Ribe Cathedral – one of the biggest tourist attractions in Denmark


Ribe Cathedral is a 2-starred Michelin Guide attraction and one of Denmark’s biggest tourist attractions.
There is no entry fee to Ribe Cathedral. But to visit Ribe Cathedral Museum and the tower with a stunning view of the Wadden Sea National Park (UNESCO World Heritage) and the red-roofed medieval old town you have to pay a small amount.

Ribe Cathedral – Services, Church Concerts, Festivals and Museum

  • Services every Sunday at 10am
  • The Rued Langgaard Festival takes place in Ribe every year at the beginning of September. Langgaard’s music will meet the music of another famous composer – Danish or international.
  • Summer Concerts and other church concerts during the year.
  • Ribe Cathedral Museum: Museums and Activity Centres

Video and music from Ribe Cathedral

In this video below you can see photos from Ribe Cathedral – outside and inside – and listen to the organist of Ribe Cathedral playing a prelude to “Queen Dagmar” by the Danish composer Rued Langaard.
You will also see photos from Riberhus Slotsbanke (Riberhus castle hill) and the statue of Queen Dagmar married to the Danish King Valdemar the Victorious

Accommodation with a fantastic view of Ribe Cathedral and the Old Town

At Danhostel Ribe you can book a room with a beautiful view of Ribe’s Skyline. Half of our rooms have this view.
When opening your window or standing outside, you can daily, at 8 AM and 6 PM hear Brorson`s Danish hymn “Now Found is the Fairest of Roses” played from the cathedral carillon. And at noon and 3 PM the carillon plays a certain cantabile, a tune from a well known medieval ballad referring to Queen Dagmar. Listen to the carillon in the video just above.

Ribe Town Square also called Ribe Cathedral Square

Before you step inside Ribe Cathedral, stop and enjoy the atmosphere at the recently beautifully renovated square around the cathedral designed by the famous Danish landscape architect Torben Schønherr

Denmark’s first Christian Church was in Ribe

In the 8th and 9th century the Danes still worshipped the Norse gods and goddesses such as Thor, Odin and Freyja. But about 855 the catholic monk Ansgar obtained some land in Ribe from the Danish King Horik. This was the area where Ansgar would try to build the first Christian Church in Denmark.
During this period, i.e. the early Viking era around year 800, Ribe was already a major trading town, and an obvious choice for proselytizing. Ansgar’ s purpose was to convert the Danes to Christianity.

Everything indicates that Ansgar’s and Denmark’s first Christian church was at the same location as where Ribe Cathedral is now. Archaeologists have made extensive excavations around Ribe Cathedral in recent years and excavated 82 early Christian burial grounds dated between the 9th century and the 12th century. They assume that there are 2000-3000 Christian Viking graves total. Read more: Vikings

In 948 the first bishop of Ribe, Leofdag, is mentioned in the written sources. This was shortly before Denmark was officially converted to Christianity. It is said that Leofdag was murdered by the Vikings (the unbelievers) during a sermon in which he attempted to flee across the river.

The Unesco World Heritage Jelling Stone from 965 AD  tells us that King Harald Bluetooth (Harald Blåtand) christianized the Danes. But at that time Christian and pagan Vikings had already been living side by side about 100 years in Ribe. Therefore, Denmark’s history is now rewritten.

Around the year 1000 AD the bishop of Ribe had all Jutland under him. There is no doubt that Ribe was an important town of commerce and the Danish gateway to the West. In the 1100s the town stated its importance when Ribe Cathedral – Church of Our Lady and castle Riberhus were built. Until 1600 the town flourished as Denmark’s most important harbour

From hill to hollow

Ribe Cathedral was oddly enough originally built on a low rise. Today, however, it lies in a depression, due to medieval debris, such as ashes, discarded building materials, etc. has increased the elevation of the surrounding area.
Anyhow, Ribe Cathedral is still the unmistakable landmark of the town and can be seen miles away in the flat marshes. A major renovation of the cathedral square is just completed, which highlights the beautiful cathedral in a unique way.

Medieval and Modern Art in Ribe Cathedral

Ribe Cathedral has an amazing ability to combine old and new. In 1983 the famous COBRA-artist Carl Henning Pedersen decorated the apse (the circular area around the altar), which is now full of colourful dramatic modern frescoes, mosaics and stained glass. The fantasy figures, people, horses, stars and ships fill the space and the changing light continuously alters the scene. The combination of colours and light create a beautiful experience. With this piece of contemporary art our era has left its mark on the old cathedral.

There are few memories back from Catholic times, for example you can see the large wooden figure of Saint George and the dragon in the north aisle (about 1475) and two murals on pillars in the nave at the bottom of the church, one depicting the Virgin Mary with Jesus Child and the other apostles Bartholomew and Andrew (ca. 1530).

Find outside the Cathedral “Kathoveddøren” (The Cat’s Head Door). The relief above depicting Jesus being released from the crucifix is a primary work among Romanesque granite sculptures in Jutland. Details shows Joseph of Aramithea and Nicodemus ready to remove the nails and lower the body of Christ. Mary has taken hold of her son’s hand. To the right stands a mourning John. Below is the inscription: “The king is dead, she is crying, the beloved one mourn and the conscience-stricken pray.”
The triangular scene above this was carved in the twelve century during the reign of King Valdemar II the Victorious (1202 – 1241). It is considered Ribe’s greatest medieval art. King Valdemar II and his queen, Dagmar, had close ties to Ribe.
The scene could depict King Valdemar carrying a cross to the Virgin Mary. Next to the king stands his second wife Queen Bengerd while Queen Dagmar’s head is depicted under her husband`s head.
The name “Kathoveddøren” (The Cat’s Head Door) is actually a misleading name. Actually the doorknob depicts a lion’s head surrounded by four dragons symbolizing the strength of the church in the midst of an unfriendly world. In the old days people believed a criminal could be saved from punishment if he could grab hold of the ring on the door while fleeing. He was then sinless and inviolable. The doorknob is considered one of the oldest bronze doorknobs in Denmark.

