St. Peter's Church, Copenhagen

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St. Peter's Church, Copenhagen

St. Peter's Church (Danish: St. Petri Kirke, German: St.-Petri-Kirche) is the parish church of the German-speaking community in Copenhagen, Denmark. Built as a single-nave church in the mid-15th century, it is the oldest building in central Copenhagen. It is also notable for its extensive complex of sepulchral chapels.

History

St. Peter's Church was in the Middle Ages one out of four Catholic parish churches in Copenhagen. It is first mentioned in 1304 but was most likely founded in the 12th century.The first church burnt down in 1380 but was rebuilt shortly thereafter. After the Reformation the church building was for a while used as a canon and bell foundry.

Frederick II presented St. Peter's Church to his German-speaking subjects in 1585. The building was renovated by Hans van Steenwinckel the Elder who also added a gablet upper floor to the uncompleted tower, which was however replaced by a spire in the 17th century. The church became a centre for Copenhagen's political, economic, cultural and military elite, which, like the Royal Court, relied on German for everyday use.

The rapidly growing congregation made it necessary to expand the church in several stages. Christian IV added a northern transept in 1631 and a southern transept in 1634. Just 60 years later, Christian V extended the north transept with a further three severies. The distinctive sepulchral chapels arose between 1648 and 1740.

St. Peter's Church was severely damaged in the Copenhagen Fire of 1728. The interoir was lost to the flames but the outer walls were left intact and the church could fairly easily be rebuilt by Johan Cornelius Krieger. The church was first given a short lantern spire which was replaced by the current copper-clad spire in 1756-57. The spire survived the British bombardement during the Battle of Copenhagen in 1807.

With the increasing tensions between Denmark and Germany in the middle of the 18th century, culminating in the First Schleswig War from 1848-50, the church lost its special position and therefore members, prestige and financial support.

As time passed, it became an impossible task for the congregation to maintain the large building complex, and in 1994 the state took over the church back into its care. It was transferred to the Palaces and Properties Agency, which in the late 90s carried out extensive restoration and partial restructuring under the direction of architect and professor Hans Munk Hansen.

Architecture

St. Peter's Church was originally built as a single-nave church but with Christian IV's addition of the northern and southern transepts, it received the cruciform layout which characterizes it today. Most of the church, including the nave, the choir and the lower part of the tower, dates back to the middle of the 15th century. The main entrance is located in the southern transept and is marked by a richly carved Baroque portal from 1731, carved by the sculptor Diderik Gercken. The spire from 1756-57 is built in the Rococo style to the design of carpenter

Sepulchral chapels

The church has an extensive complex of sepulchral chapels which was commenced in 1643 and not completed until 1681-83 when Hans van Steenwinckel the Youngest completed a three wing chapel towards Larslejstræde. The complex contains numerous tombs and epitaphs of important German families in Denmark. Beneath the tombs contain the sarcofages of the most destinguished family members while other chests are placed in three to four layers in underground crypts.

Internents

Many of the chapels are made by Johannes Wiedewelt and Andreas Weidenhaupt. Amidst the chapels lies the idylic 'herb garden' (Danish: urtegården). The interents include:

  • Johan Boye Junge, builder
  • Johann Friedrich Struensee
  • Carl Adolph von Plessen
  • Ernst Heinrich von Schimmelmann
  • Charlotte Schimmelmann
  • Johan Sigismund Schulin
  • Just Wiedewelt

In the graveyeard outisde:

  • Ernst Henrich Berling
  • Nicolai Eigtved
  • Friederike Brun, poet and salonist
St. Peter's Church today

The church is today owned by the Danish Palaces and Properties Agency but on a day-to-day basis the church is still used actively by the German-speaking Evangelical-Lutheran congregation wwith 900 membersm part of the Danish National Church. The congregation arranges guided tours, concerts and other cultural events in the historic building. Together with the St. Peter's School (Danish: St. Petri Skole) and the St. Peter's Cultural Center (Danish: St. Petri Kulturcentrum), both of which are located on the church's premises, it forms a centre for German culture in Copenhagen.