Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Helsinki Cathedral

Helsinki Cathedral anchors Senate Square in Helsinki, Finland. 
It is the cathedral for the Diocese of Helsinki of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (ELCF). It was built from 1830 to 1852 as a tribute to Nicholas I, Tsar of Russia, and was known as St. Nicholas Church until Finland’s independence in 1917. The building is a Greek cross 
with a square central mass and four arms of equal length, each marked by a colonnade and pediment. 
It was inspired by St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg, Russia, the inspiration seen particularly with its central dome and four small domes in a square below it, 
with statues of the twelve apostles at apexes and corners on each pediment. 
The twelve apostles are made of zinc, the biggest unique set of zinc sculptures in the world.  
The contrast between the Lutheran Church and the Russian Orthodox Church, which has had a big connection with this country could not be much more stark. The insides of Russian Orthodox churches are full of icons and patterns in beautiful bold colors. The insides of Lutheran churches are very plain, 
mostly white, 
with very few pictures 
and very little ornamentation. 
They are beautiful in the simplicity and plainness, particularly in the contrast. The outsides have simple colors, again, mostly white, 
with greater ornamentation, 
but nothing comparable to the Russian Orthodox churches.

A statue of Russian Tsar Alexander II is located in the center of Senate Square (the picture was taken by Scott Zimmerman who was with us on our trip). 
This is the same Tsar whose assassination spot is now crowned by the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg. The statue was built in 1894 to commemorate Tsar Alexander’s initiation of reforms that increased Finland’s autonomy from Russia. On the east side of Senate Square is the Palace of the Council of State which contains the offices of the Prime Minister of Finland and the cabinet. The main building for the University of Helsinki (ranked as the 102nd best university in the Times world university rankings) is located on the other (west) side of the square (the building in the center below).
The ELCF is one of the largest Lutheran churches in the world. The head of the church is the Archbishop of Turku located in Turku, Finland, substantially north of Helsinki. To be ordained, a person has to have a Masters degree in theology, which allows the person to act as a parish pastor. Then the church runs its own postgraduate educational system. To be a chaplain or vicar, a person has to have the additional Pastoral degree of the church, as well as the additional Higher Pastoral Degree to be a vicar.

Christianity was established in what is now Finland in about the 11th century. The original Catholic diocese of Turku covered primarily what is now Finland. King Gustav (Vasa) I of Sweden, who wanted to confiscate church properties, began the reformation in the 1520s. Mikael Agricola, who studied at the University of Wittenberg under Martin Luther, did the doctrinal reformation and also translated the New Testament and portions of the Old Testament into Finnish. The reformation of the Church of Sweden (which included what is now Finland) was completed by the end of the 1500s. In the early 1700s, for a time, Finland was occupied by Russia which allowed the Lutheran church to continue under Russian rule. In 1809, the ELCF was named to succeed the Church of Sweden when the Grand Duchy of Finland was established as part of the Russian Empire. It then shared state church status with the Finnish Orthodox Church. In 1908, the law was changed so that members of the church did not have to participate in Holy Communion at least once a year. The ELCF has nine dioceses. One, the Archdiocese of Turku, is headed by an archbishop, and the remaining dioceses are headed by bishops. Eight are geographical and one (Porvoo) covers all of Finland’s Swedish language parishes. 

1 comment:

  1. I loved the classical simplicity of this cathedral. The word that best describes it for me is "purity."