St Gallen Cathedral Chancel
St Gallen, Switzerland 2011–2013
Client: Katholischer Konfessionsteil des Kantons St.Gallen UNESCO World Heritage Site
This commission for a new chancel at the centre of St Gallen Cathedral was won in an invited competition. St Gallen is justly famous as a long-lived monastic community with a lavish cathedral and an extraordinary library. The commission was to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the construction of the Baroque cathedral and was required to replace a temporary wooden chancel that had been there since the 1960s.
The temporary chancel had been made to address the demands of the Second Vatican Council to engage better with the congregation, but it had left an architectural problem at the centre of the church. The project represents a permanent solution to this problem—remaking the chancel, so that it reflects more closely the way that the congregation gathers to worship today.
The Rococo interior—with its expansive vaults, painted ceilings and elaborate figural decoration—is a space of the imagination. It opens upward to the painted heavens of the dome and outward to the eastern apse and high altar that once would have been the focus of the monastic community. The design sets out to counter this outward emphasis by bringing a new intimacy to the centre of the church and by providing a point of focus for the modern service. The design establishes a new vertical axis; a column of space that rises from the new altar to the dome at the meeting point of the two horizontal axes of symmetry of the plan. Circles, arcs, and rings generate a symbolic geometry in the existing architecture and emphasise the gathering in the heart of the church in an open way that does not diminish the existing, expansive qualities of the Baroque cathedral.
The plinth for the altar is formed with a series of concentric oval steps, made in terrazzo. Their rounded geometry is framed at the rear by the recessive arc of the existing Rococo choir screen. A delicate frieze in black marble, set within the terrazzo, is draped onto each of the steps, giving the plinth an apparent visual depth that rhymes with the celestial rings in the ceiling painting above. The ceremonial furniture of the new chancel – the altar, the ambo, the baptismal font and a semi-circular seat for the clergy – is also made in terrazzo, with each element being further inlaid with another material; marble, walnut and polished metal.
Schweizer Baumuster-Centrale, Zurich, Switzerland
23 January 2020, 6pm
Florian Zierer speaks at the Schweizer Baumuster-Centrale on the subject of the construction of the new chancel at St Gallen Cathedral.
St Gallen, Switzerland
The consecration of the new chancel at St Gallen Cathedral, designed by Caruso St John Architects, was celebrated in a service led by Bishop of St Gallen Markus Büchel and attended by 1200 members of the diocese. In his sermon the Bishop refered to the design as a "couragous and successful work". Construction of the new chancel was completed in four months, during which time the Cathedral remained open to the public.
St Gallen, Switzerland
Katholischer Konfessionsteil des Kantons St.Gallen
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Caruso St John Architects
Adam Caruso, Peter St John, Florian Zierer
Colm mac Aoidh, Christof Bedall, Michael Schneider
Grünenfelder & Lorenz AG
Jaeger Baumanagement AG
Schmitt Natursteinwerk AG