- Hedvig Eleonora Church was inaugurated in 1737
- The construction took almost 70 years
- What makes the church stand out is its octagonal base and the central tower with a large cupola
- Three of Sweden’s foremost architects left their mark on the church
Historically, the constructions of major buildings that were meant to change the character of a city landscape often came with a set of difficult challenges. In this post, I present you a place in Stockholm that was under construction for astounding 68 years before it was finally unveiled, still not quite completed.
Hedvig Eleonora Church (Hedvig Eleonora kyrka) located in the core of the Östermalm district is a combined work of some of Sweden’s foremost architects of multiple eras. The story behind this place of worship began long before they materialised their grand visions so let’s start from the beginning.
During the 1600s, the Swedish Navy resided on the Blasieholmen peninsula overlooking the Royal Palace. Likely because of the peninsula’s restricted area, the men who worked there used to live in Ladugårdslandet, which later became known as Östermalm.
The Fleet had their own church located on the site where you would now find the National Museum and later, they even formed a parish of their own which was separated from the St. James’s Parish where the civilians living in the area belonged.
In 1669, around the time when a cemetery was established in the location, the construction of a permanent church began just east of the Östermalmstorg square that had been built several decades earlier.
Instead of the wooden church on Blasieholmen, the Fleet was now about to get a church designed by none other than Jean de la Vallée, the architect behind many of the most renowned buildings in the city, including Axel Oxenstierna Palace (Oxenstiernas palats), Bonde Palace (Bondeska palatset), parts of the House of Nobility (Riddarhuset) or the Royal Palace (Kungliga slottet) itself.
The construction took off but, once again, we need to remind ourselves that the last few decades of the 17th century were not the most prosperous of times for Sweden. After six years, when still only the unusual octagonal base of the church was standing, the works were halted due to financial difficulties.
Soon after, the fleet moved away from Blasieholmen, which is probably one of the reasons the construction site stood empty for fifty years. It was only in 1724 that the authorities decided to finish what their predecessors had started.
One of the issues, though, was that the original architect was no longer alive. His place was, therefore, taken by Göran Josuae Adelcrantz who, to a large extent, followed the original drawings. This was especially true of the unusual exterior but Adelcrantz decided to implement more traditional approaches when it came to the interior.
It is said that de la Vallée in his original plans experimented with novel floorplans, which was something the Parish did not approve of.
Hedvig Eleonora Church was eventually inaugurated in 1737, almost seventy years after the construction had begun. While it is possible to see some influence of different eras during which the church was under construction, the structure surprisingly managed to keep much of its original character given to it by Jean de la Vallée, which was untraditional to begin with.
At the time of the completion, the church did not look the way it does today. Most importantly, the now characteristic tower was not built before 1868. However, the first attempt to build towers at Hedvig Eleonora Church came much earlier. A pair of towers drawn by Adelcrantz’s son Carl Fredrik were about to change the character of the western side of the church in the mid-1700s.
However, the towers were never completed, and their bases were instead turned into a single-floor crypt.
What has changed the original appearance of the brick church the most, though, is the cupola built around a wooden construction topped with a lantern, which is in turn crowned with a spire. This monumental tower was designed by another renowned architect, Fredrik Wilhelm Scholander. Many argue that the cupola is too big for the rest of the building, but it has nevertheless become a popular point on the city landscape of Stockholm.
While the rest of the exterior is not visible from afar, it is just as unique as the parts I have already mentioned. The yellow rusticated facades, complemented by light-grey elements such as the stone portals, sit on an unusually high sandstone base and feature very carefully designed windows.
All sides of the church have two arched windows on the sides with a smaller, round window above them. In addition to these, there is either a taller arched window in the middle or a portal with a rosette window sitting on top of it.
What is in line with traditions is the four tower clocks located at the very top of the tower on the lantern. All the clocks were born in the 17th century only to be later recast during the 1800s.
The story of one of these clocks is particularly interesting, though. The big clock was brought to Stockholm by Carl Gustaf Wrangel in 1658 as a war trophy from the famous Kronborg Castle (Kronborgs slott) located in Helsingör, Denmark.
Entering the interior of Hedvig Eleonora Church through one of the stone portals, you are greeted by limestone floors, plastered walls painted light-grey, and mostly original 18th-century furnishing. If you continue a bit further, you will get to admire exquisite marble décor and massive wooden benches.
Once inside, you can also get a chance to peek at some valuable historical artefacts. Among the most well-known items are the silver sconce displayed in the chancel donated to the church in 1711 as well as other silver objects from the 17th and 18th century.
In the room above sacristy, known as ‘the museum,’ you can admire a number of oil paintings, sculptures, and books. Some of these paintings even depict early models of Hedvig Eleonora Church itself.
By now you probably have a pretty good idea about how unique this church is and if you are anything like me, it makes you want to visit the place as soon as possible.
I very much recommend you do it and believe that equipped with the church’s interesting story, you will enjoy it even more than I did when I first found it sitting between the numerous residential houses in the beautiful Östermalm, essentially by accident.
If you would like to have some fun while learning more about beautiful places in Stockholm, try our short quiz !
Jermsten, Elisabet, 2005. Hedvig Eleonora kyrka. [Stockholms stift].