Mystery Worshipper: Chris Churchcrawler
Location: Visingsö Island, Sweden
Date of visit: Sunday, 10 September 2017, 3:00pm
One of only two churches on Visingsö Island in Lake Vättern, Sweden's largest lake. This magnificent church was erected in 1636 by Count Magnus Brahe on the foundation of an older church dating from the 12th century. The Count, of the extremely wealthy Brahe family, was Lord High Constable and Lord High Steward of Sweden and a close confidant of King Gustavus Adolphus. It is a magnificent example of Swedish Renaissance architecture, of clay slate, sandstone and limestone, with a copper roof. The interior is richly embellished and features an unexpected double arcade with vaulted ceilings painted blue; I found it curiously spacious inside and dark. The church ceiling is full of texts from the Bible. There is also a tusk from a narwhal, the only living relative of the beluga whale, which the villagers thought had come from a unicorn (the male narwhal is distinguished by a single long protruding tusk). There are also brass plaques of evangelists and prophets, as well as some large statues of the apostles, all looking quite serious and realistic.
The Brahekyrkan serves as a museum, art gallery and curios cabinet as well as a place of worship for the island's residents. It is popular with tourists from all over, who come just as much for the experience of stepping back into Sweden's most glorious past as for worship, meditation and rest.
Legend has it that Visingsö Island was created by a giant named Vist, who threw a lump of soil into Lake Vättern for his comparatively short-legged wife to use as a stepping stone. Today the island is reached by ferry. Visingsö is famous for its mature oak forests, planted by the Swedish navy in the 19th century to provide timber for future ship construction (of course, ships are no longer made of timber). The ruins of Brahe Castle, as well as a castle once occupied by Swedish royalty, can be seen. Houses and shops are all of the traditional Swedish appearance.
Not sure of the priest's name. He was assisted by the church warden and organist.
What was the name of the service?Hogmassa (Morning Service)
How full was the building?
Only 20 people in a building that could hold 100 or so.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was there with my family. The church warden introduced himself to me and handed me a book that he had written about the church.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes it was a very smart style pew. There was an oil painting called The King's Worship on a bracket above the pew.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was quite reverent, with background music from the organ. There was some chatting among the parishioners as the organ started.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
The Valkomnande the welcome from the officiant.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Church of Sweden Hymn Book and a mass book with music. Very handy.
What musical instruments were played?
The organ and played very well. The organist played two very beautiful Legends for Organ by the late 19th century Swedish organist and composer Emil Sjögren Romantic style pieces. Simple but extremely effective, they have haunted me since. They nearly brought a tear to my eye.
Did anything distract you?
In a church filled with treasures, what didn't distract me?! I think the interior of the church was so different from any other I have been in. It was decorated in an exuberant Lutheran style with blue roof vaults and paintings on the wall and a big effigy of the Count. I was surprised to find two arcades inside, as these are not marked outside. Also a life size statue of an angel hung from a chain in the centre of the nave roof by the chancel.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Very formal high church Lutheran style. The Romantic organ music was magical! The music for the settings were in the mass pamphlet; the hymns were traditional Swedish ones but unfortunately I didn't know them.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – It was all in Swedish, with an exception noted below, so I could only get the gist of it. The priest sounded very enthusiastic and passionate regarding whatever he was talking about.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
At one point he said in English, "Stay in love with God." He also mentioned John Wesley, which alone deserves the rating of 8.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The whole timelessness of the service, and of course the music. Also the similarity to Anglican style worship.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
At communion I failed to notice that everyone was intincting the bread into the chalice. I'm afraid I consumed mine before the chalice was even passed to me! The priest handed me the chalice anyway, but by then I was almost too embarrassed to take a sip!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We listened to the music. There was some chatting with the priest and organist.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – If I could speak fluent Swedish, this would be my first choice. Beautiful and mysterious looking church building with a lovely liturgy and music. However, like the Anglican church, it was typically sparsely attended, and one wonders whether worship will still be there in 100 years.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes it did. The mysterious nature of the building and music helped retain the majesty of God.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The music by Sjögren.