Suitcase and World: Going to Church.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Going to Church.

Inside Temppeliaukio Church.

The highlight of our day today was going to church. We started with breakfast back at Killan's, the same place we munched at yesterday morning.  I guess we could have gone to try another place but Killans's so convenient and reasonably priced.  Of course, we are on vacation so no desire to really rush....we took our time at breakfast.  Not to mention that it was still really early in the morning and whatever we wanted to go see was most likely not open yet.

While we ate, we ran through the day's itinerary.  Today is the day we return to Tallinn and the ferry leaves at 4pm.  This means we also have to check out of the hotel well.  Luckily, the hotel provides storage lockers where we can stash our bags before we have to leave for the ferry dock.

This leaves us a few hours in the morning to do a bit of sightseeing, we need to catch lunch after which we have a bit of time left for more sightseeing before we have to depart.

There were two places I wanted to visit before leaving Helsinki.  One was Kiasma, a modern art museum that my friend and colleague, Johnny, recommended we go. The other was Temppeliaukio Church, a very modern rock church that captivated me when I saw images of it when planning this trip. Both places were located in the same direction so it was perfect.

Kiasma was located just a few blocks down Mannerheimintie from Killan's and it was our first stop.  As I had feared, we were too early - it was not yet opened.  From the outside, it didn't seem like an impressive place but I think the stark and spartan look is what many a modern art museum strives for.  Google images of the interior shows an equally stark and über modern space.  I'm not much of a modern art aficionado but I know I would have enjoyed walking through the museum - perhaps on my next trip to Helsinki :-)

Where to next?

A statue on the ground of Kiasma, which is completely not modern art, but which explained
the origin of where the name Mannerheimintie came from.  The statue is of Baron Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim,
a Finnish military leader and statesman who was the sixth president of Finland (1944–1946).

We had at least an hour to wait before Kiasma was to open so we decided to walk on to our next destination, Temppeliaukio Church.  Along the way, we happened upon a place called Luomos.  It was the inflatable giraffes, sitting on the balcony, that caught our attention.  How cute!  Turns out Luomos is the Finnish Museum of Natural History and it too was not yet open.  Two tourist attractions, two strikes out.  Who says the early bird gets the worm?  All I could do was hope that the rest of our morning would unfold in our favor.

Leaving the main streets of Helsinki behind, we walked through a small neighborhood.  Somewhere here is where we would find Temppeliaukio Church.  I looked for street signs pointing the way but nothing.  I wasn't sure how we were going to find the place.  You see, it's a rock church that was excavated out of a boulder.  Strolling the streets of this lovely neighborhood, I kept wondering where in the world would you find boulder here, more specially one large enough that you could carve an entire church in to it.

Well, I should have known, we weren't going to be the only tourists interested in coming here.  There was already a small group of people gathered outside the front entrance.  It looked to be Finnish school children on a field trip.

From the exterior, you would never know this is a church.

We had about a half hour to wait for the doors to open and this time, we opted to wait.  There were a few souvenir shops that were welcoming tourists so with time to kill, I checked them out.  There was also a small neighborhood park with benches.  We took the opportunity for a short rest.  All the while, we were trying to figure out how to get to the top of the church i.e., climb the boulder but from our vantage point, there was no obvious path up.

In no time, the small group had grown to a small crowd.  Where had all these people come from?  All day yesterday, we had commented on the fact that we had barely encountered any tourists and now, we were facing a swarm.  We still had a few minutes to wait.

Shortly after 10am, the doors opened and we headed inside.  I knew we were in for a wonderful view and I was not disappointed.  What an incredible interior!

It was a massive open space with a large copper dome overhead and bathed by natural sunlight falling in from the skylights that connect the dome to the bare rock walls.  Standing in the middle, front of the room was a modest altar and to its left, the church organ.  Pops of purple on the church pews and seats were the only color.  It is a spectacular work of modern architecture and so wonderfully reflective of Finnish design!

As many people as there were in the space, it never felt crowded though it was noisy.  Apparently, the church does play host to many a concert because of its high quality acoustics.  Today, the sounds of dozens of tourists talking sounded like a cacophony.

Temppeliaukio Church was designed by architect brothers Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen. Construction began in 1968 and was finished a year later in 1969.


From the second level, we could appreciate the layout of the ground floor.  This church is so bright and airy, not what I would have expected from something that is completely underground.  Truly a rock church for the modern age.

Once back outside, we saw a few people climbing the hillside near the entrance.  Our guess was they were heading up to the top of the boulder to see the church from above.  There was no clearly delineated path but the ground had been trod bare - obvious that many a person had been up this way.  We decided to follow.

Temppeliaukio Church was excavated from inside of a massive block of natural granite.  From the top of the boulder, the only part of the building that is visible is the green copper dome poking out of the rock. It looks like a flying saucer has lodged itself in the ground. To ensure safety, a rock wall surrounds the dome.

From one neighborhood to the next, we found ourselves back on the main streets.....and before we knew it,

....we were in the midst of a complex of very modern looking apartments, facing a small shopping mall.

Although we weren't in the mood to do any shopping, we decided to walk through the mall.....just curious to see what was inside.  Of course, I happened to stumble on another Marimekko store :-)  Seeing the bright colors and modern design of the home goods makes me wish I had a modern home.  Nope, none of these artful items would fit into my home's decor - wrong colors, wrong style :-(

Exiting the shopping mall, we happened upon this structure.  Uh.....hmmm....what could it be?  We were curious so we approached the door of the building it was attached to.  You can only imagine our surprise when we found out it is a chapel!  Yes, a chapel.  More specifically, Kamppi Chapel.  This most unusual looking building houses a space that is  intended to be a place where people can have a moment of silence and meet each other - it offers a bit of quiet escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. 

The interior of the chapel is as unusual as the exterior.  Although regularly scheduled prayer moments are held at Kamppi, actual church services or other holy events, such as baptismal or wedding ceremonies, are not.  You can sit on one of the pews or perhaps plop on one of the giant felt river rock pillows on the floor.  There were none of the *typical* church decorations here - no statues of Christ or icons of Mary....just a simple floral decoration that vaguely looked like it was in the shape of a cross, standing next to the altar.  As you would expect, it was quiet inside.  I think we even spoke in a whisper though I don't know who we were disturbing as it was just the two of us.

Stumbling on Kamppi Chapel was a most unexpected and wonderful surprise.  After a few minutes in the chapel, we headed back to the hotel to check out; we were just a few short blocks away.

Temppeliaukio Church was as spectacular on the inside as I had expected it to be, not getting to go inside Kiasma was a bit disappointing and stumbling upon Kamppi Chapel was the nicest of surprises.  All in all, a nice morning in Helsinki!