Architecture Asides Continued

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 16, 2012 
Tessin Palace Tour


It's hard to appreciate the intricacy of the planting patterns in the courtyard garden when you're in the garden itself.  Seen from above, the patterns pop out and amaze.

A few months ago, I toured the Tessin Palace with my friend Alison, another American architect living in Stockholm.  The Tessin Palace was one of the “Palaces of the 1600’s” that I researched and wrote about in this post.  Originally designed by and lived in by Nicodemus Tessin the Younger, one of the most important and prominent architects in Sweden’s history, the palace is now used by the “governor” of Stockholm County/Province (not sure what the exact translation would be for how the country of Sweden is divided up into geographic administrative areas).  Since it is a private residence, the palace is not usually open to the public, but the doors are opened twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall.  During my “Palaces of the 1600’s” research I learned about the tours the day after the spring tour.  I was so bummed to have missed it!  But I put the fall tour in my calendar and carefully guarded that day so that I would finally be able to see the palace interior and gardens.  And I’m so glad that I did!

The plan of the building is quite complex, something that you would never realize by looking at the façade.
The facade today.  People stand in line for an hour or more to get on one of the tours.
Originally, the front entrance was flanked by wing walls (1), but these were removed at some point during the last 300 years.  According to a drawing from the early 1700’s, the wing walls appear to be perpendicular to the front façade, but they form an angled yard (2) in Tessin’s plan drawing.   
The facade at the beginning of the 1700's.
The main residence and head building (3) is actually fairy small with a central hall leading directly to the garden.  The hall is flanked by four comfortably sized but moderate rooms on the ground floor.  On the two private living floors above, there is no central hall granting access to the rooms; instead, one room leads directly into another as was common in palaces at the time.  In the courtyard, an elaborately curving baroque garden (4) dominates the space.  There are a grotto (5) (now empty) and a large but secondary garden (6) behind the space-separating walls. 

Wings (7) on either side of the garden are only one room wide and only have openings facing into the courtyard.  The right-hand wing is alongside an alleyway, but this façade is completely closed with a blank plaster wall.  I am not sure what these wings were used for but I can imagine they were guest rooms or servants’ quarters.  The entire back portion (8) of the palace was not on the tour, either, and I do not really know what was housed back there.  Likely the kitchens and servants’ areas were back here, although the plan of the ground floor includes a large room with large openings that potentially might have been an off-the-garden entertaining space.  

On the third floor above this behind-the-garden building is an open-air temple.  Although this temple appears to be very deep, maybe 50 feet deep, it is actually only about 7 or 10 feet deep.  Tessin accomplished this illusion through the use of forced perspective; your eye thinks that the two rows of columns are parallel because in your experience, colonnades are always parallel.  However, these two rows of columns are angled with them being closer together toward the back, so your eye is tricked into thinking that the space is much deeper than it actually is.  
The temple is perched up above the garden.

The gardens were even more amazing than expected.  In person, you get a much better sense of scale.  Playing with perspective, as he did with the garden temple, was one of Tessin’s overarching themes when designing the palace and gardens.  Tessin designed so much into the garden that it looks huge in photos, but it is actually quite intimate despite being divided into several individual areas and containing various follies and places to pause and rest.  While the scale of the garden feels rather intimate, the atmosphere feels richly grandiose with the flowing, curving baroque plantings, spouting  fountains, embracing garden walls, a seemingly huge garden temple, niches, overflowing classical ornamentation, and the varied masses of the building and wings.  This richness is in stark contrast to the simple palace façade which reveals nothing of the baroque exuberance to be found only a couple of rooms past the front door.
The main house from behind the curving garden walls; a nice in a quite corner of the garden; the differently sized and detailed masses surrounding the gardens.

