Basel's Historical Churches, Basel

Basel's Historical Churches (Self Guided), Basel

Basel is the city of churches. Indeed, nowhere else in Switzerland will you find as many of them, both old and new, as here. Despite serious losses to the Reformation period, a good number of local temples have survived. Today, the vast majority of religious buildings, including the listed medieval Basel Minster, belong to the Evangelical Reformed Church.

The towers and spires of ancient churches lend a great deal of character to Basel's skyline and tell much about the city history. Despite most of the congregations being Protestant, their architectural styles remain diverse. Here are some of the most notable ones:

Elisabethenkirche – a well-detailed 19th-century example of Swiss Gothic Revival style; home of the first Swiss "Open Church" (Offene Kirche Elizabethan) and a key pilgrimage center;

Martinskirche (St. Martin's Church) – considered to be the oldest parish in Basel; also serves as a historic concert hall; the Martinskirche bell traditionally rings on the opening Saturday of the Basel Autumn Fair;

Peterskirche (St. Peter Church) – one of the oldest churches in Basel, known for its austere ascetic appearance, interesting medieval frescoes inside, and a valuable historical organ;

Predigerkirche (Preacher's Church) – built between 1233 and 1237 as a monastery church of the Dominican order; one of the famous local pilgrimage centers.

For a closer look at these and other historical temples of Basel, take this self-guided walking tour.
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Basel's Historical Churches Map

Guide Name: Basel's Historical Churches
Guide Location: Switzerland » Basel (See other walking tours in Basel)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 6
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.2 Km or 1.4 Miles
Author: Cathy
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Elisabethenkirche (St. Elisabeth Church)
  • Leonhardskirche (St. Leonard's Church)
  • Basel Münster (Basel Minster)
  • Martinskirche (St. Martin's Church)
  • Peterskirche (St. Peter's Church)
  • Predigerkirche (Preacher's Church)
Elisabethenkirche (St. Elisabeth Church)

1) Elisabethenkirche (St. Elisabeth Church)

Saint Elisabeth Church is an impressive Swiss Gothic Revival-style church. It was completed in 1864 and features a 72 meter (236 ft) tall spire. Saint Elisabeth Church was the first church built in Basel after the Reformation.

Wealthy businessman Christoph Merian sponsored the church's construction. Christoph Merian and his wife Margareth Burckhardt-Merian are buried in black marble sarcophagi in the church's crypt.

Saint Elisabeth's most attractive interior feature is its beautiful stained glass windows. The organ was built in 1862 and has been expanded to feature 41 working stops.

The church is now home to the first Swiss Open Church. The church caters to urban people from all backgrounds and supports the LGBT community.

The church hosts a special service during the Carnival of Basel. It also hosts modern fashion shows, panel discussions, and punk concerts.

Saint Elisabeth Church has an on-site cafe with outdoor seating.
Leonhardskirche (St. Leonard's Church)

2) Leonhardskirche (St. Leonard's Church)

Leonhardskirche is a reformed Protestant (Evangelical) church. It sits on a hill which was once part of the 12th-century fortifications of the inner wall ring still visible today on the sparsely structured, huge west wall. The exact year of Saint Leonhard's origin is unknown. There is evidence of a three-aisled Romanesque basilica built in the area from around 1080 and consecrated in 1118. The crypt of this building exists today, with some wall paintings and graves dating from the 12th century.

The earthquake of 1356 destroyed a large part of that building and adjacent monastery, following which a new high Gothic basilica was built on the ruins of the old church, circa 1360. The crypt was constructed over with a flat-roofed long choir and two chapels (Marienkapelle, Saint Theobald chapel). In addition, a bell tower was built.

From 1481, the church was converted into a three-nave Gothic hall church, with the nave eventually receiving a star vault – by 1521. An inscription on a buttress mentions the year 1492, at which time the construction was still underway.

The city of Basel acquired both the monastery and the church on January 31, 1525. In 1529, during the Reformation, the altars, pictures and other elements of the building were destroyed, and so Saint Leonhard's became one of the four Protestant churches in the city, along with the Minster, Saint Peter's and Martin's.

Of all the former monastery structures, only the cemetery hall to the north (dated 1450) has remained. Throughout 1964-1968, the Leonhardskirche underwent archaeological survey and complete renovation.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Basel Münster (Basel Minster)

3) Basel Münster (Basel Minster) (must see)

Today's Basel Minster is one of Basel's most iconic landmarks. It features distinctive red sandstone walls and colorful roof tiles. Built and renovated between 1019 and 1500, it is one of the oldest structures in Basel.

The cathedral hill was settled during the Celtic period, and excavations revealed an ancient wall, gate, and street under the current cathedral.

Bishop Haito built Basel's first cathedral in the ninth century. A larger building was consecrated in 1019. Henry II, the Holy Roman Emperor, was present at the consecration, and the cathedral is also known as the Heinrich Munster. The church was rebuilt during the 13th century and was heavily damaged in the 1356 Basel earthquake.

