Helsinki, Finland

Mikael Agricola Church, Helsinki, Finland

In the 1920s and 30s the fairly new country of Finland was looking for a way to establish a national identity beyond what it had inherited from Russian and Swedish domination. To this end there were a number of architectural competitions run including one in 1930 for a new church area close to the port. The award committee, though, were unhappy with the results which favoured the harsh functional architecture popular at the time and so they used zoning issues as an excuse to back out of making a decision and instead re-arranged the contest in 1932 with an added requirement that contestants had to follow “traditional church forms”.

The contest was won by Lars Sonck – who ironically had been part of the committee that rejected the first set of designs. Despite the dislike for functional architecture much of the church that was built has a functional feel about it, although tempered with some more formal, church-like additions.

The church was dedicated to Bishop Mikael Agricola, who had created the Finnish literary language, and was opened in 1935. It is dominated by the 103 metre tower and spire which can be seen from many miles distant. During World War II the metal part of the tower was detached and lowered down inside the brick part to avoid it being used as a navigation point by enemy bombers.

The church, architecturally, is a mix of functionalism and art deco, the latter being clear in the stepped base of the metal spire and in particular in the interior decoration, much of which was not designed by Sonck who had moved on to other dreams – particularly his vision of a new quarter in Helsinki using his designs. So others such as Muroma and Tuukkanen were brought in to complete the interiors.

In 2003/4 the church was renovated and now is a rather handsome addition to the Helsinki tourist route. It is known as the home of the Thomas Mass for Doubters (Tuomasmessu) which has been organised here since 1988.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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