The third floor of the main building remains the same as when Tessin lived here in the late 1600’s and early 1700’s.  Like the gardens, the richness of the interior decoration juxtaposes with the simple façade to create a rich surprise.  Every surface is richly treated: the gleaming wooden floors have intricate parquet patterns, the walls are painted with each room having its own theme, the ceilings are shaped and painted to continue the wall themes, every fireplace mantle is exquisitely carved, the doors have intricate inlays…  I don’t have a distinct memory of the various themes that were covered by the wall paintings, but they were all generally classical and many scenes portrayed the arts in various manners.  

Like the garden, Tessin played with perspective in his living quarters.  As I mentioned, the rooms are not accessed by a hallway but lead from one to the next.  Each door frame is lined up in a straight row.  Like the temple’s forced perspective, Tessin played with the door sizes to create another forced perspective that makes the rooms appear larger than they actually are.  From experience, you are used to each door in a house being the same size.  However, in Tessin’s house, the doors get smaller the farther away they are from the central room; this makes it seem like the farthest doorway is much, much farther away than it is in reality.

Due to camera battery issues, I didn’t get a ton of photos, but I got enough to give a clue to the essence of the palace.  I can’t wait to go back in the spring and take more photos and learn more about the gardens and wall paintings!  It was such a treat to tour the palace, and it was a rare opportunity to see what an architect would design without having to cater to a client.

Drawing of Tessin Palace from Stormaktstidens privatpalats i Stockholm by Martin Arvid Ohlsson (1951)


FRIDAY, AUGUST 10, 2012 
Kiruna's Church
Sadly, a concrete drive has been paved all the way around the church, but from a distance and seen through the birch trees, the church looks as it should.
When Carl and I flew into Kiruna for our Lappland hiking adventure, we had a couple of hours to kill before our bus departed.  We spent most of our time admiring the town’s church.  In 1901, the mining company (Kiruna is only exists due to iron ore mining) commissioned Gustaf Wickman to design a permanent church to replace the community’s temporary church.  Wickman collaborated with sculptor Christian Eriksson, and the result is beautiful.
The belltower was my favorite part.


The church has no single inspiration; instead, it is an amalgamation of several simultaneous architectural ideas of the time.  It is central in plan like so many of Sweden’s modern Lutheran churches, although it is focused toward a front alter.  The central plan coupled with the visible timber trusses are said to recall the Sami (local indigenous people) teepees, and the all-timber construction techniques recall Sweden’s traditional buildings.  Additionally, the church is painted the typical Swedish red, and gold finials recall Viking buildings and ships.  For these reasons, the church is a good example in wood of the Swedish National Romantic movement.  Fish-scale wood shakes cover the entire façade and roof, lending the building a late-Victorian Queen Anne air.  The roofs extend all the way to the ground, much like contemporaneous Greene & Greene and McKinley, Mead, & White houses in the United States.  The expressed flying buttresses add a Gothic Revival flair, and the medieval-looking handmade doors as well as all the intricate woodwork are associated with the Arts and Crafts movement.  The bell tower even has an onion dome.

The abundance of high, clear windows on the facades of the four gables let quite a lot of light stream into the church, relieving the dark, woody, somber mood.  Although traditional timber and beam construction was used, the architect artfully incorporated modern materials like steel bands and braces that bundle columns of several timbers together.

While it can be said that the church is an amalgamation of many influences, to me, it stands uniquely alone.  Wickman was able to meld a wide variety of influences into a rich composition that both respects Swedish tradition and modernizes it.    

In an interesting side note, the entire town of Kiruna, including this church, will soon be physically moved.  Over time, the mine is causing the ground around it to become more and more unstable.  As areas become unsafe, they will be moved farther away from the mine.  The mining company and the Swedish government are collaborating to pay for this crazy expense.  Because the church is fairly far from the mine, it is expected to remain in place for twenty or so years before it must be moved.

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 20, 2012 
Ulriksdals Slott
Carl and I spent Sweden’s National Day (June 6th) strolling the grounds of Ulriksdals Slott which sits on a lake just outside of Stockholm's city center.  It was a lovely, relaxing day of sunshine and lilac scent wafting over the grounds.

