18 Apr 2024
Stockholm Cathedral: Bach and the Baroque
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Stockholm Cathedral: Bach and the Baroque

Somewhat understated on the outside, Stockholm cathedral comes to energetic life with concert recitals, allowing for prolonged marvelling at the over the top interior fittings. YLC’s Danny Chapman visited the Cathedral and brought back his impressions.

Like so much in Sweden, the Stockholm cathedral, or Storkyrkan, looks, from the outside quite restrained and underwhelming. It has few distinguishing features and it is so small and, well, almost insignificant looking that it is hard to tell that it even is a cathedral. Frankly, it looks a bit boring.  But then you step through the doors and that initial impression changes. Dramatically.

When you enter the Cathedral you are met by a blaze of riotous baroque furniture, about as opposite to restrained as you can get.

And the best time to take all this in has to be during one of the cathedral’s regular concert recitals. Indeed, during a recent Bach concert, the organ performance of the famous horror movie-like Toccata and Fugue in D Minor was nearly as unreserved as the royal pews!

Perhaps even more surprising than this un-Swedish like explosion of excess was that the excellent hour-long concert, which featured half a dozen Bach organ compositions amid some fine singing from the eight-piece cathedral choir, was free.

The Organ itself is quite a sight. It was actually built in 1960 but is housed in a 1789 casing. And it sounds wonderful, as do the cathedrals acoustics, with the out of sight choir’s voices complimenting the organ wonderfully, particularly during Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.

All of these baroque flights of fantasy make a wonderful compliment to the many pieces of art that you can wonder at from your pew. In particular the outlandish giant pulpit from 1700 with its golden angels, along the Royal pews (designed by Tessin the Younger in 1684, who along with his Dad seems to have built much of Baroque Stockholm) with their monumental golden crowns facing each other.

The cathedral is certainly small, even by Swedish cathedral standards, yet this is somewhat explained by the fact it was only given cathedral status in 1942. Before then it was the parish church of Gamla Stan.  It is thought that the church was built by Stockholm’s founder Birger Jarl (1200 – 1266). The first written mention of the church was in 1279. For 400 years it was in fact the only parish church in the city.

So the Cathedral IS old by any standard but the interior, which is very unusual with its brick pillars and vaulted ceilings, gives a rather modern appearance, despite the brickwork being medieval. This was revealed when the plaster encasing it, which we are perhaps more familiar with in a cathedral, was removed in the early 20th century.

The greatest treasure inside though has to be sitting under a giant baroque painting of the Last Judgment: the George and the Dragon sculpture.

There is a bronze copy of this on Köpmanbrinken in Gamla Stan, but the wooden original inside the cathedral dates from 1489. It uses elk antlers and horsehair amongst other materials and is a unique fantastical creation that wouldn’t look out of place in one of the Lord of the Rings movies. You’ll have to see this before or after a concert as it is located to the left of the silver and ebony altarpiece and out of sight from the Nave. But this is easy to do.

There are regular free concerts at Storkyrkan, check the website for more information. If you are looking for English-speaking churches or somewhere to worship, why not check out our guide to these.


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