- St. Matthew’s Church was originally built as a chapel in 1903
- It was turned into a parish church a few years later
- Works of foremost Swedish artists can be seen in the interior
If you could walk the streets of Stockholm some 120 years ago, what you would see would be greatly different from the city we know today. Sure, the historical city centre is way more than a century old but the residential areas where most of the people spend their days were largely built during the 20th century.
With the steep increase in population came the need for new churches in all parts of the Swedish capital as the society, too, functioned somewhat differently from what we are used to seeing now. Östermalm, Södermalm, Kungsholmen, Norrmalm. Each of these boroughs received one or more new churches during the 20th century.
We can go as far back as to the year 1773 to learn that the population of the Adolf Fredrik Parish, centred around Adolf Fredrik Church (Adolf Fredriks kyrka) located by Sveavägen, was only about 6,000 people.
By the turn of the 20th century, the parish was ten times as big(!) and it kept growing by thousands every year. This was becoming a problem and the authorities had, in fact, been discussing a solution since the mid-1800s.
Many opposed the suggested division of Stockholm parishes, and although this delayed the process, it did not stop it from happening. Eventually, a decision was made in 1906 that two new parishes would be separated from the existing Adolf Fredrik Parish.
One of them was the Gustav Vasa Parish with the equally named parish church standing at Odenplan, and the other was the St. Matthew’s Parish (S:t Matteus församling).
The latter of the two is dominated by the main hero of this post, St. Matthew’s Church (S:t Matteus kyrka). To explore its full story, we need to take a step back, though.
Before the church became a parish church, it used to be a chapel. And before the church was a chapel, it had to be designed by someone. At first, it seemed that someone was going to be Gustaf Sällström. His plans were not approved by the authorities, however, and the task of designing the new chapel was given to architect Erik Lallerstedt instead.
Lallerstedt is perhaps best known for one of his later creations, the campus of the Royal Institute of Technology (Kungliga Tekniska Högskolan) which you can visit on Valhallavägen. However, he is also the author of the St. Peter’s Church (S:t Peters kyrka/Peterskyrkan) in Stockholm and a pair of other church buildings in Sweden.
His design, which clearly resembles the St. Peter’s Church built a few years earlier, resonated with the authorities but they required several important modifications, anyway. As it is so often the case, the budget the parish had prepared for the construction would not cover all the costs of the proposed design. Therefore, it had to be simplified as much as possible simply to make the building cheaper to build.
After that, the construction itself was a smooth ride, and the chapel was inaugurated in 1903, only some two years after the foundation stone had been laid. The cost of construction reached 168,750 Swedish kronor, which corresponds to roughly SEK 9.5 million in today’s money.
Now we pick up the story about the new St. Matthew’s Parish again. Remember, it was created three years after the chapel. Every parish needs a parish church, though, which meant it was time for a reconstruction of the St. Matthew’s Chapel.
Architect Lallerstedt picked up where he left off and both expanded and renovated his own creation between 1907 and 1908. Now officially a parish church, St. Matthew’s Church was built in the then-popular Jugendstil with several aspects of its design having been inspired by German architecture.
While the general character of the original building has been preserved to this day, you should note that the structure as we can admire it today was born in a 1920s reconstruction. Once again led by Lallerstedt, the main objective of the reconstruction was a further expansion of the church.
Perhaps surprisingly, the cost of this reconstruction was essentially equal to the expenses for the original construction when accounted for inflation.
With the first parts of St. Matthew’s Church having been completed early in the 20th century, and the last during the 1920s, we can say that its construction period perfectly matches that of the typical colourful apartment houses in the neighbourhood which were erected between 1900 and 1929.
While I am certain you will not miss the tall tower in the south-western corner of the building, I would like to direct your attention to a few other interesting features visible on the church’s exterior.
The windows, for instance, are different on each side of the church. You can notice a number of tall windows on the eastern side oriented toward the small yard, three small ones and one impressive rosette window on the northern side, and plenty of windows spread across three floors on the western side.
The rosette window marks the side where you would find the main entrance. Interestingly, it is not the door you see in the centre of the northern façade that leads to the church. It is the one on the side surrounded by a limestone portal to which the massive granite staircase leads, instead.
Limestone was not only used to carve the main portal. The bottom floor, parts of the first one, as well as the entire western façade, are covered by this stone. The base supporting the church, on the other hand, is made of granite.
In addition to the architect himself, several prominent Swedish artists were involved in designing and decorating the interior of St. Matthew’s Church. A sculpture of St. Matthew created by Ivar Jonsson or paintings by Olle Hjortzberg and Filip Månsson are only a few examples of the decorations enchanting the interior dominated by light plastered walls and subtle paintings.
The light walls are contrasted by the dark floors covered primarily by limestone or oak wood but also by linoleum in some parts of the building. An interesting wall decoration can be seen in the sacristy where the lower part of the walls is covered by marble parapets.
Among the church’s collection of silver items, you would find seven candlesticks designed by Hjortzberg and the architect’s passionate involvement in the construction is demonstrated by the original tower clocks which he also designed himself.
Now that you know how the church came to life, what makes it unique, and what you should notice when visiting, it is time for you to go and explore St. Matthew’s Church in the beautiful streets of Vasastan.
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Jermsten, Elisabet, 2004. S:t Matteus kyrka. Stockholms stift. [svenskakyrkan.se].
Bohrn, Erik, 1946. Matteus kyrka i Stockholm. Konsthistoriskt inventarium.