münster Millennium

On 11 October 1019, Bishop Adalbero II (deceased 1025) consecrated the Cathedral of Basel in the presence of the Holy Roman Emperor Henry II (973-1024) and his wife Kunigunde (975-1040). Henry and Kunigunde are still prominently portrayed on the western facade. A thousand years and various renovations (1170-1220, 1270, 1439, 1500), earthquake (1356), the Reformation (1529) and the tomb of Erasmus (1536) later, the Basler Münster is still there.

However, the foundations of the Münster are about 200 years older than the year of consecration. Nothing is known about this Carolingian church, only that it was built during the time of Bishop Haito (763-836), who was also abbot of the Reichenau monastery.

At the time of the inauguration of the Münster, Basel was still part of the Burgundian kingdom (888-1032), but the last (childless) king Rudolf III (970-1032) had already appointed Henry II as heir to his throne, including Basel. The Münster of 1019 was a Romanesque basilica with a nave and two aisles. Despite the later renovations and earthquake of 1356, these original Romanesque contours are still visible.

The cathedral suffered from the iconoclasm of 1529, although precious objects have been saved, such as the Golden Altar of Henry II (the original is in Paris, Cluny museum). The Golden Altar will return to Basel in the autumn of 2019 (at the occasion of the exposition Gold and Glory (10 October 2019) in the Historical Museum). This museum has a copy of the Golden Altar (Klein Klingental Museum also).

In the period 1170-1220, the Münster was rebuilt in the late Romanesque style, as evidenced by the Gallus Gate (Galluspfort) and the vaults. The Gothic style was already in full swing in France, and also some vaults of the Münster are Gothic. Perhaps the architect wanted to show that he was aware of the latest developments. The name of the architect Lüthold I von Aarburg (deceased 1213) is also known, rather exceptional in this period. He is portrayed in the crypt. The major Gothic adaptations took place in the years 1270-1290 when the western facade was changed, and Gothic side chapels added.

After these adjustments, the Münster had five towers. They were all destroyed by the great earthquake of 1356. The vaults also collapsed. The reconstruction was completed in 1500 by the construction of the St. Martin’s Tower, after the completion of the St. Georg’s Tower in 1439.  The two towers have not only been completed, but they are not symmetrical.

Many cathedrals never finished their towers or even have just one. Saint George is also prominently depicted, as well as Henry II and Kunigunde, in the late Gothic style. Today’s Münster is the cathedral of the year 1500, without the bishop, who left to Porrentruy in 1525, and as an Evangelist Church. The Klein Klingental Museum in Basel shows this (construction) history. The commemoration of one millennium Münster will take place on May 26th. (Source: D. Schwinn Schürmann, H.-R. Meier, E. Schmidt, Das Basler Münster, Basel 2006).