Listen to the cathedral carillon: “Queen Dagmar lies ill in Ribe” (video)

Ribe Cathedral during the Middle Ages

Construction of Ribe Cathedral started about the year 1150 and was finished in about 1250. Granite was scarce so only a little was used, for instance in the foundation of the church and for bases and pillars. Most of the church was built of sandstone and volcanic tufa imported from Germany.
The Cathedral at Ribe is built in the Romanesque style. Although certain parts of the church later were constructed in a Gothic style, it is still one of the country`s best preserved Romanesque Cathedrals. Many additions have been added to the church over time.

During the Middle Ages the cathedral had great wealth, including silver, houses, land and farms.
It was customary to present gifts to the church in return for which the priests would celebrate smaller Masses for the donors after their deaths.
Rich people from the area bought a tomb inside the cathedral. Two kings are buried in the cathedral. One of them, Erik Emune, died in 1137 and the other, Christopher the First, died in 1259.
Aside from these there are several wealthy people who have paid large sums in order to be among the privileged who are buried within the church and during the 13th and 14th centuries the floor of the cathedral was covered with gravestones. Those who could afford it could buy an altar or a mortuary.
When buried in the cathedral the dead souls could take part in the daily Masses and prayers.

The last Catholic Bishop was Ivar Munk . On his large gravestone in the Cathedral you can see him depicted with rings on all his fingers. He was a very prosperous man and seemed to have spent most of his time keeping track of the reserves of the church as well as his own assets. After being appointed as bishop it took a number of years – thirteen years actually – before he held a service.

The protestant Reformation in 1536

Following the protestant Reformation in 1536 the catholic bishop was deposed and the king seized the property of the church. Implementing the reformation was a slow process in Ribe. The town had twelve churches and four convents, all providing a significant source of income for the town. Eventually, however, the figures of the saints and the catholic altars disappeared and the services started being held in the Danish language. A service could last as long as three to five hours. For that reason it was common to buy a seat in the church. Those who had the means set up gravestones and memorials for themselves. One of the finest memorials is in memory of Admiral and Vassal Albert Skeel (died 1639) – and his wife (photo at the bottom of the page). For others epitaphs were hung. One such richly decorated example is from 1650, made for Mette Christensdatter and her first and second husband. Both these husbands were officials at Riberhus.

Floods and other catastrophic events

Since its construction catastrophic events such as fires, structural failures, floods and storms have hit the cathedral. The marks of the flood of 1634 – when water came into the cathedral – can be seen on one of the columns behind the pulpit in the church.
Right after morning mass on Christmas Day in 1283 the north stairway tower collapsed and many people were killed. Ensuing this calamity the great red Commoner’s Tower was built. The church itself occupied the two lower floors of the tower, while the municipality made use of the upper sections as a watchtower, archive and treasury. From this high position citizens could look out for fires, enemies and flooding ensuing western storms. Around 1600 eight canons were installed in the tower. During The Swedish War when the Swedes in 1644 assaulted the King’s castle Riberhus, the Danes fired at the enemy from the tower.

Climb the Commoner’s Tower

Be sure to climb the inside of the Commoner’s Tower. It is 52 meters (170 feet) high with 248 steps. In clear weather one can enjoy a scenic view with the spacious landscape expanding in a radius of about 30 to 35km (19 to 22 miles). On such clear days it is possible to see the city of Esbjerg and the North Sea islands of Roemoe (Rømø), Mandoe (Mandø), and Fanoe (Fanø).

Statues outside the church

  • Hans Tausen. He is considered the protagonist of the Danish reformation and was also one of the first Bishops in Ribe after the Reformation.
  • The poet and hymn writer Hans Adolph Brorson – also one of the bishops of Ribe. Daily, at 8 AM and 6 PM one can hear Brorson`s Danish hymn “Now Found is the Fairest of Roses.” played from the cathedral carillon
    The building “Tårnborg” at Puggårdsgade – formerly the home of Brorson – is now a Brorson Research- and Cultural Center
  • Ansgar. Scandinavia’s Apostle (801-65). The Danish artist Hein Heinsen’s new Ansgar statue is overlooking the newly built “Kannikegård” (read below). The Apostle has raised his right hand to bless, while his left hand at the same time tries to keep the evil back. Ansgar is called Scandinavia’s Apostle because he obtained the kings permission to built the first Christian church in Denmark, and this permission was to built a church in Ribe.

Ribe Kannikegård – Kannikegården – The Canon Monastery

This beautiful modern building was recently opened. It was raised over what was probably the Apostle Ansgar’s Cemetery – Denmark’s first Christian cemetery dating back to the Mid-800s and a later canon’s monastery dating back to the Mid-1100s. You’ll find the building on the town square opposite Ribe Cathedral and the statue of the apostle Ansgar. Looking through the huge windows that surrounds the building, you’ll see the walls from the canon monastery’s dining room. In this way these ancient walls are integrated into the new building, telling a very important part of ancient Danish history to the public. If you want to see the building from the inside you have to join a guided tour.
The building belongs to Ribe parish’s parochial church council and houses the parochial church council and the staff at Ribe Cathedral.

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