Wednesday, 30 June 2010

What to see: Carl XIV Johan’s sarcophagus, Stockholm

King Carl XIV Johan of Sweden and Norway, founder of the Bernadotte dynasty, rests in a monumental sarcophagus in the Bernadotte Mausoleum in the Riddarholm Church in Stockholm.
It would perhaps have been a more obvious solution if the King, following his death in 1844, and his descendants had been buried in the Carl Johan Church at Skeppsholmen (now the Eric Ericson Hall), the Pantheon-inspired church which had been built by his favourite architect Fredrik Blom.
However, to stress his natural place in the line of kings it would not do for the “upstart” Carl Johan to be buried anywhere else than with his predecessors in the Riddarholmen Church, where he was at first laid to rest next to Gustaf II Adolf, with whom he liked to be compared.
His sarcophagus is made of what is called “granitell” in Swedish (a sort of granite) and came from the porphyry factory at Älvdalen in Dalarna which Carl Johan had bought and thus rescued from bankruptcy. The factory thereafter provided the King with countless porphyry items which he used as gifts for subjects and foreign sovereigns alike – one example can be seen in the Summer Garden in St Petersburg.
Based on the sarcophagus of Agrippa, which in 1734 had been “recycled” for Pope Clemens XIII in the Church of San Giovanni in Laterano in Rome, it took eight years to complete the monumental piece, which measures 3.04 x 2.29 x 2.40 centimetres and weighs sixteen tons.
In the winter of 1856 it began its long journey from Älvdalen to Stockholm, dragged over the snow by local peasants while a fiddler sat on top of the sarcophagus and played to keep their spirits up. At last they reached the waterways and on 28 August 1856 the sarcophagus arrived at the Riddarholmen Church. But still it would be another four years before the Bernadotte mausoleum, designed by Fredrik Wilhelm Scholander, was completed.
The sarcophagus stands in the middle of the mausoleum, in front of stained-glassed windows bearing the arms of Carl XIV Johan’s two kingdoms. In front of it is a smaller sarcophagus of green marble from Kolmården, which originally contained King Oscar II but now serves as the last resting place of Carl Johan’s widow, Queen Desideria.

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