Peterskirche - History and Facts | History Hit


Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland

Peterskirche in Zurich is a medieval site famed for having Europe’s largest clock face.

Peta Stamper

26 Apr 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Peterskirche

Peterskirche in Zurich, Switzerland, (St. Peter’s Church) is a medieval church famed for having Europe’s largest clock face. Whilst a church has stood on the site of Peterskirche in Zurich since the 9th century, the church itself has undergone several transformations and mostly dates from the 13th century, and is revered for its mixture of architectural styles, including the Baroque, Gothic and Romanesque.

Peterskirche history

The site of Peterskirche was originally the location of a former Roman castle, built upon the Temple to Jupiter. After the fall of the Roman Empire, an early Christian church was built upon the sacred site during the 8th or 9th century, which was later replaced by a Romanesque style church around 1000 AD. Once again, this structure was updated and replaced by a later Romanesque church.

Since 1234, Zürich had been governed by an aristocratic council consisting of nobility and influential merchants. The city’s mayor was selected from this group and appointed by the abbess of the powerful Fraumünster abbey for influential daughters.

However in 1336, Rudolf Brun – a council member – overthrew the former council with support of the city craftsmen so that the city council would include knights, patrons and guild masters. Ultimately, there was no revolution but a balance between the powerful patrons and guilds. Brun was buried at the Peterskirche in 1360.

Before the Reformation, Perterskirche was the only parish church beyond the powerful abbeys. The first reformed pastor, Leo Jud, contributed the first translated Bible in the 1540s. The building was later consecrated in 1706 for being the first church built under Protestant rule.

Interestingly, the church tower and the Gothic nave did not have the same owners. Until the French Revolution, the tower belonged to the city republic of Zürich while the belfry belonged to the Reformed Church. The church tower was used for fire watch throughout its life until 1911. The first mechanical clock was installed in the 13th century and continually refined through the centuries, setting Zürich’s official local time.

Peterskirche today

Today, you can see the largest clock face in Europe at 8.64 metres in diameter, towering over the city. A great view can be found from Lindenhof hill. Within the tower are 5 bells dating from 1880 – the largest of which weighs in at 6 tons. For free you can visit the interior of the large church, with two tiers of seating along the walls and a large pulpit above 2 arches at the front for sermons.

Whilst looking around, see if you can find the gravestones of Brun and of J. C. Lavater, pastor between 1778 to 1801, set into the church wall. The church is open all day between 8am and 6pm.

Getting to Peterskirche

Public transport is the easiest way around Zürich: get the trams 4 or 15 to Rathaus from which Peterskirche is a 2 minute walk. On the Limmat river, metres away from Peterskirche, you can also stop at the 3734 Zürich Storchen ferry terminal.

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