Stockholm, Sweden | C.1264

Photo Credit: Marcus Wallinder

Stepping into an ancient European church one can expect to find artful sculptures and high altars, but what about a miniature ship hanging from its ceiling? Home to over 750 years of history, this cathedral holds the title of having the “oldest” in many categories in Sweden, including the country’s oldest maritime offering. 

It is said that the foundations of the first church on this site were commissioned by Birger Jarl, the founder of Stockholm itself. Since that humble beginning, the Storkyrkan (the Great Church) has served the common people and royal families of Sweden, and until the 16th Century was the only parish church in the city. While the cathedral’s current look is from an 18th Century facelift, the bones of the spiritual center have witnessed countless coronations, royal marriages, and burials of significant Swedes, most recently with the marriage of Crown Princess Victoria and Daniel Westling in 2018. Due to its age and importance in the city’s daily life, old artifacts and significant ornaments are bound to materialize, including a ship that appears to levitate over the humble pews below. 

Hanging from the ceiling, a painted galleon glides through the invisible waters of the Storkyrkan’s transept—one of the oldest votive ships in the world. Dating back to around 1600, this votive ship stems from a tradition in European sea-faring cultures of presenting a church with a model of a ship to provide safe passage on a perilous journey or to save sailors from a disastrous shipwreck. Painstakingly detailed, one can tell the donors of the ship were either very stressed or eternally grateful. The vessel that now hangs in the cathedral is a copy from 1959, though the original votive ship can be visited at the nearby Maritime Museum.

Open to the public, the Storkyrkan can close from time to time for a royal affair. Unfortunately, offering a model boat to get into such an event would likely prove insufficient. 

Written By: Seamus McMahon

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