Älvkarleby Church

During the Middle Ages Älvkarleby probably belonged to Tierp parish, but many signs indicate that “eluakarlaby “ had its own chapel and its own priest at an early time. Thus mention of a “capellanen in eluakarlaby “ is made in one of Magnus Ladulås’s letters issued on July 25, 1280. 

That the current stone church had a predecessor in the form of a small wooden chapel is likely for a number of reasons.

In 1641 Älvkarleby became an independent congregation, then Queen Christina in her minority reign issued an open letter, which allowed it to be separated from the "main church ", i.e. Tierp, and to form its own congregation. This decision was ratified later in 1645 by Queen Christina ; since 1641 Älvkarleby has thus been its own parish with its own parish priest.

The gradually booming congregation during the 20th. century has received an additional two churches: Skutskär’s church, which was consecrated on Midsummer Day, 1906, and Marma church, which was consecrated on February 13, 1927.

Since the vicar, who, in the parish establishment of 1641 received land for his housing on the Överboda estate, in the 1950s moved to Skutskär, Skutskär became at last a parish regulating a particular congregation. But despite this fact, conditioned by population growth and other causes, Älvkarleby church remains by its venerable age, its rich furnishings and its proud traditions the real mother church of that parish.

Älvkarleby church
Älvkarleby church 

The church building

The oldest part, ie the nave, was begun in 1478 and completed in 1489 , after which the shrine was consecrated by Archbishop Jacob Ulfsson on March 3, 1490. The dedication was then to John the Baptist and Mary Magdalene.
It was probably then that the porch was also finished. For this is, like the nave, built of gray stone with the use of brick in the corners, and around the portal and window openings.
For the late medieval church a vestry was also planned by the authorities at the north wall. It was demolished later in connection with the church's expansion eastward, when a new vestry was added, but the old door of riveted iron plates is still doing service.

The exact details of the church's construction and dedication we feel are owed to entries in the 1600 century by active antiquarians. Data on the opening day is derived from a visitation protocol of year 1712.

The church's appearance in 1683, ie Älvkarleby church's original profile, is given to us by a drawing in Johan Hadorphs collection of drawings of churches and church porches in Uppland province. A drawing made 65- years later, by Olof Graus in 1748, shows us Älvkarleby church in the new form. It has been fitted with a new, triangular roof and received at its crest a small cap or ridge spire.
Furthermore, the windows are enlarged. The Graus drawing also depicts the old sawdust -covered churchyard wall around the church with two covered gates, one in the south and one in the east.

The bell tower was then as now located outside the cemetery, east of the church. That year, incidentally it is likely, that the logs from this wall are included in the present (see below).

Sketch by Olof Graus, 1748 

Since 1659 Älvkarleö and Harnäs mills were constructed and shortly thereafter Hyttöns blast furnace, and there thus came a population growth of the parish , which necessitated the expansion of the church, which was begun in the 1690s, and for which a national collection was taken up in the year 1694.

The new chancel was completed in 1702 and then even included under the floor a tomb built for the parish mill owners. The church was fitted with a new chancel and the nave, which previously had included the choir, utilized as a communal room . This chancel is built of brick, like the vestry now newly acceding to the choir. The chancel was equipped similarly to the long house with brick arches ; the three medieval arches of the nave - the star vault of " Sturetyp " - resting on square piers, the chancel vault , however is round. With this extension Älvkarleby church had obtained the appearance and the range, which it retains to this day , as far as the exterior is concerned.

The main changes after the 1700s have been to the interior. Before turning to this, it must be mentioned, however, that the small ridge spire over the new chancel was removed in 1829, and during the restoration in 1890-91 the church was fitted with metal roofs in the old rake roof's place, and that at an exterior restoration in 1958 the brick linings on the western gable and porch gable were uncovered. They had been covered with plaster during the restoration in 1890-91.

The interior changes

The 1490 inaugurated medieval church was a typical Uppland country church in both outer and inner aspects. The interior had its profile of frescos, altar, baptismal font and images of the saints. In the 1600s a magnificent pulpit in the Renaissance style was added.

