Friday, March 21, 2014

The Sistine Chapel of Torna Hällestad...

Since moving to Sweden in 1987 on an exchange program with UCSD a favorite pastime has been exploring my new home country. To that end I have dragged my wife, children and in-laws to the arctic North in both February and June and most of the rest of the country in spring and summer when we have explored the back roads, small towns and nature and I can safely say I have seen a lot more of Sweden than most Swedes, who take this fantastic country for granted. So it was I was quite surprised when I discovered a new treasure only a short distance from our home.
On a recent March morning when the weather was poor and the wildlife had gone into hiding I gave up after a few hours and decided to head home on a back road that took me through Torna Hällestad (pop. 584). I have tried to photograph the church from outside but was never really impressed with the results, but on a whim I thought I would take a look inside and see if there was anything to photograph. Opening the door to the church was like stepping back in time to the middle ages. In 25 years of living in Sweden no Swede has even mentioned Tonra Hällestad to me, but I guess the grass is always greener...
In any case it is impressive; the architecture, the vaulted ceilings and most of all the paintings on the ceilings, which I later learned painted around 1460 by a Swedish artist named Nils Håkansson and called "Vittskövlemästaren" - "The Master of Vittskövle".
Trying to capture this interior however is a challenge; how do you present this in a way that reflects both the detail and the whole? The only option I could see was to shoot this as panormas about 20 shots using my favorite Samyang 14mm/2.8, starting with the ceiling:

 Ideally you should now hold your computer monitor or at least your iPad over your head to get the proper effect.

Moving on to the crossing of the transept I shot the 360 degree panorama (26 shots) you see below. There is some HDR processing to be able to recover both the shadows and highlights since it was a bit dark in the middle of the church, but with bright light from the windows.

And finally moving to the transept I shot the 210 degree panorama below which shows a bit more ceiling detail.

Satisfied with my one hour visit, when not a single person had entered the church I took a look at the exterior of the church which contains three rune stones in the wall including the one below. Originating from circa 980 AD and probably commemorating the battle of Fyrisvallarna, outside Uppsala. In total there are three runestones in the church walls. Interestingly the one which should be vertical is horizontal and the one which should be horizontal is vertical

While it might not be fair to compare this to the Sistine Chapel, considering that people are willing to travel thousands of miles and spend enormous amounts of money to visit Rome, Torna Hällestad Church deserves a good deal more attention from both Swedes and visitors, so the next time we have visitors we will definitely make a stop here.


  1. Makalösa bilder, tack för tipset. Hade inte en susning om freskmåleriets kvalitéer här. Har däremot tidigare fotograferat och förundrats över de infogade runstenarna, där hednatidens främsta symboler möter Helighetens hus. Man använde väj byggnadsmaterial överallt det dök upp, misstänker jag.
    / Deerhunter

  2. Apropå ingenting. Medan jag hyser den största respekt för ditt kunnande så har jag ändå bestämt mig för att lägga ner projektet. Jag får boka in mig på en specialresa istället. Stort tack för ditt engagemang, Michael.
    / Deerhunter