Uppsala Cathedral was started by the Catholics in 1270 and consecrated in 1435. Church history explains that money shortages, cold climate and the plague of the 1300s contributed to this long time for completion. Quite understandable.
Unfortunately, 100 years later the Protestant Reformation came to Sweden and all the Catholic art, color and saints in the side altars were removed. A fire caused major damage in the early 1700s and when the cathedral was restored, it was given “a partly new appearance reflecting Sweden’s break with the Roman Catholic Church in the 1500s.” A bit of an understatement for most churches facing the Reformation.
Since then the structure has hosted coronations of Swedish kings and queens, become a crypt for some of them, and been a parish church, a choir hall for the Uppsala boys choir, a community center, an art gallery and a tourist attraction.
Given the history and conflicting visions, the interior is a bit confusing. Local officials in the Nordics appear to be struggling with what to do with these large ancient spaces. Rising secularism means they don’t get much use as churches anymore so what to do with the most prominent building in your town? For now Uppsala is continuing to maintain the cathedral, as evidenced but the large crane in the pictures.
The impressive sanctuary rises to 89 feet and symbolically appears in the mission statement for the church. “The cathedral gives you sanctuary from the storms of life, warmth and rest and is a place for people’s faith and life to grow.”
The high altar was historically used for ordination of Swedish bishops and remains in use on feast days.
Detail of the ceiling over the sanctuary and altar.
King Gustav I (Gustav Vasa) is buried with his three wives in one side altar (but only two are depicted). A falling out or not enough space? Carl Linnaeus (the father of botanic taxonomy), Nils Rosén von Rosenstein (the founder of modern pediatrics), and Archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Nathan Söderblom (a founder of the ecumenical, interdenominational movement) are also buried in the cathedral.
Johannes III (son of Gustav I) is resting comfortably, perhaps depicting fatigue after his long and unsuccessful campaign to reconcile Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism during his 24-year reign as king in the late 1500s. He may also be regretting having to murder his half-mad brother King Eric to take over the throne. (Note: This is a different Eric from Erik IX, the 12th-century king, who was named Saint Erik. Erik is a very common name in Scandinavia!)
Side altars: One is empty, one is a kids’ display, and one has Saint Erik. In general the 20 of them are a mishmash like this. This is understandable as these were initiated as individual small churches inside the larger one and apparently no one ever organized a unification.
Side pulpit – A couple hundred years after the Reformation the dowager queen Hedvig Eleonora gifted the pulpit to the church as part of the recovery from the 1702 fire. This style is described as “imperialism.” It’s highly unlikely that this is what Martin Luther had in mind.
Saint Erik is the patron Saint of Sweden, credited with bringing Christianity to the country. He was killed on this site by Danes in 1160. There is an issue with “Saint” Erik. He was never officially beatified by a pope. Usually bringing Christianity to your country is good enough for sainthood (see St. Patrick) so it’s not clear where things got hung up in the Catholic bureaucracy for Erik. Saint Erik and Saint Olaf are doing better than Saint Lars who lost his head somewhere along the way. Actually Saint Olaf was martyred by pagans when he attempted to introduce Christianity. Saint Lars is very hard to find anywhere.
The old organ from 1871, heralded as “the breakthrough of Romanticism in organ-building.”
The new 1990s organ used by the Uppsala Boys Choir, a 100-year-old choir founded by Nathan Söderblom, mentioned above.
This exhibit is meant to use light-reactive sound works of tones, light, and color, transformed into movement and visual recordings that spread spherically throughout the church room so the “eye can listen.” We couldn’t figure out how to get it to work.
How the cathedral looked in earlier years…
Taken from the same spot as the 18th-century photographer above was standing.
(BTW: The quality of the 1700s photograph looks more 19th-century to me.) At that time the cathedral did not have a central spire. It does now. This is relevant today because Notre Dame in Paris had a central spire that was lost in the recent fire. Some of the designs for the “new” Notre Dame have excluded a central spire. If you are on the committee selecting the new design do you go with a central spire or not?
The crane is an impressive bit of technology. It is nearly 400 feet tall and is somehow able to haul weighty objects up and stay standing in a strong wind on that one spindly leg. There must be some computer smarts at the top maintaining the center of gravity directly over the one leg.
Visited September 6, 2021
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