Monday, 24 May 2010

What to see: Katarina Church, Stockholm

Rising over the heights of Söder, Katarina Church is one of Stockholm’s most visible landmarks. It can be seen from most of the city – across the water as in the sixth photo, but also forming a distant point de vue for Queen Street.
The first church there was the Sture Chapel, which was built in the 1580s on the spot where Sten Sture the Younger and 90 other victims of the infamous Stockholm blood bath were burned.
In 1654 Carl X Gustaf, who had just succeeded to the Swedish throne on the abdication of his cousin Queen Christina, commissioned a new church from Jean de la Vallée, one of the first professional architects in Sweden. It was named for the King’s mother, a sister of Gustaf II Adolf.
Four years later the King asked de la Vallée and Johan Wärnsköld to draw up plans for a royal metropolis at Söder, complete with a new palace to replace the old Castle of Three Crowns. This grand plan was never executed because of the King’s death in 1660, but the church was finally completed in 1690.
Unlike traditional Nordic churches, Katarina was a central church with the altar placed in the middle of the cross-shaped building, right beneath the cupola. The churchgoers protested and won the support of Carl XI.
The church burned down with much of its surroundings in 1723 and was rebuilt in 1724-1744 by Göran Josuæ Adelcrantz, whose son Carl Fredrik would later become one of Sweden’s greatest architects. Carl Fredrik Adelcrantz would later change the colour of the church’s exterior from red to the bright yellow we know today.
In another fire in 1990, the dome collapsed and came crashing down into the church, destroying it completely. It was carefully rebuilt and restored under the direction of Ove Hidemark in the following eight years.
The interior is powerful in itself although very simple and almost entirely devoid of decoration. The whitewashed falls allow for dramatic light settings, such as during a pre-Christmas concert as seen in the fifth photo.
The altar is still where it was placed in 1690. Above it is an empty cross with a blood-stained white cloth and a crown of thorns, a work of art made by Liss Eriksson and Kajsa Melanton and titled “Presence through absence”.
Among those buried in the churchyard is Anna Lindh, the much-loved foreign minister who was assassinated during the EMU referendum campaign in 2003 (last photo). She has now been joined by her husband Bo Holmberg, another former cabinet minister, who, unable to bear the tragedy of his wife’s death, survived her for only six years. Also buried at Katarina are the popular singer Cornelis Vreeswijk, the 17th century poet Las Wivallius, the politician Anna Lindhagen and the architect Carl Fredrik Adelcrantz.

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