Roskilde Domkirke

sights / Religious

Roskilde Domkirke information

Roskilde , Denmark
More information
adult/child Dkr60/free
Opening hours
9am-5pm Mon-Sat, 12.30-5pm Sun Apr-Sep, shorter hrs rest of yr
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Not merely the crème de la crème of Danish cathedrals, this twin-towered giant is a designated Unesco World Heritage site. Started by Bishop Absalon in 1170, the building has been rebuilt and tweaked so many times that it’s now a superb showcase of 800 years’ worth of Danish architecture. As the royal mausoleum, it contains the crypts of 37 Danish kings and queens – contemplating the remains of so many powerful historical figures is a moving memento mori.

No fewer than 11 spectacular chapels and crypts sprout from the main body of the cathedral. The chapel of King Christian IV , off the northern side of the building, contains the builder-king himself. His ocean-green coffin, surrounded by processing angels, is quite low-key for such an extravagant monarch. Most of the decoration in the chapel – vast, overly dramatic paintings of Christian’s life surrounded by trompe l’oeil details – is actually from the 19th century, as the original sepulchre burned down a year before Christian’s death. The only contemporary features are the chapel gates, so ornate they were said to have been created by the devil himself (although really the work of Christian’s favourite metalsmith Caspar Fincke).

There are some fantastic 15th-century frescoes (the largest in Denmark) in the chapel of the Magi . It also contains the Renaissance sepulchres of Christian III and Frederik II, the most ornate in the cathedral. They look like antique temples, guarded by halberd-bearing soldiers. Another interesting feature of the chapel is the Royal Column, which shows the heights of visiting princes – from Christian I at a lofty 219.5cm down to titchy Christian VII at 164.1cm.

The neoclassical chapel of Frederik V whispers ‘death’ like no other part of the cathedral. You’ll find 12 members of the royal family here, all interred in white alabaster sepulchres, surrounded by skulls, angels and weeping women.

The nave contains Christian IV’s private box, and an intricate 17th-century pulpit (1610) made of marble, alabaster and sandstone by Copenhagen sculptor Hans Brokman. A killjoy dean disconnected the mechanism of the wonderful clock in the 18th century, annoyed that his parishioners paid more attention to it than to him, but today’s church-people have relented. St George slays the dragon on the hour; the poor beast lets out a pitiful wheeze; and two ballad characters ting the bells.

Margrethe I’s elegant sarcophagus and the shining golden altarpiece in the choir usually attract crowds of admirers. We prefer the wonderfully lively 15th-century choir-stall carvings: highlights from the New Testament line the northern side, and fearsome Old Testament tales adorn the south – Joseph being stuffed down a hole, Judith chopping off Holofernes’ head, and Noah’s family crammed into the ark…

Free concerts on the 16th-century baroque pipe organ are usually held at 8pm on Thursday in June, July and August. It’s not unusual for the cathedral to be closed on Saturday for weddings, particularly in spring.