Church Rivalries

Within a country, a region, and sometimes even within a city, rivalries have arisen around religious buildings, long centres of power. Today these rivalries are anecdotal, but they have the merit of connecting these buildings to a broader history.

The Italian Musical Derby

Among the many rivalries that marked medieval Italy, there was one that is often forgotten, between Bologna and Rome. These two cities periodically belonged to the same papal states and competed for power, which is best embodied by the Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna, whose construction began at the end of the 14th century. The Basilica was supposed to be larger than St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, but it remained largely unfinished and never reached its maximum size. However, there was one area where the Basilica was equal to Rome - music. In the 16th century, there was a competition between two teams of bell ringers, that of the Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna and that of the Church of Santa Cecilia in Rome. Eager to prove their skills, the Bolognese bell ringers developed a method of regular and precise ringing; each bell had to ring once per rotation. And so, the Bolognese art of bell ringing was born.

Basilica di San Petronio

The Münsters of Zurich

Facing each other on either side of the Limmat, it is easy to imagine the rivalry between the Fraumünster and the Grossmünster, which both define the skyline of Zurich. The two münsters (old German word for "big church") were the abbey churches of important monasteries in medieval Zurich. Both monasteries claimed their superiority over the other as authentic places of veneration for the city's martyrs. The relics of the saints of Zurich, Felix and Regula, were once exhibited by Fraumünster, while the Grossmünster was said to be founded on the burial place of the saints. Therefore, on the feast day of the saints in Zurich, their relics were transported in procession between the Grossmünster and the Fraumünster. The dispute was somehow settled, as Zurich became an important centre of the Reformation in the 1520s, and the abbeys were abolished.


The Benedictine Schism of Burgundy

The Abbey of Cluny, founded in the 10th century, quickly became the most important monastery in Western Europe, triggering a revival of monastic practice on the continent and producing abbots whose influence equalled that of the Pope himself. Until the 12th century, the Abbey of Cluny governed monastic life in Europe and gave rise to numerous monasteries. However, the abbey was gradually eclipsed by another abbey founded in the 11th century, less than 100 km from Cluny. The founder of the Abbey of Citeaux, Bernard de Clairvaux was very critical of the way that the lives of the monks, according to him, were corrupted by power. Clairvaux offers a more ascetic, rigorous version of monastic life, where work is given a fundamental place. Soon, the Abbey of Citeaux became the mother abbey of many monasteries throughout Europe, matching and even surpassing Cluny in the 13th century.

Cluny Abbey

The St Patrick's Cathedrals of Armagh

Legend has it that St. Patrick founded a church in Armagh in the year 457, an act that made the city the true "ecclesiastical capital" of Ireland. With Henry VIII (1509-1547), the Reformation reached Ireland and made St. Patrick's Cathedral Anglican. With the 19th century and the revival of Catholicism in Ireland, a new St. Patrick's Cathedral was built in Armagh between 1840 and 1904. Construction of the Gothic Revival building began on St. Patrick's Day in 1840, and the Catholic Cathedral was placed on a hill to face the hill of the Anglican Cathedral.

St. Patrick's Cathedral (Catholic)

The Highest Towers of Brno

The Church of St. James is associated with one of Brno's most famous legends. Since the medieval period, there is said to have been a competition between St. James and St. Peter and Paul's Cathedral as to which of the two churches would have a higher tower, with both churches having towers around 90 metres high. Thus, in the arch of the south window on the first floor of a tower of St. James, facing St. Peter and Paul, you can see a small carved man showing his bottom. However, this legend dates back to the beginning of the 20th century, as the towers of St. Peter and Paul's Cathedral were not built until 1908.

Church of St. James

The Twins of Hungary

Before the First World War, Hungary had a large, religiously divided kingdom, with a predominantly Catholic west and a Calvinist east. Two cities, former capitals of the kingdom, embody these two Hungaries: Esztergom, the traditional seat of the Hungarian Catholic Church, and Debrecen, known as "Calvinist Rome". This religious disparity between the two cities has grown over the centuries with the existence of chronic prohibitions of Catholics in Debrecen and Calvinists in Esztergom. Both built in the first half of the 19th century in the neoclassical style, the basilica of Esztergom and the great church of Debrecen are symbols of the cohabitation of the two religions in Hungary.

Esztergom Basilica