Culture Night in Stockholm, April 2019

In April, I made a weekend trip to Stockholm to visit Patrik & Stefan and to attend what is now becoming a regular yearly event – Kulturnatten (Culture Night).  Culture night in Stockholm is an evening when cultural institutions, galleries, theaters, museums, libraries and more, open their doors to the public free of charge between 6pm & midnight.  Thousands flood the streets traversing the city and taking the opportunity to see what they may not normally take the time to see.  For some institutions it is the only time of the year they are open to the public.  I attended Culture Night for the first time in 2017 when the highlight of the visit was visiting Stockholm’s Stadshuset (Town Hall) where the Nobel Banquet is held each year.  If you want to read more about that click on this link.

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This year we had decided to concentrate ourselves to the areas around the island of Djurgården and Gamla Stan (Old City) visiting Skansen, the Nordic Museum, Storkyrkan (Stockholm Cathedral) and Stockholm Palace.  We would be joined this year by Stefan’s sister Anita and her husband Rikard.  An added bonus was that during 2019 Stefan qualified as a certified Stockholm Guide so we would have our own personal guide for the evening.  The evening started with an early dinner before hitting the streets with all the others, negotiating the crowds on the trains and boats before we arrived at our first destination Skansen.  For being the month of April it was an exceedingly warm and pleasant evening to be wandering the city.

Skansen is an open-air museum and zoo located on the island Djurgården.  It was opened in 1891 to show the lifestyles of the different parts of Sweden prior to the industrial revolution.  The 19th century was a period of great change throughout the world, and Sweden was no exception.  Its rural way of life was rapidly giving way to an industrialised society and many feared that the country’s many traditional customs and occupations might be lost forever.  Skansen became the model for early open-air museums in Scandinavia and elsewhere.  Around 150 houses from all over the Swede were shipped piece by piece to the museum, where they were rebuilt to provide a unique picture of traditional Sweden.  All of the buildings are open to visitors and show the full range of Swedish life from the Skogaholm Manor house built in 1680 to the 16th century Älvros farmhouses.  Skansen occupies an area of 75 acres (30 ha) including a full replica of an average 19th-century town, in which craftsmen in traditional dress such as tanners, shoemakers, silversmiths, bakers and glass-blowers demonstrate their skills in period surroundings.  There is also an open-air zoo containing a wide range of Scandinavian animals including the bison, brown bear, moose, grey seal, lynx, otter, reindeer, wolf, and wolverine.  There are also farmsteads where rare breeds of farm animals are raised.  This was the first time Skansen was open for Kulturnatten as it is normally closed until the summer months.  While the park was open not all of the exhibits were open but it was pleasant wandering around in the setting sun and there were a few places you could come in and spend some time listening to a storyteller by the fire.  I have some how managed to miss this place on my previous visits to Stockholm but I plan to return during the summer months to enjoy it more fully.

The Nordic Museum (Nordiska museet) is a museum located close to Skansen dedicated to the cultural history and ethnography of Sweden from the 1500s to the present day.  The building was completed in 1907 after 19-years of construction.  Originally, it was intended to be a national monument housing the material inheritance of the nation.  However, it was only half-completed for the Stockholm Exposition in 1897 and as a result lost that status and remained uncompleted.  It takes its style from Dutch-influenced Danish Renaissance architecture such as Frederiksborg Palace in Hillerød, Denmark.  The core of the “cathedralesque” building is taken up by a huge main hall (126 meters long) passing through all the floors up to the roof and the hall is dominated by the enormous sculpture of King Gustav Vasa, considered the father of the nation.  Impressive building.  A stop was made to the exhibition showing fashions of the 1970s, 80s & 90s.

Stefan’s sister Anita and her husband Rikard spend about 6 months of the year onboard their boat sailing the Baltic waters of Sweden.  This year they were starting their summer in Stockholm and had sailed up for Kulturnatten.  They had anchoured their boat in the harbour close to the museum and it just happened to be next to the ferry we would be taking over to Gamla Stan (Old City) for rest of the evening.  They kindly invited us for a liquid refreshment pit stop to quench the thirst generated by all this cultural entertainment.  Suitably lubricated we were now ready for part two of our evening.  Onto the ferry and over to Gamla Stan.

Our goals for the evening in Gamla stan were a visit to Storkyrkan – officially named the Church of St. Nicholas and informally called Stockholm Cathedral.  It is located next to the palace and we had been promised an LGBT-oriented guiding of the Cathedral by Stefan.  Storkyrkan was first mentioned in 1279 and according to sources was originally built by Birger Jarl, the founder of the Stockholm city itself.  For nearly four hundred years it was the only parish church in the city and it became a Lutheran Protestant church in 1527, and later gained cathedral status in 1942.  Because of its convenient size and its proximity to the earlier royal castle and the present royal palace it has frequently been the site of major events in Swedish history, such as coronations, royal weddings and major funerals.  The last Swedish King to be crowned here was Oscar II in 1873.  Crown Princess Victoria, oldest daughter of the current King of Sweden Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia, was married here on 19th June 2010.  Glad to be getting a chance to visit it as it normally costs a fortune to go in.

