Culture & history
Churches worth visiting
Småland’s churches represent a large part of the surviving buildings from the Middle Ages and bear witness to developments in church architecture up to the large churches of the 19th century nicknamed “Tegnér barns” after Esaias Tegnér, Bishop of Växjö. Many of the churches contain old and interesting objects.
The legend of St Sigfrid
A story noted down in the 13th century is said to explain why a cathedral came to be built in Växjö. The legend is supposed to have played out in the 11th century and been described in the latter part of the 12th century. It tells how a holy man travelled from England and came to Värend – one of the “small lands” that make up the historical province of Småland – and Växjö to convert the local population to Christianity. He found Värend to be a rich land with fertile farmland and lakes abounding in fish. While he was resting, an angel appeared to him and commanded him to build a church at a place by Växjösjön lake, and some of the Christian residents of Växjö obliged. Shortly afterwards, St Sigfrid had to visit King Olof of Sweden – known as the Tax King – and left his three nephews, who were monks, to take care of Christianising the local people.
Horribly, the heathens killed the nephews and put their heads in a vat in Växjösjön lake. The people then reverted to their heathen ways. But when St Sigfrid returned, the three nephews appeared to him in a vision and bade him build the church. The local people had a bad conscience, and the church was built. We cannot say if the legend is true but it became important for Växjö, which consolidated its position, becoming what was probably the first episcopal see in Sweden. Today, the Diocese of Växjö covers most of Småland and the island of Öland.
The church thus has roots in the Early Middle Ages but was burnt down and renovated several times. Its distinguishing features today are its two tall spires, and its proximity to the Kingdom of Crystal means it contains a large quantity of sacred art glassworks. The best known include an altarpiece by Bertil Vallien, a baptismal font by Kjell Engman and a light tree by Erik Höglund. The cathedral is Växjö’s most popular tourist attraction in terms of visitor numbers.
Kalmar also has a baroque cathedral, which was designed by Nicodemus Tessin the Elder. It is located in Stortorget in the centre of the city and was consecrated in 1682. In terms of style, the cathedral is a Nordic variant of baroque based on examples from Italy and France. The division into several building volumes, with richly adorned facades and limestone pilasters, is characteristic of the church and a reminder of Kalmar’s glory days when it was an important city. It is sometimes called ‘Sweden’s most loved baroque building’.
Habo Church is famous for its paintings, which cover the entire interior. This cathedral-like church was built in the 14th century but since 1723 has been preserved unchanged. The box pews for wealthy parishioners, the benches for farmers, and the galleries for crofters, farmhands and maids of days of old remain intact. Many exciting stories of finds from the 14th century live on in the church to this day. It was built as a cathedral church at a place where seven roads once met. Today, it stands alone out in the countryside. The church is open every day in the summer period, and guided tours can be booked in advance. Website in Swedish
Brahe Church, Visingsö
The 12th century saw the building of the “Kings’ Church” – Ströja. In the 17th century, Count Magnus Brahe built Brahe Church, as the chapel of Visingsborg Castle, in the grounds of Ströja. The church is today a spacious hall church in Renaissance style, and boasts a wealth of works of art, relics of the past and curios. Website in Swedish
The small medieval churches
Many of the medieval churches were left behind in certain places as larger ones were built. In poorer districts, the small churches remained in use.
Some areas contain several of these churches close together.
The njudung churches
The Njudung churches are a group of nine medieval churches with a unique cultural history. The churches were built in the 12th century in Romanesque style with stone altars. The churches characteristically had no base and were sometimes called “barefoot churches”. You can read more about the Njudung (one of the small lands that formed Småland) and the nine churches in the brochure Destination Vetlanda.
Uppvidinge was another of the constituent “lands” of Småland and is now a municipality. There are several medieval churches where it borders Växjö.
Granhult Church is one of our best-preserved wooden churches dating from the 13th century. There are only ten or so more or less preserved wooden churches from this period in the whole of Sweden.
The people of Granhult have had to fight hard to preserve their church. Much has been written about the struggle against Bishop Esaias Tegnér, who wanted them to relinquish their church and help instead to build the new church at Nottebäck in the 1830s.
The old medieval church is whitewashed and boasts fantastic murals and ceiling paintings from the 13th century. The new church was built in 1794 and the old one was then used as a granary, but today is considered one of Sweden’s best-preserved medieval churches.
Dädesjö Church and its surroundings are of national interest to Sweden’s cultural heritage with two churches, two vicarages, a parish hall and church stables. The old church has a very well-preserved interior with frescoes and ceiling paintings dating from the late 13th century. These are unique, and have attracted international attention.
Two other medieval churches in the area have been preserved thanks to the fact that they found alternative uses and the people fought Bishop Tegnér to keep them. Drev Church is a well-preserved medieval church in Romanesque style and has been dated to approx. 1170, making it one of the oldest church buildings in Småland. Sjöså Church dates from the 15th century and is beautifully situated by Örken lake.
The first church built in Hossmo was probably made of wood. It was surrounded by a number of stone mausoleums – known in Sweden as Eskilstunakistor, or “Eskilstuna coffins” – which date the wooden church to the latter part of the 11th century. The first stone church was built around 1120 and it has traditionally been considered that the addition of the upper storey made the church a “defensive church”, but modern research has strongly called this into question. However, several written sources show that the church was used as a garrison and a flank stronghold for Kalmar during the Dano-Swedish conflicts of the early 16th century.
The small medieval churches
In some locations, many of the medieval churches were left when bigger ones were built. In poor districts, they continued to be used.
In a few areas, there are several together.