The Church of Rock

When my Italian teacher moved to Finland she was amazed at the austerity of the churches. Where, she wondered, were the statues, the golden altars, the ornate candelabra? Welcome, teacher, to the Protestant church.

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Although many churches here do hold those features, there are others that are standouts solely for their architectural design. Which can be a welcome relief for those suffering ‘cathedral fatigue.’

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If you make it to Helsinki, I would recommend visiting both the Chapel of Silence and Temppeliaukio (Rock Church).

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Temppeliaukio was designed by architects Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen and opened in 1969. Their vision was to carve the chapel straight out of the rock it sits on; a vision that was met with some resistance.

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Once dubbed ‘a devil defence bunker’ it is now one of Helsinki’s most visited sites and was made a protected building in 2004.

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Its huge copper dome is supported by large concrete beams that allow the light to shine in and illuminate the chapel.

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There are places where you can burn a candle for a loved one and the great acoustics mean it is a popular place for orchestral practice sessions.

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The neighbouring apartments in Töölö wrap themselves around the church and there are good cafes nearby.

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Within walking distance of the city centre, there is always room inside to sit upon arrival and rest your feet. Which, on a snowy Helsinki day like today, means this really is a church that rocks.

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Temppeliaukio

Lutherinkatu 3, Helsinki 00100

This is the sound… of silence

It was Miko’s final day at childcare before the July break. How best to use my time seeing the sights of Helsinki without my two-year old in tow? The Chapel of Silence? Sounds perfect!

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Like the hull of a giant wooden boat, Kamppi Chapel looms high above a bustling market square outside one of Helsinki’s busiest malls and transport hubs. We have walked past it numerous times and I have to admit I’ve never given it a second thought.

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It’s a lovely sight, the warm wood rising above as students, workers and tourists move about like pieces on a giant concrete chessboard.

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It’s easy to get church-fatigue when sight-seeing in Europe, and an edifice made of wood is no big deal to New Zealanders, but this is an architectural pleasure and a welcome relief from high-vaulted stone cathedrals.

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The chapel doesn’t hold services or events such as weddings and is operated by a partnership of Helsinki parishes and the city’s Social Services Department. When I entered I could hear someone behind a screen weeping softly as they spoke with the Social Worker on duty. I was ushered into the chapel where I sat down on a pew and just absorbed absolute silence. It was an incredible contrast to the noise and hustle outside. I felt like I was inside a giant, warm wooden egg.

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The Chapel contains pews, a pulpit and a place to burn thin tapered candles. There’s also a pile of cushions shaped like rocks that reflect the colours of river stones. I sat for about 15 minutes before heading back out into the hustle of the streets and off to pluck Miko from a mob of excitable kids at daycare. Being in the Chapel is not quite like taking Valium, but it was all the Mother’s Little Helper that I needed.

Kamppi Chapel of Silence