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Mariakirken - St Mary's Church
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Churches and convents

Mariakirken - St Mary's Church

The south side of Mariakirken. The numerous roofs give associations to the Norwegian stave churches.

Mariakirken, St Mary’s Church, holds a special position in the history of Bergen. The first high mass in the church was held in the middle of the 12th century, something that tells us that the church is in fact the oldest remaining building in Bergen. Mariakirken had, and still has a central location in town. Still, it had a far more dominating position in medieval Bergen, when the country’s centre of power was a stone’s throw away.

Mariakirken - St Mary's Church

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Bishop Jacob Neumann and his wife are buried in the church yard.


View of Mariakirken. Photos by Histos

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Mariakirken has two towers, with a Romanesque style and High Gothic characteristics in the stalls. The church received the country’s first stained-glass window in 1336, when a German glass painting was willed to the church, and put into the northern wall.
With its three naves and two towers, the church resembles a small cathedral. This leads us to think that it is likely to have been Bergen’s main church very early. However, we do not know this for certain. What we do know, is that it used to be the parish church of an economically strong group of people – the Hanseatics. The merchants on Bryggen got the church in 1408, after which it was popularly called “the German church.”
The German society kept Mariakirken as their own a long time after the Hanseatic dominance in Bergen had been broken. However, the Norwegian Parliament passed a bill in 1839, which annulled the German congregation in Bergen. After this it was no longer an obligation for German descendants to belong to the congregation, only a hereditary and voluntary right. From now on, Mariakirken turned more and more into a local parish church, even though sermons were held in German until after the First World War.
Late in the 19th century, author Elisabeth Welhaven described the German society within the church. The Hanseatic descendants were strongly tied to each other. The congregation at Mariakirken was like “a family who participated in each other’s well-being with great seriousness, much like Freemasons. Anyone who has entered into their House of Worship has felt the holy and grave atmosphere that rests upon the old German Temple.”

Thanks to the wealthy Hanseatic society, the church is richly adorned, exhibiting pieces of art reaching over a period of 700 years. On the walls surrounding the pulpit we find 15 full sized statues which symbolize the 12 apostles as well as John the Baptist, Moses and Paul. The statues were sculptured by Søfferen Oelsen in 1643. The most magnificent piece, which is also unique in Norway, is the pulpit. Its origin is unknown, but we know that it was donated to the church in 1676. The pulpit is decorated with eight Christian virtues, presented as women with different attributes. The decorations on the pulpit, and in the church in general, are very rich and beautiful and are inspired by both religious history and science. Mariakirken also has a rich musical history, having had one of the country’s first organs. Still today music holds a central position in the parish. The choir Maria Vocalis has given performances in Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral in London.


Submitted comments:

Det e ikkje så mye skreve om maleriene .... PLIS skriv litt mer om dem ...
Angående sangerkoret i Mariakirken: - Mariakirken har i de siste tre årene IKKE hatt koret Maria Vocalis. Dagens kor heter Maria Kantori, og drives frem av vår dyktige kantor Karstein Askeland. Koret holder konserter ca 2 ganger i året (Jul og Påske).
St Mary's Church did not remain catholic after the Reformation. The Germans had, however, started to employ priests at the church after the Reformation, something that the Bishop had done in the past. The mass was was said in Latin for a long period of time also after the Reformation, something which may be confusing regarding the catholic/protestant question.
It is a beautiful and most interesting church. I have a question which may be trivial but so far nobody could give the information : obviously the church was still catholic when Norway had already become protestant. Of course this relates to the fact that the church was "German" under hanseatic jurisdiction. Did it then become protestant in 1648 after the 30 years war ?
Jeg har lest at det ikke er de 12 aposlene som det er statue av, forederen Judas ble erstattet av døperen johannes. Er dette riktig?

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© 2003 Histos

This site is a cooperation between five museums in Bergen:
Gamle Bergen Museum, Bryggens Museum, St. Jørgens Hospital, Bergen Skolemuseum and Bergen Brannhistoriske stiftelse