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28 May 2017 / leggypeggy

Enjoying three very different churches in Helsinki

Helsinki Rock Church

The Rock Church is partially underground with light flowing in from high windows

Over the last few weeks, we’ve visited Helsinki three times and managed to visit what are probably their three most important and most different churches.

Rock Church
The first was the unusual Rock Church, also known as the Church of the Rock in English, the Temppeliaukio Kirrko in Finnish and the Tempelplatsen Kyrka in Swedish. The two Scandinavian names (by the way, Swedish is the second national language of Finland) translate as Temple Square Church.

Plans to build a church in the heart of Helsinki dated back to the 1930s when the land (Temple Square) was chosen and an architectural design competition was run. Unfortunately, World War II halted all progress. Another competition, conducted after the war, was won by brothers, Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen, in 1961.

The land was excavated and the semi-subterranean church was built within the surrounding rock. It was consecrated in 1969.

Interior rock walls were not part of the original design. The Suomalainen brothers had considered leaving the rock exposed, but thought the idea might be too radical for the competition jury.

Luckily it went ahead when it was discovered that the rough, virtually unworked rock surfaces created incredible acoustics. In fact, the church has become a popular concert venue, and there were people setting up for a concert/event when we were visiting.

The church is also one of Helsinki’s most popular tourist destinations. About half a million people visit it each year.

Two more comments about this church. I tried to take pictures from the outside, including the church’s copper roof, but the whole structure sits very low and it was snowing on the day, so any picture was going to be problematic. Also, the whole atmosphere reminded me of the amazing cathedral in Brasilia, capital of Brazil.

Helsinki Lutheran Cathedral

A large choir rehearses on the steps of Helsinki’s Lutheran Cathedral

Helsinki Cathedral
We paid two visits to the Helsinki Cathedral, also known as the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Cathedral. It was built between 1830–52 and was a tribute to the Grand Duke of Finland, Tsar Nicholas I of Russia. It was known as St Nicholas’ Church until Finland’s independence in 1917.

Designed by Carl Ludvig Engel, the building has a neoclassical style. It is surrounded by other, smaller buildings designed by him, and is part of the Senate Square.

Each of our visits occurred on a special occasion. The first time we were there when a wedding was just finishing. We got to see the bridal march and snap photos of the wedding party on the church’s side steps. I liked the fact that the bride wore a street-length dress and the group of attendees was a manageable size.

That said, our second visit was extremely large and impressive. There was a special choral event with close to 1000 choir members rehearsing on the church’s front steps. More singers (many in traditional dress) were arriving as we watched—we’d seen many of them checking into our hotel (ahead of us) the day before and that morning.

We heard only one song, and it was a treat to see such a large choir performing. We were staring our self-drive excursion later in the day, so missed the concert that was coming later.

Helsinki's Eastern Orthodox Cathedral

The Eastern Orthodox Cathedral overlooks Helsinki

Uspenski Cathedral
We also made two visits to the Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral, but never managed to get inside. Our first visit was too late in the day. So we planned to visit again after our road trip around Finland.

Sadly, on that second visit a sign on the door said ‘not open today’. We were disappointed, but a fellow we met on the steps felt even worse. He’d been living in Finland for 10 months and it was the fifth time he’d come to the cathedral and not been able to get in.

This Eastern Orthodox Cathedral, dedicated to the Dormition of the Theotokos (the Virgin Mary), certainly has the most impressive exterior in Helsinki, but we’ll never know what the interior looks like. Oh well, maybe if we go back again.

The cathedral, which was completed in 1868, has a wonderful position on a hillside peninsula overlooking the city. So even though we couldn’t get in, we loved looking at the surroundings.

No doubt there are scores of other churches in Helsinki, but these are the only ones we saw.

View from Orthodox Church, Helsinki With a view like this, who cares if the Eastern Orthodox Church is closed!.

For those of you who follow my cooking blog, I now have a Finnish cookbook so stay tuned for a page-32 offering. In the meantime, feel free to check out a make-ahead potato recipe from a cookbook compiled by the folks at Bethany Lutheran Church in Nebraska.


