Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Anything But Another Bloody Cathedral (Helsinki, Finland)

If you have travelled around Europe for more than a couple of weeks, you become very accustomed to the expression "ABC" or another bloody cathedral/church. Every major city, town or small village is adorned with a church perched on prime real estate which is hundreds of years old rich in history, art and religious symbolism. They are remarkable architectural achievements (such as in the photo below of St Stephens in Vienna) that stand in testimony to the significance religion has played throughout the ages.

The first couple you see are uplifting experiences, wandering around for hours in silent reverence, soaking in each small chapel, fresco, icon and grave. Photos are joyously snapped of each element of the cathedral.

In the next couple, the pace quickens and only the more remarkable elements of the cathedrals are cause for a considered pause and a photo. After a couple more, though no less spectacular or significant, you start to steer well clear and develop a nauseous uncomfortable fear that you'll be sucked inside and start screaming "let me out, it's another ABC". After a few days, the churches all blur into a fog with only the most remarkable elements even surviving your short term memory.

Helsinki's cathedral is entirely different. This travel wonder doesn't even look like a cathedral. Indeed, at first sight, it looks more like a nuclear fallout shelter than a haven for spiritual enlightenment or private reflection. The entrance is little more than a dark concrete tunnel. What you see when you get inside is certainly a surprise.

Built only forty years ago, the stunning Temppeliaukio Cathedral (in the unusually named Töölö) is gouged out of the suburban bedrock with the walls being simply the unfinished rough rock walls. The cathedral is bathed in natural light which streams through a string of windows that sit between the rock walls and the polished copper ceiling. A large copper pipe organ matches the gleaming ceiling with the rocky exterior making for a blissful acoustic setting.

Its unusual design and stunning architectural use of natural light and rock means that Temppeliaukio Cathedral is remembered well after many other cathedrals have faded from memory. If touring the travel wonders of Finland, this striking cathedral must be on your agenda. It is anything but another bloody cathedral.


Footsteps said...

Funny description of the "numbing" process... Buildings that incorporate natural elements are intriguing.

previously.bitten said...

I'm looking to got to Helsinki, but I'm wondering "what do I do once I get there." This seems to be the problem with some places. What other highlights might one stumble across there?

Mark H said...

@footsteps: Natural light really adds to any building

@prev.bitten: I really liked Helsinki. Other things incl an excellent open-air museum on an island, Suomenlinna Fortress (also on an island), an art-deco swimming pool whose name escapes me(separate days for men and women and note that it is nude),some excellent parks to walk through forests, go to a sauna (very Finnish), eat fish (or reindeer) in the market/park area, the usual collection of city buildings and a pretty decent national museum (with a proud history of fighting both the elements and the countries around them). It is a really comfortable city to travel in and much less touristy than most as it is a bit off the main Europe trail. Drop me an email if you wish to know more.

Hotel Deals said...

Wow, the Cathedral in Helsinki is amazing. I do think old churches and cathedrals are beautiful but it is nice something more modern and unique.

Mark H said...

@hoteldeals: Old cathedrals are beautiful but this one is different which to me makes it more interesting.

eunice said...

LOL! I didn't know those gorgeous cathedrals in Europe are also described as "ABC"! I have also seen many of them while travelling Europe, till I got numbed and started to avoid entering them!! Have you been to China? It's just like the same, the tour guide will bring you to old Chinese temples too!! So that's "ABT" where T stands for temple. :P

Mark H said...

@eunice: I've not been to China (apart from HK) but I like the idea of ABT. Thailand has that feeling as well.

Heather on her travels said...

Personally I love cathedrals but you're right, one can have enough of a good thing, especially when the place is packed with camera toting tourists (not us of course) This place does look pretty special with a spiritual atmosphere

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