Quick Facts

  • Adolf Fredrik Church was completed between 1768 and 1774
  • The cemetery surrounding the church was established in 1638
  • The exterior of the church is essentially original
  • In the interior, there are many historical artefacts to admire

A place that had stood in the location long before the arrival of the rush of the modern city. A place that has not only witnessed plentiful changes happening all around but also experienced major changes itself. All of this and much more, that is the Adolf Fredrik Church (Adolf Fredriks kyrka) in Stockholm.

Adolf Fredrik Church in Stockholm

The story begins in 1638 when a cemetery was established on the parcel west of Sveavägen, one of the modern-day main streets of Stockholm, by the Klara Parish. Unlike other cemeteries, this one stood at the edge of the city and as such was a place where only the poor would be buried.

Thirty-five years later, the parish realised that the place had more potential. If nothing else, it could help them improve their bottom line. By building a simple wooden chapel, they were able to perform burial services indoors and sell graves for profit.

St. Olof’s Chapel (S:t Olofs kapell), as it used to be called, stood in the cemetery for about a century. However, its purpose has changed during its lifetime. As the parish and its population grew, services started to be performed there for a certain part of Stockholmers in the late 1600s.

As it was usually the case with old wooden chapels, the capacity of the St. Olof’s Chapel was slowly becoming insufficient. Therefore, the authorities decided to replace it with a church.

Carl Fredrik Adelcrantz was tasked with designing the church. Adelcrantz is known for several of his works in and around Stockholm. Among them, the Norrbro bridge, the Chinese Pavilion as well as the theatre at Drottningholm, and the palace carrying his name located in Norrmalm.

One of the things Adelcrantz needed to keep in mind was the fact that the existing chapel was required to be functional until the church was completed. He designed a central plan church where the eastern and western cross arms were slightly longer than the other two.

It was King Adolf Frederick (Adolf Fredrik) who laid the foundation stone at a great ceremony in 1768. Afterwards, the construction took off but not for long. Around a year after it had started, the works were halted due to financial difficulties.

Adolf Fredrik Cemetery in Stockholm

It was mainly thanks to the parish being given a part of customs duties received from importers of coffee that the construction was resumed a couple of years later. The same year, in 1773, the Adolf Fredrik Parish was officially established, too.

King Gustav III was the one who inaugurated the church named after his predecessor in 1774 although, at that point, the roof was not quite complete. It is also noteworthy that the church had no tower at the time of the inauguration.

This was added only in 1783 together with the copper roof at the remaining parts of the church after a decision to do so had been made some seven years earlier. In contrast with the rest of the building, which is made of brick, the tower has wooden construction.

Adolf Fredrik Church in Stockholm

Following the completion of the Adolf Fredrik Church, changes have been made mostly to its interior. First, the floor was altered in parts of the building. Then, in the 1860s, a set of more important modifications took place.

Brand new benches replaced the original ones, a new painting appeared over the altarpiece, and vaults and other rooms received stucco décor. The cupola was painted with biblical motives a few decades later and eventually, in the mid-1900s, most of the stucco décor was removed again.

From the outside, it is interesting to notice that all cross arms except the eastern one, where the chancel and sacristy reside, have their own entrances. Though you would find the main one on the west, surrounded by ionic columns.

At Adolf Fredrik Church, you also get a chance to admire a collection of historical clocks. In total, there are five of them, three of which come from 1674 and the remaining two are from 1727 and 1814 respectively.

Something to keep in mind when standing in the cemetery surrounding the church or passing by one of the streets in its neighbourhood is that the exterior of the church is essentially original.

Very few changes have been made to the façade since the tower topped with a lantern with a gilded spire was completed back in 1783.

Neither the columns dividing the façade nor the arched iron windows between them have been altered significantly.

Once you enter the elegant church, you will find yourself surrounded by historical artefacts. Several medieval objects are complemented by a wine bottle from the 1680s, a number of wine flagons from the 1760s, and numerous items preserved from the St. Olof’s Chapel.

Moreover, a monument of Cartesius (René Descartes) made by artist Tobias Sergel awaits you in the southern cross arm. Descartes has historical connections to the place and is said to have been originally buried at the local cemetery after he died in Stockholm, where he lived as the queen’s guest, under somewhat unclear circumstances.

The complete transformation of the cemetery is also documented by the fact that several important Swedish figures have been buried there over the years. For instance, the former prime ministers Olof Palme and Hjalmar Branting, and the aforementioned artist, Tobias Sergel.

This is the remarkable story of yet another interesting church standing in Stockholm. If you would like, you can also find more similar stories here, at our blog.

Now it is time for you to to test how much you already know about the beautiful ‘Venice of the North,’ Stockholm.

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Sources:
Jermsten, Elisabet (Stockholms stift), 2008. Adolf Fredriks kyrka.
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