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Raphael Volery, Zurich

The Heavenly Court

The cornerstone for the decades-long construction of Bern cathedral was laid in 1421. Completion of the vaulted ceiling in 1517 still marks an impressive milestone to the current day.

The year 1517 is mentioned in an inscription at the choir side of the chancel arch, together with the name of the master mason: Peter Pfister.


Two vault caps also bear the signature of painter Nikolaus Manuel Deutsch, who was responsible for the colourful design of the vaulted ceiling. The oeuvre, dubbed the "Heavenly Court", has been undergoing restoration since 2014. It was ascertained that the colours of the 86 larger-than-life-sized statues of saints adorning the keystones of the marvellous reticulated vaulted ceiling are virtually still in their original condition from 1517: with flesh tones and clothes made of precious pigments, gilding and lustre. Peter Pfister's construction intertwines the so-called 3/8 termination, the two narrow adjacent trestles and both wide west sections to form a spatial and architectural unit. The Heavenly Court above the Bern Cathedral choir is one of the largest and most valuable surviving late-medieval sculptures in Europe today.


The first of the two special stamps depicts one such statue: Saint Sebastian, Roman soldier and Christian martyr. The second motif offers a view of the centre of the reticulated vaulted ceiling, with Bern's coat of arms.

Jürg Freudiger