This palace and pleasure ground lies just outside of Stockholm.  It was originally designed by the French architect Hans Jacob Kristler for Jacob De la Gardie and was completed in 1645.  Jacob de la Gardie was a psudo-royal as his mother was the illegitimate daughter of King Johan III.  He became the Commander of the Swedish Army and fought against the Russians and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.  He was also one of the five regents that jointly governed Sweden until Queen Kristina became old enough to rule herself.  So while de la Gardie was not official royalty, he was the next best thing, and the large and sumptuous palace that he built for himself eagerly proclaims his nearly-royal status.  Not only was the exterior impressive, but the interior was wallpapered with gilded leather and french silk, and all of the furniture was gilt.
this drawing from the 1600's shows the palace in its original form

Like just about every other palace in Stockholm from this period, Ulriksdals Slott has been renovated several times to fit the passing stylistic fads, and it now retains nothing of its original appearance.  The palace was renovated by three of Stockholm’s most important architects.  Jean de la Vallée was the first to alter the palace.  It seems that he didn’t change the appearance of the palace but merely connected the projecting (servant) wings to the main residence in the middle.  Next, after the palace had been bought by the Dowager Queen Hedvig Eleonora (the palace remains in the possession of the Royal Family today), Nicholas Tessin the Elder added a third floor to the wings.  In the 1720’s, Carl Hårleman altered the facades by lowering the roofs to be in accordance with the popular French mansard roofs and by stripping the facades of their pilasters and all their Dutch Baroque flamboyance at the roofline.  In comparison to the original detailing, the palace’s current look is restrained, classical, and simple.
On the left is the 1739 painting by David von Cöln and on the right is Johan Sevenbom's work from the 1700's.  From the depiction of the gardens, it appears that Cöln's painting is older as it does not depict the allée (see below).

Uriksdals slot is expecially interesting to me because not only are the building renovations over time well documented, but the garden renovations are also well documented both in written and painted descriptions. The original Renaissance garden by Hans Georg Kraus consisted of a grotto, a bosque, and a maze.  While Jean de la Vallée was renovating the palace, he also renovated the grounds.  According to his French sensibilities, he created a formal, mostly-symmetrical parterre garden complete with box hedges to separate the garden beds, newly-dug ponds, sculptures, and fountains.  The Orangerie was re-built during Nicholas Tessin the Elder’s time renovating the palace. 

This drawing from the late 1600's shows Jean de la Vallée's formal garden (note that the house has not yet been "modernized" in this drawing).  To the right is Tessin the Elder's slightly later orangerie.

The gardens were again altered in the 1720’s when Carl Hårleman was renovating the palace.  At this time, strictly symmetrical Baroque gardens were immensely popular, so Hårleman attempted to regularize the gardens.  The southern boundary of the formal garden is a stream, and unfortunately for Baroque gardeners, this stream does not angle to accommodate the garden's forced perspective.  To solve this problem, Hårleman effectively cut out the southern wedge from the formal garden.  The now disconnected space became an ale and two new hidden gardens.  Hårleman used a tall hedge to disconnect and hide the allée and hidden gardens from the main garden.  Probably not incidentally, these tall hedges create secluded, sheltered spots just perfect for courtly flirtation and intrigue.
the "new" formal gardens remain today
The allée and a Hårleman's plan to re-design the formal gardens.  You can see the wedge on the left side of the garden (to the right of the stream) that was "removed" from sight by means of tall hedges.  The allée lies between the "removed" section of garden and the stream.

