Tips from the experts
Skogskyrkogården means different things to different people and everyone who has ever guided visitors, or worked in some other capacity at this unique cemetery, has their favourite spots.
Here, four of those most familiar with Skogskyrkogården share some of their pearls of wisdom and features that they wouldn’t want visitors to miss.
Former Technical Director and Deputy Administrative Director at the Cemeteries Administration of the City of Stockholm who, for many years, has guided visitors through the history and sights of Skogskyrkogården.
Note the conscious design of the double lines of lime trees, creating a vaulted effect, and the walls along Sockenvägen, outside Skogskyrkogården. Remember too that when Skogskyrkogården was first created in the early 1920s, there were only a few cars about.
Observe the change in the finish of the stone blocks in the wall as you turn off towards the entrance. Stop for a moment to appreciate the view that opens with a grandiose semicircular forecourt of carefully hewn ashlar blocks. Beyond similar side walls, the forecourt gives way to open lawns with no trace of graves, conveying the tranquillity of the landscape.
Here the huge granite cross, erected in 1940, stands out against the sky. The cross is not meant to depict the usual symbol of the Christian faith, but is a direct representation of the cross that accompanied all death notices at the time. The cross creates a threshold to the three chapels, which occupy a prominent position above the lawns, dominating the landscape.
View the sculpture Resurrection as you stand in the monumental portico in front of the Chapel of the Holy Cross. See how expressively and grippingly it stands out against the light of the sky.
Then follow the stone steps up to the elm-enclosed meditation grove and let your eye follow the almost one-kilometre-long path towards the Chapel of Resurrection. Just discernible is the dark door of the chapel, which seems full of mystery, as the rest of the chapel is hidden from view in the narrow field of vision. Walk along the path, edged with weeping birches, pines and spruces. Approach the Chapel of Resurrection for a special experience. Around the door, more and more of the portico’s stout columns and the chapel building emerge to captivate you.
Head for the Woodland Chapel and take the southerly limestone steps down to the delightfully designed glade with Greta Garbo’s terraced grave as a backdrop. An area set aside for children’s graves back in the 1920s, this glade is like a meadow in the summer. This part of Skogskyrkogården was completed in 1925, the very year that Greta Garbo left Sweden for the US and Hollywood, and became her final resting place in 1999.
Photographer, art historian and one of Skogskyrkogården’s guides.
Take the steps up to the meditation grove and see how you feel when you get there. The idea is that you’ll feel fine and not be tired out by the steps, as they gradually become lower, the closer you get to the top.
Stroll along the beautiful Seven Springs Way and note how it gets darker and darker, the closer you get to the Chapel of Resurrection. A Swedish film starring Stina Ekblad was shot here and just like in the film, it feels like the door to the chapel remains a long way off even as you get closer to it.
If you’re interested in architecture, don’t miss the Visitors Centre, which is quite unusual. No-one seems to understand the design and many have tried to guess and interpret why Gunnar Asplund made it this way. When I’m showing a tour group around, I usually ask what they think in an attempt to understand myself. It’s particularly pleasant in the summer, when the information centre and café are full of people.
Also don’t miss sculptor Carl Milles’ lovely little Angel of Death on the roof above the entrance to the Woodland Chapel. It is of special interest for its slightly Burlesque overtones, with the plump and provocative angle barely appropriate in this context.
When you visit the Chapel of Resurrection, have a look up into the gap between the portico and the actual chapel. Here you can see that the gap is larger on one side. The story behind this is that Sigurd Lewerentz, who designed the Chapel of Resurrection, wanted the building to stand along a north-south axis. However, this was not permitted according to Christian tradition and stubborn Lewerentz eventually had to concede unwillingly and build the chapel facing east-west. However, he didn’t position it exactly, but at 93 degrees. It’s said that he did this to be a bit mischievous.
Art historian who wrote her doctoral thesis on “Room for farewells” about the architecture and artistic decoration of the funeral chapel in 20th-century Sweden.
Skogskyrkogården is considered one of the major works of Swedish art history and the whole cemetery can easily be considered a beautiful, magnificent work of art. Think about how the site works, try to put yourself in the shoes of its users. It gives a whole added dimension. Walk along the intended processional routes to the chapels and note how darkness and light enhance the experience. Consider how this famous cemetery sets the blueprint for so many others. Setting a cemetery in natural parkland was unique for the time when Skogskyrkogården was created. Back in the 1920s, it was also new to have these uniform fields of similar, low-lying memorial stones. The lack of burial mounds was considered a disgrace.
Take time to walk around the different chapels and test your perception. Guess what they look like inside – before you see for yourself. Think about the significance of windows. How does the daylight get into the room? Is it light or dark? Where and how do you get into the chapel itself, and is there a different way out?
Look at the memorial stones – the names and titles, the size of the letters – and see how they’ve changed over the years.
Look out across the landscape and study the various lines of sight. Where does your gaze fall and what do you see there?
Study the forecourt of the crematorium’s three funeral chapels. The suite of “rooms” – the forecourt as an assembly point before the ceremony, the waiting room, the chapel and then the exit back to the forecourt – leads you through the ceremony. A kind of choreography, if you will. Few occasions have a need for clarity like a funeral.
Also note the care that has gone into the details around the three chapels. For example, the forecourt benches with “kinks” that mean that the mourners can see each other while they wait. Then there are the little rectangular windows in the waiting room – making the walls embracing rather than oppressive and allowing views to the outside. Notice the inlay in the floor in front of the chief mourners in the Chapel of the Holy Cross. The idea is that the mourners, in their moment of sorrow, can fix their gaze on the patterned inlay.
Also notable are the light fittings on the outside of the Holy Cross portico. Similar ones can be found at Moderna Museet, which opened in 1998 on Skeppsholmen in Stockholm. The museum’s architect, Spaniard Rafael Moneo, imitated them in a conscious homage to Gunnar Asplund, who designed the Chapel of the Holy Cross.
Curator at Stockholm City Museum, who sometimes also gives tours of Skogskyrkogården.
Don’t miss the former children’s graveyard near the Woodland Chapel. It’s an extremely moving and emotive place that still has a few small gravestones left. However, the site is no longer in use. The children’s graveyard has a distinctive look, with deciduous tress instead of conifers, giving it a lighter character. It’s also slightly sunken, giving it an embracing feel.
Also visit the magnificent Chapel of Resurrection, which is so clearly designed to stir emotions. Architect Sigurd Lewerentz has given it a very intimate feel. Inside the chapel, the architecture is pure and solemn. There is little to distract mourners.
And don’t forget to admire the lovely pine woods – particularly in the early morning or late afternoon, when the sun is low in the sky. The sight of the sun through the trees is magical.