Standing amidst the dense conifer trees, the forest chapel by the great Swedish architect Gunnar Asplund first appears like a modest cottage. The only ornament is the golden Angel of Death by Carl Milles on the wood shingle roof above the entrance. The angel receives visitors with open arms. The chapel, inaugurated in the 1920s, is the first and smallest in Stockholm’s large forest cemetery. The Danish pleasure palace of Liselund, the world’s only thatched palace, had inspired Asplund to design this building.
In 1915, Ashland and Sigurd Lewerentz, who had met at university, won the competition for designing the forest cemetery. The concept developed by the two architects focused on the emotions of the visitors of the cemetery, the mourners with their feelings. The architects wanted them to find solace in nature, symbolizing the cycle of life, and thus be accompanied in their pain.
As a consequence, the small forest chapel is surrounded by a low stone wall inside of which the trees are noticeably denser. They are intended to give mourners the opportunity to collect their thoughts before taking their leave of the departed. Inside visitors are greeted by a surprisingly light-filled room with a pantheon-like dome which conveys a feeling of lightness. After the ceremony, the mourners are led out through another entrance into a bright open landscape intended to make their return to life easier. Impressively designed through and through the chapel is filled with fascinating details. The keyhole at the entrance represents the eye of a death’s head and the cast-iron gate bears a host of Christian symbols.
Asplund and Lewerentz, who were behind this impressive landscaping, completed the cemetery in 1940. Gunner Asplund was to die only a few months after its inauguration. On the plain stone marking of his grave in front of the Chapel of Faith is the inscription: “His Work Lives On.”
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