Even before entering the city, the towers of Frau and Gross Münster could be made out from the distance. Earlier that day, we'd been up at Pilatus. The previous night, Switzerland had experienced its first snowfall this season, and the inhabitants of Luzern had come to the peak and basked on the glorious sunshine falling on the snow. A group of four people had carried their enormous Alphorns up the peak, and played them as a sort of invocation to the snow, the tune being called the "Waldecho" - a Swiss folk tradition, dating back to centuries.
We'd entered the city through the Altstadt, and as S crazily shot pictures of imposing towers and latest car-models, I clutched my camera and walked slowly towards the square. It was a Sunday, with moderately pleasant weather verging on the chilly, and the inhabitants were slowly venturing out to enjoy the evening. The river Limmat flowed gently below, and I carelessly clutched the banister while looking mesmerised at the church which rose ahead.
I've always had a fascination for small churches. Having spent seventeen years of my life in proximity to one, and a further three years of college life overlooking the tiny Victorian church next door, I probably cannot explain the strange thrill and melancholy that runs through me when I hear church bells ringing in a strange unfamiliar town. The Münsterbrücke (bridge) running over the Limmat separates Frau- from Grossmünster. Frau meaning "lady" in German, the church was once a medieval abbess with influential political power. During Reformation, its powers were dissolved, and having survived the centuries, it now serves as a parish church. In the later half of the twentieth century, Chagall had designed five stained glass windows, which though cannot be readily made out from the outside, offers a fascinating experience when viewed from the inside. Each of the windows depicts a Christian story. While this is the official history of the church, local lore says that King Louis II, who founded the church in 853 AD, had a daughter Hildegard. She was once visited in her dream by a stag, who had leapt across the Limmet and landed on the very spot where the church was later built. It had then dissolved into thin air. Taken as a divine intervention, she had urged her father to build the church.
It was nearly closing time when I entered the church. One has to walk past the wrought iron gates through the corridor with frescoes adorning both sides of the walls, and find herself in the hall, surrounded by the dazzling windows on all sides. If you face the windows and are rapt in admiration for them, then immediately behind you would be the chapel. There were a few people inside, some reading the book, some praying, some quietly sitting. I sat in a corner, for I don't know how long. I was taken back to my school days, which being a Roman Catholic convent, had a cozy chapel ensconced in the main school building, where we would often go and pray with our Sisters. There was another impressive painted window in front of us, and with the fragrance of the flowers, the whole atmosphere was rendered sublime. After a long time, I realised it was time to leave. I had some difficulty locating the exit, as often sensitive situations muddle my rational powers of thinking. When I did locate, I found the iron gates closed. I felt like one of the Von Trapp sisters, hiding in the convent from the soldiers, but I had to open it, as if a testimony to the changed circumstances. Out in the square, exactly opposite to the church was a statue of Hans Waldmann, the mayor of Zürich in the fifteenth century.
Photography is prohibited inside the church, and I support it. To me, it seems to protect the sanctity of something so precious, beautiful and personal, from the claws of populism. As I stood outside in the evening chill, I looked at the church and told myself, "You've come a long way, my lady."
St. Peter's Church
The Grossmünster church
Towers of the Grossmünster
As we were opening the iron gates, the tower bells started ringing. S and I stood on the square for a long time, and as they stopped, the bells from the Grossmünster from the other side started chiming. We held our hands together and began walking on the old cobbled streets.