After some time, we are returning to Stockholm’s Östermalm district which is one on the most exclusive parts of the city. Previously, I have presented you two of the major churches built in Stockholm around the turn of the twentieth century, the Sofia Church (Sofia kyrka) in Södermalm and the St. John’s Church (Sankt Johannes kyrka) in Norrmalm. It is interesting to know that while the Sofia Church was named after Queen Sofia, Oscar’s Church (Oscars kyrka), completed only a few years earlier, carries the name of King Oscar II, Sofia’s husband.
The royal couple, therefore, received their churches in very distinct areas of the Swedish capital. At the time, Östermalm was booming. Many new palaces were being constructed along Strandvägen which has since become one of the most notorious sceneries of Stockholm. On the other hand, the White Mountains (Vita Bergen) borough in Södermalm was still among the poorest areas in the city and no matter how hard you would have tried, it would have been impossible for you to find any palaces in the area.
This way, we can only debate which of these two churches was more significant for the residents of the corresponding parishes at the time. Was it Oscar’s Church meant to be a noble symbol underlining the exclusivity of the neighbourhood? Or was it the Sofia Church which symbolised the hope for better tomorrows for the poor borough in Södermalm?
Enough philosophy for the moment, though and let’s get to know Oscar’s Church now. It all started with an idea to celebrate the king’s 25th anniversary on the Swedish throne and an architectural competition. The winning proposal came from Gustaf Hermansson who is, accidentally, also the author of the design of the mentioned Sofia Church built a few years later.
Originally, Hermansson worked under the impression that the church was meant to be made of red bricks, similarly to the St. John’s Church completed only a couple of years ago which was then considered one of the most beautiful churches, if not the most beautiful, in Stockholm. The authorities from the parish had other plans, though. The Oscar’s Church was to be made of more noble materials than bricks.
At the time, many houses in Östermalm were built using natural stones which inspired the selection of materials for the church that was about to be constructed. The noblest stone anyone was able to come up with was the Swedish marble from Närke, south of Stockholm. Eventually, marble was used in combination with grey-white limestone and bronze roof.
King Oscar II himself laid the foundation stone in 1897 which, as I mentioned earlier, was the year of his 25th anniversary as the head of the state. During the ceremony, he presented one of his typical decorated speeches and the works started afterwards.
It did not take long for problems to appear, though. Several major challenges had to be overcome during the construction before the church was finished. The construction workers organised a strike which delayed the works, one of the walls collapsed and had to be rebuilt. The capacity of the stone quarries proved to be inadequate, too, as they were not able to supply enough material in time which is why the stones used at the top of the church are smaller than the ones at the bottom.
Eventually, the church with its 78 metres tall tower, that can accommodate 1428 guests at once, was completed some six years later in 1903. As always, it was criticised by many and underwent its first reconstruction already between 1921 and 1923. Some thought the design of the church was too modern and decided to alter some of its elements which is how some of the biggest attractions of the church were born.
During the restoration, 21 new stained glass windows made by the Norwegian artist Emanuel Vigeland were installed. The total number of stained windows on the church has been 33 ever since. These are considered to be the biggest attraction of the church and the most significant set of stained glass windows in Sweden until this day which means the early restoration might not have been such a bad idea after all. The author himself stated that the design was inspired by monumental Italian and French cathedrals.
Before I conclude the reconstruction was a success, though, I should also mention paintings by Filip Månsson that were added to the church during this alteration. If you wonder why I think it was important to mention the paintings, here is the reason. Between 1954 and 1956, another restoration took place at the Oscar’s Church. This time, the authorities thought the church was too dark. Therefore, Månsson’s paintings were removed and the original marble altarpiece designed by architect Hermansson was exchanged for a new one made of bronze.
Another of the big attractions of the church, the organ, was installed between the two restorations. It remains to be one of the biggest organs in Sweden with 78 voices and over 5200 pipes. The last restoration so far took place around 20 years ago when some changes to the interior were made once again. Among the more important ones, the benches received their original light green colour.
Now you have all the information necessary to compare the two churches dedicated to the royal couple, King Oscar II and Queen Sofia. No matter which one you like the most, I hope we can agree that they are both monumental buildings with a dominant position in their corresponding parts of the city which shall be treated with appropriate respect.
In the next post, we will stay in Östermalm and visit another interesting attraction. To find more information about everyday places in Stockholm and other cities around the world, get Trevl for Android. You can share your favourite places and stories with other like-minded folks in the app, too. Moreover, you can find some inspiration for your city wanderings on our Instagram account.
Nilsson, Christina, 2001. Kyrkguiden Vägledning till kyrkorkna i Stockholms stift.
Harlén, Hans, 1998. Stockholm från A till Ö Innerstaden.
Tjerneld, Staffan, 1984. Hundra år på Östermalm.