By the 1800’s, the popularity of the strict symmetry of the Baroque garden had given way to the winding, “natural” English Romantic garden.  It seems that the formal gardens were left more or less intact, but a romantic English garden was planted beyond the formal parterre garden.  Winding lanes took advantage of the naturally rolling landscape, and this landscape was further enhanced by new ponds and 2000 new trees.  Several follies were introduced as destinations in the landscape such as this Turkish Pavillion.
views from inside the Turkish Pavilion

I have found no written evidence to this effect, but by the 1930’s when the royalty was no longer receiving much income from the Swedish government, I can only imagine that the extensive formal and English gardens were simply too expensive and intensive to maintain, especially considering that Ulriksdal was only one of the ten or fifteen palaces still owned and maintained by the monarchy.  The official palace website makes no mention of financial difficulties but instead merely states that in 1935 Gösta Reuterswärd was hired to update the gardens according to the ideals of Modern Classicism.  At this time, the Baroque formal gardens were dug under and many of the Romantic ponds were filled in.  Now, the main garden consists of four simple but expansive lawns crossed by two axes: one emanating from the castle’s central building, and the other from the middle of the orangerie.  A simple, square pool with a simple fountain now occupies the crossing of the two axes.
the palace from today's central axis and the simple square pool with simple fountain

Another indication of financial constraints is that during the 1800’s, when the royal court was no longer housed at Ulriksdals Slott, the crown began leasing the surrounding land and buildings to businesses and individuals.  During this period, private Stockholm residents leased land in the area and built their own impressive summer homes on it.  Today, now that the area is now well-connected to central Stockholm, these houses are year-round residences.
one of the private summer houses on the palace estate

After 300 years and many succeeding generations of Sweden’s kings and queens, the palace remains in possession of the Royal Family.  While the palace and grounds were actively used by the royal families, they were regularly “modernized.”  Today, the palace doesn’t seem to be currently used by any royalty.  Instead, a wing of the palace is used by WWF as an office, and the rest of the palace is preserved as a museum and can be visited during the summer months. 

And just for fun:
these concrete chairs were impressively comfortable
I fell in love with this orchard on the estate

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 01, 2011  
Deep Thoughts during an Organ Concert
Less than 3% of Swedes are regular attendees of Church of Sweden services.  Yet there are at least 2030 churches in a country of 10 million people.  Pretending that each church gets an equal number of regular attendees, only 30 people would attend each church every week (this is of course not a real statistic considering that churches in downtown Stockholm probably have a larger audience than a rural church in Lapland, and considering that the 10 million people in Sweden includes a good percentage of Muslims, Jews, Methodists, and such).  The majority of these churches are historically and architecturally significant buildings.  If the Church of Sweden were not receiving tax money to help with the upkeep of these buildings, most of them would fall into disrepair.  This would be a sad loss to the art and architecture world.

Gladly, most of Sweden’s 2030 churches are in fairly good shape.  Yet with such a low attendance rate, it still begs the question of how to utilize these spaces.  Many churches in central Stockholm are trying to answer this question with music concerts.  Some churches host weekly lunchtime concerts.  Some host weekly evening concerts.  These weekly concerts tend to be just one or two musicians performing, but some churches host monthly concerts with larger ensembles.  Generally, these performances are free, but donations are always accepted.

I have now attended two of these free concerts.  The first was a lunchtime solo piano concert in Clara Kyrka, and the second was a piano and organ concert last Friday evening at St. Jacob’s Kyrka.  Feeling the powerful organ reverberate through my pew was such a potent experience that it gave me periodic bouts of shiver bumps.  The music was so beautiful, a whole new definition of soaring, that it made you want to believe in a god. 

The church was the very definition of a “live” space.  Each note bounced off the hard stone walls so many times that the nave became a profusion of sound.  The notes lingered audibly in the space for so long that the pianist didn’t need the sustain pedal.  All notes were sustained through re-reverberation for several seconds.  You’d think that this would cause a cacophony of sound; instead, the lingering notes became a supple background against which the lilting melody contrasted.

