Lucerne : The Hofkirche
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Busy Löwenstrasse runs south from Löwenplatz to the riverside; just before you reach the Schweizerhofquai, the arrow-straight St-Leodegarstrasse cuts east to broad steps leading up to the Hofkirche (Sat–Thurs 10am–noon & 2–5pm). This grand structure sits on the site of the first monastery of Luzern, which dated from the mid-eighth century and was dedicated to St-Leodegar, or St Leger. The Romanesque church which replaced the monastery in the late twelfth century was burned to the ground on Easter Sunday 1633, the blaze reputedly sparked by the verger’s careless shooting at birds. Only its twin towers escaped, and they survive today either side of a bizarrely incongruous Renaissance gable. The impressive main doors are carved with the two patron saints of Luzern: on the left is St Leger, a French bishop who was blinded with a drill (which he is holding), and on the right is St Maurice, the martyred Roman soldier-saint.

The interior design and furniture are almost wholly original Renaissance from the 1630s and 1640s, a unity very rarely found in Swiss or European churches, a large proportion of which underwent renovation and embellishment during the later Baroque period. On the right, elaborate pews divided into individual seats were reserved for city councillors, while the plainer pews on the left were for the rank and file. Behind the exceptionally fine choir screen – one of the earliest examples of strong three-dimensional perspective used to draw the congregation’s attention forward – is the high altar in black marble, flanked by statues of the two patron saints. Above the Italianate depiction of the Agony at Gethsemane is a half-length figure of God. The carved choir stalls, as well as the beautiful pulpit, are the work of Niklaus Geissler. Against the north wall (left) is the extraordinarily lavish Death of the Virgin altar, showing Mary on a bed surrounded by disciples: dating from around 1500, this was the only relic to survive the 1633 fire. The mighty organ, bedecked in ornament, features 2826 pipes, along with a machine to mimic the sound of rain and a special register for thunder and hail.

The church is set amidst a lovely Italianate cloister, lined with the graves of Luzerner patrician families (who continue to be buried here to this day). Old houses all around the church still serve as the homes for canons of the parish. Just west of the church is the ancient Rothenburgerhaus, a teetering pile that’s generally held to be one of the oldest wooden townhouses in the country, dating from about 1500. On the slopes north of the church is the old cemetery, now a public park, while about 500m further north on the hilltop is the Capuchin monastery of Wesemlin, founded in 1584 and still functioning as the principal seat of the order in Switzerland.

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