History and museums
Visby Cathedral (Swedish: Visby domkyrka, officially Visby S:ta Maria domkyrka) is a cathedral in Visby in Sweden. Belonging to Visby Cathedral Parish of the Church of Sweden, it serves the Diocese of Visby. and was inaugurated on 27 July in 1225.
Visby Cathedral was built as a church for German traders in Visby. It was financed by a fee that every German trader arriving in Visby had to pay. Construction started at the end of the 12th century, and the church was probably finished circa 1190. Rebuilding of the church seems to have started already in 1211 however, and in 1225 a new choir was inaugurated. Originally the church was probably only used by visiting Germans, but as some of these settled permanently in Visby, it developed into a church for both resident and visiting German traders, and with time also native Gotlanders. Therefore, when it was consecrated in 1225 by the Bishop of Linköping, it was declared a church for two congregations, each with their own priest: one for visitors, and one for natives. It developed into one of the most important churches of the city, and by the late Middle Ages it was the second largest church in Visby. It is today the only medieval church of Visby still in use, with twelve other churches in the town preserved as ruins only.
Following the Reformation, the church was transformed into a parish church for the town of Visby. All other churches were abandoned. Shortly after the Reformation, in 1572, Gotland was made into its own Diocese, and the church designated its cathedral.
The first church was probably a three-aisled basilica with a large, single western tower adorned with galleries. Its transept extended beyond the main building towards the north and south. Unusually, it lacked a choir projecting towards the east, and thus was almost T-shaped, barring, possibly, a central apse or lesser apses projecting from the transept. Stylistically, this first church was similar to Romanesque churches from Westphalia and the Rhine Valley. A few details seem however to be unique. Among these is the arrangement of the tower gallery. This in turn came to inspire many more churches on Gotland, providing a rather distinct architectural style.
Of this first edifice, the gables of the transept, a single portal, the tower up until the uppermost corbel table and some pillars are all that remain. As noted above, the eastern part of the church was rebuilt during the early 13th century. The transept was doubled in size, a new choir added to the east of it and in the angle between the choir and the transept, two towers constructed. During this construction period, a new southern portal, still Romanesque in style, was sculpted. After an interval of a few years, a new reconstruction scheme began. The nave was now enlarged to become as wide as the transept, in effect transforming the church from a basilica to a hall church. Again, the models can be traced to western Germany. The superfluous space between the ceiling and roof was turned into a very large attic. In the easternmost vault of the church, constituting the ceiling of the choir, a round hole exists. Scholars believe that this hole was used during enactments of the story of the Passion of Christ, to pull up a wooden statue of Christ in order to illustrate his very concrete ascent to heaven.
After another interval, this time for about a hundred years, a large, pronouncedly Gothic chapel was added to the south façade. A smaller, equally Gothic chapel, was also added to the church. One of these chapels, dedicated to Catherine of Alexandria was paid for by the sons of a mayor, Herman Swertling, who had been executed for treason in 1342. A papal permission for the erection of the chapel is dated 1349. Scholars disagree as to which of the chapels was the one paid for by the sons of Herman Swertling. The larger of the chapels was the first building in High Gothic style to be built on Gotland.
Few alterations have been made since the end of the Middle Ages. Most have been due to the fact that the cathedral has been damaged by fire on different occasions. The tower roofs or steeples date from 1746 (the west tower) and 1761 (the eastern towers) respectively. One of the two medieval chapels was reconstructed externally in 1761, changing the Gothic gables for Baroque gables. These were however removed in 1899–1901, when the building was restored in a somewhat Gothic revival fashion by Axel Haig (Swedish: Axel Herman Hägg). Hägg or Haig was born on Gotland (in Katthamra manor) but lived in England at the time of the renovation. As a consequence, some of the alterations, notably the new sacristy, is in a typical English Gothic revival style.
The cathedral was renovated in the 1980s.
Among the furnishings, only a few are original. The baptismal font is an undecorated font from the 13th century, executed in reddish limestone. A single wooden sculpture of Christ, dating from the late 13th century, also survives in the cathedral. In addition, the cathedral has many preserved tombstones (no less than 414), some of which are medieval. Among them is the tombstone of the son of Albert, Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and at one time king of Sweden. The altarpiece is neo-Gothic and dates from Haig's renovation. The original altarpiece is however preserved in Källunge Church, to which it was sold already at the beginning of the 16th century. This altarpiece was replaced by an altarpiece made in 1682 in Burgsvik on Gotland, which is still preserved in the cathedral. An additional former altarpiece, dating from 1808, is likewise also preserved in the cathedral itself. The current altarpiece is thus the fourth known altarpiece of the cathedral, all of which are preserved. The pulpit, dating from 1684 and possibly made in Lübeck, also has a preserved predecessor, made in 1548 and today in Grötlingbo Church.
The pews date from 1945, and a carillon in the south-eastern tower from 1960. A number of memorial plaques and epitaphs adorn the walls of the cathedral, notably one in remembrance of the sinking of a Danish-Lübeck fleet outside Visby in 1566 and one in remembrance of the sinking of the Swedish passenger ship SS Hansa in 1944 by a Soviet submarine.
The Cathedral is one of the major tourist sites on Gotland. In 2008, it was visited by over 205,000 people.