It goes without saying, that alterations to the building around 1700 produced effects for the interior, including the need for new benches to fill the enlarged parish room. This ended up as two pyramids - a relic of bygone days. These two wooden pillars from the nave have been preserved and are now set in the porch. The Swedish Historical Museum holds a couple of bench doors from the interior.

Probably also paintings in the nave were whitewashed over in the context of enlargement towards the east and the enlargement of the windows on the south side.

At the new chancel’s completion the church received a new altar decoration, since the old reredos was discarded and hung to the side. The new altar ornament consisted of an oil painting , depicting Christ in Gethsemane, signed C Thomas 1702 ( see below).

The altarpiece was a gift of the brothers Jacob and Petter Leijel, as are the two allegorical figures Faith and Hope, which originally flanked the altar piece . These, now lined up on the south side of the chancel, have leaves and the brother’s name within a cartouche and the year 1702.

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Hope, Jacob Leijel, 1702                                       Faith, Petter Leijel, 1702

The continued population expansion led to renewed calls for increased space in the church. This was the reason that in 1772 two grand stands were erected, one along each long side.

In 1843, when repairs were undertaken in the church, there was thought of expanding it, but these plans
came to nothing.

In the 1880s no less than three different projects for an enlarged church were aired, but the result was a radical transformation of the church interior in 1890-91 and later the construction of a new church in Skutskär.

The medieval wall paintings in the vault were restored in 1890-91 under the guidance of architect CA Ekholm, while the walls were provided with stencils. The medieval wall paintings had been so badly affected by the enlargement of the windows and the creation of two new windows on the north wall, that they could not recover them. The chancel, which lacked paintings, was fitted with decorations – as much as one was able to do - in the same style as the old paintings and ornaments.

Side terraces were now laid down, the old pulpit was discarded and new pews were installed.

The altar ornament from 1702 was removed, and instead the chancel window behind the altar was decorated with a glass painting depicting Jesus as the Good Shepherd. This glass painting, created by Neumann & Vogel, has since been moved to the window opposite the pulpit on the chancel south wall. This happened in 1958.

The 1702 main altarpiece regained after preservation its position as an altar decoration in the year 1927.

In the years 1964-65 Älvkarleby church underwent a thorough renovation with, for example, a new floor of sandstone inserted in the chancel and the old floor covering from 1890-91was removed.
Furthermore bricked new altar of sandstone, on which as altar decoration was placed the old triptych.

Several of the church's valuable equipment also received an overhaul, and the frescoes were cleaned.
However they kept the entire wooden framing from 1890-91: altar rails, pulpit, benches and organ gallery . However, several improvements in color and gilding were done.

The church's solemn rededication took place on 13 June 1965. Incidentally associated with this restoration the sacristy received a completely new interior.

Wall Paintings

The paintings in the three nave vaults are about the same age as the church itself. They are considered to have been created before the consecration of the church in 1490 and to have been done by one or more artists, belonging to the so-called Tierp School. They resemble very closely the work of a known artist in this school who previously went under the name Eghil, and who painted several churches in the neighborhood. They are probably works by him.
In 1890-91 they were roughly restored, but among other things, surveys in the recent restoration show that the figures are genuine, although the color partially defaced.

The paintings in the choir, on the walls, and in the porch originated in 1890-91.

Vault I, which is the original church ceiling, reproduces traditionally in the vault crown angels with Christ 's instrument of torture , as well as on the larger fields images of the four Latin Fathers : Augustine and Ambrose on the south side and Jerome ( with a lion as attribute ) and Gregory the Great ( wearing a tiara ) on the north side , diagonally above the pulpit top. The domed ceiling in the west has prophets with speech tapes.

Vault II in the vault crown has music-making angels. Northern vault crown has two typical late medieval piety offerings : Anna herself and Marie 's coronation. The first scene shows St. Anna (Mary's mother ) and Mary sitting with Baby Jesus between them. Above the child’s head hovers the Holy Spirit dove.
The next picture shows God the Father and Christ seated with Mary kneeling in front of him - Christ setting the crown on his mother's head, and God the Father holding his hand in blessing stretched over Mary's head . Also here is the Holy Spirit dove, at the same time the scene is also a Trinity Picture : entire Trinity participates in Mary's coronation.
Both the described figure groups are surrounded by guardian angels.
Above the depicted scenes is an abbot with a handcuff on his left hand, St. Leonard.