Leave a Comment
  1. Onceuponalife / May 28 2017 5:06 am

    Huh, that is very cool 😎


    Liked by 2 people

  2. Ken Berry / May 28 2017 5:28 am

    My first thought when I saw your first photo of the Rock Church was how much it reminded me of the Cathedral in Brasilia, which I visited many times when I lived there. And the thought came to me before I read your own comment about reminding you of Brasilia too. As for the Uspenski Cathedral, oddly enough, on my one visit to Helsinki, it was open. I’m a great fan of Orthodox churches, but have to say that this one is nothing out of the ordinary, and a rather pale reflection of the Uspenski in Moscow…

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / May 28 2017 5:34 am

      Oh wow, thanks, Ken, for confirming the sense of Brasilia. It was my first thought. Also good to know we didn’t miss much by not getting into the Orthodox Church. We’ll have to aim for Moscow.


  3. forwardtogloryquartet / May 28 2017 5:54 am

    Boy, great to see these places looking good. The Orthodox church is spectacular and heroic, but the ones in Tallinn, Riga, Kaunas & Vilnius are actually more interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / May 28 2017 5:56 am

      Thanks Brian, so far we’ve done Tallinn, Kaunas and Vilnius. Riga still to come. Stay tuned. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. forwardtogloryquartet / May 28 2017 6:14 am

    Super! Riga is world class. The Jugendstil/Art Nouveau & National Romantic buildings are jaw-dropping, as is the Old Town. I’m sure you have everything lined up. I didn’t wanna miss the Stalinist skyscraper, either!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. lexklein / May 28 2017 7:15 am

    I was curious to hear what the third one was! We hit the first two a few years ago but did not even know about the Eastern Orthodox one. Sounds like we got to the best two!

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / May 28 2017 2:05 pm

      The Eastern Orthodox is the most interesting from the outside, but the other two are fantastic indoors.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. beetleypete / May 28 2017 8:14 am

    Finland is another country I have yet to visit. If looks interesting, judging from your great photos, Peggy.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / May 28 2017 2:08 pm

      We really enjoyed Finland but, my goodness, it was cold. Spring was very late!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Brian Lageose / May 28 2017 10:23 am

    Love the exterior of the Uspenski, but the concept of the Rock Church is very compelling. I guess that means I need to see this one AND its companion piece in Brasilia…

    Liked by 1 person

  8. gerard oosterman / May 28 2017 11:05 am

    The Finnish rock church represents everything that is good about Finnish architecture. Keep it simple and unadorned seems to be embedded in the Finnish psyche.

    It is really also an expression of honesty.

    Marimekko fashion and Arabia pottery also well known Finnish products known for beautiful simple and bold, brave designs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / May 28 2017 2:10 pm

      Finnish design is sleek. It was great to so many variations on simple and unadorned. Oh, and we bought some Arabia cups and a clock to bring home.


  9. pvcann / May 28 2017 5:43 pm

    I do like the old Orthodox building, but I am truly blown away by the Rock Church, that is a creative building and a feast just even for the eyes. What were the acoustics Like? I have never heard of it. Heard of the church of bones in the Ukraine and the church of skulls in the Czech Republic, but this is great to see, thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / May 29 2017 12:34 am

      Glad you liked the post. We couldn’t really assess the acoustics because nothing was playing at the time, but many people have raved about how good they are. Thanks for the tips about the churches in Ukraine and Czech. Adding to the must-see list. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  10. milliethom / May 28 2017 6:02 pm

    Oh, for me the Rock Church wins out hands down, even through it isn’t as grand as the others. The exposed rock is simply fabulous. Helsinki Cathedral is very impressive, too. The ‘whiteness’ of it reminds me of churches and cathedrals around the Med – especially several I’ve visited in Malta. It was surprising to see white in Helsinki, but it’s undoubtedly beautiful. Pity you didn’t get inside the Orthodox Cathedral. I can imagine how disappointed you were. Great photos, Peggy!

