i-cfd6ba6f7a59dd51d9299140ab4e8465-maglarp.jpg

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.

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Comments

  1. #1 Anatoly
    June 4, 2007

    You bring up a few curious points, Martin, on which I’m curious to hear your thoughts. One that I cant quite understand as an American/Canadian secularist is why Europe (especially the Scandinavian countries) so damn non-religious? I heard many opinions on the issue but thought I should ask yours. The other one- do you consider the influx of Islam into Europe (or Sweden in your case) dangerous to its secular and democratic ideals?

  2. #2 Martin R
    June 4, 2007

    The mystifying thing to me isn’t why we’re dropping religion, but why other Western countries cling to it. In the US, I’d say there are two reasons: a) a lot of people have very little education, b) religion is part of the accepted ideology of both majority parties. Sweden’s been governed by Social Democrats for most of the past century. The Labour movement has always seen Christianity as a competitor for the workers’ attention. And anyone can get study loans here.

    I don’t see Islam as any more threatening than evangelical Christianity. I’m pretty sure that as soon as Swedish muslims start training their imams locally instead of importing them, Swedish Islam will become a highly progressive version of that faith. Already, one of the highest imams here is a converted Swede who looks like Mr Deity.

  3. #3 Hans Persson
    June 4, 2007

    I’m in favor of a Hagia Sofia replica in Sweden any day!

  4. #4 Martin R
    June 4, 2007

    Yeah! And the Stockholm mosque should definitely be allowed to have a muezzin call to prayer once a week. Provided the guy does it live on the mike. I like church bells and muezzin calls in moderation.

  5. #5 Z
    June 4, 2007

    Isn’t Hagia Sofia a museum today?

    Or still a mosque?

  6. #6 Martin R
    June 4, 2007

    Yes. Says Wikipedia: “Hagia Sophia … now known as the Ayasofya Museum, was arguably the greatest Christian cathedral of the Middle Ages, later converted into an imperial mosque in 1453 by the Ottoman Empire, and into a museum in 1935″.

  7. #7 Rupert
    June 4, 2007

    One of the lesser known developments in the UK of the past ten years is the allocation of certain obscure radio frequencies to religious outfits – both to summon the faithful (it being somewhat more compatible with modern life to do this via wireless than very loud audio) and to relay communal events to those so disposed but stuck at home through illness or whatever.

    No radio frequency is obscure to me, however. So, I have heard the call to prayer in an English mosque as well as church services in Northern Ireland – all from a chicken shed in Sweden, where I had set up my monitoring and transmission gear as part of my regular holiday jaunt. Given the rather exceptional radio conditions and the nature of my equipment, I rather think I could have interjected my own thoughts and personal sound effects, had I been less cogniscent of my obligations under international radio law.

    R

  8. #8 Magnus
    June 4, 2007

    “as immigrant Muslims become increasingly well integrated”

    Still to be proven, not?! Many experts say the opposite, that a quite huge part of the second generation of immigrants (e.g in England almost every second young muslim) becomes more extreme regarding religion than they would have been in the muslim countries which their parents left.

  9. #9 Magnus
    June 4, 2007

    BTW: The Gothenburg mosque is totaly financed by the Saudis. I don’t think that promote “integration”.

    However, the only possibility for co-existence is a certain level of assimilation. The only — or even strongest — argument for that IS NOT that Swedes (or Western people) are in majority, in comparance to the muslim immigrants, but that we have a unique order of society which secure individual freedom, rule of law with seperation between church and state as welll as democracy.

    Lots of these muslims also wants this order of society that we have. Especially moderate muslims. But the official muslim voice don’t represents these muslims. They are instead subjugated to silence, and this we mustn’t forget!!!

