Grossmünster Church In Zurich (A Must-see Attraction?)

Grossmünster & münsterbrücke in Zurich

The Grossmünster church is perhaps the most iconic church and recognisable building in the Zurich skyline. Located in the heart of Zurich’s old town, the Grossmünster church is one of the four major churches and a must-see on any visit to Zurich.

Not only can you see the unique stained glass windows inside the church as well as the organ and religious statuary, there is also a crypt, a cloister, and a writings collection to visit. You can also climb the Karlsturm, one of the main towers of the Grossmünster church and see the stunning views over Zurich.

Highlights of the Grossmunster

The Grossmunster church is filled with a variety of notable things to see when you visit.

The Bronze Doors

One of the first things you will see from the outside of the Grossmunster are the striking bronze doors by Otto Münch. There are two sets, one in the South Portal which feature scenes from the Reformation and were between in 1935-38. The North side has two more with biblical scenes and was finished in 1950.

Stained glass windows

Although Zwingli and the reformers did their best to make the church a pure place of worship the church still has a variety of stained glass windows you can see when you visit.

Choir WIndow, Grossmunster
Choir WIndow, Grossmunster

The famous Zurich artist Augusto Giacometti created the choir window in 1933 which stands prominently at the end of the church. There are also a series of stained glass windows at the bach from Sigmar Polke who won a competition from the church in 2005 to create a series of new windows.

Sigmar Polke window in the rear of Grossmunster
Sigmar Polke window in the rear of Grossmunster

The Church Organ

The Organ, Grossmunster, Zurich
The Organ, Grossmunster, Zurich

The original church organ was no longer played after the Reformation and was actually removed from the church in 1527. A new organ was created in 1876 by Nepomuk Kuhn and was replaced by the current Metzler organ in 1960. The organ’s sound is highly regarded and the Grossmunster is a professional organ training location as well as a location for various musical events throughout the year.

The Crypt

The oldest part of the church is the Crypt, which features old faded murals of the patron saints Felix and Regula. There are also a variety of frescoes and panels from the original crypt paintings, many of which did not completely survive the Reformation.

Karl’s Tower

View from Karlsturm, Grossmunster, Zurich
View from Karlsturm, Grossmunster, Zurich

The tower closest to the Limmat River is Karl’s tower and can be climbed for amazing views over Zurich’s old town and the surroundings. The towers date back to the 13th century but have been added to over the years, including the current “helmets” which make them so iconic.

There are 187 steps to reach the top of the tower and you get to experience the tight winding staircase as well as wooden platforms inside. There is a viewing room with windows, as well as a more open tower with security grates. Although I found them challenging to shoot good photos through, you can still manage. It is worth climbing the towers for sure.

The Cloister & Garden

Hidden in the back of the Grossmunster is the Cloister and its garden, which are worth taking a look at while you are here. Although the original building dates back to the 12th century it was changed a little during the 19th century.

The Reformation Museum is also located in the Cloister and is a great place to discover more about how the reformation took place and had such a long-lasting effect on Zurich and Switzerland as a whole.

History of the Grossmunster church

The Grossmünster church (or “large church” in German) dates back to the 11th century when construction started on this Zurich landmark. The Romanesque-style Protestant church was built throughout the 11-13th centuries being completed in 1220 AD.

Early History

The location of the Grossmunster has a rather unique story behind it. Apparently, the city’s patron saints – Felix and Regula, along with their servant Exuperantiu are buried here. They were horribly executed by the Romans who occupied this territory in the 3rd century AD and walked to this location after their death, decapitated heads in their hands.

Many centuries later, Emporer Charlemagne was in the region and discovered their Roman burial ground by accident while hunting. He then ordered the construction of a church there, which later became the modern Grossmunster.

Interestingly during medieval times, the relics of the patron saints were elaborately paraded on the 11th of September each year. This was part of the local rivalry between the Grossmunster and Fraumunster on the opposite banks of the Limmat river. The three saints day is still celebrated to this day in Zurich each year.

Reformation History

The more modern history of the Grossmünster began when Ulrich Zwingli arrived and started work as the local pastor in 1519 AD. He believed and preached a more austere and raw version of Christianity that was very much against the common Catholic beliefs of the time.

Commemoration of Zwingli's Reformation, Grossmunster, Zurich
Commemoration of Zwingli’s Reformation, Grossmunster, Zurich

His preaching escalated over the years and culminated in the Reformation of the Zurich church. This involved dissolving monasteries, confiscating possessions, removing most statuary and decoration in the Grossmunster, and perhaps most sacrilegious of all (at least to the Catholics) was the denunciation of the Catholic mass. Most of this happened in the summer of 1524 AD in Zurich.

Zwingli is now known as the father of the Swiss National Protestant Church and the Swiss Reformation. After humble beginnings in Zurich, the Reformation spread throughout Switzerland and beyond.

Bullinger, head of the church after Zwingli's death
Bullinger, head of the church after Zwingli’s death

General Information

The following is the general information you need for a visit to the Grossmunster church in Zurich:

Location

Address: Grossmünsterplatz, 8001 Zürich

Opening Hours

There are various opening hours for the different parts of the Grossmünster church.

Grossmünster Church, Cloister, Crypt opening times

Summer
1. March until 31 October
10 am – 6 pm
Winter
1. November until 28. February
10 am – 5 pm

Scripts Collection opening times

Summer
1. March until 31 October
12 pm – 5 pm
Winter
1. November until 28. February
12 pm – 4 pm

** Closed on Tuesdays

Karls Tower (Karlsturm) opening times

Summer
1. March until 31 October
Mon – Sat: 10 am – 5.30 pm
Sun: 12.30 pm – 5.30 pm
Winter
1. November until 28. February
Mon – Sat: 10 am – 4.30 pm
Sun: 12.30 pm – 4.30 pm

Price of Entry

The following are the price of entry for the different parts of the Grossmünster church:

  • Grossmûnster church: Free
  • Cloister: Free
  • Crypt: Free
  • Twelve Messengers Chapel: Free
  • Scripts Collection, Karlsturm/Karl’s Tower: Adults: 5 CHF, Students/Children/Pensioners: 2 CHF

Note: A ticket to either the Scripts or Karl’s Tower enables you to enter both

** Group prices are also available for groups larger than 10

When was Grossmunster church built?

The Grossmunster church was built between the 11 and 13th centuries and was finally completed in 1220 AD.

Why is the Grossmunster famous?

The Grossmunster is particularly famous as the place where Zwingli started the Reformation movement in Switzerland. It is also the most iconic building in the skyline of Zurich along the Limmat river in the old town.

Can you go up Grossmunster?

You can climb the Karlsturm on the Limmat side of the Grossmunster. You have to ascend 187 stairs to reach the top where you get stunning views over Zurich old town.

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