(and one that isn’t)
The most famous sight in Tromsø is probably the Arctic Cathedral … except it isn’t actually a cathedral. Despite the popular name, this is a parish church, but a very substantial and eye-catching one.
It lies on the far side of the harbour and can be seen from any point on the waterfront. It is constructed mainly in concrete and was built between 1964 and 1965. The design suggests shards of ice or maybe an iceberg, appropriate for this city north of the Arctic Circle.
Inside it is no less striking. We learned from an exhibition of photos in the basement that the stained-glass window that completely fills the wall behind the altar was only added in 1972. Prior to that the view would have been mainly of trees. The glass depicts the hand of God at the top. From it three rays of light emanate, one through Jesus, one through a woman and one through a man.
My featured photo was also taken here.
But while the Arctic Cathedral might be a misnomer, Tromsø does in fact have a cathedral. Or rather, it has two.
The Lutheran Cathedral
In a small square in the centre of Tromsø we find the main Lutheran cathedral. It is remarkable for being the only Protestant Norwegian cathedral made of wood. It was built in 1861 in the Gothic Revival style, on a site thought to have been used as a church since the 13th century.
Inside it struck me as relatively small for a cathedral, but then Tromsø is a small city. We found some information boards at the back, in Norwegian and English, one of which mentioned that it accommodates 618 worshippers. As a comparison, London’s St Paul’s Cathedral has room for around 3,500!
Above the altar is a copy of the painting of the Resurrection by the Norwegian artist Adolph Tidemand, the original of which is in a church in Bragenes, south west of Oslo. This copy was painted on wood by Christen Brun in 1884. The Norwegian inscription beneath it is taken from St John’s Gospel: ‘I am the resurrection and the life’. Around the apse are some lovely stained-glass windows which were installed as recently as 1960.
The Roman Catholic cathedral
It has been said that the Lutheran cathedral in Tromsø is the most northerly in the world. But in fact the city’s Catholic cathedral beats it by a few metres! It too was built of wood in 1861 in a neo-Gothic style, but is much smaller, seating only around 150 people.
The interior is simple and light, decorated mainly in white, cream and blue. The organ loft is decorated with rather minimalist paintings of Biblical emblems such as a dove and the apple tree and serpent from the Garden of Eden. The only elaborate touches that I could see are in the Stations of the Cross and a few more traditional statues of saints. When I visited the cathedral was decorated for First Holy Communion services and also with ribbons in support of Ukraine.
While I fully agree with Tina that ‘spirituality can be found in many places beyond the confines of a church’, for this week’s Lens Artists Challenge I’ve decided to focus on these three very different places of worship that each in their way reflect the particular nature of this very northern city.
I visited Tromsø in June 2023