Helsinki Cathedral is perhaps one of the most iconic buildings in Helsinki centre. Built in a prominent place in the very heart of Helsinki, it reminds us of the wealth and glory of the Russian empire. Surrounding Helsinki Cathedral is the Senate square - an area entirely different to anywhere else in Helsinki - it was built by the Russians from the 1800’s, and modelled to look like St Petersburg in Russia. If you have ever been there (or if you go) you will see how similar the two are!
Originally, Helsinki Cathedral was built in 1852 as a tribute to the Grand Duke of Finland, Tsar Nicholas I of Russia. It also used to have a different name. At the time of construction, it was called the Saint Nicolas Church.
For a long time, Finland has been a Lutheran country. To this day, around 70% of the population of Finland classes themselves as Lutheran (2019). Being heavily influenced by the Swedish kingdom, the Finnish people were turned from paganism (believing in several gods) into Christianity, and then later on into Lutheranism. Lutheranism has its origins from Germany, and it was introduced to the Finns by Sweden - when Finland was under the Swedish rule.
Helsinki Cathedral is also a great example of the freedom that was granted to the Finns by the Russians, particularly during the first half of the 19th century. Helsinki cathedral was built as a Lutheran church from the very beginning. The Russian Tsar at the time wanted to show that he will ensure that various freedoms of the Finnish people were respected - for the first time he allowed the Finnish language to become the official language of Finland (under the Swedish rule, only the Swedish language was the language of governance). He also allowed the introduction of the first official Finnish currency - the Finnish Markka. The cathedral was a part of another freedom - religious freedom; and this was a huge statement from Russia - that they wanted to give the Finns freedom and autonomy. In fact, the Finns had never been forced to turn to a Russian Orthodox religion when they were a part of the Russian empire, and all these freedoms (for a time at least), caused many Finns to respect the Russian Empire.
The cathedral itself was a grand project of two famous architects - the first was Carl Ludwig Engel and the second was Ernst Lornmann. The original design of the cathedral was made by Engel. His love for neoclassical style found inspiration for Helsinki, in Saint Isaac's Cathedral - located in Saint Petersburg.
The cathedral is a unique piece of architecture and it has some very unusual features. The layout of the church is designed like a Greek cross - it has 4 areas inside that can all be used. The second unusual feature is that Helsinki cathedral does not have any bells inside. The dome on the Helsinki cathedral was not designed to be strong enough to bear the weights of the bell. As a result, the bells had to be relocated into the building adjacent to the cathedral. In-fact, to this day, this building is the bell tower. You can find the bell tower in a white building to the left of the Helsinki cathedral (when you face it from the senate square). Helsinki cathedral also has 12 zinc statues on top of its roof. These 12 statues are larger than life, and there are representing the 12 apostles.
In addition to that, the cathedral has a very unusual crypt that has never served its purpose. In old days, the crypt used to be a cellar where wood storage was located. Nowadays, you can have a buffet lunch there or enjoy an organ concert. The cafe Krypta is open only during the summer months: from June until August, and is definitely worth a look.
Today Helsinki Cathedral is the most popular tourist attraction with more than 350 000 visits each year.