About Grossmünster (Great Minster)
Grossmünster, also means the great minister, is a beautiful 12th-century cathedral and is one of the most recognizable and distinguished landmarks of Zurich. Its emblematic twin towers touching skyline makes it a very famous site and attracts thousands of tourists each day. The triple-aisled crypt is also the largest in Switzerland.
Grossmünster holds a very important place in Protestant Christianity because of its role in the Protestant Reformation in Switzerland. It is one of the largest churches in Zurich along with St. Peterskirche, Predigerkirche, and Fraumünster. Stands true to its literal meaning in German as “large Cathedral”, Grossmünster has great architectural and historical significance.
It is located at the Notre Dame cathedral on the banks of the Limmat River from the end of Zurich Lake, facing the other largest church in Zurich in the old town. It is totally possible and expected to get lost in the mind-blowing views around and exploring the city via electronic tuk tuk ride, going for a Swiss Chocolate walking tour or just walking by the riverside and waiting for the sunset to climb up to one of the church’s tower balcony and getting some super intagramic sunset photos.
As the famous story goes, the three saints St. Felix and St. Regula were brothers and with their servant Exuperantius were executed by Roman authority. They miraculously stood-up, picked their head in their hands and started walking. They walked around paces uphill, made their last prayer before lying down in death and they were buried at the exact place where they fell.
Around 500 years later Emperor Charlemagne was near Zurich on a hunting trip and upon his arrival, his horse fell to its knees over the grave of the three patron saints of Zurich - St. Felix, St Regula and their servant Exuperantius. The emperor ordered the construction of the cathedral Grossmünster in around 1100 CE at the same place honoring the martyr which has become the most famous and tourist place to visit in Zurich.
Since then many significant renovations have been made to Grossmünster from time to time. One of the most important ones was to increase the height of the southern tower to the similar height of the northern tower in the 15th- century CE.
The legendary Roman Emperor’s connection to the Grossmünster can be seen in both – a replacement relief, sitting on a throne with a sword and a gold crown on his brow, high up on the west wall. And, the original 15th – Century statue can be found now in the crypt beneath the church.
During the medieval times, the rivalry between Grossmünster and church Fraumünster which is located on the other side of the Limmat River, over the control of the patron Saints’ relics and superiority over the other.
And, eventually both the churches agreed to share the authority and started a grand public festive procession each year on September 11, which till today has been celebrated and declared a public holiday in Zurich.
Ulrich Zwingli started working as a pastor at the Grossmünster around 1519 CE and this was the beginning of the Swiss protest reformation led by Zwingli and followed by many. Zwingli, born in a farmer’s family was well educated and had great influence in his life and work by Dutch philosopher Erasmus.
He supported that the holy scriptures must be read and interpreted in the native language by commerns and not to be bound and restricted. He also suggested that people must ideally live a life as per the Gospels by Jesus Christ.
He also denounced the catholic mass, removed the swiss mercenaries and considered the forms of idolatry in catholic worship.
And, It was in 1523 when with the support of the government, the Zurich’s monasteries were dissolved. Ulrich Zwingli's influence is notable in Grossmünster's architecture and interiors. Grossmünster had been majorly renovated to express the pure quiddity of the reformation in a physical form.
However, with multiple refurbishments till the 19th-20th-century, Grossmünster restored to its full splendor.
How to Reach Grossmünster (Great Minster)
By Train: Trains operated by Swiss Railway are available every 30 minutes from Zurich Airport’s nearest station Zürich Flughafen to Zurich Stadelhofen, Grossmünster. The ticket will cost around 10.9 CHF to 20.5 CHF and the total travel time will be around 16-20 minutes.
By Tram: Tram runs every 15 minutes from Zurich Flughafen, Bahnhof to Zurich, Central and from there it is around 10 minutes walk with a distance of 872 meters to be covered till Grossmünster. The journey will take around 35-40 minutes and the ticket fare will be between 4 CHF to 5.4 CHF.
By Taxi: There are many taxi services available at the Zurich airport for Grossmünster. They cover a total distance of 12.2 Kms and charge 57.4 CHF to 68.3 CHF for one- way trip. The travel time will be approximately 15 minutes.
By Self-driven rented car: One can also rent a car to go to Grossmünster from Zurich airport. The travel time is 15 minutes and the distance to be covered is 12.2 km. The fuel cost is around 1.5 CHF to 2.3 CHF. One can also opt for a town car or an Uber to reach the Grossmünster from Zurich Airport.
Best Time to Visit Grossmünster (Great Minster)
The best time to visit Grossmünster, Zurich is between June to August, the summer months. As the pleasing weather makes the visit more comforting and easy to explore.