  10. #10 Inget att säga
    June 4, 2007

    I rather see church ruins, than a torn down church. I don’t care if they get a ton of masonry in their head. Swedish people are too stupid to see how they trash their own culture. I mean you don’t have to believe in God to se the cultural or architectural value of a these temples. If the only way to preserve them is to turn them in to mosque, so be it. Then Swedish people have not showed that they are a secularized people, but a people that have no roots, and no culture. And above all it seems like they have no idea who they are. Let Maglarps Church dies in beauty, let the future decide.
    If you talking are about Rosengård, Västra Skrävlinge Church is just some minutes walking from the Malmoe mosque. And in that case I don’t believe that there is any reason why it should become a mosque. It’s very plausible that these churches you mentioned sooner or later end up as mosques. However there is other religious community that I think might want to buy our empty churches, free religious, catholic and Orthodox communities. One can only speculate in the possibilities that one religion is taking over, things might change eventually. We can’t predict the future, we can only lay out the prognosis, and in this case it looks like you are right.
    Of course one can have many things to say about these temple become mosques, and change, somewhat in the way they are used. On the other hand we can not say yet, if it is for the good or for bad. One thing is for certain thou; I rather see a church as a mosque than a store, nightclub or a empty space. By the way aren’t Christians and Muslims worshipping the same God?

  11. #11 Caledonian
    June 4, 2007

    By the way aren’t Christians and Muslims worshipping the same God?

    No.

  12. #12 Magnus Andersson
    June 4, 2007

    “By the way aren’t Christians and Muslims worshipping the same God?”

    Not by name, but contextually Islam, Christianity and Judaism has the God of Abraham (but Islam claims it was first, allthough it was 600 years after Cristianity). (Although I think there is no idea to mix them up as there are different theologies — who man and God are et.c. . Syncretism I think involve a way to gain power by those who negotiate (above the heads of the people), and the synthesis will only destroy the true God if there was a true one in the start. Islam counts Jesus as a prophet. Therefor no salvation in Islam. Jesus didn’t die and risen from the dead in Islam. But more “hands on” important for our society is a is very fundamental difference, and that is how Islam mix up religion and the state/government. The freedom in the west counts upon a unique separation between religion and government. The invention of the secular state I think may have become possible thanks to christianity and its freedom for the individuals with a mix of moral responsibility and a merciful God, who see the potential of a “Jesus equal” (i.e. saved sin free man) in the worst sinner. (Jesus said e.g. that the lazy and late “one hour” wine yard workers sohuld have the same salary as the full day wine yard workers; this I think is restricted to devine matters, not about economics (no wefare state, plz!), according to the Jesus quota: “Give to Caesar what is Caesars, and give to God what is Gods”.)

    I think Christinanity quite a lot early became a religion based upon personal belief and relationship with God. (The slavery e.g. was abolished thanks to Christianity.) Its structure in New Testament and the work of Augustine I think confirm this. I have read the former but not som much by Augustine. But the separation between religion and state is according to Augustine. (Btw, the cruel inqusition murdered about 4000-5000 people, but secular communism about 100 millions.)

    This was somewhat preaching I guess, but I think a lot of people in the western world don’t see the serious implications from the influence of a gradually stronger Islam. We take our freedom for granted, but we seems to have no clue about its roots. As we are secularized I also think — as irrational as it may sound — we may be a more easy target for a religion as Islam to penetrate and mess up our actually (as we not are aware of) odd and unique society in an effort to transform it into a muslim society. Virtually any step towards a muslim society I think will involve limitations to the freedom we enjoy.

    It is really not so simple as to say “we have the same God so what’s the problem”. That thing you must learn! For those who should have learnt that, from a adequate educational background, but are systematically ignorant about it — as Jan Myrdal, Åsa Linderborg, Mattias Gardell or George Galloway; all on the extreme political left — it is obvious that they are deliberately betrayers; actually no surprice since the left hates the western society and, just as today’s mainstream islam, aims its destruction. (E.g. Mattias Gardell define Hamas and Hezbollah as soft social movements; he totaly ignore the main ideology and goals of these two organizations, which is to destroy first Israel, then USA and then to conquer all the non-Islamic world.)

