Around Basel: The fortified Church of Saint Arbogast at Muttenz

The fortified church of Saint Arbogast at Muttenz is a gem, with the frescoes creating a solemn atmosphere and with the defensive wall surrounding it. Let us explore this gem!

 

The beginnings of the Church of Saint Arbogast 

In the 8/9th century, the first church is constructed under the direction of the bishopric Strasbourg. It is dedicated to Saint Arbogast, the first bishop of Strasbourg; he lived around 600. The second church follows around 1100.

In the mid 12th century, the third church is built in Romanesque style. From that time, we see the Romanesque front choir.

In addition, some of the 12th century ashlars have been uncovered, as here on the northern wall of the nave. 

 

The lords Münch-Löwenberg (14th century) and Münch-Eptingen (15th century)

In the 14th century, after the Basel earthquake of 1356, the lords of Münch-Löwenberg renovate the church. They make the main choir rectangular (there was an apsis before). 

They reconstruct the vault of the front choir topping it with the coat of arms of the Münch-Löwenberg (two monks and two lions), and there are monks and lions along the ribs of the vaults. 

Since 1939, the lion of the Münch-Löwenberg has decorated the coat of arms of Muttenz, sitting on top of what stands for the three castles on the Wartenberg above Muttenz.

In addition to the works at the choirs, the Münch-Löwenberg enlarge the nave to the west and to the south.

In the 15th century, the Münch-Eptingen are the lords of Muttenz. In 1420, they enlarge the church tower marking it with their coat of arms, the alliance of the Münch (monk) with the Eptingen (eagle; today the coats of arms of the villages Pratteln and Eptingen). 

In 1430, the Münch-Eptingen surround the church with the defensive wall and two gate towers. The coat of arms of the Münch, a monk, is on the northern gate tower, above the entry. 

Around 1450, the Münch-Eptinger have the nave and the front choir painted with frescoes. Two frescoes have been preserved, the Arbogast legend and the Resurrection niche. 

The Arbogast legend decorates the front choir. The son of king Dagobert, Siegbert, has been killed, when hunting. Dagobert takes his son to Arbogast and asks him to wake up his son (first painting); on the second painting, the son lifts his head. 

The so-called apostle medaillon above the door is from the fourteenth century. The ashlars behind the chairs and to the left of the door are from the 12th century.

The so-called resurrection niche on the northern wall of the nave is the second 1450 fresco that has been preserved.

 

Under Basel (pledged to Basel in 1470 and administered by the Saint Peter Canon, since 1515 owned by Basel)

Around 1470, Muttenz reports into Basel. The Münch need money and they pledge Muttenz to Basel. The Saint Peter Canon administers Muttenz and sponsors the church. In 1504, the canon makes the nave higher enhancing the space available for frescoes. In 1507, the canon decides to redo the paintings, while integrating and renovating the legend of Arbogast and the Resurrection niche. The northern wall shows the Passion of Christ and the southern wall is dedicated to the life Maria and Christ. This is the southern wall. The best preserved fresco shows the flight to Egypt. 

The bottom part of the south, west and north wall contains a long fresco with the apostles surrounded by letter bands. This is Matthew (Matheus), and in the upper left corner we discern the year 1507. 

The wooden ceiling has been made by carpenter Ulrich Bruder from Basel, also in 1504. 

All frescoes are whitewashed a few years later, as Basel joins the reformation and Muttenz has to follow. In the late 19th century, the frescoes will be rediscovered. 

In 1618 the baptismal font is added; it stands in the front choir, now, in early spring, behind branches of magnolia. 

In 1630, the gallery is constructed, and two new windows are cut into the north and south wall of the nave, while closing up the one former window. The organ is from 1976. Hidden behind the gallery and the organ is the fresco of the Last Judgment. Accessing the gallery is not allowed. 

 

Outside the church: The ossuary house

In the late 15th century, the Saint Peter Canon add the ossuary to the garden and have it painted in 1513.  

To the left, Saint Christopher carries Jesus that is becoming heavier and heavier,…

… the Archangel Michael is in the middle,… 

… and, to the right, the Virgin of Mercy (Schutzmantelmadonna) protects the faithful under her coat.