Listening to this concert, I started to wonder how architecture and music may have co-evolved.  A Romanesque church, with its smooth, rounded vaults, would have produced a different sound than a Gothic church with its cornucopia of detail and its pointed arches.  As Gothic churches developed, they were built more and more out of glass and less and less of stone—I’m sure that music bounces off glass at a different rate than off stone.  And then when churches moved into Renaissance styles with rounded vaults and more austere and restrained surfaces, music must have sounded differently again.  Further, the rounded forms of the Renaissance must have produced different reverberation patterns than the ovoid forms of the Baroque.

Over time, did composers consciously tweak their music to work better with the changing spaces?  Were the master masons aware of how their buildings would affect the sounds of music?  Or were the resulting differences in sound merely a matter of happenstance?

On another tangent, I realized during this concert that I am the musical equivalent of someone who doesn’t like modern architecture.  Several of the pieces were modern, and several of the pieces were oldies but goodies like Bach and Vivaldi.  I am just not a fan of most modern classical music.  I do not like jarring sounds.  I do not like atonal music.  I do not appreciate off-key chords.  I do not like music that has no trajectory (this is probably why I’m not such a big fan of improvisational jazz, either).  I much prefer classical music that has an obvious melody with an obvious trajectory.  I love minor chords, but off-key chords and jarring sounds just grate on my nerves.  I know that this is the musical equivalent of someone saying that they don’t like all that cold-feeling modern steel and glass, that they just want the buildings to be pretty.   To my ear, jarring noises and off-key chords are a lazy way to express anguish or crisis or depression.  The oldie-but-goodie composers managed to express these same feelings with minor keys and by mediating the tempo of the music.  Brahms and Bach were able to express strong emotions while still carrying a melody and without resorting to the trick of banging pots and pans to get the listeners attention.

Anyway…

Unfortunately, attendance of these free and wonderful music concerts doesn’t seem to be much greater than attendance at Sunday worship services.  There were fewer than 40 people at each concert.  I do hope this doesn’t deter the churches from continuing the concerts, because I am really enjoying attending them when I can.  There’s nothing like an echoing 400-year-old church and a thundering organ that’s older than my country to make me consider such existential thoughts!

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 26, 2011 
Turner, Monet, Twombly
Twombly's Hero and Leandro series.  My favorite painting in the exhibit, I think.
Last weekend Carl and I went to see the current exhibit at the Moderna Museet, Turner, Money, Twombly: Later Paintings.  It was wonderful!  For the past several years, Twombly has been my favorite painter, ever since my first visit to the Cy Twombly Gallery at the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas.  Everyone loves a good Monet, and Turner has some beautiful work, too, making this exhibit a huge event in town. 

Before this exhibit, I had always associated Turner with paintings of sinking ships in turbulent seas.  Or sinking ships amidst a battle.  But his later paintings are different.  Instead of telling a story, they provoke a mood.  They are not figural at all, instead, they are very moody and brooding. 
Turner's St Benedetto, Looking towards Fusina is one of the more figural paintings in the exhibition, but it is a good example of his color palate

Apparently Monet admired Turner, and Twombly admired them both, and with the exhibit’s side by side comparison method, you could really see how Monet painted with a more modern version of Turner’s vision, and Twombly painted with an even more modern version of both Monet and Turners’ visions.  Monet even painted some of the same London scenes that Turner had painted 50 years before, and it was fascinating to see how he painted the same thing so differently while using a similar vocabulary of light and mist and mood.
Sunset scenes from the three artists

It was especially interesting to see how the color palates changed from artist to artist.  Turner used a lot of earth tones, and Monet used a lot of pastel colors.  Twombly used (sad to use the past tense, Twombly died this year) bright, primary colors.  His 2010 Camino Real II even has a fluorescent color palate.
Twombly's, Camino Real (II) with fluorescent colors

Of the three, Twombly still remains my favorite after seeing this exhibit.  His paintings are the least figural of the three, but there is an urgency to his paintings that captures my imagination.  I love his bold colors—while bold, they are rarely garish.  And being passionate about books myself, I love how many of Twombly’s paintings incorporate poetry and word imagery.

