Bildersturm im Berner Münster? Berns Umgang mit sakralen Bildern in der Reformation – Symptom der städtischen Herrschaft

Andreas Rüfenacht


After the adoption of the Reformation in January 1528, the authorities of the city of Bern gave order to remove sacred images as a logical consequence of the transformations in theology, liturgy and pastoral care. However, selective handling of the order can be observed in the minster. In Bern’s main church, not all sacred images were erased and some have been preserved until today. The article proposes a differentiating use of the German term "Bildersturm" (iconoclasm) which has a historically propagandistic notion. It arose in martial statements of Luther against the "spiritless" riots against images around Karlstadt and Müntzer in 1522/24. In the opinion of the author, "Bildersturm" leads to prejudice and the stereotype of the artless Protestant. The example of image removal in Bern provides a more nuanced view of the phenomenon of Protestant iconoclasm. The first part examines the written sources from the city’s council archives, several Swiss chronicles and theological positions. On this basis, in the second part, the removed and conserved types of sacred images in the Bernese Minster are analysed as a case study. In conclusion, the resolute and selective handling is proposed as the formation of a visual program that strengthened the ideal of strong and fair governance.


Bern; Swiss Confederation; Reformation; Huldrych Zwingli; Martin Luther; source analysis; art historical hermeneutics; microhistorical case study

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