following the graves, part three

I’m pretty simple when it comes to planning my Swedish trips. If a place has something to do with Erik XIV, no matter how unappealing it seems, I’ll be there. I would probably skipped Västerås for now if it was just a church (cause c’mon, there are so many other churches!). However, as it’s a church where Erik is buried, that changes everything. And it was a good decision – not only because I got to see Erik (in a way), but the cathedral is worth visiting by itself.


If my opinion is not trustworthy enough (or at all), think of a recommendation made by… Michelin Green Guide. Have you not heard about it before? Me neither, but it’s not hoax and it’s not about churches where you can eat (maybe in Belgium it works this way). Apparently Michelin is grading also historical treasures – and Västerås cathedral got three out of three stars as one of three churches in Sweden (and it's the third largest cathedral in Sweden - I know, three is a great number). This means that it’s highly recommended to see it, beside the Uppsala cathedral and Lund cathedral. And you know, Erik is there, so it closes up my top three burial resting places of Swedish kings.

The diocese of Västerås was created in the mid-12th century and it covers counties Västmanland and Dalarna. Since middle ages it has been a bishop’s church. Before the cathedral, a small granite church stood there. In 1240s it started to be extended in brick, although it kept wooden roof, small windows, floor covered in soil and had no pews. The cathedral was consecrated on 16th August 1271. It is dedicated to Virgin Mary and John the Baptist as the consecration happened one day after the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.


The cathedral consists of one main nave and four side aisles (the main one is higher and wider than the others) and chancel with an ambit. Although the cathedral started off as a three aisled church, in the 14th and 15th century it became surrounded with a ring of chapels which gave later the fourth and the fifth aisle. The last chapel was completed in 1517 and it created the current size of the cathedral. Now 1,100 people can be seated there.

The first cathedral’s tower, made from brick, was finished in 1417. The one that we see today is finished with a baroque spire designed by Nicodemus Tessin the Younger in 1695. Naturally, it’s the highest point of the whole construction, reaching 91.8 meters. The tower is connected with the porch, where the entrance to the cathedral is located. The main doorway is surrounded with two stone reliefs. Both were made in the early 16th century. One depicts Saint David, the saint patron of Västmanland and Dalarna and John the Bapist, the other one Virgin Mary. And as we finally step inside, we find ourselves in the porch. Back in the days, here people were leaving their weapons before moving further into the sacred building. I’m wondering if they had similar issues like we do we today with leaving a wet umbrella at the entrance to any place. Or like Carrie Bradshaw when she came to baby shower and was forced to take off her shoes. Yep, you’re right, someone stole her pair.


Maybe now I will come with surprising news, but I haven’t heard about Västerås because of Erik.  For me this city was always a place where Swedish reformation has started. It happened north from the porch, in a chapter house. In the summer of 1527 Gustav Vasa called a parliament to Västerås, on which it was decided to start introducing reformation in Sweden. First, the king broke financial independence of Church, all it’s properties became either Crown’s or Gustav’s private possessions. The only exception was Vadstena Abbey, a place of Saint Birgitta, which remained independent. In 1544 Västerås hosted another crucial parliament session – Sweden was officially proclaimed an evangelical Lutheran country.


So we stand in the porch, which, along with the organ loft, it’s the oldest part of the cathedral, built in the 13th century. The organ loft is placed above the porch and it's current version, made of brick, was executed from 1896 till 1898. The stone carvings were designed by Agi Lindegren. The sculpture of Madonna and child was carved by sculptor Sigrid Blomberg. The organ was built by a company from Stockholm, Åkerman & Lund, and it's still used today. And now - I am no expert in organs, but they sound pretty innovative for its time, for example: this was the first large organ in Sweden to be built with tubular pneumatic action and it was the first organ in Sweden to have high pressure stops. I'm ignorant, I know. It sounds cool and I can admire the work, but I don’t get the technical details. The organ façade was designed by Agi Lindegren, who is also responsible for the stone carving of the organ loft. The basis of the instrument is still the organ from 1898, although it was enlarged several times. It’s considered to be the best romantic organ in Scandinavia.


Before entering the cathedral, have you noticed a statue in front of it? It’s Johannes Rudbeckius by Carl Milles from 1923. Rudbeckius was one of the main figures of educational reform in 17th century Sweden. He was also a bishop of Västerås from 1619-1649 and here decided to found first Swedish upper secondary school, gymnasium, in 1623. It is located next to the cathedral and it exists still today. Besides, one of the cathedral’s chapels is dedicated to him.