Southern vault painting shows St Helena, the cross of Christ and to the right thereof the Ascension. Above these scenes Simon with the lion, an Old Testament foreshadowing of Christ’s descent into hell.

The vault crowns in the east and west have prophets with speech tapes.

Finally vault III has in the vault crown the four Evangelists , and withal two music-making angels.

Northern vault crown has large pictures of St Martin (left) and St Gertrude (right) and in southern arches, paintings of St Ursula (left) and St Botvid (right).

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The altarpiece is an Uppland work from around 1490 and is related to, inter alia, altar cabinets in Borje and Tegelsmora churches.
In contrast to these the Älvkarleby cabinet has as central motif Virgin of the Sun (Revelation 12:1). The sunbeams are bounded by a rosary. The piece's main motive is bounded from the flanking four images of the saints by two strips, each with four small saint sculptures.
Of the four major sculptures the top two are St Erik and St Olov: of the two female saints in the lower register on the left is the Church's patron saint Maria Magdalena, and the one on the right lacks attributes, but as it wears a crown one can guess it is one of the four crowned noble virgin saints , preferably St Catharina.

The eight small saint figures on the strips lack in many cases closer identifiers, however, they are bishops and crowned virgins, four of each. Top left is St Erasmus with a pot in his hand.
Of the wings’ twelve saints most apostles have lost attributes. The Apostle James the Elder can be identified on the far left of the lower register, and in the bottom line of the right wing stands at the right the church's male patron saint, John the Baptist. The Apostle John occurs in the same row. The wings’ backs have paintings, partially damaged. However, the motifs can be identified. The north wing has thus the Eucharist at the top and cross at the bottom, the south wing has at top a wagon and at the bottom the Judas Kiss.

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The Altar Triptych


The baptismal font, which has its place to the south of the chancel, is a late medieval work of domestic origin. It consists of the foot, column and bowl. The latter is ornamented with a border of roses and lilies, and the adapter has cable pattern in stronger versions.

The font that would have been acquired at the Church’s opening, is one of a group of late Middle Ages fonts having more representatives in northern Upland.

Wood Sculptures

On the pillars between the stack of I and II have been placed two extant images of saints from the end of the 1400s, on the south side the church’s patron saint John Baptist and on the north side, a crowned female saint without attributes but with outstretched left hand, probably S Gertrude.

In the sacristy is stored a similar sculpture, depicting a deacon without attributes, probably St Laurentius.

Behind the organ is placed a large sculpture of St Erik (about 1500).

In the sacristy is also a 16th -century sculpture, John the Evangelist, undoubtedly a holdover from the old in 1890 dismantled pulpit.

Furthermore, stored in the vestry is a sculpted kneeling angel with barrels on the head (barrel and footplate secondary) , which is reported to have been used for the admission of the victim to the hospital and poor at christenings (Sanden).
For the ensemble includes four kneeling angels, now posted on the ceiling light in the sacristy. The Angels, stemming from the 1600s, have possibly been sitting on the old pulpit.

Oil Paintings

On the chancel north wall hangs a very valuable painting , depicting Jesus on the road to Calvary with his cross . The painting is painted in oil on wood and signed B 1563 Febr. 18, which means that it is the work of the Dutch Renaissance master Joachim Bueckelaer from 1563.
The Cross- bearer is inset into a crowd of people, in the foreground market people with their baskets. The canvas is assumed to have come to Sweden as war booty during the 30-year war and first belonged to Queen Christina's collection of paintings.
Since then it has apparently been in the Leijel family’s possession.
When it was donated to the Älvkarleby church by members of this family, it was fitted on a pedestal and crowned by an epitaph. This is done in Baroque style and is said to originate from the early 1700s.
Epitaph is to the memory of David Leijel the Elder ( d 1676 ) and his wife Catharina Honnon ( d 1670 ).
Leijel was one of Älvkarleö mill’s founders and rests along with his wife in the chapel tomb.

