Sweden has been going through a process of secularisation and de-Christianisation for more than half a century. In the same period, rural population figures have dwindled as people move to towns and cities to study and find jobs. One result of all this is that rural churches, of which there are thousands, see very few visitors these days. The non-conformist 20th century wooden ones are steadily becoming converted into summer houses or torn down in most parts of Sweden. However, of the parish churches belonging to what was until recently the Protestant State Church of Sweden, only two were torn down during the 20th century, both due to severe structural problems. One from the 1880s in Källs-Nöbbelöv in Scania went down in 1957, one from 1957 in Sollentuna outside Stockholm in 1999. But another one is headed the same way now, simply because there’s no longer any need for it.
Maglarp parish on the western coast of Scania in southernmost Sweden has a Medieval church from the 12th century. In the 19th century it was felt that the old church was too small. Luckily, this happened after those early-19th century decades when Medieval churches were torn down and replaced in Sweden. Instead, Maglarp received an second church some ways from the old one. It’s a huge neo-Gothic brick building, consecrated in 1909.
Building a new church at Maglarp turned out not to have been such a good idea, for reasons outlined above. The last service was held there in 1976, after which the dwindling congregation moved back to their original church. The new one was left untended and started to shed a steady drizzle of bricks, while the parishioners applied for permission to tear it down. This proved hard to get, but now it’s finally been settled, reports Dagens Nyheter. The wrecking crew will start its work in a few weeks.
I see little reason to mourn the passing of this 20th century pastiche of a Medieval church. Future archaeologists would of course prefer it if the thing were left standing as a ruin, but this would mean that generations of visitors to the site would run the risk of being hit by falling masonry.
What’s more interesting is the possibility that this case will set a precendent, perhaps starting a new trend in the history of Swedish churches. If, as seems likely right now, the Swedish Church’s membership continues to shrink, it will become increasingly hard to justify the upkeep of all those buildings. Meanwhile, Islam is flourishing as immigrant Muslims become increasingly well integrated and affluent. Half a century from now, I believe quite a number of those churches may be used as mosques. Muslims certainly don’t mind, just look at the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul. I’d suggest that the first Church-of-Sweden church to be converted will be one similar to Maglarp’s from 1909. An over-dimensioned early-20th century structure, probably located outside one of the country’s main cities, near a post-war housing project like the one I live in. Rosengård? Hammarkullen? Rinkeby? It may happen soon, inch’ Allah.
Update 6 June: Here’s a photo essay about Maglarp.