The paintings were gathered from museums and private collections all over the world.  Interestingly, there were no contributions from the Cy Twombly Gallery in Houston.  Twombly’s pond paintings in that gallery would have been a perfect counterpoint to Monet and Turner’s water scenes.  I’m curious about how the art lending and exhibit creating world works.  It must be a mountain of legal paperwork and insurance policies!
with its bright colors and unusual level of abstraction, Monet's Japanese Bridge could almost be mistaken for a Twombly

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 2011 
Cloud Cities
With two out of three posts on this page being art-related, I’m beginning to wonder if I should change the name of this page to “Art and Architecture Asides.”  Anyway…

When my husband and I were in Berlin a few weeks ago, we saw an amazing temporary exhibit at the Hamburger Bahnhof modern art museum.  Like the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, the Hamburger Bahnhof exhibits art in a converted train station.  The amazing Cloud Cities installation by Tomás Saraceno was in the main train hall.  A lesser space would not have done Saraceno’s installation justice.  This was truly a case of an artist working in relation to the architecture of the exhibit space to create a resounding and powerful work.

Essentially composed of plastic bubbles of various sizes and compositions, Cloud Cities not only works with the surrounding architecture, but is itself very architectural in conception.  It is three-dimensional, meant to be experienced, not looked at.  You wander through the installation, literally climbing over some of the tethers and moving among the clouds.  The clouds are also three-dimensional—not so much sculptures, but spaces defined by plastic boundaries.  But the spaces defined by the plastic boundaries are then extended by the thin, black tethers that bind the clouds to specific places within the three-dimensional space of the train hall.  The black tethers intertwine, overlapping boundaries of one cloud with the next.

Some of the clouds are composed of various species of epiphytes, and others are inhabited by epiphytes.   
And some of the clouds are inhabitable by humans.  You can climb into two of the clouds and crawl around mid-bubble on clear plastic sheets.  To keep them inflated and safe, these inhabitable bubbles are pressurized with air blowers.  The smaller inhabitable cloud is suspended mid-air and is kept from floating away by heavy water-filled clouds.   
the smaller inhabitable cloud
The larger of the two inhabitable clouds is inhabitable on two levels—on the ground level, people can lounge around inside the bubble and look up to people crawling on the clear plastic sheet 25 feet above them.  The exterior of this huge bubble is covered in bunches of Spanish moss.

My husband and I waited in line for about 20 minutes to experience this larger bubble.  Only three people at a time are allowed to crawl around mid-bubble, and to ensure that the bubble is supportive enough, you have to stay 3 feet away from the edges and 3 feet away from other people.  You’re not allowed to bounce or walk, but instead, you roll, crawl, and slither your way on top of the clear plastic sheet.  All the while, you’re looking down on the people lounging on the ground inside the bubble 25 feet above you.  It was an amazing, free, floating, peaceful feeling.  You really did feel like you were floating!  It was also a little disconcerting, because aside from some pressurized air and a thin plastic sheet, there was nothing to keep you from crashing down onto the floor below you!

After our turn of crawling in the middle of the cloud, we entered the pressurized chamber at ground level to watch the next group slithering around over our heads.  The way their bodies become molded by the plastic sheet was intriguing.  Sitting below people crawling over you on a thin plastic sheet is a bit disconcerting, too, because you felt like you never knew if they were going to fall down onto you.
the larger inhabitable bubble--you can sense the scale of this cloud in this photo.  It must be at least 50 feet in diameter!

This installation was amazing.  Not only was it beautiful and intriguing, but it was fun and experiential.  Walking through the installation, you keep discovering new variations on the theme.  And inhabiting the clouds, you really feel like you are floating inside of a cloud.  Inhabiting the clouds challenges your innate sense of gravity, and experientially teaches you the power of air, a substance that is usually dismissed as insubstantial.  As you crawl around on a thin plastic sheet, your sense of trust in the physical world surrounding you is challenged, and you find yourself literally floating on air.

