The final major work of the Swedish master Sigurd Lewerentz, Saint Peter in Klippan, Sweden is a holistic, obsessive, and moving space. A disorienting journey through a thick and tranquil atmosphere, the church is intimate in scale and carefully detailed. Shadow dominates the interior of Saint Peter. Sources of illumination are sparse, focused, and purposeful, lending warmth and contrast to the space. The atmosphere of Saint Peter is inseparable from the treatment of the masonry. Lewerentz insisted on never cutting a brick to turn corners or make complex forms, and uses mortar with equal skill to craft careful moments. Saint Peter of Klippan is an intimate experience in which craft constructs atmosphere.
Begun when he was 78 years old, Saint Peter was to be Lewerentz’s last major project. It is a direct evolution of the techniques, materials, and moves which Lewerentz employed in his earlier Saint Mark’s church in Stockholm. Rather than relying on typical drawings, Lewerentz spent nearly every day on site dictating where bricks should be placed and toiling intimately with the workers on models and mock-ups. Aside from some models and drawings, the process was largely undocumented, and many of the records available today were generated by admirers, students, and other architects. Lewerentz’s intent and some of the moves he made are still open for interpretation. This degree of attention and intention mirrors the role of traditional master builders, who would have worked on the Gothic cathedrals of the middle ages. Today, the church of Saint Peter is the pride of Klippan. Although its congregation is small, they are devoted and eager to share their church with international visitors. It is a site of pilgrimage for architects and believers alike.
architecture, sacred, spiritual, masterplan, materiality, history
Pilgrimage Site, Parish Church
The Antonius Cross
The ceiling is supported by a structure of raw iron beams, elevated by a large cross.
" A renowned architect has, with all his being, built here a hallowed room of majestic weight. " — Bishop Martin Lindström, 1966¹
The procession of the clergy from the sacristy to the altar is illuminated by a set of deeply recessed skylights. This sacred route travels parallel to the front of the congregation, following a path of light that begins at the sacristy door and terminates in front of the altar. While the wall apertures are objectified and observable, the skylights are implemented solely to illuminate a path. Here, natural illumination is being employed in order to highlight activity and key moments in the service, while its source is completely concealed. Lewerentz’s deft, sparse, and intentional control of illumination would be reflected in his material selections.
Lighting the Path
Skylights illuminate the path which the minister traverses before the seats to the altar.
The brick vaults of saint peter disappear above the light emanating from the lamps.
Saint Peter is recessed from the street, concealed by a berm surrounding the car park to the south and trees and vegetation to the north. A variety of roof forms distinguish the church from its supporting structures, reinforcing the aggregated nature of the complex. The entrance must
be sought carefully to be found. The west facade appears at first to serve as the main entry, as it opens onto a plaza and is marked by an asymmetrical pair of ceremonial doors. However, these mostly remain closed. The actual entrance is located in the back corner of a courtyard between the vestibule and belfry. Each step towards the nave steps down in scale. This courtyard slopes down towards the only visible recessed aperture in the exterior envelope, which contains a small wooden door marked with a steel cross.
Saint Peter utilizes light sparingly and to great effect. The low and cavernous nave is filled primarily with shadow, reinforced through contrast with the purposeful light sources. All artificial illumination in the primary volume exists below a height determined by the pendant lamps. The only illumination which comes from above these is recessed in deep skylights, which are difficult to see from the interior. During services, the lamps and a row of candles must be lit in order to provide adequate illumination, as only four windows are visible within the nave. In contrast to the glittering light of candles and pendents, these windows brighten the nave with strong and volumetric washes of daylight. The bright natural light that they emit into the church illuminates the imperfection in the brick, highlights the finish on the chairs, and leaves the space beyond its edges in richly textured shadow.
The wooden doors with their angled patterns break the uniformity of the marching bricks, signaling entry.
The craft and intention on display in Saint Peter carries over into the furniture, hangings, and fixtures. Each artifact makes a specific contribution to the calm atmosphere of tranquility and reverence. Though unique in material, the fixtures are not additive. Many have physical ramifications on the space, such as the expressed piping, which weaves precisely across the front of the brick, and the integrated christening font, which causes the bricks in the floor to rise. Next to the altar sits an iron cross wrought by Robert Nilsson. It is embedded with five red stones, which symbolize the five wounds of Christ. This metal cross was designed in conjunction with the cross which sits in the wedding chapel, down to the five stones. The most pervasive addition to the nave is the presence of woven chairs. These are some of the few pieces in Saint Peter not designed or commissioned by Lewerentz himself. Rather, they are the work of Danish architect Kaare Klint, slowly perfected over years of study and craft for use in his churches. Here, as in many of the churches of Kaare Klint, they stand as a bright, mobile, tectonic juxtaposition to the stoic masonry.
The windows are proud of the brick and high in the wall, isolating the interior and disappearing against the sky.
Lewerentz used whole bricks to create special moments throughout the project.
Anders Clausson, “Facts,” Sanktpetrikyrka.se, 1995, Accessed November 3, 2019.
Peter Blundell Jones, “Sigurd Lewerentz: Church of St Peter, Klippan, 1963–66,” arq: Architectural Research Quarterly 6, no. 2 (2002).