In stack I on the north wall hangs an oil painting depicting the Eucharist sacrement (early 1700s), and stack II has the old altarpiece painting. This is, as mentioned, signed C Thomas 1702, ie, a work by the artist Christopher Thomas, a supposedly German-born student of Ehrenstrahl.

In the sacristy hang two painted priests’ portraits.
From the early 1700s originated the portrait of the pastor Andreas Bockius , who in the years 1688-1706 was Älvkarleby parish shepherd.
From 1932 derived an oil painting of the Reverend Francis Tivell , who in the years 1909-1934 led the increasingly expanding parish with wisdom and zeal.

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Epitaph of David Leijel the Elder and his wife Catherine Honnon

Coats-of-arms and Engraved Memorials

In stack I hangs the coat-of-arms of Mine Councilor David Leijel the Younger, b.1660, d.1727, a son of David Leijel the Elder, whose memory is perpetuated in the Church through the aforementioned oil painting with its pedestal.

In stack II a coat-of-arms is set up in memory of the Assessor of Mining College Claes Anckarström, b 1627, d 1702, who together with D. Leijel the Elder founded the iron mills in the parish.

As previously reported, several members of the families Leijel and Anckarström are buried in the chapel tombs, where also later - after this family acquired Älvkarleö mill - members of the family Tottie found their final resting place.

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Arms of David Leijel t.y.                                                         Arms of Claes Anckarström 

Three tombstones, previously placed over the entrance to the chapel, were erected in 1890-91 on the north wall under the gallery, where they still have their place. Here are pictures of the Leijel and Ankarström tombstones.

DavidLeijelCatharinaHonnon Anckarstom Elfkarlebykyrka
Leijel Tombstone                                                                    Anckarström Tombstone

Church Silver

Oldest among the communion silver treasures is a chalice from the 1600s with a medieval stem (probably 1400s first half). The node or stem is provided with six buttons, each with a letter, which together form the name IHESUS (Jesus). Actually, Ihesas ; letters are alternately large and small.
Between the buttons are floral ornaments. Obviously, it is a medieval mass cup, which in the 1600s was enlarged to its current size.
Its paten has at the bottom an engraved cross. A host receptacle on ball feet also carries the same stamps as the chalice and the paten. Chalice, paten and box were made in Uppsala by Petter Ingemundsson, master there from 1667 to 1703.

From the 1600s originated also a large gilt flagon with Agnus Dei on the cover. It was donated in 1685 by David Leijel and Catharina Honnon.

A larger square box with beveled corners was made in Stockholm in 1726 by Petter Henning the Younger, and according to the inscription bestowed on April 13 the same year by Anna Leijel.

The larger cup with associated paten and a round box was made in Stockholm in 1698 by J J von Yhlen.

A small chalice made in Gävle parish, and likewise a flagon, the latter the work of Anders Dunderberg 1795.

A wafer spoon was made in 1729 by Bengt Collin in Uppsala.

To the church's treasures is also a communion jug of tin, allegedly made in 1686.

From our own time derives a beautiful christening bowl of silver, composed by Bengt Härdelin (1959), as well as an altar cross of silver, donated in 1967 by Öhns church sewing circle and manufactured in Copenhagen by A Dragsted.

A stately bridal crown from the 1700s further enriches the church's silver storage room; four silver altar candlesticks were donated in 1970 by Öhns church sewing circle. Along with the chalice shaft descended from an older church in Älvkarleby a censor from 1300s with a lid of poetic architectural construction.

Lighting equipment

In the chancel hangs a brass chandelier with two candle rings, according to the inscription bestowed in 1697 by Petter and Jacob Leijel.
The 9- armed chandelier in the stack I has no inscription, while an 8- armed chandelier in stack II, according to the inscription was donated by Isaac Matson and Annika Larsdotter in1747.

In stack III finally hangs over the stands a 6- armed brass chandelier, crowned with a double-headed eagle.

To the right of the baptismal font in the choir is placed a magnificent brass candle holder with twisted handle and stem from about 1700.

In the chancel are suspended two candle arms, each with three candle holders. One of them has a sign with the words “Jacob Leijel Ao 1701." Several other candle holders and sconces belong to the Church.