The first tidbit of information gleamed from Stefan’s guiding was how the church expanded from a little parish chapel to the magnificent cathedral we see today in the 14th century.  It was due to Queen Blanka the wife of the King Magnus Eriksson.  Her husband was ruler of the largest empire in Europe at the time stretching to Greenland in the west, to Karelia in the east, and to Poland & Germany in the South.  His constant need to defend his borders especially against the Danish meant he had little time for his wife.  She devoted herself to her religion and the expansion of the church in Stockholm turning the local parish chapel into a magnificent church.  When inside the church you can see the older church on the right hand side with the painted vaulted ceiling.  Queen Blanka had a beloved personal advisor Birgitta Birgersdotter in all matters of religion who later become Saint Birgitta.  The King had generously endowed her with an Abbey and financed her religious order which she had founded.  She would later become the royal couple’s worst critic.

Magnus was the longest reigning Swedish monarch until 2018 when the current king surpassed his reign of almost 45 years.  Few Swedish regents have suffered so much gossip mongering and misinformation as Magnus Eriksson.  Saint Birgitta was the source of most of it.  She had been receiving holy visions since the age of 10 and had been advising the royal couple in matters of religion.  Later she began to strongly disagreed with the way the King run his kingdom and how he divided it between his sons.  She strongly critised the relationship between the King and Queen and that they spent so much time apart.  In some of her holy visions,  she said the king was identified as “the son of disobedience”, ruled by devilish counsel, and the queen was likened to “a peeled apple core”, ugly and bitter.  Birgitta believed that this was due to “a new and cool heat” between Magnus and Blanka, which had expressed itself in “a senseless love forest”.  She claimed in her pamphlet Libellus de Magno Erici rege, that the King of Sweden loved men more than anything else.  In the mid-14th century, there was an attempt to remove Magnus as King of Norway, Sweden and Skåne from his throne.  Plotting in true Game of Thrones-style, noblemen defamed him, and continued spreading the rumors that he was gay, particularly because he favoured one of his noblemen Bengt Algotsson with titles normally reserved for royalty.  It forever earned him the nickname as “Magnus the Caresser.”  Considering the magnificent generosity the royal couple had shown to Saint Birgitta, it seems she showed rather ungrateful behaviour towards the couple when the King chose political policies which she did not agree with.

The cathedral contains some magnificent treasures with the most famous being the dramatic wooden statue of Saint George and the Dragon attributed to the gothic artist Bernt Notke (1489).  The statue was commissioned to commemorate the Battle of Brunkeberg (1471) where the Swedes beat the Danes.  It also serves as a reliquary, containing relics supposedly of Saint George and six other saints – Saint Blasius, Saint Germanus, Saint Leo, Saint Martinus, Saint Donatus and Saint Cyriacus.  The Saint George statue is said to be a symbolic representation the Swedes defeating the Danes with Sten Sture as St. George, the dragon as the Danish King Christian I, and the Princess as representing Sweden.  The statue has several times been removed through the back wall of the cathedral to various hiding places when the Stockholm was under siege before being once again returning to the cathedral by the same route.  The last time was in 1939 before returning in 1947.

The church also contains a copy of the oldest known image of Stockholm, the painting Vädersolstavlan (“The Sun Dog Painting”), a 1632 copy of a lost original from 1535.  The painting was commissioned by the scholar and reformer Olaus Petri.  It depicts a halo display around the sun (so called “sun dogs”) produced by light interacting with ice crystals suspended in the atmosphere, which gives the painting its name.  In the 16th century, the “sun dogs” were interpreted as a sign or warning of an impending event.

The monumental pulpit is the work of Burchard Precht in 1698-1702 and is in a French Baroque style.  It became the model for a number of other large pulpits in Sweden. From the rear of its lofty sounding board issues widely billowing drapery, in front of which hover two large winged guardian angels on either side of a radiant sun bearing the Hebrew letters “יהוה” (Yahweh).  Beneath the pulpit and surrounded by an iron railing lies the worn gravestone of Olaus Petri.  Now he was an interesting man.  He was a clergyman, writer, judge and major contributor to the Protestant Reformation in Sweden.  During his upbringing he studied in Germany in Wittenberg where he meet the main players of the reformation, Philipp Melanchthon and Martin Luther.  He returned home and became a driving force in persuading the King to abandon the Catholic church and adopt Lutheranism.  He also translated the Bible from Latin to Swedish for the common man.  His original Swedish name was Olof Pettersson but he latinised his name when he became chaplain of the church of St Nikolas (Storkyrkan).  He was also know by the nickname “Olle i hinken” (Olle in a barrel) for when he was spreading his Lutheran message he often had no podium to preach from so he was hauled up in a barrel above the crowd.  While we were visiting the church there was an actual play taking place of the arguments between Olaus Petri and the King regarding Lutheranism (you can see the actor playing Olaus Petri in the pulpit).