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 01, 2011 
Subway Art 
At 110 km long, Stockholm’s subway system proclaims to be the longest art exhibit in the world.  Most of the 100+ stations contain the work of 150 artists in the form of paintings, mosaics, engravings, sculptures, reliefs, and collages.  I have not yet visited all 100+ stations, but I love discovering new installations as I visit new subway stops around town.  

So far, my least favorite station is the one nearest to our current apartment.  If it was a nursery school class that decorated the station, that’s one thing, but if this was a supposedly accomplished adult artist…

Several of the stations contain art that might be expected of a subway, like this abstracted subway tile mosaic at the central station.


My favorite installation (thus far) is at Vreten.  Cubes of sky fall through the grey, gunite-plastered ceiling and walls of the tunnel and crash through the platform floor.   
Upstairs, outside at the door to the subway station, a solitary cube of grey subway tunnel pushes up through the sidewalk.  The cubes of sky inside the tunnel are great, but somehow, it’s this one grey cube of tunnel that makes the installation truly awesome and amusing.

A close second favorite subway art installation is the pulsatingly red tunnels of Solna Centrum.  Descending the shaft on the l-o-n-g escalators almost looks like descending through a birth canal.  Downstairs, on the platforms, the pulsating red tunnel gives way to a kelly-green horizon with spruce trees in silhouette.  The glaring red makes the tunnel feel bright, even though it is dimly lit.  As the red meets the green horizon, the red reads as the most glorious sunset ever imagined.

Each station also has a very helpful compass on the floor.  Because most stations have two or more exits from the platforms, the compass helps you to know which exit you want, even if you don’t remember the exact name of the street on the exit signs.  I find the compass extremely helpful in such a disorienting environment—well underground with no daylight or landmarks to guide me.


FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 16, 2011 
Spånga Church
So Carl and I are currently living waaaayyyy out in the suburbs of Stockholm.  Historically, the area was a farming community, and the built evidence of that community goes way back, even farther than the founding of Stockholm.  Built sometime between 1175-1200, the Spånga Kyrka is one of three churches in the Stockholm area to survive more than 825 years of development.  Like most of Sweden’s churches from the period, Spånga church was as much a place of refuge from invasion as it was a place of worship of god.

the nave and tower are original
Windows along the nave were not added until the 1300’s, but they were only added on the south side of the church, protecting the north facade from arctic winter winds.

The simplicity of the smooth plaster exterior gives no hint of the richness of the interior of the church with its rib vaults and 15th century frescoes.  You could do a dissertation on all the St. Georges slaying Dragons in Swedish churches.


There is also a 17th century chapel appended to the nave beyond the alter.  Designed by the prominent architect Nicholas Tessin the Elder, this baroque chapel contains eight angels bringing the keys of heaven down to the Bonde family, who are buried here.


But my favorite part of the church were the Rune stones.  I have probably seen more than 50 rune stones during my visits to Sweden, but I am still not over them.  They are just so cool, so old, so...foreign!  They bring to mind wandering Vikings and tragic Norse mythology.  Rune stones in Sweden date back to 400 or 500 AD, and the Runic alphabet is distantly related to Greek.  Apparently Romans brought the Greek alphabet to Germany, or German mercenary soldiers brought the alphabet northward when they returned home.  As the alphabet moved further north into Scandinavia, it became distorted until it became the Runic alphabet used by Vikings in Sweden.

Christianity came relatively late to Sweden.  The first missionary didn’t visit this far north until the 800’s and it wasn’t until the late 11th century that most vikings converted for opportunistic reasons.  With Christianity came the Latin alphabet, and the last runestones were carved in the 12th century.

runestone fragment incorporated into church structure

 All of this architectural heritage, just a couple of kilometers from our apartment in the suburbs!

1 comment:

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