Saturday, June 14, 2008

An Afternoon on Riddarholmen, Stockholm

I wandered around Riddarholmen this afternoon. Which didn’t really take long. It’s a tiny little island. But quite nice. And it can’t be missed due to the church that stands in the middle with its unique black tower slicing through the cityscape of Stockholm. The pictures are from a little while ago when ACC was here. Because the weather was less than stellar today.

After having wandered around the little island for a little bit I went inside the church. Riddarholmskyrkan. Which isn’t technically a church anymore. More of a museum. I managed to come in just as a tour was starting so I tagged along. Turns out it hasn’t been a church since 1807 when the population of the island shrunk so much they couldn’t fill the pews and ever since then they have been charging people to come in to look (30SEK for an adult, 10SEK for a student or kids). And in case you were wondering, according to the lovely guide, there is only one person actually living on the island today. He’s over 90. Well done sir. Well done.

So the church is a museum not because it’s an amazing piece of architecture, although it is pretty impressive and dates to around the late 13th century, but because a ridiculous number of Swedish royalty is buried there. Starting with Magnus Ladulås, the King who commissioned the building and was buried there in 1290. Between 1634 and 1950 only one Swedish royal is missing from the tombs. Queen Kristina.

A quick side note on Queen Kristina. Or Christina. She converted to Catholicism. And abdicated from the throne. She was the daughter of Gustav II Adolf, the Lion of the North, the king who led the Protestant Swedes against the Catholics and died at Lützen. So her conversion to Catholicism wasn’t exactly smiled upon. She was plagued by rumors about lesbianism or even being a man. Her body was even exhumed in 1965 to check to see if she might have been packing a little extra than the average woman. She is also given credit for the death of Rene Descartes. She was a big fan of the arts and philosophy and all those things that Sweden was apparently lacking in the 1600s. So she brought Descartes to Stockholm. Where he froze. Caught pneumonia and died. Kristina was an interesting character all in all. She managed to get herself buried in Rome at St. Peter’s with all of the popes so she must have done something right.

Anyway, the church was impressive. A spire that towers over the island. Which actually replaced the original after a fire ravaged the church. Stockholm suffered from some serious fire problems back in the day. This one started when a bolt of lightning struck the existing tower and led to a fire that took over two days to put out. Once inside the church though I was met by large burial tombs, sarcophagi, plus the coat of arms of hundreds of member of the Order of the Seraphim, which is Sweden’s highest order. Since 1974 it can only be conferred on Royalty or heads of state. And it’s only up for trade. So that means the G-Dub won’t be receiving it from Sweden because the US has no order or title to give in return. Which is a shame because I’m pretty sure Sweden would be pumped to hand that over to him otherwise. A quick scan of the walls will show some other interesting names though. But your name isn’t placed in the church until you die. Until then your coat of arms is in the castle.

Which is fitting considering the living Royalty hangs out in the castle and the dead in Riddarholmskyrkan. Even the semi royal can be found in the church. An illegitimate son managed to get himself buried there. And his coat of arms? Glorious. A combination of the Royal bundle (there is a word for this but I’m drawing a blank) of wheat, a cod (a nod to the last name of the Kings mistress) and a red line through it all to demonstrate the illegitimacy. Lest anyone forget, he has been labeled illegitimate for all eternity. Good times in medieval Sweden. Wouldn’t want anyone to forget where they came from now would we. The thing about this is that it doesn’t seem to have been a very well kept secret. Which I suppose wasn’t that strange back in the day for royalty. But the kid ended up getting a royal education and managed to make something out of himself considering he was the bastard child of the King of Sweden. He did get buried in Riddarholmskyrkan.

I would definitely suggest taking a quick trip out there. And the next few weekends you can even catch a concert in the church at 13.00. I believe its Gregorian chants up next week. Personally, I can’t think of a much better way to spend my midsummer than listening to Gregorian chants in a 13th century church.

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  1. I am reading a biography of Christina right now by Veronica Buckley. Very interesting reading. Here's a link:

  2. she was an interesting one. hows the book coming along?