Situated a few miles north of Enköping municipality in Uppland County, Härkeberga church looks like a quite typical small Uppland-style church of which there are many dotted around its countryside that is rich in medieval remains.
But there is more to it than that humble greystone façade lets you know about; on the inside the church contains some of the best murals of Sweden’s most famous artist of the time it was built.
Härkeberga Church lies on a ridge in open countryside landscape, surrounded by a partly-medieval wall that has a roofed stone entrance. The construction of the church took place in phases; the nave, chancel and sacristy was built in the beginning of the 14th century while the weapon-house (porch/anteroom) and stone vaults were added in the 15th century. Five of the windows are from the early periods and also the doors between the weapon-house and the church as well as to the sacristy have survived from the original state.
The décor boasts with a beautiful 1791 pulpit by court sculptor Jean Baptiste Masreliez. There is also a crucifix from the early 14th century. The pews are from 1755, but uses material from the 17th century, and the current organ was put in place in 1811. The church is remarkably well maintained and not much has been done about it since a 1930’s renovation when also electric power was installed.
On to the murals! Immediately when you walk into Härkeberga Church, through the weapon-house over the doorstep that separates the two, your eyes start to wander over those wonderfully decorated walls. Lively medieval-style characters depicting stories from the Old and New Testament, often modelled on the Biblia pauperum, meets you. The murals are thought to be from around 1480 and are made with lime paint by Albertus Pictor, famous at his time and now. If you study the details of the paintings you can spot an eagle claw here and there, this was a signature for Archbishop Jakob Ulvsson (1435-1521) and signals that they were made during his tenure.
The murals of the vaults at Härkeberga Church are unique because they have never been covered nor restored; what meets your eyes today is also what met the eyes of churchgoers in the Middle Ages and they have witnessed both Catholic and later Lutheran ceremonials. The murals of the walls, however, were covered in the late 18th or early 19th century and were brought to the light and restored again during the 1930’s. Colour is the only thing that has changed about Pictor’s work; at the time they were made the colours were much stronger and made an even greater impact – what we today see as dark brown or black was red at the time. The kind of paint used for the red colour has simply oxidized with time.
Albertus Pictor (ca. 1440-1509, exact dating unknown) was probably born in the town of Immenhausen near Hessen in Germany but is known in Swedish records since 1465. He was a painter and embroiderer and has left a remarkable legacy in some 30-something churches in the counties of Uppland, Södermanland and Västmanland, though not all of them verified by lasting signatures.
To see more of my photos from Härkeberga Church, visit this set of mine on Flickr.