Quick Facts

  • Maria Magdalena Church is the oldest church on Södermalm in Stockholm
  • It was first opened in 1625
  • The surrounding cemetery has been in use since the 14th century
  • Large restoration took place after a big fire in 1759

In case you were wondering, there are always more churches for you to discover in Stockholm and any one of them will hardly disappoint. While many of them are barely more than a hundred years old, the one I present you in this post has been a part of the city landscape for centuries. Let me introduce you to Maria Magdalena Church (S:ta Maria Magdalena kyrka) on the Södermalm island in Stockholm.

Maria Magdalena Church in Stockholm

As early as 1350, King Magnus Eriksson founded a burial chapel in the location of the modern-day Maria Magdalena Church. The chapel was soon extended and around 1430, it received its first tower.

In fact, the tower you can see from many parts of the city today was built on the ruins of the one from the 15th century, which means that the oldest parts of the church are around six hundred years old. Although additional extensions were erected in the early 1500s, the existence of the medieval chapel came to an end soon after.

King Gustav Vasa had the chapel demolished just like many others in and around Stockholm. The king was not only against the Church as a whole but at those turbulent times, the material churches were made of was a valuable resource that Gustav Vasa often used for building defence structures instead of spiritual ones.

Maria Magdalena Church in Stockholm

He had an additional reason for destroying this particular place of worship, though. Since Södermalm was not a part of the city core, enemies commonly used it as a shelter when sieging the city and Vasa certainly did not like to make his enemies’ lives any easier.

In a few decades, Södermalm had become more densely populated and the island’s residents were missing a church. That was when King Johan III came to help and started the construction of the modern-day Maria Magdalena Church in 1588.

However, the works were halted at the time of his death in the last decade of the century. Stockholmers hence had to wait for the first mass served at the new church on the southern island until 1625.

Western portal at Maria Magdalena Church in Stockholm

The result of the construction which took nearly 40 years was a church with a simple exterior placed in a medieval cemetery that was to become one of the oldest in Stockholm centuries later.

As free space in the Old Town was slowly becoming scarcer and more valuable, Södermalm was attracting a significant number of new residents around the middle of the 17th century.

Soon after the completion of the church, the island was divided into two individual parishes and before the end of the century, Maria Magdalena Church was extended twice. These renovations were led by some of the most renowned architects of the time including the father-son duo formed by Nicodemus Tessin the Older and Nicodemus Tessin the Younger.

Southern portal at Maria Magdalena Church, Södermalm, Stockholm

For instance, the western portal, which forms the church’s main entrance, was designed by the younger of the two Tessins. It is not the only beautiful portal you should notice, though, as the one on the south is, in my opinion, equally interesting.

This could hardly be a story of a historic site if it did not contain a proper catastrophe. It came in 1759 when the church, as well as large parts of the surrounding neighbourhood, burned down.

Important elements of the modern-day church were added in the renovation that took place immediately after the big fire. Both the altarpiece and the pulpit that you can find in the location today were placed in the church in the second half of the 18th century.

At the time, only a provisional tower was built and it took until 1824 for a permanent one to come to life. However, it seems that the job was well done as the tower will hopefully soon celebrate its 200th anniversary.

Southern portal at Maria Magdalena Church in Stockholm

While the yellow, plastered façade of Maria Magdalena Church is rather simple and there are essentially no decorative elements to be found, the interior is quite different.

This has not changed during the big interior renovation that took place in the 1920s which was led by architect Lars Israel Wahlman, the author of Engelbrekt Church (Engelbrekts kyrkan) in the Östermalm district.

Among the many interesting artefacts you can find inside the church, the most valuable are probably the silver items, some of which date from the Middle Ages, and the eight epitaphs displayed on the walls of the church room. These are made of marble and bronze, and the oldest one of them dates from 1765.

As is it often the case with historic churches, each tower clock has its own interesting story. The largest clock is made of parts of older clocks that survived the big fire in 1759. Another one was made in 1912 of parts created in the latter half of the 18th century and the remaining two are from 1759 and 1760.

Maria Magdalena Church in Stockholm

The cemetery surrounding the church is itself an impressive historic site which has been in use since the 14th century. It not only creates a beautiful and appreciated green area in the stone neighbourhood but the greenery in combination with the yellow façade also creates some beautiful scenery.

Moreover, most of the gravestones on the cemetery are from the 18th century, which only enhances its historic value.

Hopefully, you already about to get out and explore Maria Magdalena Church for yourself. Before you leave, you might want to know that there are many other interesting places very close to the church.

These include the van der Noot Palace (van der Nootska palatset) from a similar time period or the Mariaberget (‘Maria Hill’) neighbourhood on the other side of Hornsgatan.

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Sources:
Jermsten, Elisabet (Stockholms stift), 2008. S:ta Maria Magdalena kyrka.
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