Discoveries of a detour – The Fraumunster Cloister Courtyard

Posted on April 30, 2010


I have just started discovering Zurich. It helps that it’s finally warm enough to actually ‘move’ when outdoors, and that the sun has finally made its long awaited appearance. It also helps that I no longer look for guidance in guidebooks because their section on Zurich is complete crap. None of the ones I’ve come across come anywhere near to giving an idea of how beautiful and interesting the city really is.

All guidebooks mention the Fraumunster church, and all tourists flock there to see something which has failed to inspire me. I’ve never loved the Fraumunster. Whatever charm it might have had was stripped away by the Reformation, when in 1524, what adorned the church was destroyed. Now, only Marc Chagall’s series of stained glass windows (an addition made in the second half of the 20th Century) provide a most welcome splash of colour and some traces of soul. Very few people (including myself on my first visit), venture into the adjacent convent courtyard just a few steps away. Why? Simply because guidebooks tend not to mention it. When I finally came across it, I hadn’t been looking for it because I didn’t know about it, but it was, in a way that the main church never would be, worth writing about.

The structure of the convent is older than the church itself, and its story started when in 853, King Ludwig the German gave a pre-existing structure to his daughter Hildergard, who became the first abbess of the Benedictine convent. When I visited, I was alone there except for a picture-incontinent couple where the woman wanted to be photographed at every possible angle and beside every feature. They were slightly annoying, but since there was space for all of us, I didn’t complain. Flanking a small central space, were two corridors on both sides roofed by sharp yet curvaceous gothic arches. The walls themselves were decorated with soft coloured frescoes by the Swiss painter Paul Bodmer, added between 1924 and 1941 and depicting old Zurich legends as well as the figures of Felix and Regula, patron saints of Zurich. Not being much of a history buff, I ignored all this at the time, and simply enjoyed the site of the soft light tricking through the arches which made the faint frescoes markedly more vivid. A plaque in German commemorated a certain Katharina Von Zimmern, the last abbess who in 1524,  had handed over the convent to the reformation, thus stopping further bloodshed, or so the plaque said.



As I was looking at the frescoes, a man from an adjacent street walked hurriedly along one of the corridors and disappeared out of the opposite entrance. I suddenly remembered that this spot was squashed in between the Limmat to one side and Bahnhofstrasse on the other, and for the locals who pass it en route to wherever they are going, it must be nothing more than a means to an end, the colourful walls not much different, in their haste, from street graffiti. To me though, it was a welcome discovery, although a detour, nonetheless.

– Text and Photography by Denise Pulis @

Posted in: Zurich