Riddarholmen Church, located on Riddarholmen island in Stockholm’s old town district, Gamla Stan, is not a church in the way you might think of a church, at least not anymore. Church services have not been performed there for then 200 years. These days, it’s primarily a tomb, occasionally a concert hall, and even less frequently a playhouse.
Built sometime around 1300, with an addition constructed in the fifteenth century, this is a still-standing medieval church. There seems to be some conflict on the Web as to whether Riddarholmen Church is the oldest building in Gamla Stan or not. Some people say that Stockholm Cathedral is older than Riddarholmen Church.
As I said, Riddarholmen Church is more of a mausoleum than a church. Most of Sweden’s royal family from over the centuries are interred here. A few of them are in above-ground coffins of a variety of forms that sit on platforms, mostly in rooms behind metal grates. In addition, as I walked across the floor of the church I unavoidably walked over grave markers.
Up until the time of the Reformation, only nobility were buried here. After the Reformation, the church became more democratic and was the final resting place, as they say, of some people who existed at a socio-economic class somewhat below mobility. (I’ve never been comfortable with the term “final resting place.” True, I won’t be awake, but I’d hardly describe what I’m going to experience or, more accurately, not experience as akin to normal rest. It’s not going to be restorative in the way resting while alive can be.)
At one point back in time, the remains of a number of people were moved from a cemetery outside the church to positions under floor of church. The guide who passed along this information wasn’t certain when that happened. Their remains are buried under the floor in chronological layers.
Nobility didn’t have to suffer the indignity of being put under the floor in largely unmarked, mass graves. Or, rather, their descendants and admirers didn’t have to suffer that indignity. Dead nobles, or dead anybodies for that matter, probably don’t do much suffering or much of anything after death. Instead, the remains of the former nobles are mostly in vaults—some of which are underground, some not—or in above-ground coffins.
A recent inventory found that the remains of about 1,000 people are buried in or under the church. The most recent Royal to be interred in the church was King Gustaf, who was buried there in 1950. Presumably that happened after his death. The few Swedish people I interacted with on my visit to Stockholm seemed too nice to be the sort of people who would bury their monarchs before the monarchs’ deaths.
When I visited Riddarholmen Church people (they were alive, but you could probably figure that out for yourself) were setting up for a play by Sweden’s national theatre company. According to a guide in the church, the play was about one of the nobility buried there, so the venue was appropriate. The guide didn’t say which dead noble was getting the star treatment.
Throughout the year, but particularly during the summer, Riddarholmen Church also hosts concerts. I suspect the live audience enjoys the concerts more than the dead folk.