St. Lawrence's Church

Söderköping, Sweden

St. Lawrence's Church has a long and complicated history that goes back to sometime around the end of the 13th century. It is one of few medieval churches in Östergötland built entirely in brick, a circumstance which may be connected to there being a large number of German merchants active in Söderköping at the time, and it remains a fine Swedish example of Brick Gothic. The original church had the form of a basilica with a central nave and two aisles.

During a city fire in 1494 the church was damaged and subsequently rebuilt. An external belfry was erected in the 1580s. During its history, it has been reconstructed, renovated and altered on several occasions, but retains much of its medieval form and look. Externally, the church is dominated by its red brick façade, interspersed with blind arches and supported by brick buttresses. As it has no protruding apse, both the west and the east end of the church is marked by straight façades that end in crow-stepped gables. On the external wall of the vestry, St. Lawrence is depicted. During a renovation in 1965, an immured runestone was discovered and laid bare in one of the walls.

The interior today is a typical hall church, dominated by white-washed vaulting. Remains of medieval fresco painting has been laid bare during 20th-century restorations. The church also contains some noteworthy inventories, such as a late medieval altarpiece (possibly French), a triumphal crucifix (possibly made in Vadstena circa 1400), a processional crucifix from the 13th century and several medieval carved wooden statuettes of saints.

The church has been the venue for royal coronations in Sweden on two occasions. The first time was when Hedwig of Holstein, wife of Magnus III of Sweden, was crowned Queen of Sweden on 29 June 1281. The second was when Birger Magnusson and Martha of Denmark were crowned King and Queen of Sweden in the church in 1302.

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Details

Founded: c. 1300
Category: Religious sites in Sweden
Historical period: Consolidation (Sweden)

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From 1239, Raynaud, the Bishop of Quimper, decided on the building of a new chancel destined to replace that of the Romanesque era. He therefore started, in the far west, the construction of a great Gothic cathedral which would inspire cathedral reconstructions in the Ile de France and would in turn become a place of experimentation from where would later appear ideas adopted by the whole of lower Brittany. The date of 1239 marks the Bishop’s decision and does not imply an immediate start to construction. Observation of the pillar profiles, their bases, the canopies, the fitting of the ribbed vaults of the ambulatory or the alignment of the bays leads us to believe, however, that the construction was spread out over time.

The four circular pillars mark the start of the building site, but the four following adopt a lozenge-shaped layout which could indicate a change of project manager. The clumsiness of the vaulted archways of the north ambulatory, the start of the ribbed vaults at the height of the south ambulatory or the choice of the vaults descending in spoke-form from the semi-circle which allows the connection of the axis chapel to the choir – despite the manifest problems of alignment – conveys the hesitancy and diverse influences in the first phase of works which spread out until the start of the 14th century.

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The choir presents four right-hand bays with ambulatory and side chapels. It is extended towards the east of 3-sided chevet which opens onto a semi-circle composed of five chapels and an apsidal chapel of two bays and a flat chevet consecrated to Our Lady.

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The west porch finds its natural place between the two towers. The entire aesthetic of these three gates springs from the Flamboyant era: trefoil, curly kale, finials, large gables which cut into the mouldings and balustrades. Pinnacles and recesses embellish the buttresses whilst an entire bestiary appears: monsters, dogs, mysterious figures, gargoyles, and with them a whole imaginary world promoting a religious and political programme. Even though most of the saints statues have disappeared an armorial survives which makes the doors of the cathedral one of the most beautiful heraldic pages imaginable: ducal ermine, the Montfort lion, Duchess Jeanne of France’s coat of arms side by side with the arms of the Cornouaille barons with their helmets and crests. One can imagine the impact of this sculpted decor with the colour and gilding which originally completed it.

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The 19th century would therefore inherit an almost finished but mutilated building and would devote itself to its renovation according to the tastes and theories of the day.