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Fraumunster Church & Marc Chagall’s Stunning Stained-Glass Windows

The Fraumunster Church is located in Zurich’s city center. The church was built in 853 when Zurich was no more than a small provincial village. The church standing today, is not the original church but also dates back to 1250.

For over a 1000 years, the Fraumunster church has been a spiritual place of worship for the residents of Zurich. It isn’t a large church but it’s blue spire can be seen practically from everywhere. Today, Fraumunster church claims its fame from the gorgeous stained-glass windows created by the artist Marc Chagall.

Photo of the Fraumunster Church with Blue Spire
Fraumunster Church with Blue Spire, Picture by Hans Permana (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Why did they choose Marc Chagall to create the Fraumunster stained-glass windows?

Since 1960, Zurich city officials searched for a suitable artist to create beautiful stained-glass windows for their historical and important church. Despite an extensive international search, the city did not find a suitable or worthy artist for the job.

In 1967, Zurich hosted a large Chagall exhibition in one of their major art museums. Many of his paintings in this exhibition were of whimsical images and figures symbolizing tolerance, love, peace and faith. The exhibition impressed the Fraumunster pastor so much, that he decided to offer Chagall the commission of the stained-glass windows.

Chagall was 80 years old at the time but at the height of his artistic career. It is said that Chagall sat inside the church and felt so inspired that he decided to take on the massive project. Indeed it astonished everyone when 80 year old Chagall accepted this huge commission.

“Stained glass has to be serious and passionate. It has to live through the perception of light.” Marc Chagall Quotes.

Marc Chagall and Religion

Marc Chagall led a secular life in his adult years. However as a child, Chagall grew up in a very religious Jewish family in Russia. As expected of all Jewish boys, he studied in a religious primary school that focused on biblical studies.

It is therefore not surprising that Chagall, although not a practicing Jew, was knowledgable and felt comfortable around religious themes. In fact, many of his paintings throughout his entire artistic life included religious elements. Chagall’s religious background remained imprinted within his soul and he expressed it through his art.

Chagall Paintings - Moses receiving the 10 commandments
Moses Receiving the Ten Commandments – Chagalls Biblical Paintings

Chagall felt comfortable with a commision from the church as he was able to apply his broad knowledge of the old testament.

The Process of Making the Fraumunster Stained-Glass Windows

Chagall’s idea was to create windows in the choir zone behind the alter. He felt that this spacious open area would allow the worshippers to fully enjoy the views and the religious and humanist message of the windows.

Chagall’s unique painting style is often characterized by simplistic figures and elements. He also painted with bright colors and fragmented-like Cubism. This style worked well also for designing a stained glass. Chagall’s idea for these windows was to incorporate both Jewish and Christian symbolism so that the subject matter is meaningful for the viewer of any faith.

For over three years, Chagall put his heart and soul into this project. He sketched the design of each window from his home in Saint Paul de Vence, on the French Riviera. Once finalized, he worked in close collaboration with a glassmaking factory in Reims.

After the colored glass panes were finished, Chagall outlined the figures and elements in black. They were then baked onto the glass. Marc Chagall spent many weeks in Zurich supervising and directing the installation.

In 1970, Chagall finished the magnificent Fraumunster stained-glass windows

The Windows & their Meanings

The windows offer the viewer many interpretations.

  • Some say that the tall, long and narrow windows represent the vertical connection between the earth below and the heavens above.
  • Others say that Chagall’s use of blue and green represent earth’s main elements (water and nature) and red and yellow symbolizing the heavenly glow.
  • It is generally agreed that the vast amount of images in the windows symbolize the complexity of God’s creation of the universe
Three stained-glass windows designed by Chagall in the Fraumunster Church, Zurich
Fraumunster Church Windows – Marc Chagall’s stained glass windows in Zurich
Photo by Dennis Jarvis (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The deep and vibrant colors of Chagall’s windows are the first thing that you will notice. On the north wall is the window of Prophets in orange and red. This window depicts Elijah’s soaring upwards into heaven on a chariot and a wretched Jeremiah, the bearer of news.

The window on the south wall represents the story of Moses and the ten commandments. This window is made in deep & bright hues of blue.

Three stained-glass windows occupy the eastern wall of the church. One window represents Jacob on his ladder wrestling with an Angel. Another window depicts The End of Days showing an angel blowing a trumpet. The third window, the “celebrity” of them all, is the green “Christ” window. It is the longest of all the stained glass windows.

Marc Chagall Stained Glass Window depicting Christ at Fraumunster church Zurich
Close-up of one window at Fraumunster Church / Dede454 [CC BY-SA 4.0] Wikimedia

When to Visit:

The windows are best seen in the bright morning light as all five stained-glass windows illuminate the entire church. Those familiar with Chagall’s paintings, will recognize his colors immediately.

But just because you came here for Chagall’s stained-glass windows, don’t forget to check out the rest of the church. Its architecture and other features are gorgeous both inside and out. The entrance fee is 5 CHF and it includes an audio guide (available in 8 languages) or an illustrated brochure explaining the various sections of the church.

The opening hours are between 10am and 5pm.  For more information, press here

In our life there is a single color, as on an artist’s palette, which provides the meaning of life and art. It is the color of love. Marc Chagall Quotes

If you are interested in an organized tour of Zurich Old Town, below are some wonderful options with a special stop at the Fraumunster Church.

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See below for more articles about the incredible Marc Chagall, his life, where to see his art & a great historical fiction book about the Chagall family