Some of Stockholm’s most imposing churches are located on the island of Södermalm south of Gamla Stan. Since much of Södermalm consists of a ridge rising above the rest of Stockholm, these churches are visible from many parts of the city and often command sweeping views.
Katarina kyrka is one of Stockholm’s most important churches. The original church was built at the end of the 17th century, by French architect Jean de la Vallée. Katarina has twice been completely destroyed by fire, once in the 1720s and again less than 20 years ago. The current yellow church with the distinctive dome was completed in the mid-1990s.
Katarina kyrka is named for Princess Katarina, half-sister to King Gustav II Adolf and mother of King Karl X Gustav.
Several famous Swedes are buried in Katarina churchyard. They include assassinated Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, the popular Dutch-born singer Cornelis Vreeswijk, author Per Anders Fogelström, and 18th-century architect Carl Fredrik Adelcrantz.
Katarina kyrka holds 20-minute lunchtime organ concerts every Tuesday and Thursday, as well as numerous other musical programs. The church has five different choirs.
Katarina kyrka stands on the Katarina Ridge, very close to the spot where the victims of the Stockholm Bloodbath of 1520 were burned after being executed by Danish King Kristian II. The site is said to be cursed. Some say this is the reason the church has burned down twice.
Sofia kyrka was built at the turn of the 20th century, during the reign of King Oscar II. It was named after Oscar’s consort, Queen Sofia of Nassau. The church is laid out in the shape of a Greek cross and built in a Romanesque style with gothic elements. The architect was 35-year-old Gustaf Hermansson, who won the design competition with one of two designs he submitted. Hilding Linnqvist painted the large fresco over the sanctuary. The lovely round stained-glass window over the organ is by Olle Hjortzberg.
Sofia kyrka has great views of Södermalm from its location atop a ridge 150 feet above sea level.
Sofia kyrka was founded as an offshoot of Katarina parish when it grew too large and had to be split. The Sofia parish was formed from Katarina’s eastern section, though it didn’t become official until well after the church’s completion.
Maria Magdalena kyrka
Maria Magdalena kyrka is the oldest church on Söder. There was a chapel on this spot as early as the 1350s, but the current church dates from the late 16th and early 17th century. The famous architects Nicodemus Tessin the Elder and the Younger contributed later refinements and additions. In the middle of the 18th century the church was badly burned, along with 300 nearby houses. The church was painstakingly rebuilt to preserve its original character as much as possible.
Several notable Swedish poets and artists are buried in Maria Magdalena’s churchyard. Foremost among them is Sweden’s favorite 20th-century troubadour, Evert Taube.
An English-language history of Maria Magdalena kyrka may be ordered by e-mailing the church.
The original 14th-century chapel was one of many churches torn down by King Gustav Vasa in the early 1500s. His son, Johan III, later undertook the rebuilding of most of these churches, including Maria Magdalena, some 60 years later. After Johan died, the project was halted, and it took another four decades before Maria Magdalena kyrka was finally inaugurated.
The distinctive twin towers of Högalidskyrkan are instantly recognizable upon the heights of western Södermalm. It was completed in 1923 by architect Ivar Tengbom, who also designed the Stockholm Concert Hall (Konserthuset), where the Nobel Prize ceremonies are held.
Built in the National Romantic style, the church is constructed of the same red brick as Stockholm City Hall, which was being built at the same time Tengbom drew up his designs. It is said that one reason Tengbom decided on a church with two towers was to avoid direct comparison with the single-towered City Hall on the other side of the water.
The two towers are 84 meters (275.6 feet) high and are named after St. Ansgar, a German-born monk known as “the Apostle of the North,” who brought Christianity to Sweden in the ninth century, and Olaus Petri, an important 16-century Swedish religious reformer. On top of one of the towers is an award-winning weathervane of a rooster.
The interior of the church includes paintings by well-known Swedish artists such as Filip Månsson, Olle Hjortzberg, Gunnar Torhamn, and Einar Forseth.