Thursday, May 30, 2013

Luxarazzi 101: The Cathedral of Our Lady of Luxembourg

With June knocking on our doors, we are gearing up for Luxembourg's biggest annual event, the National Day, which will occur on June 23rd. To warm ourselves up, to get in the mood and also to have a bit of background knowledge once the day comes around, we will have a few editions of our Luxarazzi 101 series dedicated to places and things that will be important for the day.

First up: the setting of the ecumenical religious celebrations.

The Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Luxembourg is located in the heart of the Grand Duchy's capital and offers the backdrop for the Te Deum on National Day as well as for the annual Octave celebrations. You might also remember it from the wedding of the Hereditary Grand Duke last year. The cathedral is located only a walking distance from the palais grand-ducal.

Photo: Caranorn / Wikimedia Commons
The foundation stone for the cathedral, a former Jesuit college, was laid in 1613. The plans had been drawn up by Brother Jean du Blocq from the monastery of Tournai and overseen by Brother Otto Herloy. The construction of the college was completed in 1621. The artistic decoration and sculpture was completed during the following decades. The church is an example of late gothic architecture though it also includes Renaissance elements.

Photo: Vic Fischbach /
Cour grand-ducale
Significant contributors during the building process included Ulrich Job from Lucerne and Daniel Müller, an immigrant from Freiberg in Saxony. On 17 October 1621, the church was consecrated and dedicated to the Immaculate Conception by Georg von Helffenstein, an auxiliary bishop from nearby Trier.

In 1773, the Jesuits were suppressed and left Luxembourg. Later that year, Empress Maria Theresa gave the structure to the city of Luxembourg and it was elevated to a parish church named for St Nicholas and St Theresa. During the French revolution the church welcomed the statue of the Counselor of the Afflicted, the patron saint of the city and country, to save it from the approaching French troops.

In 1801, large parts of the former Duchy were incorporated into the bishopric of Metz and the church was proclaimed "mother church of the city and the department". It became henceforth known as the St Peter's Church to eclipse any memory of the Austrian rule. Vicar apostolic Jean-Théodore Laurent renamed the church in honour the Virgin Mary 'Church of Our Lady' in 1844.

Photo: Cour grand-ducale
Already in 1815, the Congress of Vienna had created the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and 55 years later Pope Pius IX elevated the new country to the rank of an autonomous diocese. The church was thus elevated to the rank of a cathedral as well.

The cathedral's interior was given a neo-gothic redesign under Nicholas Adames, Laurent's successor and first diocesan bishop. The works started in 1854. His aim had been to purify the church's artistic appearance. The different stained glasses were created by Louis Barillet, Oberberger and Emile Probst.

Between 1935 and 1938 the cathedral was enlarged and enhanced according to the plans of Luxembourgish architect Hubert Schumacher who worked closely together with canon Léon Lommel. The most recent changes were undertaken during the 1970's to "accentuate the vertical dynamism of the architecture and to highlight the sculptural elements".

On Good Friday 1985 disaster struck and welding work started a fire in the old belfry. Various bells, including the carillon bells, the tenor bell of the Virgin Mary and the bells of St Willibrord, St Peter and St Cunegunda, were all destroyed. Falling debris from the collapsing belfry caused great damage to the roof over the central nave. The reconstruction of the cathedral's roof and the belfry was finished by October that same year.

Source: Buddhaah / Flickr
A burial crypt is located underneath the cathedral and serves as the last resting place of bishops and Luxembourgish rulers, including John the Blind (1296-1346), Count of Luxembourg and Count of Bohemia, Grand Duchess Marie-Adélaïde and Grand Duchess Charlotte.

All the Catholic members of the Grand Ducal Family - such as Grand Duchess Marie-Anne, Prince Felix, Prince Charles and Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte - were laid to rest in the crypt. (The protestant member of the family, Grand Duke Adolph and Grand Duke Guillaume IV among them, are buried at the castle church in Weilburg an der Lahn in Germany.) The entrance to the crypt is adorned by two Bronze lions bearing the coat of arms of the dynasty.

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