    The mainstream Islam have also, right now, a problem to seperate itself from radical Islam, not to forget. The beheading by a boy only 12-years of age has been discussed on muslim sites as if it was acceptable, and I have also seen slavery discussed by Canadian muslims as if it was okey (and to have sex with a slavery girl! I blogged that with links, also to the to mainstream position on that issue). Also almost 40 per cent of brittish young muslims believe it is okey to murder an apostate, but “only” (SIC!) maybe 10-15 per cent of older muslime thinks it would be okey. Here’s Daily Mail

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=432075

    The mosques are too much radicalized, and the Saudi influence is one problem here. One can’t believe that mosqus with 100 per cent economical guaranties, as the mosque in Gothenburg, in the long run can avoid Saudi influence. And even if there wouldn’t have been that influence there would have been lots of issues to target in mainstream Islam.

  13. #13 Magnus Andersson
    June 4, 2007

    BTW: I forgot to say what I think about the church. Well, it seems as if they have used spättekaka instead of mortar (“murbruk” in swedish), so I guess they must tore the church down, but why not build a cheaper new landmark? Maybe with locals convenient for different activities, as well as worship? Maybe…

  14. #14 Magnus Andersson
    June 4, 2007

    _Tear_ it down i mean (not tore!). My english is like spättekak… oh no, spättekaka is good. My english is like that church. :-P

  15. #15 Martin R
    June 5, 2007

    Saying that one god is identical to another is a question of comparing fictional characters described in books. And both the New Testament and the Quran assert that their Sky Guy is indeed identical with the Old Testament one.

    Inget att saga: I don’t know about you, but I’m Swedish and I have roots and a modicum of culture.

  16. #16 Martin R
    June 5, 2007

    And the integration issue: things are looking much better in Sweden than in the UK. In our area there is a certain amount of intermarriage between Muslims and old-school Swedes. And my kids play with the children of Muslim immigrant couples. I’m friendly with their parents: those families are highly integrated and set on seeing their kids succeed in Swedish society. Their children speak perfect Swedish. We do, however, keep halal chicken meatballs in our freezer for them.

  17. #17 Thinker
    June 5, 2007

    Facoid: the building that houses the mosque in Stockholm was originally an electricity works, so muslims are certainly open to converting other buildings into mosques. The architect of the electricity works was interested in arabic architecture, and some claim you can even see this in the design of the building.

    Moving from building conversion to societal transformation, let us remember that our process of secularization took a long time (generations), and proceeded in parallel with a lot of other transformations: we became more urban, education levels increased greatly, equality between the sexes increased, median real income increased immensely and class structure changed so that the middle class became the norm and so on.

    Without sorting out cause and effect in all that, isn’t it quite probable that people from largely muslim countries moving to Europe will over generations also secularize? As long as we make it clear that Europe will continue to separate religion and state (specifically in the sense that no law shall be based on religious reasoning), and that religion is a matter of free choice for the individual, I don’t see a problem in letting that process take generations.

    Finally: please, let’s not mix up islam as a religion and the cultures of islamic countries. They are not the same thing, and those cultures are also very diverse!

  18. #18 Martin R
    June 5, 2007

    I know a lot of moderate average-Hassan Muslims think Osama bin Laden is kinda cool. But still they don’t commit any crimes themselves. I gather that most Muslims in, say, Bradford, think terrorism is a Bad Idea.

  19. #19 Thinker
    June 5, 2007

    … a lot of moderate average-Hassan Muslims think Osama bin Laden is kinda cool. But still they don’t commit any crimes themselves.

    Sort of like there are many otherwise average americans who think W is kinda OK, but don’t start wars themselves?

  20. #20 Martin R
    June 5, 2007

    No, UbL hasn’t to my knowledge run for public office. And the countries where he enjoys any large-scale support aren’t even democracies. Dubya’s presidency is far more distressing than UbL’s crime ring.

  21. #21 Gustav
    June 6, 2007

    Ven had two: one old, one late-19th century, built in times when everyone attended church. Now, instead of dismantling the second one, it has been turned into a science history museum celebrating Ven’s contribution to world history, Tycho Brahe.