In english St. Henry´s Ecumenical Art Chapel
St. Henry’s Ecumenical Art Chapel
tel +358 (0)2 265 7777
The artist and minister Hannu Konola dreamt even as a young boy about a place where people could gather and be at peace without any limitations. It would be a place where light and art could speak to the deepest human emotions, voicing the intangible reality in a way that mere words cannot. It would be a place which would bring joy and hope. It would be a building which would provide the opportunity to experience the sacred, an encounter between God and man.
In the beginning , there was a fish. Or, actually, a block of wood with a shape that was inspired by a fish, which architect Matti Sanaksenaho carved with a knife on a fishing trip to Lapland. The shape of that carving was the basis for the winning entry in the architecture competition for the Ecumenical Art Chapel.
From dream to reality
Preparations for the building project of the Ecumenical Art Chapel began in 1991. First it was necessary to discuss and agree upon the construction site, outline the goals of the associations involved, establish a support association to manage the project and ensure the necessary financial resources. A design competition was prepared and announced and in January 1996, Sanaksenaho Arkkitehdit Oy won the competition with their submission ”Ikhthys”. The Chapel´s architecture immediately drew widespread international attention and the increased publicity and several awards and recognition boosted the continued fund-raising for the realization of the building. In 1999, proper building plans were made and construction was able to start in 2004. The Chapel was done and inaugurated on 15 May, 2005. It was dubbed St. Henry´s Ecumenical Art Chapel, after Finland´s patron saint.
”Jesus Christ, the son of God, the Saviour”. When you take the first letters of the affirmation of faith in Greek of the early Christians, they form the word IKHTHYS, which means ”fish”. The fish is the oldest symbol of the Christian church.
Moments of happiness
The Chapel has had plenty of visitors from the start. Its reputation as a destination of architectural interest has spread far and wide and friends of architecture come from all over the world to see this ”mystical landscape sculpture” (as the architectural design competition jury described it) in person and to experience the unique atmosphere inside. As suggested by its ecumenical nature, gatherings and festive events, religious masses and prayer services of different parishes are held in the Chapel. Many couples have found the Art Chapel to be the wedding chapel of their dreams. When used for baptisms, the Chapel is idyllic and soulful. With its acoustic brilliance, the Chapel is a popular venue for concerts. The Chapel has been used to house gatherings of singing groups and for poetry matinees. The Chapel has also been used as an exhibition venue. Through visual arts and architecture, visitors have been able to catch a glimpse of something great in the Art Chapel, where time seems to stand still. The message of peace and hope conveyed through the Chapel has also spoken to many patients of the neighbouring Meri-Karina nursing home and their relatives.
Approaching the Chapel
The Art Chapel is located on a hill with pine trees on Hirvensalo island. The slowly patinating copper-clad exterior merges with the colours of the surrounding nature. The sculptural, minimalist appearance of the Chapel makes an impression just by its size, and at first sight clearly indicates the sacral nature of the building. Architect Matti Sanaksenaho said that he wanted to pay particular attention to how one would approach the Chapel. A gentle slope leads visitors up to a plateau, from which they turn to face the outer door. As the path proceeds up the slope, the sense of the magnificent size only increases. Upon turning toward the door, there is a surprise; the Chapel seems to shrink, the scale of the front entrance is quite intimate.
Out of the darkness into the light
Upon entering the foyer, the impression of the small size grows stronger. When entering the Chapel hall area, however, there is once again a feeling of immense space. The interior, shaped by the lines of the narrow archways, creates a sensation of awe. In the dimly lit Chapel, the first thing to catch the eye, however, is the dazzling light cast upon the altar area. The architect has said that ”the path from darkness to light” is, for him, a third symbol incorporated into the Chapel, in addition to the symbol of the fish and ship or boat.
The warmth of wood
The inner surfaces of the Chapel are completely of wood, Finnish pine. The laminated timber arches of the supporting structure punctuate the wall surfaces, that curve into a ceiling and are covered with pine panelling. The understated elegance of details indicates the exceptionally high standard of both the design and construction. The sparingly crafted pews and the minimalistic altar are also of wood. The use of only one kind of material, in part, creates the sense of deep harmony that Chapel visitors experience. The Chapel looks, feels, sounds and smells like wood. Wood was a natural choice for the interior. It is ecological and a modern building material. It was important to the architect that the wood age beautifully, and it links the building naturally to a long building tradition. The wood surfaces have a beautiful and warm feeling. The acoustics of the wood were also of paramount importance.
Let there be light
Light filters into the Chapel through arching windows at the front of the Chapel that extend up the full height of the structure. The windows are comprised of a two-part glass artwork by the artist Hannu Konola; the names of the parts are Passio and Jubilate. As the father of the idea of the Chapel, Konola wanted to seamlessly incorporate into the Chapel´s architecture artwork which was supportive of the Chapel´s message. The design competition program included the wish for glass artwork to be incorporated as an essential part of the whole design. The ice-like surface and motifs depicted as reliefs were made using a special glass casting technique, in which the artist himself makes the glass window moulds. The glass was cast in Germany and set into metal supports which enable the thermal expansion of the glass. At the top, where the glass reliefs join together, there are small, star-like prisms. They depict the moment when God said ”Let there be light”. The Book of Genesis continues ”and there was light, and God saw the light, that is was good”.
Suffering and joy
Passio, on the north side, displays cuts that increase in number going downwards – wounds depicting life suffering. Towards the bottom of the window, they form into a triangle, depicting the wounds of Christ. At the bottom of the work there are also three important words: faith (”usko”), hope (”toivo”) and love (”rakkaus”). Of these, the word ”faith” is set slightly apart from the others, expressing the Finnish mentality. The most important message of the Passio relief is at floor level; for those who feel crushed beneath the burdens of life, the artist has written Jesus´ words: ”I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). Jubilate (rejoice), the relief on the south side, is, at first glance, completely abstract, but upon closer inspection, a theme relating to flames and references to a descending dove can be seen. Both are symbols for the Holy Spirit.
Let the Devil faint
The countenance of both reliefs lives in sync with the time of day and the seasons, as the amount and direction of the light change. The textured glass surface also serves to protect the mood in the Chapel from external visual noise. The artist Konola wanted the interior of the Chapel to be ”so beautiful that the Devil would faint at the threshold”.
A private support association is responsible for the upkeep of the Chapel. We are grateful for all of the support we receive!
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