- The monastery preceding the church was established in the 1280s
- Klara Church was built under the reign of John III in the late 1500s
- With its 116-metre tall tower it is the second tallest church in Sweden
- Contemporary design comes mostly from the 19th century
Across the street from Stockholm Central Station at the very heart of the modern city, surrounded by contemporary architecture sits a church with roots dating back as long as to the late 13th century. Despite its dimensions, it can be overlooked because of how crowded and busy the place is. Klara Church (S:ta Klara kyrka) indeed deserves your attention which is why in this post we look at its journey through the history.
Around 1280, King Magnus Ladulås invited the Franciscans to establish their first monastery in Sweden, which later became the Riddarholm Church (Riddarholms kyrka), on Riddarholmen. The Order of Saint Clare, informally also called the Clarisses, could be seen as a female branch of the Franciscans. With help of the male order that was already established in Sweden, the Clarisses founded their only monastery in Sweden in the late 1280s approximately in the location where the Klara Church stands in the present day.
The monastery was first mentioned in a letter from Magnus Ladulås written in 1286 in which he donated the land on which the monastery was built to the order. The property belonging to the Saint Clare Nunnery (S:ta Clara nunnekloster), as it was officially called, was large enough to provide supplies for all its members and was, in fact, constantly getting bigger thanks to many donations and gifts.
Who was Saint Clare?
Today known as Saint Clare, Chiara Sciffi was born into a noble and wealthy family in Assisi, Italy, in 1194. At a young age, she became impressed with Francis of Assisi and his words about poverty. When she was 18, she ran from home and became a nun at a monastery just outside Assisi. The Order of Saint Clare, which established more than 70 monasteries all around Europe by the time of her death in 1283 and followed statutes and ideals of the Franciscans, was named after her.
For decades after the nunnery was established, it was prospering and even the king himself put his daughter Rickissa, who later became the abbess, there. However, around the middle of the 15th century, things started to get worse for the Clarisses in Sweden. As the number of new members decreased, so did donations and, perhaps worst of all, the reformation voices were gaining strength.
One man only
The total number of nuns at the nunnery is unknown. What we do know is how many men there were – exactly one. The so-called ‘sysslomannen’ whose role was to take care of economic and legal affairs was the only man living at the nunnery, everything else was taken care of by the female members.
Eventually, the monastery was dissolved after Gustav Vasa became the King of Sweden in 1523 but Clarisses had been going through a tough decay for several decades prior to the king’s decision and the dissolution was therefore only a formality.
The abbess at the nunnery in the years coming to its end was the sister-in-law of the Danish commander Gorius Holste. This was at the time when the Danish army led by King Christian II was attempting to gain control over Stockholm. Because of that, many Stockholmers ran from the city and tried to hide at the nearby monastery. However, the abbess had an agreement with her brother-in-law that she would give him a signal if anyone from Stockholm was hiding at the monastery and all these people would consequently be arrested by the Danes.
As I said earlier, the monastery was demolished when Gustav Vasa gained power and for a few decades, there was not much happening at the place. Things were about to change when John III (Johan III) claimed the throne, though. The king ordered a new parish church to be built in the place of the former St Clare Nunnery and the construction was carried out between 1577 and 1590, though these dates might not be exact.
The church was built out of brick with details made of stone. It is thanks to the way bricks were joined (so-called mortar joints) that we know that no parts of the former monastic church were preserved. During its long history, the Klara Church has gone through many reconstructions and renovations.
Both the exterior and the interior of the building have been affected by ideas of many architects and numerous natural catastrophes. During a certain time period after a reconstruction led by Carl Fredrik Adelcrantz, the façade of the church was whitewashed but later got its original design back in the late-19th-century reconstruction. This was also the time when the tower was, not for the first time, modified and heightened. When the reconstruction of the 1880s led by Helgo Zettervall was completed, the church with its 116-metre tall tower was the tallest one in Sweden. It has since been superseded by the Uppsala Cathedral, though.
Even before that, the church suffered severe damage in the big city fire in the mid-1700s. This disaster left the church devastated. The tower’s spire, roof, windows and furniture were all destroyed in the fire which meant that the church had to be restored completely as walls were essentially all that was still in usable condition.
The contemporary design of the church comes mostly from the 19th century but several details have been installed even more recently. The last renovation was carried out in the 1960s when parts of the interior such as the benches and the floor were modernised. In the present day, you can not only enjoy the historical look and feel of the church surrounded by the modern city centre but also live music in its premises several times a week.
Stay tuned for more stories about modern and historical places of interest in Stockholm. Next week, I am going to bring you the story of the bridge which is the seventh one in its place with a curiosity about how bridges used to be tested in not so distant past. Even earlier, you will find more beautiful stock images of historic sites from the Italian city of Milan on our site.
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Nilsson, Christina, 2007. Kyrkguiden. Vägledning till kyrkorna i Stockholms stift.