The Living Church Towns of Skellefteå

There were once more than 70 church towns in Sweden. Today, 16 of them are preserved, including the Gammelstad church town in Luleå, listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996. In Skellefteå there are four, two of which are particularly well preserved...

TREASURE TROVES OF CULTURAL HISTORY

In many ways, church towns are synonymous with the olden days, when people had to travel long distances because of mandatory church service attendance. The Swedish commoners were not allowed to miss the Christian creed as preached from pulpits across the sparsely populated parts of Swedish Lapland.

– A church visit often entailed tens of kilometres of walking or horse driving, explains Frida, manager at Lövånger Kyrkstad AB, the company operating the Lövånger church town since 2014. Travelling was arduous and time consuming, it wasn’t easy to get here and back in one day. Because of this, church towns began popping up here and there in the north.

COMMUNION AND COMMOTION

– If you lived within 10 kilometres of the church, at least one member of your household had to attend every Sunday service, Frida continues. If you lived twenty kilometres away, you had to attend every other Sunday, 30 kilometres, once every three Sundays and so on. This was due to regulations brought about as part of the Protestant Reformation, established for Västerbotten County in 1681. However, the major holidays, Christmas, Easter, Pentecost and Michaelmas were exempted from this rule.

– Then, no excuse was good enough, Frida says with a smile. During these holidays, the entire parish gathered in the church towns and outside of the church services, people took the opportunity to visit markets and do business. Many men sneaked off to speakeasy bars and youngsters went courting amongst the cottages.
– It is easy to imagine a place bustling with communion and commotion.

A NEAT LITTLE TOWN

There was once more than 70 church towns in Sweden. Today, 16 of them are preserved, including the Gammelstad church town in Luleå, listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996. In Skellefteå there are four, two of which are particularly well preserved and listed as Cultural Environments of National Interest.

One is Bonnstan, located in central Skellefteå. Right next to the country church. The magnificent one, actually, the largest of its kind in Sweden, designed in the 18th century by architect Johan Rijf. Bonnstan is mentioned as early as 1732 in Carl Linnaeus work Iter Lapponicum (published in English as Lachesis Lapponica or A Tour In Lapland):

“…the very neat little town of Skellefteå, consisting of two principal streets and several cross ones, with a church. The houses are about three hundred and fifty or four hundred, and their white chimneys give them a cheerful aspect. I was informed that every peasant in the parish had a house of his own in the town, for the use of his family during festivals”.

Bonnstan in Skellefteå.

THE LÖVÅNGER CHURCH TOWN

The Lövånger church town has a lot in common with Bonnstan in Skellefteå. They are not too different in either form or function. Even the number of houses is almost the same, 117 in Lövånger and 116 in Bonnstan.

– Here in Lövånger, however, the stables have been preserved, Frida tells us. All houses in the Lövånger church town are painted Falu red. Window shutters and doors are painted in yellow ochre whilst windowsills and
mullions shine brightly white. It is safe to say that whoever visits Lövånger will get a hefty dose of Swedish rural romanticism.

LIVE WELL AND STAY COMFORTABLY

Everything changes over time and so does the function of a church town. Today, distances have in many ways diminished, we no longer travel by horse and carriage. In Bonnstan, the chambers are popular amongst visitors, not least during the summer, but people rarely stay overnight. In Lövånger on the other hand, people are often accommodated in the church cottages.
– We have a total of 100 beds, says Frida. All cottages have bathrooms with showers and room for two to five beds. There is good food at the restaurant in Storstugan and one can enjoy morning coffee on one’s own front porch.

For obvious reasons, the Lövånger Church is found right next to the church town.
– That makes this a perfect place for weddings. There’s even a special cottage for that very purpose.
– The Bride’s Cottage, Frida says with a smile. It can be found on Uttersjögatan 147.
– Yes, the cottages in Lövånger are numbered, which helps.
It is not difficult to imagine that a wedding in the church town can be magical, nor is it difficult to imagine that finding one’s way back to the right cottage can be a bit difficult. All of the more than 100 cottages really do look very similar.

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