Altar has previously been decorated by three three-armed candlesticks of brass (1600s), which are still kept in the church.


Älvkarleby church has a complete set of chasubles, but only the red and black is old (1800s), the white chasuble was created in1945, and the green and the violet in1960.
The latter is like the altar cloth designed by Lizzie Härdelin.
The pulpit cover was donated in 1978 by Lisa and Evald Lindstrom . It is designed by Anna-Lisa Odelqvist - Kruse and performed on Libraria.


Älvkarleby church organ has undergone many changes. In 1742 Daniel Stråhle delivered an organ with about 7 ranks, in 1780 - at the expense of ironmaster Thomas Tottie – it was expanded to include 11 ranks.
During restoration in 1891 the company E A Setterkvist & Son, Örebro, built a new organ - which in turn was remade in 1919 - which then included 15 ranks. 1945 saw a new reconstruction of the organ, which now came to get 18 ranks.

The hymn number board in the choir is crowned by the Leijel arms. Some of those related numbers there bear the following inscription : " presented to Elfkarleby Kyrckka 1770 by Pehr Leyel Anna Catharina Barck ».

In the chancel are two beautiful armchairs in baroque style (end of the 1600s) , and in the vestry stands a chair with embroidered trim, also from the 1600s.

In the sacristy is also a turning bench from the 1600s.

The hourglass on the pulpit is original in the sense that it lacks a tripod.

Belfry and church bells

As already alluded to, the bell tower at Älvkarleby church is older than one first imagines. If one enters into its interior, one notices the old, heavy logs, which are derived from an older, chip clad steeple.
This old bell tower was clad in 1834 and changed to its current appearance. In the belfry hang the church’s three bells, each with its current design dating from the 1700s.
The big bell is dated 1776, but was first cast in 1707. It was overhauled partly in 1739 and partly in 1776 - both times at the expense of the mill proprietors of Älvkarleö. It was cast by Eric Hillström in Gävle.
The bell has medieval origins , but received its current form in 1735 , when Gerh Meyer in Stockholm replaced the bell from the early Church , that "after 238 years service had cracked." According to Peringskiöld in his time the then big bell had an inscription in Latin with the year 1497 and was named after the church's patron saint, " the son of Zacharias and Mary Magdalene."
The little bell was originally 1643, when C Meyer in Stockholm at Queen Christina's expense presented this bell to Älvkarleby church. It was recast in 1782 by G Meyer in Stockholm.

The Churchyard

The cemetery has on many occasions been extended. The years 1806-07 was the first expansion to the south, and in 1849 the area north of the church was in use as a burial ground: in earlier times, only offenders and suicides were buried north of the church.

1931 saw a new expansion of the church courtyard area to the south, and in 1945 an additional area was added southwest of the termination to Älvkarleby cemetery.

At the cemetery's main entrance, erected in 1928, when they celebrated the 450th anniversary of the church's foundation, is an art work drawn on a piece of iron, drawn by the elementary school teacher I Hasselblad and forged by the blacksmith O Lax, Älvkarleby.

The cemetery's west side was completed in 1985 and includes a memorial. The inauguration took place on 25 August and was conducted by contract dean Sixten Akne.


Church's older records are stored at the Provincial Archives in Uppsala.
Another valuable file of material exists partly in the Library. Stockholm , and partly in the Antiquarian - Topographical Archives. The paintings have been described by H Cornell and S Wallin in “Tierp School Paintings” (1965). A meritorious work on the exploration of the parish and church history has been done by the school teacher A N Sanden, documented later in “Älvkarleby, a native description ", new edition Gävle 1960. First edition was published already in 1923. Sanden has now published a description of Älvkarleby church from the Middle Ages to the present day with the name "A memorial writing for Älvkarleby church's 500th anniversary in 1978 ", which features special sections on the buildings, altar and frescos . The vault arches have been treated by Ann Mari Karlsson in her book “Stjärnvalv i det senmedeltida Sverige” (1986), the photos, unless otherwise stated, are taken by Sten-Olof Svensson.

Published by Archangel Diocesan Stiftsråd