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El albergue

El albergue

Monday, August 27, 2012

A Trio of Churches


The center of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland

The Helsinki Cathedral feels nearly barren as I look around and think of all the incredibly ornate churches I’ve been to in Spain.  It was the same impressive feeling of vast, open space induced by huge domes arching up to the sky, but there is so much more white, smooth surface here, more simplicity, more visual peace.  It is not without adornment, but the decorative column heads and arch details are unassuming and quiet – rather than call attention to themselves, they serve as a complement to the whole, adding to instead of detracting from the desired focus on the altar and pulpit, which besides the moderate chandeliers and magnificently impressive organ are the only parts of the interior displaying gold gilt and bright colors. 

Interesting facts about the cathedral: 
It was originally known as St. Nicholas’ Church.
There is a statue inside of Mikael Agricola, the father of the Finnish Reformation and literature.
Besides the normal Lutheran church services, other events to take place here include official state and university functions.

Simplistic beauty
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The Finnish Orthodox Church is the second of the two national churches in Finland, and at its heart is the Uspenski Cathedral, the largest Orthodox Cathedral in Western Europe according to the Helsinki tourist booklet.  In contrast to the Helsinki Cathedral, the Uspenski Cathedral fairly shines with the bright reds, blues, and golds that predominate the paintings and delicately intricate designs that cover a large part of the walls and every inch of the ceiling.  The chandelier coming down from the star-speckled central dome has a weighty look of importance about it.  The rich scent of hot wax from the burning incense candles perfumes the air, lingering in my nose as I walk out the simple side entrance open to visitors.  I look up at the brick walls and copper domes, a brilliant golden cross crowning each pinnacle, the city spreading out beneath its hill.  It is as different from Spanish cathedrals as is the neoclassical Helsinky Cathedral, and it is beautiful.

Interesting facts, courtesy of the tourist booklet:
This cathedral is one of the clearest symbols of the Russian impact on Finnish history.
The members of the Finnish Orthodox church account for just over 1 percent of the population.

I loved the geometric patterns painted on the ceiling and walls.
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Not exactly the typical church exterior
The Rock Church is different from either the Helsinki Cathedral or Uspenski Cathedral.  Indeed, it’s rather different from any church or cathedral I’ve ever seen in my life.  Just imagine with me a huge mound of solid rock in the middle of Helsinki, apartment buildings and small businesses rising up on every side.  Now, imagine a great big hole dug into the rock, and a church sanctuary placed inside.  Rocks have been built up around the hole, and a large, flattish dome of rolled copper is held up by ray of steel and glass.  The stone of the walls in unfinished, evoking an earthy, natural feel.  There’s a beautiful, beautiful pipe organ to the left side, but at this moment there is a concert pianist closing up the shiny concert grand piano on which he has been pouring out his heart for at least the past hour.  There are also mobs of tourists wandering around, flashing their cameras and chatting in nearly normal voices, but I was more or less able to block them out as I sat and soaked in the music…wup!  There’s the piano encore!  …lovely…and now as the cover gets drawn over the shining instrument, I guess it’s time for me to move on – out from this rocky church and on to the next sight to see…

Just look at that organ!


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