Copenhagen Churches
Copenhagen Churches

‘Tis the Season for Architecture: Explore 5 Churches in December

By Maj Schubert
November 24, 2023

Churches hold a special place in Danish architectural heritage. And they play a special role for an increased number of visitors during the Christmas season. Here, decorations are put up, and a special effort is made in their expression. Spend your December experiencing the architecture of five distinct churches, and gain insight into five prominent buildings, each letting architecture dictate how they adorn their church spaces for Christmas.

Photo: Daniel Rasmussen, Copenhagen Media Center and Febiyan, Unsplash

Our Saviour’s Church
– Focus on the Spire

Our Saviour’s Church in Christianshavn is the oldest building on this list – dating back to 1696. It wasn’t until 54 years after its construction that the church’s most prominent feature was added: The spire, with its external staircase, spirals towards the heavens.

Throughout December, the church goes above and beyond to highlight its unique spire, which is illuminated most of the day from the first Sunday of Advent until Epiphany in January.

“It ties in with the birth of Jesus, light is kindled in the darkness, symbolizing that in life, there is always more to hope for than what can currently overshadow us humans. The light finds a way,” explains Marlene Lindsten, the parish priest responsible for church records at the Our Saviour’s Church in Copenhagen.

Additionally, the church sets up a nativity scene, and hosts concerts including the Royal Danish Academy of Music’s children and youth choir, and a Christmas service with the church’s own choir, joined by the Christianshavn Brass Band.

Photo: Daniel Rasmussen and Vor Frue Kirke

Church of Our Lady
– Here the Architect Decides

Copenhagen Cathedral dominates the city center with its impressive size, in its current form completed in 1829. Throughout December, the church is arranged according to its stringent architectural expression and kept simple. You will not find nativity plays and richly detailed Christmas decorations. At the entrance to the church space, there is a memorial tree, a Christmas tree where visitors can hang small violet Manila tags with messages to those they have lost.

“It’s really C.F. Hansen who decides here,” says Susanne Torgard, church- and culture worker in the church – referring to the architect known for his neoclassical style with clean lines in nature’s color palette.

The Church of Our Lady is well-visited and hosts many events throughout the year, but in December, a bit more is added to the calendar. Here, you can listen to the Copenhagen Boys Choir, watch children from Zahles School in a Saint Lucy’s Day procession, or participate in an Advent flea market.

Photo: Unsplash og Marmorkirken

The Marble Church
– High Ceilings

Frederik’s Church – known as the Marble Church, is grand and built in Roman Baroque style. The Roman style differs from Danish Baroque by having more details and being more pompous. The church’s hallmark is the colossal dome, which rises far above most other roofs in Frederiksstaden (Frederikstown).

There are 46 meters to the top of the dome from inside. In December, the high-ceilinged space is utilized and accentuated by hanging an Advent wreath 40 meters down from the top of the dome. From the first Advent, there are also two large Christmas trees and wreaths. The church is originally decorated with many details, a hallmark of Roman Baroque, and in the Christmas season, the ornamentation is emphasized with more lights than usual.

Even though The Marble Church is located in a popular area and expects to have close to a million visitors from all over the world this year alone, its main purpose is the primary focus.

“It’s important to us that our church all year round is a space of silence and warmth for those who seek the church for devotion,” says parish priest Mikkel Vold.

Photo: Grundtvigs Kirke

Grundtvig’s Church
– Keeping It Simple

Two generations of the Klint family – father and son – are behind the Gothic-inspired church interpreted in a modern, Nordic manner. In Grundtvig’s Church, there are no church paintings of Jesus or the Apostles, but just a simple little cross. The large church space honors calm and symmetry – also when decorating for Christmas. For example, it would be unthinkable to have an odd number of Christmas trees in the church space, as it wouldn’t fit with its clean, straight lines and light, Nordic expression.

“It’s very important to us not to decorate the church in such a way that it shifts the focus from how beautiful the church is in itself,” says Gitte Blom Christensen, the daily manager of Grundtvig’s Church.

On Christmas Eve, the entire church space is lit with more than 200 live candles and nothing else. Like the other churches, there are both concerts and services throughout December, and you can also make Christmas decorations and join a communal meal in the church crypt.

Photo: Bagsværd Kirke

Bagsværd Church
– Warm Glow in Sculptural Surroundings

Bagsværd Church, designed by Jørn Utzon, was completed in 1976 and is the newest on the list, with its architectural expression clear: its exterior in white concrete is markedly different from hand-made brick and detailed marble, and the building could be mistaken for something completely different than a church from the outside.

“I experience the church as an almost sculptural object. It is quite unique and very beautiful, and as Utzon himself has said, the space is a meeting place between the earthly and the heavenly,” says Mogens Kühn Pedersen, chairman of the parish council at Bagsværd Church.

Inside, the heavenly references are clear. The white ceiling resembles clouds, and natural sunlight streams in, as it was intended to be a central feature from the beginning. And as Jørn Utzon himself said about his work: “I am inspired by the clouds and have created a space that fades upwards.”

On December evenings, the modern space is adorned with the violet color of Advent and many incandescent bulbs, creating a warm light in a cold and dark time.

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