following the graves, part one
The Riddarholmen Church was a must-see point on my list. The oldest preserved building in Stockholm, the only monastery church that survived reformation in the city and a place of the royal burials? I’m going! The church is located on the Riddarholmen island, just outside of Gamla Stan – the Old Town, area, which is visited by probably every tourist. So you just have to walk for 10 more minutes and fulfil visiting the historical central part of Stockholm.
THE HISTORY OF RIDDARHOLMEN CHURCH
The Riddarholmen Church was a Franciscans’ monastery church. Monastery was founded around year 1270, the church was erected few years later. King Magnus Birgersson in his testament from 1285 commanded that he wants to be buried in this particular place. He died 5 years later, but the construction of the church was not finished until 1300. Magnus, known also as Magnus Ladulås, gave many gifts to the church and to Franciscans, what made him the church’s founder and principal benefactor.
The church consisted of a main nave and a northern aisle with cross-vaulting throughout. In addition to that a long, brightly lit chancel was erected. The monastery was located south from the church. Church was built entirely from brick, what was still unusual in 13th century Sweden. The gilding of the ribs in the chancel has no counterpart in Sweden, although it is contrary to Franciscans’ rules of humility and restrain, also in the matter of ornament. Due to the monastery extension in the 15th century the church itself had to be rebuilt. A southern aisle was erected, which was narrower than the northern one, and it adapted the old monastic walls. In the same century a new element was added in front of the altar – a second royal tomb chest. Beside Magnus Birgerssonin 1470 Karl Knutsson Bonde was laid to rest. Both tomb chests were created by the order of John III in 1574. The artist behind them was a Dutch sculptor Lucas van der Werdt. The images of the kings were partly painted, which was supposed to intensify rough realism (with this realism you should always be careful, cause the sculptor probably didn’t have access to any of kings’ portraits).
The altar, visible behind the chandelier, here perfectly placed in the centre of the shot, was designed by Nicodemus Tessin the Elder. To transform a drawing into reality the parish hired in 1678a sculptor Peter Schultz and a carpenter Hans Herman Steyerwalt. In the 19th century the original crest was replaced by the present aureole. The angels, now located at the top of the altarpiece originally knelt at the foot of the Cross.
SWEDISH ROYAL BURIAL CHURCH
After implementing reformation in Sweden at the Västerås meeting in 1527 Franciscans had to leave Stockholm. Monastic buildings were rebuilt, but the church survived. It happened due to its historical significance and John III, who appreciated its importance (although he was never buried there). The Riddarholmen Church became The Burial Church of the Kings of Sweden thanks to Gustav II Adolph. He passed the instructions to the Privy Council in 1629 regarding his tomb. It was supposed to be located in the southern part of the church. It was not ready when the Council received the information about sudden death of the king in the battle of Lützen. The Privy Council decided to build a burial chapel above the crypt that king appointed himself. The Gustavian Burial Chapel was erected between 1633 and 1634 and it is located south from the main altar.
On the bicentenary of Gustav II Adolph’s death his remains were deposited in a marble sarcophagus. It was made in Rome between 1772 and 1774, originally intended for Adolf Fredrick, who died in the beginning of 1771. The sarcophagus’ author was an architect Giacomo Quarenghi. The Gustavian Burial Chapel contains also coffins of Gustav II Adolph’s wife Maria Eleonora, his two daughters and his aunt. In the crypt below the chapel kings Adolf Fredrick, Gustav III, Charles XIII and Gustav IV Adolph were laid to rest
Despite the fact that Gustav II Adolph was the one responsible for making Riddarholmen Church the Royal Burial Church, his direct ancestor was not buried there. Queen Christina abdicated, converted to Catholicism and died in Rome. She is one of three women buried in the Vatican Necropolis.
In front of the Gustavian Burial Chapel the Carolinian Burial Chapel was erected. It was built from 1671 until 1743 and its architect was Nicodemus Tessin the Elder. The chapel is considered to be one of the stateliest facades of the Swedish Baroque. In comparison with the project, the final piece had a different roof than originally designed. In the centre of the Chapel the sarcophagus of Charles XII was placed. It is flanked by those of his sister Ulrika Eleanor the Younger and her husband Frederick I. Below the chapel, in the crypt, is a place of the last resting for Charles X Gustav and Charles XI, their wives and four sons of Charles XI, who died in infancy. All the coffins there are considered to be the supreme achievements of the 17th century Swedish craftsmanship. Unfortunately I was not able to make a good shoot of the whole crypt, so I attach a scan of a picture from a guide.
The crypt with coffins of Adolf Frederick, Gustav III, Gustav IV Adolph and Charles XIII (I swear, one day all those numbers will get mixed up) is unavailable for visitors. But! I will always find something to replace the blank space. There is a drawing made by Olof Fridsberg, one of numerous artists associated with the court of Gustav III. He presented the interior of the Riddarholmen Church, changed for the funeral of king, who died as the result of the assassination in 1792. The funeral of the monarch is an act of state, which requires all possible measures to be used. The funeral of Gustav III was the last massive occasion for the church to be its stage. The wall were covered with black cloths, which contrasted with the mass effect of innumerable candles. Juniper trees were positioned close together as a substitute for the Mediterranean cypresses, symbolizing the death and mourning. A tabernacle was erected above the catafalque. It is known also as castrum doloris ‘camp of mourning’ and it is a symbol of immortality of the soul and the sorrow of the realm. Above the sarcophagus rose the “clan hill”, where weeping Svea sat beside a bust of the king. The Pole Star shone high in the chancel vaulting.
The last of the royal chapels is the one that belongs to members of the Bernadotte family. The Bernadotte Chapel was erected between 1858 and 1860 as a copy of the Gustavian Burial Chapel. Charles XIV John sarcophagus’ was made of Älvdalen granite and the one belonging to his wife Desideria was made of Kolmården marble. In the Bernadotte Chapel ascendants to Charles XIV John and their wives were laid, including Gustav V.
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