Helsinki, Finland

Temppeliaukio "The Rock Church", Helsinki, Finland

The Rock Church, or to give it its correct name, Temppeliaukio, is another church – like the earlier Mikael Agricola Church – that has its origins in an architectural contest.

A plot had been set aside in 1906 for a church in the newly extended part of Helsinki that is today called Etu-Töölö. The independence of Finland put plans on hold until 1932 when a content was announced. Once again, the committee was unhappy with the results – as they had been at Mikael Argicola – and once again the contest was re-run – this time in 1936.

The design chosen was the second runner-up, but then the Winter War (between Finland and the Soviets during World War II) put paid to plans and it took a long time for a new contest to be arranged.

It was 1961 before a new design was finally chosen, and this time it was a radical and unusual plan by brothers Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen. The proposal was for the rock to be hewn away and the church set inside it. The design was met with derision – with nicknames such as “rock mosque” and “devil defence bunker”. In 1968 the foundations of the church were daubed with the word “Biafra” in a protest about the costs of building put in the context of the famine in Biafra – this was the first recorded graffiti in Finland.

Only a year later the church was complete enough to be dedicated and in 1971 the name was official made Temppeliaukio Church. By that same year over 100,000 people were visiting the church annually and any doubts about its suitability were long forgotten.

The church is carved deep into the bedrock of a hill and is entered from street level. The roof is a part-glass and part-copper dome some 24 metres across. The interior is a mixture of copper, glass and concrete and gives an impression of unremitting modernity but at the same time the clever use of natural, diffuse light and rounded edges gives a gentler, more ecclesiastical feel than many modern churches. Because there is nowhere for bells when a service requires them a recording is played.

Today, the Rock Church is a fixture on Helsinki’s tourist route and is, arguably, the most unique attraction the city has to offer.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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