Sunday, 2 January 2011

What to see: The Eric Ericson Hall (former Church of Carl Johan), Stockholm

The Eric Ericson Hall, which was until 2001 the Church of Carl Johan (commonly known as the Skeppsholm Church), is one of Stockholm’s few architectural monuments to the era of Carl XIV Johan as well as a prime example of Swedish empire-style architecture.
It replaced the Admiralty Church from the 1630s, which was located on Blasieholmen (approximately where the National Museum now stands) and which burnt down in June 1822. As its predecessor, it was intended to serve the capital’s naval base, which was located at neighbouring Skeppsholmen.
Following the fire, Lieutenant-Colonel Professor Fredrik Blom, Carl XIV Johan’s favourite architect, was commissioned to submit designs for a new church and also to suggest a place for it. However, Blom was on a secret mission to Christiania (now Oslo), whence he had been sent by the King to search for a suitable location for the Royal Palace which Carl Johan was planning.
Before Blom returned to Stockholm Admiral Carl Fredrik Coyet had chosen the hilltop at Skeppsholmen, an island linked to Blasieholmen by a pontoon bridge (made permanent in the 1860s). Another architect, Carl Fredrik Sundvall, was in the meantime also asked to draw up designs, but Blom made his own proposals after he returned from Norway in February 1823.
Of his two suggestions, the relevant authorities set their eyes on the cheapest one, but when the issue came up in State Council on 28 October 1823, the King and government decided for the more expensive one, estimated to cost 53,815 riksdaler banco.
This was an octagonal central church – quite unusual in Sweden at the time – and through the personal intervention of the King, Blom also managed to have the rather simple roof planned changed into a low dome in 1833. The dome is surmounted by a temple-shaped lantern consisting of eight Corinthian columns.
The resulting building is one of the many churches in the world which are obviously based on the Pantheon in Rome. The idea of building a Pantheon-style church in Stockholm had often been put forward in the days of Gustaf III, but had then never led to any results.
As Blom had never been to Italy, it has been suggested that a mediating link between Pantheon and the church at Skeppsholmen might have been Nicodemus Tessin the Younger’s 17th century Church of Holy Trinity in Blom’s hometown Karlskrona – which would be fitting as Karlskrona was since 1680 the headquarters of the Navy.
Inside the octagonal interior, 20 Ionic columns form a circular room and support the coffered, domed ceiling. Between the arcades one can find niches with statues of apostles, which were eventually joined by two larger sculptural groups by Johan Niclas Byström.
Work on the church progressed very slowly and came to a halt more than once, partly for financial reasons, partly because of the lack of manpower. Blom had moved the location slightly from the spot chosen by Coyet to a more complicated terrain, which caused the work on the ground and foundations to take several years. The architect’s long European tour from 1829 to 1832 may also have played a part.
On 7 July 1842 King Carl XIV Johan gave permission for the church to be named after him and it was consecrated on the 24th of the same month. The King also presented the church with its silver.
One might think that the Church of Carl Johan, an architectural monument to his age, might have been a natural place for Carl XIV Johan to be buried, but the founder of the Bernadotte dynasty was ever conscious of the need to stress his own position as a link in the long line of Swedish monarchs and thus he was buried in the Riddarholm Church where most of his predecessors since the 17th century rested.
However, the Church of Carl Johan features prominently in Emile Mascré (or Maseré)’s state portrait of the King, now at Rosersbergs Palace, which was painted in his silver jubilee year 1843 and shows the 80-year-old monarch surrounded by symbols of the achievements of his reign.
The naval base left Skeppsholmen in 1969 and the church thus lost its congregation. Yet it continued to serve as a church until 5 December 2001, when it was deconsecrated. The former church remained shut and disused until 2010, when it was leased to the Eric Ericson International Choral Centre and renamed the Eric Ericson Hall. It can now also be used for profane events, such as the government’s dinner on the eve of the wedding of Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel last summer.

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