Church Village of Gammelstad, Luleå (1996)

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Sweden 2001. World Cultural Heritage. The Church Village of Gammelstad, Luleå.

Gammelstad, at the head of the Gulf of Bothnia, is the best-preserved example of a 'church village', a unique kind of village formerly found throughout northern Scandinavia. 

The 424 wooden houses, huddled round the early 15th-century stone church, were used only on Sundays and at religious festivals to house worshippers from the surrounding countryside who could not return home the same day because of the distance and difficult travelling conditions.

The site is of outstanding universal value as it is a remarkable example of the traditional church town of northern Scandanavia, and admirably illustrates the adaptation of conventional urban design to the special geographical and climatic conditions of a hostile natural environment.

Gammelstad in Luleå is the largest preserved church town in northern Norrland. It is moreover the only one which combines the two types of wooden towns in Scandinavia – the church town and the borough. A church town is a group of houses and stables used by parishioners who lived far away from the church. They stayed here during the big church holidays, courts, markets, and other occasions.

The reason for the building of church towns in northern Sweden was the size of parishes in this part of the country. The long distances made it difficult for parishioners in remote areas to get to service and home again on the same day. Instead they attended church for special holidays, when each family stayed for a few days in its own house and also did other business in the town. The principle of church towns probably arose after the Reformation in the sixteenth century, when there was stricter control of church attendance and the religious instruction of the peasantry.

From the fourteenth century Gammelstad was a marketplace and the centre of a parish that at times comprised almost the whole of present-day Norrbotten County. At the start of the seventeenth century the place had developed into a church town and was given commercial borough rights. The church houses were mixed among the homes of the permanent townspeople, and the church town came to comprise 424 buildings.

The unique setting of Gammelstad consists of the stone church from the end of the fourteenth century and the surrounding church houses, a medieval street grid, and buildings going back to the seventeenth-century borough. The church houses were used in the traditional way right up to the 1950s. Today the church town functions as a living community, with the houses now chiefly used in connection with the confirmation ceremony at Midsummer. 

Other World Heritage Sites in Sweden (on this website). Please refer to the UNESCO-listing, Sweden section, for further information about the individual properties. 

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Revised 21 jul 2006  
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