The western skyline of the city of Turku is dominated by Michael’s church which was consecrated in 1905. It was designed by professor Lars Sonck. When he won the competition for the church in 1894, he was only a 23 year old architectural student.
Michael’s church is a representative example of the neogothic style in architecture. It is a long church with three aisles, galleries and a multifaceted choir. In addition to the main entrance there are also doors at each corner of the church. The sacristy is situated behind the choir. The main spire rises to a height of 77 meters 6om the foundations.
The main building material for the walls of the church is red brick. The roof is made of grey green slate from Norway. The majority of the materials used in the construction of the church materials from Finland. For the are native foundations, stone steps and walls, natural stone was used which has been quarried 6om close to Turku.
Even before the construction work started, Sonck would have wanted to make considerable changes to the competition winning design. But the church council did not want to agree to the proposed changes. In fact only minor detail changes were made to the facade. In the interior however Sonck got a much freer hand to make changes from the original drawings. This is clearly seen in the deviations from the style of the times: Jugend follows Gothic and National Romanticism.
The architect Max Frelander, who worked as an assistant to Sonck, has contributed his own influence to the interior design. A rich Jugend ornamentation decorates both the interior, the staircases and the windows. The altar, pulpit, altar rail and window frame are all made of Finnish soapstone. The central subject of the altar is a cross, on the base of which there is a symmetrical carving of two serpents. Also on the comer levels of the altar rail there are rings of twisting serpents. At the top of the cross there sits a dove, the symbol of the Holy Spirit. The Jugend windows of the choir, which depicted Finnish pine trees and were designed by artist Willy Baer, were destroyed in a bombing raid during the Finnish Winter War (1939-1940). The national romantic movement is particularly dominant in the design of the choir. Subjects from Finnish nature are associated with traditional Christian symbolism.
The new choir windows were received only in 1953. These were conceived and executed by the artists Hilkka Toivola and Otso Karpakka. The principal subject of these works of art, that were made in the Parisian glass painting studio of Gaudin, are ,,the Good Shepherd” and ,,Faith, Hope and Charity”. Along with the new windows the stylistic unity of the interior of the church disappeared. Consequently, in the 1950’s other changes were made in the interior design of the church to match the Gothic exterior. First the decorative paintings of the choir and the arch of triumph were painted over, and later also the wall paintings in the body of the church and the staircases. However, the original decorative pictures were restored in connection with the general repair work on the church that was carried out in 1964-65.
Michael’s church underwent a thorough renovation program in the 1980’s. First exterior repair work was carried out in 1984-85. The decayed exterior brick work and the roof were completely rebuilt. Reconditioning of the interior was done in 1985-87. First the sacristy was returned to its original condition. After this it was the turn of the main body of the church and the staircases. The ceiling and the interior wall surfaces were carefully
cleaned of the accumulated a grime of decades. The decorated designs were repaired and returned to their original paint finish or painted afresh. Floors were resurfaced with a new limestone finish. The reverberation time was reduced in attempt to improve the acoustics.
The romantic organ with 52 stops and 3630 pipes was built in 2002 by Gronlund organ builders in Sweden. The organ case is made of oak, and it resembles the case of the first organ from 1907, which was designed by Sonck.
Three bells have rung out from the main spire since 1931. They were a gift from Edla and Hjalmar Arnio. Reino Lehto made a gift to the church of the model ship hanging from the north gallery. Kaarina Lehmussaari, lecturer in domestic textiles, has donated the decorated altar cloth.
Michael’s church is older than Michael’s parish, which dates back to 1921. The parish currently has some 22.000 members. The name that Lars Sonck gave to his winning design, ,,Soli Deo gloria aeterna” — To the eternal glory of God — succintly expresses both the purpose and the function of the church.
Text: Michael’s parish 2008