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Zurich's Historical Churches Tour (Self Guided), Zurich

Zürich has many splendid churches and monasteries, which provide an immense spiritual and cultural contribution to the entire country. Many of them played a significant role in the Protestant Reformation. Each church is inimitable in its architecture. Follow this walking tour to become familiar with Zürich's most beautiful religious edifices.
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Zurich's Historical Churches Tour Map

Guide Name: Zurich's Historical Churches Tour
Guide Location: Switzerland » Zurich (See other walking tours in Zurich)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 5
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.2 Km or 0.7 Miles
Author: ellen
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • St. Peterskirche
  • Fraumünster (Church of Our Lady)
  • Wasserkirche (Water Church)
  • Grossmünster (Great Minster)
  • Preacher's Church (Predigerkirche)
1
St. Peterskirche

1) St. Peterskirche (must see)

St. Peterskirche was built in the 9th century, which makes it the oldest parish church in Zurich. It also boasts the fame of having the largest clock face in all of Europe, measuring 9 meters (28.5 feet) in diameter. This translates to a minute hand that is 4 meters long (12 feet)!

The church was significantly altered in the 13th century and again in the early 1700s. Up until 1911, a firewatcher manned the steeple. It was his job to look out the windows four times an hour to look for fires. If he spotted a fire, he was to sound an alarm and point to the direction of the fire with a flag. Apparently, this ended up being an effective strategy because unlike many other European cities, Zurich never suffered any devastating fires.

The interior of the church features a Baroque nave, Romanesque choir, and an elaborately carved pulpit. Interior frescoes depict the story of martyrs and the Virgin Mary. Medieval murals can be observed in the choir. Today, the church actually has split ownership. The City of Zurich owns the church steeple, while St. Peter’s parish of the Swiss Reformed Church owns the nave. In addition to the stunning Chagall windows are frescoes by Bodmer. In the north transept is another stained-glass window completed by Giacometti in the 1940s.

Tip:
It is very interesting up close, but it is more beautiful from across the river.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 8am-6pm, Sat: 10am-4pm, Sun: 11:00am-5pm
2
Fraumünster (Church of Our Lady)

2) Fraumünster (Church of Our Lady) (must see)

As you may have noticed, Zurich’s skyline is dotted with church spires; however, none are as remarkable as the slender blue spire of the Fraumünster. In 853 Emperor Ludwig founded a Benedictine convent on this site and his daughter became the first abbess of the convent. In 874 a basilica with a crypt was added. The crypt holds the relics of the martyred two Patron Saints of Zurich, Felix and Regula.

The present church on the site dates from the mid 13th century, but the crypt still remains beneath the church. Reformation closed the convent and in 1524, the last abbess donated the church and abbey to Zurich. All icons and religious imagery were destroyed.

The church underwent a remodel in the 20th century, which the installation of beautiful Marc Chagall stained glass windows in 1970. The five windows are 10 meters high and each has its own color theme. On the northern side is the red-orange “Prophet” window. On the eastern side, the windows are named “Jacob”, “Christ”, and “Zion”, from left to right. The south wall piece is called “Law”.

Why You Should Visit:
Reasonable entry fee and definitely worth stepping in to admire the lovely Chagall stained glass windows.
Included in the ticket is a very good audio guide that really brings the building and the 5 windows to life.

Tip:
Be sure to bring Swiss francs as only cash is accepted.
NO PHOTOS of the Chagall windows allowed inside.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-6pm
3
Wasserkirche (Water Church)

3) Wasserkirche (Water Church)

The Water Church is another church with a long history in the city. The first mention of the church goes back to 1250. It was constructed on a small island in the Limmat River. The first church on the site was built in the 1100s and was reconstructed at various times. It was completely reconstructed in 1486. During the Reformation, the church was seen as a place of idolatry. The Reformation leader turned it into a secular use, specifically a library. In 1634 the church became the first public library in Zurich. In the 1800s, the island was connected to the riverbank. In 1917, the library that was housed in the church merged into the Central Library and the empty church became a place for storing crops. In the 1940s, together with reconstruction work, some archaeological excavations took place. After the 1940s renovations were complete, the church building went back into religious use, specifically as the Evangelical-Reformed State Church of the Canton of Zurich.

Aside from its long history, the church is also known for standing on the site of where it is believed that two Patron Saints were executed in the Middle Ages. Felix and Regula were siblings and members of a Roman military unit. Legend has it that Felix and Regula refused to particulate in the persecution of Christians. The Water Church site is where they were decapitated.

Why You Should Visit:
Hushed and intimate – a space for rest or meditation in the middle of an active day.
The Giacometti windows are a highlight, as is the crypt below.

Opening Hours:
Wed-Fri: 12-3pm; Sat-Sun: 12-5pm
During church services and other occasions, no visits are possible.
4
Grossmünster (Great Minster)

4) Grossmünster (Great Minster) (must see)

The Grossmünster is one of four major churches in Zurich, with the others being St. Peterskirche, the Fraumünster, and the Predigerkirche. Construction of the church began in 1100 and it was inaugurated in 1220. The church’s twin towers, which were erected toward the end of the 1400s, are one of the classic landmarks of the city. The original towers had high wooden steeples but were destroyed by fire in the 1780s. Following the fire, the neo-Gothic tops were added to the towers, which are what you see today.

The church is Romanesque in architectural style with carved portals, columns, and grotesque figures on the top of the columns. Beautiful stained-glass windows were added to the church in 1932. They are the work of Swiss artist Augusto Giacometti, who also created stained-glass windows for the Fraumünster church. The north and south portals feature ornate bronze doors, the work of Otto Münch. They were added in 1935 and 1950.

Originally, the Grossmünster was a monastery church. The Reformation movement in the 1500s was actually launched from the Grossmünster. Huldrych Zwingli, the father of Swiss-German reformation, had his pastoral office here. Zwingli’s presence in the church is directly related to the lack of ornamentation inside. He even had the organ and religious statuary removed.

The statue of the emperor Carolus Magnus (Charlemagne) is located in the southern tower of Grossmünster Church. He is holding his sword and it looks as though his crown is falling off his head.

Why You Should Visit:
Fairly plain inside, but the sliced agate windows are some of the more interesting and colorful anywhere.
The old statue of Charlemagne is also worth seeing, and you can't miss the beautiful door as you go in.

Tip:
A trip to the top of the tower is worth it if you can do 180+ steps straight up. The views are wonderful and you can stay as long as you wish.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 10am-6pm (Mar-Oct); 10am-5pm (Nov-Feb)
Open on Sundays after the service
5
Preacher's Church (Predigerkirche)

5) Preacher's Church (Predigerkirche)

The Preacher’s Church, located in Zurich’s Old Town, has a long history in the city. The first mention of the church in records dates back to 1213, when it served as a preacher’s church. It was run by monks of the Dominican order who focused on spreading the word of the church. In the 1500s, reformation in Switzerland, lead by Ulrich Zwingli, resulted in the Predigerkirche becoming Protestant. During the time of the Reformation, much of the elegant ornamentation was removed from the church.

The building features Gothic forms, with one side visible from the street and the other side integrated into the city’s central library. The library is located on the site of a former monastery that was also shuttered during the Reformation. The church experienced many renovations and restorations. The main form of the church that is visible today dates back to the early 1600s. A steeple was added in 1899, the work of architect Gustav Gull.

Today, the church is primarily Protestant; however, it does employ a Catholic priest and occasionally has celebratory masses with Muslims and Buddhists. It draws immigrants from a variety of faiths. The church is open seven days a week to parishioners and visitors alike.

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