visiting Sacral Spaces
copper dome of Rock Church, Helsinki
Another exhibition that we went to see on our Friday jaunt about town was Sacral Spaces at the Emily Carr Institute. The main attraction for me was, of course, that this featured Finnish architecture (did I ever mention that I almost studied architecture?).
The exhibit consists of very large colour photographs of twelve churches, copies of architectural sketches and 3D mockups and a video. They all have in common great simplicity, light and often views of trees to connect to nature. All are wonderfully designed spiritual feeling spaces, but I’ll just mention two that to me are most unusual. St. Henry’s Ecumenical Chapel in Turku by Matti Saaksenaho (1995) is like a ship’s hull or an ark, upside down, sitting on a hill clad in patinated copper, reminding us also of the Christian symbol of a fish. I wish I could have found a picture on the net for you, or stolen a photograph of it.
Most memorable is the famous Temppeliaukio (or Rock Church) in Helsinki, because we’ve been there a couple of times as tourists. I wish we’d had the time to attend a service or concert there, the acoustics are supposed to be fantastic. Designed by Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen (1960s), it was excavated in the bedrock in the heart of the city, with only a dome rather like a flying saucer showing above the rock when walking in the rocks above. The centre of the dome inside is burnished copper with ribs going outward to support glass circling the outside of the dome (in photo above). The walls are the natural rough rock with flowing water. “It recalls ancient burrows and holy mounds… The archaism arouses a strong primal feeling.” (from exhibition notes). Do have a look at this slide show of Rock Church.
While on the subject of churches in Finland, I want to tell you about a more modest one that we discovered and fell in love with in 2000, on a visit to Paateri, the studio-home of well-known Finnish sculptor Eva Ryynänen. It’s a lovely wooded acreage with a small lake, and here she also designed the log chapel and all the carvings, doing much of it herself with assistants including her husband Paavo. We were very lucky to be there when there was a wonderful performance by a beautiful young woman playing the Kantele. Below is an interior view on the right which really doesn’t show enough details of the fine carving on almost every surface. On the left is a closeup of the altar, made using the roots of a tree, with a window behind and above to enhance the connection to nature and the spiritual, often utilized in Finnish churches and chapels.