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / May 29 2017 12:35 am

      We thought the Rock Church was the best in Helsinki. Nice to see a city have the courage to build something different.


  11. Alison and Don / May 28 2017 6:54 pm

    I’m with milliethom! I love the rock church. I bet it’s amazing to be in that space.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / May 29 2017 12:37 am

      The textures and colours in the rock are amazing. It’s a very special place to visit.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. derrickjknight / May 28 2017 7:40 pm

    Quite a range – well covered in prose and pics

    Liked by 1 person

  13. spearfruit / May 28 2017 9:09 pm

    The Rock Church is amazing! A shame you were not able to go inside the others. Great photos Peggy, thank you for sharing. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / May 29 2017 12:39 am

      To be honest, we’ve been inside a lot of churches on this trip, so missing out on a few isn’t necessarily a bad thing! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  14. julioc / May 28 2017 9:50 pm

    The Rock Church is quite impressive.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Ivana / May 28 2017 10:31 pm

    I love the Rock Church! It’s really unusual but wonderful!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Invisibly Me / May 29 2017 12:20 am

    Wow, the architecture of these are truly stunning. It’s hard to imagine how much went into the construction of such buildings before the modern technology and such we have today as well. Fantastic photos! x

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / May 29 2017 12:40 am

      Thanks so much. Yes, it is hard to imagine how they actually built all of these.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. joylovestravel / May 29 2017 3:58 am

    We visited those same three churches in Helsinki – so nice to go back again in your post!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Forestwoodfolkart / May 29 2017 6:20 am

    I am so sorry you missed going inside Uspsenki cathedral in Helsinki. The interior is the most elaborate of all the three churches. I must have been very lucky to see inside. Think Russiann icons and lots of ornate decoration!! I also happened upon a wedding, as you did, but that one was at the Rock church! We didn’t hear the choir sing but they did ask everyone to be quiet when we went inside as the acoustics do make one’s voices carry – it is amazing! It is exactly one year ago, today I was in Helsinki visiting these churches! How is that for a coincidence? Maybe you would lilke to check out the post I wrote about these same three churches and other Helsinki attractions on my blog shortly after I returned home from Finland? Here is the link:

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / May 29 2017 2:33 pm

      Oh wow, thanks so much for the link to your blog post. Great pics and commentary. Based on the fellow we met outside Uspenki, I think you were very lucky to see the inside there. How amazing that your visit was exactly a year ago.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Forestwoodfolkart / May 29 2017 5:53 pm

        Yes it is coincidental! All the livelier to relive the trip through photos and memories. I am glad you liked the post. I did an earlier post on Helsinki as well, the link is within the blog post I linked you to.

        Liked by 1 person

      • leggypeggy / May 30 2017 12:58 am

        Thanks, I’ve seen (and liked) that first post before and now can’t remember why I didn’t notice the second one.


  19. Sharon Bonin-Pratt / May 29 2017 11:46 am

    Three such spectacular and spectacularly different churches, each an architectural marvel on its own – how very lucky you were. I love the native innovation of the Rock Church, the Greek grandeur of the Lutheran Cathedral, and the Russian footprint of the Eastern Orthodox Cathedral.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / May 29 2017 2:34 pm

      Yes, we were especially struck by how different all three churches were from one another.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. jeanleesworld / May 31 2017 1:15 pm

    That Rock Church is simply fascinating. I can’t get over it. Oh, to be the lone voice in there for just one minute…

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Zambian Lady / Jun 2 2017 5:29 am

    Very nice photos and informative post. I remember visiting the Rock Church and the Cathedral a few years ago. I like the Rock Church more as it is not an everyday design.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jun 2 2017 6:11 am

      Yes, the Rock Church is especially nice because it is classy and out-of-the-ordinary.

      Liked by 1 person

  22. Tamara Hoerner / Jun 6 2017 10:33 pm

    That rock church looked very cool. What an interesting concept. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  23. artandkitchen / Jun 8 2017 7:22 am

    I’m impressed from all the churches, but the rock church is really spectacular! Love this new way and interpretation of “church”!

    Liked by 1 person


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