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New Delhi, India
August 10, 2009
Therefore, when we finally arrived at the cathedral, it was with a gasp of amazement: the spire was one of the impressive we’d seen. Not highly carved, like those on Strasbourg’s cathedral, but just so huge and so striking. The cathedral is a Gothic structure made of a greyish-brown stone, with the prominent square tower holding an arched portal, with a rose window above it and a series of stained glass windows above that. We spent a couple of minutes admiring the restrained carving on the spire and the rest of the exterior, and then we stepped in.
The interior of the Cathédrale St Nicholas proved to be worthy of its exterior. Using the Fribourg tourism guide (in English) available—for free—at the entrance, we spent a while wandering around the inside of the church and marvelling at what a lot of hard work and skill obviously went into making and decorating this building.
The Cathédrale St Nicholas has been around a long time: construction began on it in 1283, though the site itself had been home to, according to the guide, a "sacred house of Romanesque style dating before the foundation of the town in 1157". The building was completed circa 1430, though the tower took a further 60 years to build. Till 1512, the church was a parish church; after that it was elevated to a collegiate church (which meant it acquired a provost, dean, chanter and twelve canons). In 1945, it became the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the diocese of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg.
The inside of the church was dimly lit, but there was sufficient light for us to admire the paintings that decorate most of the chapels. The church guide carries concise notes about each work—the artist, the subject, when it was made, and its location in the corresponding map of the church. There were no names here that we recalled, but there was plenty of very fine religious art, both painted and carved. One of my favourites was the Altar of the Last Supper, a gilded and carved stucco altar by Johann-Jacob and Frantz-Joseph Moosbrugger, showcasing a painting of Christ and the apostles at the last supper (a composition very different from da Vinci’s).
If the light wasn’t perfect for appreciating the paintings, it at least highlighted the superb stained glass of the church. Interestingly enough, the Cathédrale St Nicholas has stained glass panels from wide apart in time: the earliest is probably the depiction of St Peter and St Laurence, attributed to Carignan, which dates back to 1530. The most recent works are from the 1980’s, though the bulk belongs to the late 1890’s and the early years of the 20th century. And though I’m irremediably old-fashioned, I had to admit that even the recent stained glass was not in the least incongruous with the otherwise medieval interior of the cathedral. It’s very obviously modern, but fits in beautifully with the rest of the decor.
After a quick look at the oaken choir stalls, and the 15th century statues that depict the entombment of Christ, we finally decided to move out of the cathedral. We’d spent about 15 minutes inside, but to really look around and admire each work, you’ll need probably at least half an hour.
The cathedral is open to tourists from 9 AM to 6 PM Mondays to Fridays, till 4 PM on Saturdays, and between 2 and 5 PM on Sundays.
From journal Fribourg: The Best of Both Worlds
June 15, 2003
This traditional celebration of St. Nicholas Day, which was revived at the beginning of the 20th century, dates back to an ancient custom celebrated in Fribourg in the 18th century - the miracle performed by St. Nicholas. Legend has it that St. Nicholas brought three children back to life after they had been cut up by a butcher and put in the salting tub. This story, which is depicted on the cathedral portico in Fribourg, has established St. Nicholas as the tutelary saint of boys.
The local girls are not particularly concerned - St. Catherine is the guardian angel for girls. St. Catherine’s Day, November 25, used to be celebrated in similar fashion in Fribourg.
From journal Fribourg - a hidden treasure