Church of the Day – St. Peter’s in Malmö, Sweden

We stopped in Malmö, Sweden, and found St Peter’s (Sankt Petri kyrka). It was built between 1300 and 1380 as a Catholic church in Malmö, which was then Denmark’s second-largest city. Then 200 years later as the Reformation took hold in Germany and moved to the Nordic countries, it converted to a Lutheran church, which it remains to this day.

“The church played an important role as a spiritual centre during the Reformation, with the Reformer Claus Mortensen active as a priest in the church. One of only four occurrences of violence due to iconoclasm during the Danish Reformation occurred in St. Peter’s Church in 1529, when Claus Mortensen led the destruction of much of the ornamentation in the church, deemed “too Catholic” by the Reformer. Of the more than sixty pre-Reformation altarpieces, only one survived more or less intact. It was also following the Reformation (in 1555) that the interior of the church was whitewashed.”

Claus Mortensen has a tombstone in the church with this epitaph “destroyer of the papal cult and sower of the true gospel.”  It’s highly likely Claus was not a regular at the monthly ecumenical meeting.

The exterior of St. Peter’s Church is very much the same now as when it was constructed.

St Peter’s from our hotel, just across the canal from Malmö’s central train station.

As with most Old Towns, the church spires rise high above the other buildings.

The sanctuary is bright and airy after the 1555 whitewashing. More than 60 Lady altars were removed from the sides during the Reformation. When we visited on a Thursday afternoon a service began, but there were only a handful of attendees. It wasn’t clear whether that was COVID-related or people simply wanted to enjoy the beautiful day outside.

Note the very ornate side pulpit on the left.

When Claus was finished ripping out all the Catholic icons, he installed a stone slab with a simple wooden cross for the altar. About 50 years after Claus’s death the Malmö parishioners rolled this altarpiece in over his grave and put it above the altar. The church provided a full explanation of who the people are in the altarpiece. Starting from the top is Christ, next are Peter and Paul, then Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Next are the crests for the Swedish king and then Moses and John the Baptist on the bottom.

The altar can be used to tell many stories.

The view toward the back with the side pulpit and one of the church’s several organs.

In 2019 the church installed a high tech organ, one of the most modern in Europe. It also had a ~1500 organ, one of the world’s oldest still playable organs, but moved it to a museum. Not to worry, the church still has three more organs from 1797, 1914 and 1951.

This keyboard / NASA control center can play all four organs at once.  

The new organ pipes are just to the left of the altar. Claus Mortensen is just to the right of the pipes.

Here’s another view of the side pulpit, with so much going on. Note that Moses is at the base holding up the pulpit. This is meant to indicate that the priest’s gospel is based on the Ten Commandments.

The small figure hiding above Moses’ left shoulder is the Evil One, who is resisted by the word of God from the pulpit.

Detail of the Last Supper, one of six reliefs on the side pulpit.

Who is the small apostle? And which one is Judas?

The baptismal font is in a side chapel known as the Chapel of the Merchants. The medieval frescoes are among the best preserved in the entire Nordic region. They were whitewashed during the reformation but in 1906-1907 they were restored. The floor is actually gravestones.

The fresco most visible at the top is “The Veil of Vernonica.” That’s Peter on the right holding the veil.

Saint Peter appears in one of the tall stained-glass windows. (St. Paul has a matching one.) The windows tell the story of their lives from becoming disciples to being martyred.

The stained-glass windows are from 1935 to 1937 by artist Hugo Gehlin.

Sankt Petri kyrka is a pilgrimage site, part of the Pilgrimsvägen Skåne Blekinge, the long road that will connect the pilgrimage sites Santiago de Compostela in Spain, Vadstena in Sweden and Nidaros in Norway. This piqued our interest in traveling inland to Vadstena (home of Saint Birgitta’s Convent Church) rather than simply rushing to Stockholm.

Coincidental side note: Virginia, our daughter’s mother-in-law is about to start her journey along the Santiago de Compostela, walking five to eight miles a day. At Saint Peter’s we learned words to inspire her: “A pilgrimage bears the stamp of the pilgrim’s seven keywords: simplicity, slowness, silence, sharing, freedom, spirituality, and light-heartedness.” 

Visited Sep. 2, 2021

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