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gamla stan

The city of Stockholm is built on fourteen islands surrounded by the clear blue waters of Lake Mälaren and Saltsjön. It has frequently been referred to as the 'Venice of the North' and certainly is one of the most attractive capitals of northern Europe. Today all the islands are densely populated with many bridges for road or rail links. But back in the 18th century, when Emanuel Swedenborg was one of it's famous residents the city was concentrated on a group of three islands forming the Old Town or Gamla Stan.

 

Emanuel lived in a number of different locations in Stockholm throughout his life. From 1728 to 1733 he lived in an apartment in Stora Nygatan, a street in Gamla Stan close to the Cathedral, the ancient town square, Stortorget and the Riddarhus (House of Nobles). Later he moved just south of Gamla Stan to Slussen and then in 1745 he moved to his final Swedish home in Hornsgatan just west of Slussen. From his large house and garden in semi-rural Hornsgatan he would have been able to walk down hill, over the bridge and into Gamla Stan in less than thirty minutes.

Today Hornsgatan is a long road of about 2km set almost east-west and though it has been much developed it is still full of mid to late 19th century apartments, which replaced the earlier dwellings, including Emanuel's home. Close to where he lived there is now a small square, Mariatorget, in which is located a statue of Swedenborg. Appropriately the road going due south from Mariatorget down to the Stockholm South railway station is called Swedenborgsgatan.

swedenborg summer houseHis large garden in Hornsgatan included fruit trees, a vegetable garden, a maze and the famous summerhouse facing east and which was approached by a long path through the garden from the house. At the time his property was demolished to make way for the late 19th century apartment blocks an open air museum was being established at Skansen, on the island of Djurgården, about 45 minutes walk east from the city centre. This museum is dedicated to rescuing and displaying traditional buildings from the Swedish past. Many people work in the museum carrying out the traditional crafts and activities in real surroundings. The summer house is set in a garden in Skansen and the current guidebooks comments, ".. the part of the rose garden nearest the summer house contains plants which are known to have been in Swedenborg's garden, e.g. larkspur, sweet William, flax, a scented white rose, bleeding heart, violets, tulips and hyacinths."

 

Being surrounded by water the city of Stockholm is a delightful place from which to set out on a boat trip and many excursions are available during the summer months. One such trip takes you to Drottningholm Palace, about 1 hours ride by steam boat. This palace, still used in part, was built in 1662 and it is likely that because of Swedenborg's involvement in the House of Nobles and his contacts with the royal family, he may have visited this palace.

Uppsala is the other Swedish city which Emanuel Swedenborg had known very well. It is a university city somewhat like Oxford or Cambridge with a large number of university buildings dotted about, a small river running through it and countless students and bicycles. Emanuel's father, Jesper, had been professor of theology at the university and rector of the cathedral before moving away to become bishop at Skara.

On a hill overlooking the city is the impressive castle, Uppsala Slott, originally built in the 1550's but rebuilt in its present form by 1757. The other building which dominates the skyline is the cathedral founded in 1260. It is a large and impressive gothic building but unusually the exterior is clad in brick. Much of this brickwork was restored in the late 19th century and still looks new making a great contrast with the very old interior. The spires are very different to the ones Emanuel would have first known as the original ones were destroyed by fire and replaced in 1744 and these in turn were again replaced in 1889! Uppsala was also the home of Carl von Linné, born Linnaeus, known for his classification of minerals, plants and animals. He was a contemporary of Swedenborg and married the daughter of one of Swedenborg's cousins. A small museum and garden is dedicated to Linné's work in Uppsala.

Although Emanuel Swedenborg died in London in 1772 and was buried in the Swedish Church in Princes Square, the casket containing his remains was removed to Uppsala Cathedral in 1908. There are more than twenty chapels in the cathedral at Uppsala dedicated to various people and causes. As you enter the cathedral through the main door you find in the first chapel on the left the grave of Carl von Linné and in the first chapel on the right the red granite sarcophagus of Emanuel Swedenborg. The current guide to the cathedral makes the comment;

"Swedenborg was a Swedish scientist and religious mystic who died in London in 1772. His body was returned to Sweden with much pomp and ceremony in 1908 (though his skull was not returned till 1978)."

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