Inside are the Last Judgment and the legend of the thankful dead persons (a knight always prays for the souls of the dead, when passing the cemetery. One day, he is attacked by bandits. The dead persons come to his aid and the bandits run away). I will have to ask for the key one day to see the frescoes inside the ossuary. 

 

The border stones of Muttenz

Along the defensive wall, there are border stones. According to the panel, they once marked various properties and some marked the border of Muttenz.  

Here are some of the border stones zoomed in.

 

Good-bye Muttenz and Arbogast Church, for now

This is the view from the south gate into the village. The church is surrounded by the well preserved village centre. 

Yes, to my opinion, Muttenz deserves the Wakker award that it received in 1983. I like to return to Muttenz again and again.

 

Background Information: Summarizing the history of the St. Arbogast Church

Beginnings

  • 8th/9th century: First church, built under the direction of the diocese Strasbourg. Named after Arbogast, the first  bishop of Strasbourg (around 600).
  • About 1100: Second church.
  • Mid 12th century: Third church with apsis. Today we can still see the Romanesque front choir and some Romanesque ashlars in the front choir and outside on the north wall of the church.

 

Under the lords of Münch-Löwenberg (14th century) and the lords of Münch-Eptingen (15th century)

  • 1359: The Münch-Löwenberg restore the church after the Basel earthquake of 1356. They replace the apsis by the rectangular choir, they enlarge the nave to the west and to the south, and they reconstruct the Romanesque front choir marking the vaults with their coat of arms (monk and lion).
  • 1420: The Münch-Eptingen enlarge the belfry and insert their coat of arms on the western edge (monk and eagle).
  • About 1430: The Münch build the defensive wall (7m high, two gate towers, protection of the villagers) and add their coat of arms on the north gate tower (monk).
  • 1450: The Münch paint the nave, the front choir and the choir (the Arbogast legend and the Resurrection niche have been preserved).

 

Under Basel (from 1470 pledged to Basel and administered by the Saint Peter Canon, from 1515 owned by Basel)

  • 1504: The Saint Peter Canon makes the nave higher and covers it with a wooden ceiling (Ulrich Bruder, carpenter from Basel).
  • 1507: New walls need new frescoes. The Canon has the church repainted, whereby preserving the Arbogast legend and the Resurrection niche.
  • 1513: The ossuary, built after 1470, is decorated with frescoes.
  • 1529: Muttenz joins the reformation. All frescoes are whitewashed.

 

1600 until today

  • 1618: Baptismal font. It stands in the front choir.
  • 1630: Gallery and two new windows in the north and south wall of the nave, replacing the former one window on each wall. One floor and the pointed roof are added to the belfry.
  • 1880/81 and 1972-74: Renovations. 

This layout of the Arbogast church illustrates the building history.

Source: Hans-Rudolf Heyer und Ernst Murbach, “Dorfkirche Muttenz”, p. 3, my own comments and colours added.

 

More background: The history of Muttenz from early medieval times until today

  • 793 Muttenz is mentioned as the profane property of the Chapter of Strasbourg. 
  • 1320 The noble family Münch are fief holders, first the Münch-Löwenberg, followed in 1420 by the Münch-Eptingen.
  • 1470 The Münch pledge Muttenz to Basel; Muttenz is administered by the Saint Peter Canon.
  • 1515 Basel owns Muttenz.
  • 1527 Muttenz joins the reformation.
  • 1833 When Basel divides up into two half cantons, Muttenz joins Baselland (Basle Country).
  • 1900 Muttenz is a village with 2500 inhabitants.
  • 1939 The coat of arms of Muttenz contains the lion of Katharina of Löwenburg, the wife of Konrad Münch, 1324-78.
  • 1983 Muttenz is granted the Wakker award for preserving the village centre surrounding the fortified Arbogast church.
  • Today (2020), Muttenz counts about 17’000 inhabitants. 

 

Sources:

 

One thought on “Around Basel: The fortified Church of Saint Arbogast at Muttenz

  1. Christopher and Ann Teale says:

    This is fascinating. Thank you so much for sharing Petra! We will certainly visit once we are free to travel more than 5 miles / 8 km from home!

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