Right in the heart of Lucerne’s old town is the Jesuit Church. Sitting proudly on the banks of the Reuss River, this famous Lucerne attraction is known for its Baroque architecture and association with the Society of Jesus, a religious order that is part of the Roman Catholic religion.
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History of the Jesuit Church
The history of the Jesuit Church in Lucerne is quite unique as it was partly a response to the Reformation that was taking place in the rest of Switzerland at that time. The Jesuits were sent to Switzerland to combat the Protestant growth in the country with a counter-Reformation. So, they set up a Jesuit College in the Ritter Palace in 1577 to help promote their religion.
That was the foundation of the Lucerne Jesuit Church, however, construction of the nearby actual church only began in 1667. Before it began in earnest though, in 1666 the foundation stone was laid for the patron saint of Lucerne, Franz Xaver.
It was a slow process that was inhibited at times by a lack of funds. The church shell was only finished in 1673, and although the building was consecrated in 1677 it was not complete. Alters were added later, and the onion towers we admire today were only added in 1893.
The result was the first large Baroque church to be built in Switzerland!
The interior of the Jesuit Church in Lucerne is quite striking in many ways. First, it is very light and bright owing to the dominant white throughout. Something you are likely not used to from the majority of darker churches we tend to experience
It has some very intricate decorative pieces throughout including impressive golden rococo stucco, a wide range of sculptures, and various paintings.
Its fine acoustics are a testament to its construction. So much so that it is used for musical events throughout the year. Be on the lookout for what is on offer when you are visiting Lucerne, you might just catch an acoustic masterpiece being played here.
The High Alter
Dominating your view as you walk down the main hall of the Jesuit Church is the High altar. Craftily built by the sculptor Christoph Brach in 1681 from red stucco marbling. It features two of the apostles, Peter and Paul which the local sculptor Michael Hartmann created.
The main focal point of the high altar is the image of St Francis Xavier in the center.
The organ is another worthwhile area to focus on during your visit. High in the gallery above the entrance, you can turn around and see it from deeper in the main hall.
Built rather recently between 1980-1982, and is a 3 manual instrument with rückpositiv and thirty registers. It contains some of the original organ elements from the 18th century and once the case renovation is complete will sit inside the original case too.
Main Hall Ceiling
The ceiling of the main hall is perhaps the highlight of your visit to the Jesuit Church. It features a cycle of paintings starting from the front at the church apse, all the way back to the organ.
The main theme of these paintings is the patron saint of Lucerne, St Francis Xavier. The overall highlight of them all in the center – is a depiction of St Francis in a carriage being pulled by elephants and other animals toward heaven.
The Eight Chapels
Along each side of the main hall are four chapels on each side, each having its own specific theme. They all have some enchanting rococo stucco elaborations on the ceilings. There are intricate wood carvings, gold, sculptures, and artwork from local artist Beat Josef Schumacher throughout.
There are also various religious relics within the eight chapels such as a tabernacle with the relics of St Silvanus and Brother Klaus’ knotted stick.
The following are the names of each of the eight chapels with the Jesuit Church (starting at the front right and going clockwise around the main hall):
- Mary’s Chapel
- Charles Borromeo Chapel
- Brother Klaus Chapel
- Silvanus Chapel
- Chapel of the three magi
- Aloysius Chapel
- Joseph’s Chapel
- Ignatius Chapel
One way to truly appreciate all of this is to download the app before you visit. You can find the links to that and all of the relevant details for visiting the church below.
Address: Bahnhofstrasse 11A, 6003 Luzern, Switzerland (Google Maps)
Opening hours: 6.30 am – 6.30 pm (except Monday & Thursday – opens at 9.30 am)
Sundays & Holidays: 7 am (without sermon), 10 am, 3 pm, 5 pm
Monday, Thursday: 5.15 pm
Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday: 7 am
Entrance price: Free
Church Events: More info here (German)
Getting There: The simplest way to reach the church is to walk along the Reuss river from the main train station or cross over via the Chapel Bridge. Lucerne is very small and the church is easily reached on foot from anywhere in the old town.