Ribe Cathedral seen from above. The light tufa is a central part of the building.
Ribe Cathedral is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Ribe. The cathedral is the only one in Denmark with five aisles and is characterised by different kinds of style, but it is still in the same condition as it was when it was built over 850 years ago.
The oldest cathedral in Denmark
Ribe Cathedral is really called Church of our Lady Maria and is situated in Ribe. IT was Ribe’s bishop, Thure, who started building the church in the year 1150. The current church was built on top of an older stone church and this is probably where Ansgar built his church in about 860. Since there was a lack of nature stones in the region, tufa was imported from the Rhine area in Germany and Holland. Over 50 churches in South Jutland are built by tufa, e. g. the church of Hviding, just south of Ribe. The cathedral originally had three towers: Rytterspiret, Mariatårnet and Borgertårnet, all with spires.
Ribe Cathedral dominates the town scenery, here seen from Mellemdammen.
Extensions and rebuildings
During the nine centuries of existence, it has of course been repaired and renovated. The church has several times been so severely damaged that rebuilding has been necessary. On Christmas morning in 1283 great parts of the tower borgertårnet collapsed. Since the town was quite poor at that time, the original shape of the tower was shortened with 12 meters and the roof was flat. The 52 meters high tower was now suitable as watch and defense tower. Ribe has experienced many fires, which caused great damage, since the houses are so close. The fire spread again to the church in 1402. After this fire, extra aisles were added and it had now a total of five aisles. The town fire in 1580 turned out to be one of the most severe fires in Ribe’s history. A total of 213 houses and farms burnt down, but only a small part of the cathedral was affected by the fire.
Hans Adolf Brorson.
Many tourists visit the church every year and take the narrow stairs to the top of the tower. From here, you have a wonderful view of the town and the marsh in the west. However, it is not only the tower that makes the church the top attraction in Ribe. Inside the church, cenotaphs from a number of historical personalities await, e. g. bishop Stephan was buried in the church in 1177 and it is said that standing at his grave may be healing.
When the COBRA painter Carl-Henning Pedersen in 1982 started decorating the chancel, people started debating in Ribe. Today, most people agree that this piece of art suits the church. The door with the cat’s head in the south end, used to be the entrance for men. Four pillars stand here; two of them rest upon lions, probably attacking people. Above the door with the cat’s head you will see a relief with the Deposition. And above that, the greatest piece of art in Ribe, put up in 1200, showing King Valdemar Sejr, giving a cross to Virgin Mary. He is flanked by Queen Bengerd, and below is the portrait of Queen Dagmar.
Outside the church, see the statues of some of the most important men in Ribe’s and Denmark’s history, the bishops Hans Tausen and Hans Adolf Brorson.
Nationalmuseet: Danmarks kirker, Ribe Amt, hefte 7-8.