Grundtvigs Church (1913-1940) in Copenhagen & Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta (1290-1591) in Orvieto.
A confrontation and comparison of two church buildings, which could hardly be more different, but also a dialogue between various concepts of church and community: the Protestant Grundtvig’s Church in Copenhagen and the Catholic Cathedral in Orvieto. The cathedral in the central square in the middle of the city of Orvieto, with its visual histories in the interior and on the façade, and the imposing brick building of the church on the edges of Copenhagen, which forms the center of a housing complex of like-minded persons. Both radiate into their surroundings, the cathedral from great heights into the mountains around, the church itself like a rock in the flat land. The cathedral as a community achievement of great craftsmanship and the church like a strictly constructed dogma. Horizontal meets vertical, north meets south, mysticism meets joie de vivre, Protestantism meets Catholicism, clarity meets complexity, however they are distributed when it is a matter of the ideology of holy sites and the reflection and contemplation made possible inside them: the beauty of craftsmanship and political intentions.
In the year 1263, a miracle apparently happened in the Santa Cristina church of Bolsena, province of Viterbo in Italy. A piece of altar bread began to bleed onto the corporal (small tablecloth) upon which the plate and chalice rested. The appearance of blood on the corporal, which was even reminiscent of the profile of Jesus Christ, was read as a miracle, affirming the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. Under the orders of Pope Urban IV, a basilica to host the sacred corporal was planned to be built in nearby Orvieto, located on a volcanic plug that offered prominence and natural protection. Under the lead of master builder Fra Bevignate da Perugia, blocks of white travertine and black basalt was brought to the plug and, layer by layer, stacked in alternate rows. Three hundred years of continuous struggle passed by, while the pattern from the Sienese Gothic style, which was laid out by Fra Bevignate’s followers Giovanni di Uguccione and Lorenzo Maitani at the beginning of the fourteenth century, was followed meticulously by the generations to follow. Superior master builders, stone cutters, wood carvers, and painters were brought in from Florence and Siena, providing Santa Maria Assunta an abundance of wondrous art, like the woodwork of Giovanni Ammannati, Luca Signorelli’s antichrist wall paintings, or the mysterious luminous alabaster windows. Or like the spectacular western façade, with its myriads of sculptures, bas-reliefs, and glazed mosaics, which glitters like a crystalline ocean of unbelievable depth.
In the year 1913, the engineer and master builder P. V. Jensen-Klint envisioned a grand cathedral, made out of one single material: yellow bricks. In fact, millions of them. Officially, a tribute to the poet and clergyman N. F. S. Grundtvig; in reality, a late celebration of the spirit of Gothic architecture. P. V. Jensen-Klint described Grundtvig’s Church as a blown-up version of a typical Danish village church. He also spoke of it as a cluster of old church towers, joined together like a giant “Crystal Knot”. Jensen-Klint was fascinated by the imposing cathedrals of central Europe, dreaming that one day he would be able to build such a structure on Danish ground. But up here, he pondered, we have no stones, no marble, only chalk and clay. Thus, from 1921, thousands of tiny yellow bricks were brought to Bispebjerg (Bishops Mountain) in the outskirts of Copenhagen. For six years, only six trained masons worked on the tripartite western tower. More than 700 layers of bricks, carefully stacked according to the niches, corbels, and crannies that Jensen-Klint had designed, grew up like a crystalline mountain of burnt clay. The exterior wild and fierce, almost threatening, the interior smooth like a carefully hollowed cave. Or like a softly whistling conch, sending secret messages from a long-gone past – the voices still echoing beneath the endlessly repeated vaults.
The TWO BASILICAS are similar in typology, but highly different in atmosphere. They share the same cultural archetype deep down history, but the associations and imaginations they stimulate are dispersed in multiple directions. Southern and northern, Catholicism and Protestantism, colorful and ascetic, warm and stern. We know the differences intellectually, but in these magnificent spaces our minds are lead in countless unforeseen directions, triggered by the tiniest details or the elaborate material and spatial complexities that still leave us wondering.
(Thomas Bo Jensen)
- Director Heinz Emigholz
- Producer Thomas Bo Jensen, Heinz Emigholz
- Editor Till Beckmann, Heinz Emigholz
- Sound Till Beckmann
- Sound Design Jochen Jezussek, Christian Obermaier