Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Helsinki - The Cathedral at the Senate Square

Date of visit: 20th October 2015

The Senate Square is one of the main tourist attractions of Helsinki, so remember to visit should you have arrived in the city. There are plenty of activities happening around the place, from concerts to snow buildings to controversial snow board that has been set up on the Senate Square. Senate Square and Helsinki Cathedral becoming one of Helsinki's most popular attractions among the tourist as well as to the locals. More than 350,000 people visit Helsinki Church each year on 2 reasons, attended to religious events, but mostly as tourists, like me. The church is in regular use for services of worship and weddings.

The Square was an outstanding design work by Carl Ludvig Engel's which its architecture display a unique symbol of political, religious, scientific and commercial powers in the centre of Helsinki city. Senate Square and its surroundings make up the oldest part of central Helsinki. Landmarks and famous buildings surrounding the square are the Helsinki Cathedral, the Government Palace, main building of the University of Helsinki, and Sederholm House, being the oldest building of central Helsinki dating from 1757.

The square overlooking University of Helsinki

The Palace of the Council of State was completed on the eastern side of the Senate Square in 1822 and now houses the offices of the Prime minister of Finland and the cabinet. The main University building, on the opposite side of the Senate Square, was constructed in 1832. The Helsinki Cathedral on the northern edge of the Senate Square was Carl Ludvig Engel's longest architectural project. He was working on it from 1818 until his death in 1840. The Helsinki Cathedral, then called the Church of St. Nicholas dominates the Senate Square, and was finalized 12 years after the architect’s death, i.e. in 1852. What makes the cathedral unique is due to its steep steps.

Sederholm House

A statue of Emperor Alexander II is located in the center of the square. The statue, erected in 1894, was built to commemorate the emperor re-establishment of the “Diet of Finland” in 1863 as well as his initiation of several reforms that increased Finland's autonomy from Russia. The statue comprises Alexander on a pedestal surrounded by figures representing law, culture, and peasants by a sculptor, Walter Runeberg.

During the Russification of Finland from 1899 onwards, the statue became a symbol of quiet resistance, with people protesting against the decrees of Nicholas II by leaving flowers at the foot of the statue of his grandfather, then known in Finland as "the good czar". After Finland's independence in 1917, demands were made to remove the statue. Later, it was suggested to replace it with the equestrian statue of Mannerheim currently located on Mannerheimintie in front of the Kiasma museum. Nothing came of either of these suggestions, and today the statue is one of the major tourist landmarks of the city and a reminder of Finland's close relationship with Imperial Russia.

Helsinki Cathedral is the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran cathedral of the Diocese of Helsinki. It was built as a tribute to the Grand Duke of Finland, Tsar Nicholas I of Russia, known as St Nicholas' Church until the independence of Finland in 1917. The cathedral stood on a distinctive landmark in the Helsinki cityscape, with its tall, green dome surrounded by four smaller domes, reflecting its neoclassical design. The church's plan is a Greek cross (a square centre and four equilateral arms), symmetrical in each of the four cardinal directions, with each arm's facade featuring a colonnade and pediment. The architect intent to place a further row of columns on the western end to mark the main entrance opposite the eastern altar, but it was never built.

The cathedral was built on the site of the smaller Ulrika Eleonora Church, which was dedicated to its patroness, Ulrika Eleonora, Queen of Sweden. A facsimile of this church, made entirely from snow, was constructed on Senate Square in the early 2000s. Helsinki Old Church was built between 1824 and 1826 in nearby Kamppi to serve the parish while the Ulrika Eleonora Church was being demolished and until the consecration of the new cathedral.

The building was later altered by  Carl Ludvig Engel's successor, Ernst Lohrmann. He placed 4 small domes emphasise the architectural connection to the cathedral's model of Saint Isaac's Cathedral in St. Petersburg. Lohrmann also erected 2 free-standing bell towers, as well as larger-than-life sized zinc statues of the Twelve Apostles at the apexes and corners of the roofline. The altarpiece was painted by Carl Timoleon von Neff and donated to the church by emperor Nicholas I. The cathedral crypt was renovated in the 1980s by architects Vilhelm Helander and Juha Leiviska for use in exhibitions and church functions; Helander was also responsible for conservation repairs on the cathedral in the late 1990s.

The Cathedral is quite lovely and beautifully decorated inside in an unusually elaborate style for those of the Lutheran faith. Catholic churches are often much more grand with stained glass and ornate fixtures. The predominance of the Lutheran faith is the stronghold of Finland historically. I spent quite sometime inside the white cathedral whilst Anne sat peacefully at the square. Very wise of her not willing to climb up the steep stairs. It's quite scary to see from the top level of the cathedral, honestly. But the feeling inside Helsinki cathedral brought some kind of peace, similar feeling that I had when having a silent prayer with my former colleague when we were inside Lotus Temple in Delhi. Admittedly, this church has eliminate quite a large number of mythology statue, especially to the sun worshipers who negotiated good terms when they first started building the Roman churches in Vatican City, the founder of Christianity.  

My apology for a long entry and for too many photos that I've shared this time. I cant' wait to start writing my experience in the 2 Russian cities, St Petersburg and Moscow. Good day everyone, may you have loves, compassion and forgiveness in your heart to all human kind and animals always.

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