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...
– A church visit often entailed tens of kilometres of walking or horse driving, explains Frida Forssell, previous manager at Lövånger church. 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.
– 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.
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”.
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.