Let’s slowly move towards the chancel. Next to Rudbeckius’ chapel, a baptismal chapel is located. It’s one of the most remarkable Renaissance works of this type in Sweden. It was made in Lübeck and donated to Västerås in 1622 by the widow of one of Sweden’s wealthiest businessmen, Simon Depke. At baptisms, the doors are opened to the west and the lid of the font is raised. The screen is solid at the bottom and decorated with intarsia. The upper part has ornate pillars with each section repeating a main motif with variations in detail.


Moving forward, we see the Virgin Mary chapel. Reredos on the altar there was made in early 16th century Antwerp. The central motif is Virgin Mary as the Queen of Heaven. She was depicted with mandorla (almond-shaped aureola). The reredos also shows the Annunciation and the birth of Jesus. Walls next to the chapel can also be worth paying attention to. Some of the 15th century murals can be seen on them. The ones surrounding Virgin Mary chapel and the south entrance were painted by the famous Albertus Pictor in late 15th century.


Now we reach the chancel and the high altar. Although its present final look is an effect of the 20th century renovation, some parts of it are even 500 years old. The reredos was made in Antwerp, probably by Jan Gillisz Wrage, Jan Genoots and Jan van Dornicke. It was donated by Sten Sture the Younger and his wife Kristina Gyllenstierna in 1516 (if you look at the picture of the altar you can see Sten Sture in the lower left corner, Kristina on the lower right one). Sten’s father, Svante Nilsson, died in Västerås in 1512 and was buried here with his other son, Mauritz. When the reredos is open, the carved and gilded scenes of Jesus’ passion and resurrection can be seen. In the cathedral there were many more altars, dedicated to different saints, located either in chantry chapels or beside free-standing pillars. Some of them still stands in the cathedral, however, introduction of reformation in Sweden caused the removal of most of the saints’ altars.

Behind the high altar, in the ambit, we find yet another altar. This one is dedicated to Saint Veronica as her veil is depicted on the base of the retable. It was donated in 1514 by bishop Otto Svinhufuvud. The altarpiece in stone is probably the work of the Stockholm master Henrik. The altar top itself is an old gravestone. Between this altar and the high altar the cathedral's largest chandelier hangs. It is 3.2 meters high and it was a gift from bishop Johannes Brodinus and his wife Anna Schultin and donated to cathedral in 1681.


Let’s finally move on to the dead people. There are 163 intact gravestones in the cathedral, which has Sweden’s richest and most coherent collection of 17th century memorials. Above the graves noble coats of arms were set up. Lord High Chancellor and Count of Visingsborg Magnus Brahe and his two wives, Brita Leijonhufvud and Elena Bielke, were buried in a crypt under the floor of ambit. Above the crypt a tomb was erected. It’s made of black and white marble and alabaster, created in 1637-41 by a German sculptor Jost Henne. But then, of course, there is my pearl, the grave of Erik XIV. He died from arsenic poisoning on February 26th 1577, held as a prisoner at Örbyhus Castle. The first masonry tomb was only slightly above floor level. Erik had to wait until Gustav III reign, who commanded a creation of a more prestigious resting place for a Swedish king. He ordered a black Cararra marble from Italy, which was placed on a plinth of reddish-brown Öland stone. Although it's not visible on the picture, I tracked one with crown and sceptre placed on the top of sarcophagus, which belonged to Erik’s brother John, person responsible for his deposition and death. It irrelevant, but for me it's a bad joke, so I just wanted to point it out here. As I mentioned John already, he got married at this church in 1585 with Gunilla Bielke. Due this occasion, John donated a crozier to the cathedral. Even older relict, kept in cathedral’s treasury, is a crucifix depicting Christ in silver, probably made in Paris in the early 14th century. Speaking of treasury – it contains one of three medieval Swedish mitres, which belonged to bishop of Västerås Åke Jönsson (bishop from 1442 to 1453).


The cathedral underwent two major renovations. The first one took place in the 19th century, obviously, when across Sweden all the major sacred buildings were redecorated in accordance with current trends in architecture - Lund cathedral was brought back to gothic, Uppsala cathedral to romanesque style. From 1858 till 1861 Västerås cathedral was gaining Neo-Gothic design. The medieval long chancel was removed to make room for more seating. Painting on the walls and vaults were added. The windows were made the same shape and moved to be centred in the arches and of the vaulting. Today, Neo-Gothic remains only above the large organ loft. The second major renovation took place exactly 100 years later, led by Erik Lundberg. In the first year of renovation, excavations were made. Holes from poles were found, which indicated a presence of wooden church even before the granite one, a predecessor to the cathedral. This restoration works’ goal was to highlight the different epochs since the cathedral was erected.