Chapel of The Holy Cross

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Photo: Simo Rista / MFA
  • PlaceTurku
  • Completion 1967
  • Decade1960s
  • PeriodThe rise of the welfare state
  • Year of selection2017


A large number of churches and chapels were built in Finland in the 1960s influenced by the structural and aesthetic potential of concrete. In many of them the opportunities offered by the material were taken to the extreme, including sculptural constructions rising up to the sky.

Another key phenomenon in the sacral architecture of the 1960s was the extremely minimalist aesthetics, which was partly rooted in the era’s admiration for the rational minimalism of Japanese architecture. Concrete’s material characteristics could easily be adapted to the ascetic form language. Pekka Pitkänen’s Chapel of the Holy Cross is perhaps the most impressive representative of the minimalist trend in Finland.

The 1960s was also the golden era of architectural competitions, and design commissions for churches were mostly awarded through competitions. Also Pitkänen’s Chapel of the Holy Cross was the result of a competition victory in 1963.

The cemetery chapel is a building intended for the funeral service, the paying of respects, as well as retaining the body of the deceased and in some cases cremations. It is a building type that only became more common in Finland during the 20th century. For centuries, the funeral service took place either in the church or at the graveside.

The Chapel of the Holy Cross, set within the undulating terrain of the Turku Cemetery by means of walls, terraces and embankments, is reminiscent of Gunnar Asplund’s Skogskyrkogården Cemetery in Stockholm. The low building consists of three different sized chapels and a crematorium. The building is constructed almost entirely of concrete, including the altars and the pulpit in the main chapel, which are concrete monoliths cast in a foundry. Darkened bronze was used in the details, and the seating is in oak.

One arrives at the chapel foyer via a heavy, low canopy supported by columns. In the lobby is the bronze sculpture “De profundis” by the sculptor Essi Renvall. The dialogue between the exposed concrete surfaces and the natural light creates in the interior an evocative and sacred atmosphere. The light enters at a low angle, reaching only a part of the interior, thus leaving a large part of the interior dimly lit. In the main chapel, the altar and the catafalque are emphasized by the light descending from two skylights. The controlled variation of the material, between the prefabricated concrete slabs and fair-faced cast concrete, appeals to the tactile sense and subtly emphasizes the hierarchy of the spaces.


Anna Autio

Jetsonen, Sirkkaliisa (2003). Sacral Space. Modern Finnish Churches. Helsinki: Rakennustieto.
Lehtimäki, Terhi & Lyytinen, Hanna (2015). Siunauskappeli Rakennustyyppinä. Evankelisluterilaisten seurakuntien siunauskappelit 1917–2000. (haettu/accessed 20.12.2016). Helsinki: Museovirasto.
Niskanen, Aino (2016). ”Murros, arkkitehtisukupolvet ja uusi estetiikka”. Lahti,  Juhana & Rauske, Eija (toim.), Värikkäämpi, iloisempi, hienostuneempi. Näkökulmia 1960-luvun arkkitehtuuriin. Helsinki: Arkkitehtuurimuseo.
Rauske, Eija (2016). ”Karun betonin aika”. Lahti & Rauske (toim.) op. cit.