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A church filled with art

Linköping’s 800-year-old cathedral stands on a modest square with low trees. Thanks to its 107-metre-high spire, the church is visible anywhere in the city. What makes this church really special is that in addition to its dedication to the divine, it also houses some wonderful art. One of the artworks on display is a triptych by 16th-century Dutch painter Maarten van Heemskerck.

The Linköping cathedral is the most impressive medieval church in Sweden. Where the church now stands, a wooden church was first built in the 11th century. This was later replaced by a stone structure. Construction of the present church began in 1230 and was completed in 1520. The carillon and the western extension were added in 1885. The roof has been restored many times, most recently in 1967. It is made of copper but corrosion has given it a green hue.

The Gothic entrance to the cathedral
The Gothic entrance to the cathedral


A tree of life inside the church

Upon entering the high-vaulted and somewhat plain church, take a look at the artwork on the left. The slim ‘Tree of Life’ is made from silver, gold and glass, and was designed by Carl-Gustav Jansson, Jan Ostwald and Torbjorn Vogt. The artwork is especially lovely at night when the flickering candlelight is reflected in the tree’s 150 leaves and different types of fruit – a reference to different inner values.
In 2010, stained glass artist Brian Clarke embellished the church even further by adding some brightly coloured windows near the altar. When the light hits the window, the stained glass panels cast every colour of the rainbow onto the church walls. The artist is convinced that his stained glass brings out the humane side of church visitors. Clarke is not some unknown artist; his stained glass works are on display around the world and his personal friends include Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney.
The tree of life in the Linköping cathedral
Stained glass by artist Brian Clarke

Dutch art in the church

The church displays a triptych by Dutch painter Maarten van Heemskerck (1498-1574). Van Heemskerck painted mainly portraits and religious images. For a while he worked in the Haarlem studio of famous painter Jan van Scorel. After completing his apprenticeship with Van Scorel, Van Heemskerck travelled to Italy where he lived from 1532 to 1536. Although this period greatly influenced his style, he never forgot his Dutch roots. For 40 years, the triptych from Alkmaar hung in a Dutch church, until Swedish King Johan III bought it for the cathedral. The artwork is 5.70 metres tall and 8 metres wide when the panels are open.

Triptych by 16th-century painter Maarten van Heemskerck