A deaconry. If you are familiar with this term, you are already smarter than me. If not, no worries, I was in your shoes just a while ago, and the fact that I did not know what to imagine when I first read the expression ‘Ersta Deaconry’ (Ersta diakoni) was what spiked my interest. Since then, I visited the ‘Ersta cliff’ (Erstaklippan), did some research, and now I am ready to share my findings with you.
As it turns out, the word deaconry comes from Greek and means ‘service’ or ‘to serve’. It has also been used since the era of the Ancient Rome to describe a charitable institution most commonly attached to the church.
The institution that we visit in this post was born much later than the Roman Empire, but its story is nonetheless interesting to discover. It was in 1851 that the new-born Ersta Deaconry opened its first establishment which was a hospital located on Kungsholmen in Stockholm.
In fact, a hospital is not all it was. Apart from taking care of the poor, the institution also educated future nurses in Sweden’s first nursing school. However, the operations quickly outgrew the facilities available on Kungsholmen, and the deaconry moved to a place on Södermalm which is now known as Erstaklippan (‘The Ersta Cliff’).
Just like 150 years ago, the views of Stockholm from the cliff are breath-taking and for most of us make a visit to Ersta Deaconry worthwhile by themselves. At the time when the institution moved to this part of town, a pair of gatehouses was already standing there.
To this day, the two mid-1700s houses are guarding the entrance to the area, although only symbolically. In one of them, you would find a museum showing the history of the organisation while the other houses a wafer bakery producing around three million wafers every year.
The gatehouses were complemented by a new hospital building soon after the deaconry moved to the area. Designed by architect Per Ulrik Stenhammar, the staff of the new hospital had top-modern equipment for the period at their disposal.
Architect Stenhammar was the go-to person for the deaconry even a few years later when the authorities decided to build a church, or rather a chapel, next to the existing facilities. While the idea of the church was born already in 1865 and the institution acquired a plot of land on which it was to stand the next year, the whole process was not as smooth.
As 1867 and 1868 were particularly bad harvest years, the level of poverty in Stockholm increased, and it was harder than ever for the charitable organisation living solely out of donations and gifts to survive, let alone execute new construction projects.
Eventually, a design proposal for the church came to life in 1870 and thanks to numerous donations that poured in during the following few years, the Ersta Chapel was inaugurated in 1872.
Interestingly, not all donations toward the chapel came in the form of money. While some donors indeed provided financial support, others were able to provide construction material and other useful items to make the construction possible.
Still, though, it took some time until all items including a new organ, or a tower clock were in place. Other plans, such as those for gas lamps in the area, were cancelled due to their unbearably high costs.
Through reconstructions and additions, Ersta Chapel eventually turned into the Ersta Church (Ersta kyrka) we know today with the most important changes having taken place around the turn of the twentieth century.
Even the hospital facilities were in need of modernisation. The authorities decided to take a different approach though, and instead of reconstructing the existing building, a movement toward building a new, modern hospital was initiated by bishops from different parts of Sweden who were joined by Queen Sofia herself.
Despite all the generous donations they had received, the money did not suffice to finance the whole project until the City of Stockholm stepped in. The city agreed to finance the remaining part of the construction in exchange for the hospital accepting patients referred by the municipality.
The architect chosen to execute this project was Alex Kumlien known for designing several hospital buildings in Sweden. Kumlien’s latest masterpiece was inaugurated in 1907, offered enough room for 103 patients at a time, and offered such modern facilities as an elevator capable of transporting hospital beds, which was a big thing in the early 1900s.
Near the hospital, you would also find the Ersta Sköndal Bräcke University College (Ersta Sköndal Högskola) which is a higher education and research facility attached to the deaconry. It builds on the tradition started back in the 19th century with the first nursing school in Sweden which, as you might remember, used to stand on Kungsholmen.
If all the facilities named earlier do not seem like enough, worry not, the Ersta Deaconry has even more to offer. At the so-called Ersta terrace, you would also find a restaurant, and a hotel and conference centre in a beautiful environment on the northern edge of Södermalm. You are more than welcome to visit and enjoy some exquisite views or perhaps a nice romantic dinner.
I hope you enjoyed discovering Ersta Deaconry with me and that you will get a chance to go and explore it further yourself. First, though, do not forget to sign up for our newsletter below to receive new stories like this directly to your inbox and share this post with your friends who you think will like it too.
Vår anrika historia. [erstadiakoni.se].