Monday, July 22, 2013

Impressions of Swedish Churches

Scandinavia in general seems to have a distinctive style of ecclesiastical architecture. Partly because they are not us, and partly, mostly I think, because they didn't built much with stone until the late 19thC. The result is that many of the older churches which still stand are either made of wood or, if ma
de of stone, look as though they would be happier if they were made of wood. They tend to have very high, thin, metal spires, usually black,

which give them great vertical presence. Inside they seem to be similar to southern churches. The frescoes are fresher, there is more wood, but the ceilings and the columns look familiar and the design and distribution of high altars, side altars and choir stalls is, too.

We saw an old German church on the water near the railway station at Stockholm. It is said to be the oldest building in Stockholm, with a wrought iron latticed spire. A remarkable piece of work, and rather beautiful. You had to pay to see the inside and it didn't look worth it. The Cathedral was much more interesting, with a mahogany and silver reredos and skulls on the tombstones on the floor, and simple frescoes on some of the roof vaults. The pianist was practicing for a concert on a piano in front of the altar. The sound carried beautifully. We saw another Church with a lot of wood all around, simply but well-carved, and with many paintings of bucolic scenes and the lives of saints on the wood.
We walked down to the river and up to the Cathedral at Uppsala. The service was starting. As churches mostly are here, it was tall and thin, and in this case very large, the biggest in Scaninavia we were told. The spires are thin tall and black, the body is good brick, there are weell-executed frescoes on the walls of biblical scenes and sparing designs on the vaults of the ceiling. See the photos as usual. There is great variety of styles among the altars, tombs, gravestones and statues in the place. The high altar was curious, with a simple grey cross and no reredos,but a further space behind. Behind this part was a waxwork of a beggar, very lifelike. There were two organs, one a magnificent old set of pipes over the front door, and another more modern one to one side of the high altar.

100 yards away there was another church, this time a more Romanic type, simpler but also quite interesting in its way. Service was also going on, so I assume it was another denomination, as neither was full. It's a difficult question to ask, of course, 'Why don't you all worship the one God and love your neighbour together?' The answer probably contains the phrase 'spawn of Satan...'

The Church of St Nicholas in Orëbro has its own unusual frescoes and a reredos consisting mostly of a painted Calvary scene surrounded by sculpted apostles making up the rest. Also two organs, one grand and old, one smaller and newer and more accessible. And again a grand piano near the altar. They certainly like their keyboard music in this country.

And then there is the 'Frälsarkransen', which I saw in a number of places. It appears that an old bishop, called Martin Lönnebo, having given up playing pool because his cue arm wasn't as straight as it once was, decided to string his balls together and use them for devotion (I may have misunderstood part of the story). In any case, he created a Rosary in which the beads have the following symbolism:

Schematic Presentation of the Wreath of Christ
1. The bead of God 
2. The bead of Silence 
3. The I-bead 
4. The bead of Baptism 
5. The Desert bead 
6. The Carefree bead 
7. The bead of Love 
8. The bead of Secret 
9. The bead of Darkness 
10. The bead of Resurrection

I found this very interesting, and I offer it for what it's worth. It could be a very comforting thing to hold and to pass through your fingers and your mind at times when life is getting unnecessarily complex.

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