The view down the central aisle of the church is dominated on either side by the Royal Pews, one facing the other on either side of the central aisle.  Each consists of a large enclosed box with heavily decorated sides and back.  High above each of the Royal Pews is a large royal crown forming a canopy above it, supported by two guardian angels in flowing mantles, and from which billow sculptured hangings behind the royal seat.  The royal seats are themselves upholstered in blue velvet with rich applied embroidery.

The main altar – “The Silver Altar” – is a wooden triptych with an ebony veneer covered in sculptured reliefs in silver in ascending order of the Last Supper; a large depiction of the Crucifixion of Christ (between silver statues of Moses and John the Baptist); of the Burial of Christ (between silver statues of the evangelists Matthew and Mark); of Christ’s Harrowing of Hell (between statues of the evangelists John and Luke); and on the pediment at top of the triptych, a silver statue of the Risen Christ between two reclining soldiers.  On either side of the Silver Altar is a sculpture holding a candle, one of St. Nicholas (the patron of the church) and the other of St. Peter.  The Silver Altar and the rose window above it fill the wall space formerly occupied by the apse of the medieval chancel removed by King Gustav Vasa when he expanded the fortifications of the Tre Kronor Royal Castle (which later burnt down).

After having spent a memorable hour or so in the Cathedral we turned our attention to the Royal Palace alongside.  The Stockholm Palace is one of Europe’s largest and most dynamic palaces.  The Palace is His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf’s official residence and setting for most of the monarchy’s official receptions (their private home is Drottningholm Palace outside Stockholm).  The Stockholm Palace is combination of royal residence, workplace and cultural & historical monument.  The palace is built in the Baroque style by the architect Nicodemus Tessin the Younger in the form of a Roman palace on the site of the old 13th century Tre Kronor Castle which burnt down in 1697.  The palace has more than 600 rooms divided between eleven floors with a state apartments facing the city and smaller living rooms facing the inner courtyard.  There are two floors with elaborate apartments for official receptions – the Bernadotte Apartments on the 1st floor and the State Apartments on the 2nd floor.  Only the Bernadotte apartments were open tonight.

The time was nearing 11pm and we suspected they may not be letting visitors in with only an hour to go but we were in luck and made it in time to be admitted.  We entered via the Hall of State (Rikssalen) which was previously the seat of the Swedish parliament until the 1830s.  A magnificent rococo room decorated in white and pale yellow marble and draped in blue velvet adorned by the golden crown of Sweden.  The room is dominated by the fantastic Silver Throne made for Queen Christina’s coronation in 1650 and used subsequently by the Swedish monarchs at coronations and accessions to the throne.  From there you pass through the chambers for the various Royals Orders of Sweden – Seraphim, Sword, Polar Star & Vasa before arriving to the Bernadotte Apartments.

The Bernadotte Apartments were the apartments of the Sovereign from 1754 until 1907.  At that time, the new King Gustav V chose not to use the Bernadotte Apartments upon his accession.  The Bernadotte Apartments are now used occasionally for State functions as well as private affairs.

Included in the Bernadotte Apartments are:

  • The Pillar Hall — this was originally King Adolf Fredrik’s dining room, situated on the northeast corner of the apartments. Its name comes from the pillars which flank all four walls of the room.
  • The Victoria Salon — named for the statue of Victoria, goddess of victory, which previously stood in the room
  • The East and West Octagonal Cabinets — often used for ambassadors presenting their credentials to The King and other official presentations
  • The Bernadotte Gallery — contains portraits of many of the Bernadotte rulers of Sweden and their families
  • The Carl XVI Gustaf Jubilee Room — recently done in honor of the King’s 40th Jubilee
  • Queen Louisa Ulrika’s Audience Room
  • Queen Louisa Ulrika’s Dining Room

Upon leaving the Bernadotte Apartments, you descend the staircase and arrive out into the central courtyard surrounded on all 4 sides by the palace.  As we exited the courtyard we passed through the southern portal where we had entered the Hall of State.  We took the opportunity to take a quick peak at the Royal Chapel opposite the Hall of State as the time was already after midnight and things were beginning to close.  The Royal Chapel has been in use since the Palace was built in 1754.  It is the third chapel, the first going back to the late 1200s.  The second was in the northern wing of the Tre Kroner Palace which was destroyed by fire in 1697.  Many of the fittings, including some of the benches and silver-work were saved from the fire, were used to furnish it.  The chapel is used as a parish church for members of the Royal Court and their families.  The chapel is supposed to represent divine power of the king in its worldly form.  It is impressive in its green and white marble, with its golden pulpit and ceiling fresco of the Ascension in to heaven.

With the hour growing late and the thirst for a night cap growing, we headed home to some happy dogs, delighted with what we had achieved in one evening of culture in Stockholm (why we wait for one night of the year, I don’t know 🙂 ).  Thanks Stefan & Patrik, Anita & Rikard, and Lufsen & Snobben.  Will be back for Kulturnatten 2020!

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