Sunday, 1 August 2010

What to see: Church of St Nicolai, Örebro

The Church of St Nicolai, the main church of the town of Örebro, holds a special place in Swedish history as the “birthplace” of the Bernadotte dynasty 200 years ago this month.
Believed to have been begun in the second half of the 13th century and completed around 1350, the church’s nave is separated into three sections by columned arches in the Romanesque style. The church’s Gothic exterior is mostly a result of renovations carried out in the 19th century.
The altar is by probably the German-born sculptor Markus Hebbel and was presented to the church in 1661. It shows the crucifixion and burial of Jesus as well as the dove representing the Holy Spirit and is also adorned with portraits of the four evangelists as well as St Peter, St Paul and several disciples.
Engelbrekt Engelbrektsson, hero of one of the greatest Swedish rebellions (against the union king Erik of Pomerania in the 15th century), was buried in the Church of St Nicolai following his murder in May 1436 and soon began to attract pilgrims. King Gustaf I’s youngest son, Duke Carl (IX), who governed Nerike, Wermlandia and Sudermania, disapproved of the cult and had Engelbrekt’s remains disinterred and removed (to this no-one knows to where, but some maintain that they were hidden away in the thick walls of Örebro Castle). In 1865 a statue of the freedom fighter was erected in the Great Square behind the church.
The greatest event in the history of the Church of St Nicolai came in the summer of 1810. Following the sudden death of Crown Prince Carl August King Carl XIII called another parliament to elect a new heir to the throne. Stockholm was considered too chaotic to host a meeting of the General Estates – the Marshal of the Realm, Count Axel von Fersen, had been dragged from his carriage and lynched by an angry mob during the Crown Prince’s funeral procession – and Örebro, a small town with 1,303 inhabitants, was chosen instead. It was situated within reasonable distance from Stockholm (the journey then took two days by carriage and now two hours by train) and too far from the coast to risk a Russian attack.
While King Carl XIII and Queen Hedvig Elisabeth Charlotta set up their residence at Örebro Castle, the four estates met in different buildings in town. The Church of St Nicolai was however used as the Hall of State, i.e. where the plenary sittings of all four estates took place. Thus it was in this church that the Estates on 21 August – to the surprise of anyone, themselves included – unanimously elected the Sovereign Prince of Pontecorvo, Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, Crown Prince of Sweden.
On 21 August this year there will be bicentenary celebrations in Örebro all day long, with the most formal event being a mass in the Church of St Nicolai. The celebrations will be attended by the royal family, including Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel, who will then make one of their first public appearances after returning from their honeymoon (they are currently reported to be in the USA).
For Prince Daniel it will be some sort of homecoming, as it was at the then Regional Hospital in Örebro on 15 September 1973 that he was born. It would have been an interesting coincidence if he had been christened in the church where the dynasty he has now married into was founded. He was however christened in the 800-year-old Almby Church in southern Örebro, near Björkrisvägen 2, where the Westlings were living at the time.
(Another coincidence is of course that he was born on the very day his future father-in-law succeeded his grandfather on the Swedish throne. It would be interesting to know in which reign he was born; the change happened at 8.35 p.m., but as far as I know no information about what time of the day the future prince was born has been made public).

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