Upon this Rock

The Stone Church, Temppeliaukio

If I were called in.
To construct a religion.
I should make use of water.

I don’t do God.

I don’t believe in her. Or him. Or them. Or zie…

Or, perhaps, if there is a transcendent being, I think they have better things to do with their time.

But I do do transcendence and I do sometimes do that it in a place of worship. As I did here, the stone church.

From the outside, it doesn’t look promising: crash barriers, piled stones, stickers on signs, a queueing system. But then you enter into the curve, a mixture of poured concrete, wood, glass and stones, the antechamber to a more or less round church. In 1906, the city plan of Arkadia included the idea of a church. But it was only in 1931 that the new parish of Etu-Töölö applied to have a church built, but they were unimpressed with the plans from a competition and tried again in 1936. Then war intervened.

In the 1960s, Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen won the third competition, proposing to keep the existing rock and hollow it out. The walls continue up with interlaced stone, like the kinds of walls used for sheep paddocks, indeed like the later work of Andy Goldsworthy. The cylinder is covered by concrete beams with glass panels between them; in the centre of the circular roof is a spiral of copper wire. There is a stalls of benches and a upper circle. The altar is a fault in the original stone, and stage left is a space for a choir and then an organ. It was completed in 1969.

It is a magical place — I felt on the edge of tears.

There will be photos. These will not do it justice.

That wall offers a curious balance — and not just literally. It seems incredibly solid and fixed and yet feels like it could tumble down. You can touch the rock. You can get wet.

It’s clear permeable to some degree, but water can leak in (and it was rain of Biblical proportions in the hours before we got there) and drips down to drainage channels near the shelves for devotional candles and the font. You are blessed by its spray.

Some of the interior walls are the sort of molded concrete you can see in the Barbican or South Bank (with four or five decades of damage from water solutions of pigeon shit) or the Carbuncle Gallery in Lisbon. These echo the concrete roof beams — a seemingly modern material that the Romans used — and contrast with the millennia old stone. The old and new marry effortlessly.

There was a real sense of uplift, of triumph — not enough to think that an ineffable being mix answer my communications and fix it for me, but to consider witnessing a service or a concert. And enough to believe a little more in humanity.

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