Uppsala Cathedral, seat of the Primate

The town plan of an old town or city in Europe was easy to decipher because the basic model was always the same. A central square and city hall/town hall located near the tallest building in town, the spires of the Cathedral church. This was how Riga old town is organised, it is how Gamla Stan in Stockholm is organised. The list goes on.

Uppsala Cathedral is the centre of Lutheran Christianity in Sweden and by extension the home of Christianity in Sweden. The first Christian kingdom in Sweden was established in Vastagotland near the stronghold of the Christian king in 1000 and a second diocese in Sigtuna in 1060, a short distance away from Uppsala. The existence of two different religions brought with it an uneasy peace because the religiously aggressive Christians were smaller and weaker (although they were also more popular).

Things changed over time.

As the Christian kings grew stronger and moved down south to Stockholm to establish a new city, Uppsala’s fortunes declined. The christian religion was thought to have been the favoured one instead of the Norse religion and so resistance to the new religion started to fade. People started to accept and convert. And in a bold move, the diocese in Sigtuna was moved further northeast to Uppsala in 1134.

Christianity arrived in Uppsala violently. In the 1080s, the norse king Inge the Elder became sympathatic to Christianity and decided to stop Norse sacrifices in the Temple of Uppsala.

This angered the locals and forced him into exile while his brother took over on the promise of continuing the practices of the ancient Norse religion. Inge bade his time for three years and developed a strong huskarl force to kill the king and destroy the temple. From the ashes of the ancient temple, a Christian church arose. This was to become Uppsala’s church and eventually the seat of the Diocese of Uppsala.

Due to isostasy, a geographical theory where land and water adjust so that the same ratio of land is submerged in water, the old town of Gamla Uppsala became inaccessible and a new one was founded – present day Uppsala.

Along the hills of modern Uppsala, a new great church was founded as a symbol of the new religion in the land. This was to become the Cathedral of Uppsala – Uppsala Domkyrka.

Uppsala Cathedral in the 1880s (source)

Amid the ups and downs of the city, from university to developing city, the cathedral has remained an ever-present.

Construction of this church took almost 200 years because of the cold climate, the Black Death (second Bubonic plague) as well as financial difficulties. But it took your breath away when it was completed. The external facade is French Gothic (renovations saw changes to the spires from the Gothic style to a more modern spire style) in style but the average person would never get to see the inside of the church.

The church was originally built by the Catholic church as a cathedral rather than a parish church. Hence the it was the archbishop who held services there and only in special occasions was the church opened to invited guests.

The Cathedral  today holds the tombs of Kings Gustav Vasa, Johan III, and scientists Carl Linneaus, Olaus Reubeck and Emanual Swedenborg.

Tomb of Emanuel Swedenborg

The church was originally built in a French Gothic Style and after a long history (which included a fire) some of these medieval frescos were rediscovered and restored during extensive restoration works in the 1970s.

It was elegant and clearly a reconverted Catholic Church (into a Lutheran one), the replacement of the crucifix with a cross.

Hidden in the many alcoves and naves are relics of saints such as Saint Birgitta of Sweden.

Saint Birgitta was a mystic and the founder of the Brigettine Nuns. She was married at age 14 and had 8 children. After the death of her husband (upon his return with her from a pilgrimage to the Santiago de Compostella in Spain) she set up the Brigettine order which was dedicated to the Passion of Jesus, the period of Jesus’ life leading up to the crucifixion at Calvary.

In other hidden corners of the church were altars of old. These were altars that were quite clearly Catholic in origin (a crucifix in a Lutheran church!)

An altar like that was a lesson in life, the cucifix of Jesus in front of a board with carvings of all the major stages of life – birth, love, illness, death and flanking them paintings of the life of Jesus. These were mini-cathecisms for the illiterate population in the past, a way to share the Christian message at its most simple.

Respectful tourist we were, couldn’t do without a bit of fun though 😉




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