Medieval Church Down in Blaze of Glory


Stone architecture took off in Sweden from about AD 1100 onward, and we have quite a number of Romanesque-style churches preserved to various degrees. Many have been dated with dendrochronology.

I’m no friend of the Church, but I do like churches. And so I’m saddened to learn that Östergötland, the Swedish province subject to my on-going research, just lost one. Älvestad church caught fire Thursday afternoon and the fire left very little combustible material unburnt. Rural churches are a huge deal to their parishioners, and brave locals got hurt while trying to salvage stuff from the fire. They did get the 15th century reredos out. It’s some consolation that arson is not suspected.

Fires like these have occurred countless times through the centuries in Swedish churches, and the structures have generally been re-built shortly afterwards. Now, however, as the nation is largely de-Christianised and rural populations dwindle, there’s very little need for a church in Älvestad parish (pop. 331 in 1999). We’ll see if they can get the money together. Anyway, a recently ruined Medieval church is a very rare sight, so I’m making a point of visiting during my upcoming fieldwork week.


Via DN & SvD. Photographs by Micke Fransson/Scanpix. Note that the top pic is from the S, the bottom one from the E, facing the end of the 1756 chancel.

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5 thoughts on “Medieval Church Down in Blaze of Glory

  1. It looks like it WAS a PROTESTANT CHURCH????


    Our chief weapon is surprise…surprise and fear…fear and surprise…. Our two weapons are fear and surprise…and ruthless efficiency…. Our *three* weapons are fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency…and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope…. Our *four*…no… *Amongst* our weapons…. Amongst our weaponry…are such elements as fear, surprise…. I’ll come in again.


  2. It was built by Catholics back in the day, but then came the early-16th century Reformation, so, yes, it was home to a nominally Protestant congregation at the time of the fire.


  3. Very interesting – how closely its architecture resembles that of Old Swedes Church in Wilmington, Delaware. Once upon a time, Sweden actually had a colony there in Delaware between the Christiana and Delaware Rivers. My husband is a descendant of the first barber-surgeon sent by the Swedish government to minister to the medical needs of the colony. Some of his kin are buried in Old Swedes’ churchyard.


  4. My father’s a priest, and his medieval church caught fire in the early 80s. That was due to one of the churchwardens using a blowtorch in the roof space one afternoon. It set fire to some dust, which smouldered for a few hours before getting going in the early evening when the church was empty.

    I was at school four miles away when it happened, and I remember waiting to get my bus home when lots of fire engines went screaming past. It wasn’t until the bus dropped me off two stops early (“Can’t go any further, they’ve blocked off the village. The church is on fire”) that I realised what had happened – no mobile phones back then.

    I walked past the police cordon – “I’m the vicar’s son!” – to find utter chaos. My father had saved the holiest parts of the church by running around in the fire with buckets of water and dousing cinders as they hit the altar, by which time the fire brigade had called in engines from all over the city and had got things under control.

    It wasn’t until the TV station turned up with lights that the brigade could really see what they were doing, though – I particularly remember that the superintendant of the fire brigade took charge of the TV crew, and wondering why the media had better equipment than the firefighters. That’s a question that’s never really gone away…

    The church got rebuilt, over time. It could even be seen as a good thing, as it pulled the community together, and that Christmas we had the best attendance for decades. A lot of the church was closed off though, so we had to relay the services to the local hall through TV cameras borrowed from the local university.



  5. It’s not the first time a congregation has had building problems. One of the churches that my dad served as pastor had a problem with fires and more. The first congregation went bankrupt and lost their building that way. The second congregation (same people with different name) had the building burn down on the dedication day. And then about fifty years later had another building burn. The next building was stone not wood. There was a photograph of flames shooting out the second/third buildings stained glass window, but the window survived to be used in the third/fourth building.


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