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13.30  Ecclesiastical Heritage Assemblages in Post-Secular and Post-Christian Sweden

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11:00, Samedi 4 Juin 2016 (30 minutes)

This paper will examine the management of ecclesiastical heritage in post-secular and post-Christian Sweden. A large part of the cultural heritage is managed by the former state church—the Church of Sweden. It is the largest single Lutheran Church in the world with more than six million members and was disestablished in 2000. The church’s and the state’s symbiotic history – the bonds grew particularly strong after the Reformation—has resulted in a significant cultural heritage which reflects important aspects of the history of the Swedish society. Therefore, the state distributes an ecclesiastical heritage grant to the Church of Sweden as a contribution to the maintenance and the mediation of the heritage. The tangible ecclesiastical heritage consists mainly of church buildings (nearly 3000 churches are classified as official cultural heritage), their interior decorations, furniture, textiles, and liturgical objects. Further, many cemeteries and church grounds are also protected. 

Fifteen years have now passed since the Church of Sweden became an independent faith community and obtained responsibility for a major part of the national cultural heritage in Sweden. In this paper I will examine how the church handles this task. I am particularly interested in the main church buildings—the cathedrals—and the ongoing transformation of these spiritual spaces and environments through contemporary artistic and cultural expressions and new forms of use of the heritage. 

The purpose of this paper is to analyze one of the most important cathedrals in Sweden by using a socio-spatial and socio-material perspectives. The building dates back to the late thirteenth century and is of great national interest. After the Reformation the Uppsala Cathedral became a place of coronation and was used as a burial site for monarchs and the nobility. It is a place that bears traces of the birth of the Swedish nation-state and encapsulates the long and symbiotic relationship between the state and the Church. Therefore, the politics of symbolic space is especially apparent in this cathedral. 

The analysis is based on ethnographic field observations and interviews with visitors and representatives of the Church of Sweden. A constant stream of tourists is passing through the building at the same time as it is used for Christian worship. A broad range of artistic expressions meets the visitor inside the cathedral. Hence, a visit in the church is multi-semiotic and multi-modal. The church room functions as a three-dimensional scene in which visitors can move and encounter architecture, art, symbols, music, and texts from different positions. This is a multi-layered spatial structure, materializing a memory practice that engages the senses, the emotions and the imagination. This type of space can also be described as a palimpsest and a memoryscape. 

Since the church room is permeated by biblical narratives and root metaphors visualized through symbols and different types of images, the “palimpsestic” effect is multi-faceted. These images have been produced during different historical periods—some inventory objects are medieval and others were produced during the twenty-first century. They represent different cultural contexts and a broad variety of ideals and world views. These images also incorporate hidden “palimpsestous” layers, multiple histories, and subversive memories. 

The theoretical approach is inspired by Henri Lefebvre, Michel de Certeau, Michel Foucault, and Bruno Latour and has not yet been tried in a Scandinavian or Lutheran context. By combining socio-spatial and socio-material perspectives, I will be able to problematize traditional views of ecclesiastical heritage and identify assemblages that have not been visualized earlier. The overall aim is to provide a better understanding of the relationship between humans and things/objects when it comes to the field of living religious heritage.

Carola Nordbäck


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