The summer season is also the peak travel season in Zurich so one can also opt to plan a visit between March to May in the spring season as the temperature remains cool but pleasing and this time of the year does not attract too many tourists, which can give ample time to explore the majestic site.
The Autumn season in Zurich is quite chilly and may temper with the travel itinerary as the temperature varies from 4-10°C. The winters are freezing as the temperature drops to many minus degree celcius so it is best to avoid visiting here this time.
The Church is always open but there are slots booked in advance for Sunday mass with restricted entry. The best time to visit the church is between November to February during the winter season but the church opening day is Monday to Saturday from 10:00 AM to 05:00 PM.
And, in the Summer-Autumn Season that is between March to October the opening days are Monday to Saturday from 10:00 AM to 06:00 PM.
Other Essential Information About Grossmünster (Great Minster)
- Location: - Grossmünsterplatz, 8001 Zürich, Switzerland.
- Entry Fees: The entry is free to the church but if one wants to go up on the two-tower the current fee is 5 CHF.- Distance from Zurich Airport: 10kms.
Architectural Art at Grossmunster
Grossmünster is a physical example of intricate craftsmanship and reflects the works of the great artistic minds since its construction time. As the story goes, when roman emperor Charlemagne found the saints’ tombs, he ordered the construction of the church at the same place. And, since then many renovations and refurbishments have been made to the cathedral.
Some of the below highlighted architectural masterpieces surely need time to explore and experience the detailing of the work.
- From 1090 - 1230 CE the basilica was constructed in six stages and erected over a similar dimension’s Carolingian building. The original built Romanesque cathedral was later rebuilt along the gothic lines.
- The Ornate Bronze Doors by Otto Munch were added in 1935 - 1950. The south portal is the artistic relief technique work which shows the Reformation scene and the north portal shows the Biblical scenes.
- The choral stained-Glass Window was created by the Swiss Painter Augusto Giacometti and later on the 20th – Century Grossmünster has been adorned by the exquisite windows by Sigmar Polke.
- The Gothic landmark twin towers were first erected between 1487 – 1492. The original high wooden steeples of the cathedral were destroyed in 1781 during a massive fire and rebuilt to its lasting magnificence.- Many Gothic Wall paintings at Grossmünster describes the legends of the patron saint Felix and Regula. However, most of the painting work has faded over the years. And a remarkable art piece, the statue of Charlemagne in gothic style is located in the crypt under Grossmünster.
Culture of Grossmünster
Grossmünster’s culture is a graceful reflection of its decades-old rich art and literature. Which also plays a great role in creating Zurich a culturally vibrant and historically rich destination. The teachings at the institution in the former Grossmünster’s cloister and multiple events being hosted to promote the four major aspects enhance the cultural richness of Zurich's most remarkable cathedral.
These festive and social gatherings celebrating the various art and music forms can be attended at a minimal fee or no fee to attract and educate tourists and locals about the culture and history associated with these forms.
- Art - Each architectural highlight at the Grossmünster reveals an artistic story.. And, is a physical proof that any civilization has a way of developing art and representing the way of life and culture through it. The remarkable work and sculptures, wall painting in the gothic art, the detailed relief technique work or the history curated minutely in the stained glasses.
- Cantor - The cantorate programs, promote and manage the music within the community with the help of parish and the church musicians. The objective is to promote the cantor and church music and take it to as many people as possible. It hosts various events and performs musical services. The events vary from big events to open singing events to entertain maximum involvement.
- Literature - As they say “it takes a great deal of history to produce a little literature.” This stands very true to the Grossmünster literature. There are multiple readings available and musical reading events are organized to unlead the knowledge and learning hidden in the great literature of Grossmünster; its history, reformation, art, and architecture.
- Music - The Metzler Organ in Zurich’s Grossmünster is a famous and one of the earliest and finest neo-baroque organs in Europe. It is superbly played by the present organist." Douglas Hollick - Choir and Organ. The Grossmünster organ's construction began in 1090 and completed in 1230. It is one of the most important parts of the services when used by the choirs along with being a part of some of the major concerts held from time to time.
Tips for visiting Grossmünster:
1. Choose a bright sunny day with a clear sky, especially if you are planning to climb up to get to the mesmerizing skyline and landscape view.
2. Many areas at Grossmünster have been restricted to photography and videography. However, there is a special fee that can be paid and get permission to capture the gorgeous art and sculptures.
3. It is better to take necessary precautions when climbing the tower with infants or with the elderly as the stairs are made of stones and a little uneven could cause casualties.
4. There are a total of 187 stairs to climb to get a bird's eye view of Zurich. The stairs are old and made of stone so extra care to be taken when visiting with elderly members or infants.
5. It is best to attend the procession and attend the festivity if visiting Grossmünster on September 11. As this day is celebrated as a feast day and a holiday celebrated across Zurich and welcomes all tourists to cherish.