After the earthquake, the cathedral was rebuilt in Gothic-style and re-consecrated in 1363. A monastery was also built at that time.

The Georgsturm tower was built in 1429, and the Martinsturm tower was built in 1500. The towers are named after saints of the knights, George and Martin. A 1372 artwork displayed in the Georgsturm depicts Saint George fighting a small dragon. The saints are also represented in sculptures next to the main entrance. The towers each have 242 stairs. Visitors that do the climb are rewarded with panoramic views of the city.

In 1440, Felix V was elected as a counterpope or antipope in the Basel Minster.

During the Reformation in the 1500s, the bishop was expelled, and the monastery closed. Many valuable cathedral artworks were destroyed during the Reformation. For example, a statue of the Virgin Mary used to stand between the doors of the main porch. The statue was destroyed during the Reformation, and the column is now empty. However, the scenes depicting prophets and kings remain intact.

Statues depicting Emperor Henry II and his wife Empress Kunigunde are on the main porch.

Why You Should Visit:
The Basel Minster is an architecturally stunning cathedral with a long and storied history. The stained glass windows, arched ceiling, and organ are beautiful.

Don't miss climbing one of the towers and enjoying dramatic views over Basel.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Martinskirche (St. Martin's Church)

4) Martinskirche (St. Martin's Church)

Martinskirche is an Evangelical Reformed church in Basel, towering over the old town of Grossbasel. It stands on the northern end of the Munster hill and is considered the oldest parish church in the city, having appeared in a written document for the first time in 1101-1103.

The lower parts of the tower floor and the core of the west façade date back to 1287. The main features of the choir polygon and the north and south facades are from the late 14th century. After the earthquake in 1356, the church was completely reconstructed.

It was here that Johannes Oekolampad, the reformer of Basel, preached for the first time in 1529 "in the Reformed manner" and thus also in German.

The church was substantially renewed and rebuilt in 1851. The facades were considerably redesigned and a first concert stage was built in the interior instead of the rood screen. Even then, the Martinskirche served as a concert church and for various state events. The choir was built with a cellar in 1892 for air heating. Since 1922, Saint Martin has been depicted in a mural by Hans Rohner above the south portal. The interior of the church is decorated with numerous epitaphs.

A bell in the Martinskirche traditionally rings in the Basel Autumn Fair on the opening Saturday.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Peterskirche (St. Peter's Church)

5) Peterskirche (St. Peter's Church)

Basel's Peterskirche has been a Protestant (Evangelical Reformed) church since 1529, and consecrated to Saints Peter and Paul. In fact, Saint Peter's is one of the four oldest parishes in the Grossbasel neighborhood.

The first temple on this site was built around the 9th century, during the Carolingian times, founded probably as a cemetery church. In 1035 it became a parish church, and by 1230-1233 had been expanded and made into a monastery. The tower on the north side of the choir was built from 1270. The Basel earthquake of 1356 caused severe damage to the building and prompted its reconstruction.

At that point the choir was redesigned too – vaulted in 1477-1481 and added with a roof turret in 1501-1502. The twelve keystones in the building symbolize twelve apostles in half-length. The large east window was also built around that time.

There is a three-part stone celebrant's seat on the south wall. Doors lead to the tower and adjoining rooms. Next to the choir, in the extension of the north aisle, is the Marien or Eberlerkapelle, opposite which in the south aisle is Martins or Kappenbach chapel.

The numerous wall paintings inside, dating from the 14th-16th centuries, were whitewashed after the Reformation; the most significant of them are now exposed again. The elaborately carved choir stalls were created in 1494–1498 by the table maker Ulrich Bruder from Constance together with assistants from Basel.

The mechanical organ, by Neidhart & Lhôte, was added in 1968.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Predigerkirche (Preacher's Church)

6) Predigerkirche (Preacher's Church)

The Predigerkirche of Basel is a Catholic church, first built between 1233 and 1237 as a monastery church of the Dominican Order. Renovated from 1262 to 1269, it became one of the first churches in the Upper Rhine to be designed in Gothic style. In 1269, the choir was consecrated by the well-known Dominican Albertus Magnus, Bishop of Regensburg.

In 1356, the Basel earthquake destroyed large parts of the building. Renovations in the following decades produced frescoes depicting Virgin Mary, John the Baptist, and the Dominican Vincent Ferrer. The church was actively used by the Council of Basel participants throughout 1431-1449.

During the iconoclasm of 1529, almost all of the inner furnishings were destroyed and the monastery was dissolved. From 1684, the choir was used as a fruit and salt store. Between 1692 and 1836, the former monastery garden served as the botanical garden of the University of Basel. The monastery buildings were demolished in 1857, and from 1876 to 1877 the church was completely renovated to serve the Christian Catholic community.

The most valued treasures inside include a gold-plated lecture cross from the Middle Ages and three icons recovered in 2003, showing baby Jesus with the Mother of God and archangels Gabriel and Michael.

There are four organs in the church, the main of which was built in 1767-1769.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.

Walking Tours in Basel, Switzerland

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