Helsinki is a remarkable city for sacred architecture. A significant majority of Finnish people identify as Christian, and the national religions are the Evangelical Lutheran Church, to which about 70% of the population belong, and the Finnish Orthodox Church which represents just over 1% of Finns. Christianity came to Finland in the 11th century, prior to which paganism was the local religion of choice.
Within Helsinki there is a huge number of places of worship and in these spaces one can meditate, pray or enjoy these architectural splendours for their aesthetic appeal. Visiting Helsinki will naturally include seeing some of these beautiful buildings and spaces in the background, but they should also be visited in their own right as wonderful additions to any sight-seeing around the city.
Somewhere really special and very unique to Helsinki is Temppeliaukio Church, also known as the Rock Church. Located in the Töölö district, this Lutheran church was completed in 1969. What makes it particularly distinctive is that it is actually hewn out from the local rock, and therefore has a cave-like feel to it (although with a very modern architectural feel as well). Natural light pours in and illuminates this sacred space through almost two hundred glass skylights, in the centre of which is set a huge copper dome. The rough carved walls of the Rock Church give it fantastic acoustics and so it’s commonly used as a concert venue also. If you get there early in the morning, before the crowds (this is one of Helsinki’s biggest tourist attractions), you should be able to find a peaceful spot to sit and enjoy the sunshine streaming in through the skylights.
Designed by a Swedish architect in the Gothic Revival style, St. John’s Church, or Johannes’ Church, has a distinctly Swedish feel to it, and its two towering steeples would not look out of place in Sweden’s cities. Incredibly bright and airy inside (at first surprising given its dark neo-Gothic exterior), this church is also a popular concert venue owing to its excellent acoustics. Also of theLutherandenomination, Johannes’ Church is one of the largest churches in Finland, and you will be sure to find a quite place for reflection upon one of its 2,600 seats.
The white wooden Old Church, built in the neoclassical style, was completed in 1826, and is the oldest church in Helsinki today. It stands proudly in a park which houses an old cemetery and several memorials and sculptures. The park is also known locally as the Plague Park, because it is where bodies of victims of the plague in 1710 were buried. Both the church and its park are the perfect place for quiet reflection amid the hubbub of the bustling city.
A place to sit and enjoy both solitude and peace is the Kamppi Chapel. Also called the Chapel of Silence, this sacred space was completed in 2012, and makes it one of Helsinki’s most modern churches. Its bare wood architecture makes it a truly stunning building, and anyone with even the vaguest interest in architecture will be left breathless by both the simplicity and depth. It is made entirely from alder and spruce wood, and natural sunlight lends a fresh and warm glow to the chapel. The only regular service at the chapel are Friday evening prayers, and they are well worth attending.
Perched proudly atop a hill overlooking the city, the Uspenskin Cathedral is a magnificent sight. It is Eastern Orthodox and its architecture reflects this, a beautiful ornate and eye-catching building that would not be out of place in St Petersburg. Indeed, this cathedral was designed by a Russian architect and completed in 1868, and is the largest Orthodox Church in Western Europe. The Cathedral is home to a magnificent collection of icons, complete with beautiful and striking interior. These, in combination with a breathtaking view out over the city, make Uspenskin fantastic place to visit on your travels to Helsinki.
On one of the biggest of the five islands that comprise the fortress of Suomenlinna stands the Suomenlinna Church. Built for the Russian garrison stationed at the fortress, this originally Eastern Orthodox church was completed in 1854, but is now of the Evangelical Lutheran tradition. Designed by the same Russian architect responsible for the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow the Suomenlinna Church, although different to how it would have looked when first erected, still retains its majestic feel. Today the church is also used as a lighthouse (its signal is morse code for the letter ‘H’ for Helsinki!), and its beautiful island location makes this sacred space a truly wonderful experience.
One of the most striking churches in Helsinki is the Kallio Church. Designed in the National Romantic style with elements of Art Nouveau in the interior, this imposing granite church inspires a sense of awe and wonderment in both visitors just passing by or those who actually step inside its doors. Completed in 1912, Kallio Church is also of the Lutheran faith and this striking church is well worth a visit.
There are so many churches that Helsinki offers its visitors that there is too many to describe here. If you are interested in sacred architecture, and still have time, you should also make sure to visit the Catherdral of St. Henry, the German (Saksakainen) Church, the Holy Trinity Church, and the ultra-modern Viikki Church. Helsinki is a rich and vibrant city for scared architecture and the beauty and majesty of these great buildings will delight and inspire awe in everyone, regardless of religious affiliation. Helsinki is truly a city where one can quietly meditate and reflect, making it a true getaway and a wonderful adventure.
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