- Kungsholms Church was inaugurated in 1688
- It is one of the oldest central plan churches in Sweden
- At the surrounding cemetery, there are tombstones since 1600s to the modern day
- Numerous valuable historical artefacts are on display in the interior
Just like essentially every part of Stockholm, the Kungsholmen island features a unique urban environment with some typical residential houses and numerous monumental public buildings. Some of these, such as Stockholm City Hall and Stockholm Court House, which I have already covered on our blog, are recognised even internationally for their ingenious architecture. In this post, though, we look at a building that has stood on the island long before the aforementioned ones.
Kungsholms Church, as it is colloquially known, dates from the era when Kungsholmen was a nearly unpopulated place with no permanent connection to the city of Stockholm. It was not before 1600 that first buildings were built on the island but in the following decades, and especially in the latter half of the 17th century, first notable structures grew there.
The church that officially goes by the name Ulrika Eleonora Church was one of them. Although other buildings standing in the area had served the purpose before, Kungsholms Church became the first one that was originally designed to function as a place of worship. This was made possible by King Karl XI who issued a permit for the construction of a new church and the establishment of a new parish on Kungsholmen in 1671.
At the time when believers still used to gather at a wooden house on the corner of Hantverkargatan and Kaplansbacken, the foundation stone of the new church was laid in 1673 under the supervision of architect Mathias Spihler.
Spihler, who had collaborated on the construction of the Katarina Church and the van der Noot Palace on Södermalm with his father-in-law, architect Jean de la Vallée, clearly drew inspiration from the Katarina Church when designing the one on Kungsholmen. Both churches can be categorised as so-called central plan churches and belong to the oldest in the country featuring such floor plan.
One of the differences between the layout of Kungsholms Church and the Katarina Church is the absence of the small quadratic rooms between the main hall and the four cross-arms at Ulrika Eleonora Church on Kungsholmen.
Although the then used place of worship had burned down in 1679, the works on the new church progressed slowly. This was, as usual, ac result of lacking funds. Eventually, however, Kungsholms Church was inaugurated in December 1688, a year after Karl XI decided that it would be named after his wife Queen Ulrika Eleonora.
Some of the characteristic elements of the church were still missing at the time, though. For instance, the tower topped with a lantern was built between 1809 and 1810 following the drawings of architect A. W. Palmroth. Although I say that Palmroth was the author of the tower, it needs to be noted that he, to a large extent, based his design on original plans created by Spihler over a century earlier.
To this day, you can admire tower clocks, the oldest of which were made in 1718 and the youngest in 1882, that are incorporated into the tower of the brick church with granite, and sandstone base and copper roofs.
As you can imagine, the church has undergone many renovations and additions between the late 17th century and today. The low extension you can see between the southern and the eastern cross-arm was erected first in 1734 as Lenman’s crypt and later, in 1835, the Westin’s crypt was built right next to it.
One of the most significant reconstructions took place in the 1880s when the original big, rectangular windows with glass paintings were removed and replaced by arched windows.
Similar to the St James’ Church, whose story you can also read on our blog, the face of Kungsholms Church was significantly changed in the 20th century with the intention to return the building as nearly to its original state as possible. The rectangular windows with glass paintings from 1688 were reinstalled and the entire exterior of the church was essentially brought back to the state from the era preceding the 1880s reconstruction.
Something that should not go unnoticed when visiting Kungsholms Church is the cemetery which surrounds it. There are many historical elements that make it noteworthy, including tombstones from all periods since the late 1600s until the modern day and a number of original, gas lamps from the mid-20th century. It is especially enjoyable in summer months thanks to the rich vegetation which includes numerous trees perhaps as old as the church itself.
In the interior which is well-lit thanks to the large windows, plain-white walls, and high vaults, you will also find some extraordinary and valuable historical items. Likely the most famous is the sculpture group created by Caspar Schröder in 1707 that stands in the baptistery, which has no counterpart in Sweden. Furthermore, there is an altarpiece created in 1685, three years before the church was completed.
Interestingly, you can also see some historical objects related to the Royal Family in Kungsholms Church. There is what is considered one of the greatest portraits of King Gustav II Adolf hanging on the southern wall of the western cross-arm as well as a portrait of Queen Ulrika Eleonora whose name the church carries.
A number of silver items that were saved from the burning church in 1679 are on display in the southern cross-arm.
Clearly, Kungsholms Church is a place where you can admire a plenty of historical heritage both inside, outside, and even in the building’s neighbourhood. Equipped with your new knowledge, the only thing that is left for you to do is to go and explore the beautiful historic site for yourself.
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Lindhagen, Suzanne, 2005. Kungsholms kyrka. [Stockholms stift]