Old Aker Church
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Old Aker Church (Gamle Aker kirke), Akersbakken 26, is the city’s oldest surviving building and in daily use as a parish church. It was built around the mid 12th century, modelled on Sankt Hallvardkatedralen. The church was built on the ground of the Akerestate, using limestone from a quarry which lay in what is now the area of Vår Frelsers gravlund(the cemetery of The Church of Our Saviour) and partly from material from the islands in Oslofjorden. One can clearly see fossilised squid and orthoceras in the limestone.
The church lies at the top of the rise where Akersveien and Akersbakken meet. With its sturdy tower it can be seen from large areas of the city. The interior, with its heavy stone pillars and Romanesque arches, is perhaps the most evocative church interior in the capital. The form of this interior is old, but its present appearance is more modern, with its bare stone walls. It imbues a feeling of solemnity and elevation which many more modern churches lack, and which it probably also did in the Middle Ages. At that time, the walls were most probably whitewashed and it is likely they were gradually covered in murals.
The church, in the Romanesque style, has a simple, three-aisled longitudinal basilican plan, with a chancel and a side-chapel, both rounded off by an apse of 210°, and there is also an altar niche in the south aisle. It has a central tower with a pyramid roof, cladded with sheets of copper. The tower was raised in 1860, but from the inside one can see that the medieval construction assumes the existence of such a tower (architects H. E. Schirmer and W. von Hanno).
The exterior of the church looks as it did after having been completely restored in 1861. In 1950-55 the church was closed for new restoration work: the white paint on the walls was removed and the church was given a new slate floor, new altars and altar rail as well as an internal porch (architectsP.D.Hofflund,Gerhard Fischer and Håkon Christie).The Baroque pulpit and baptismal font are by Thomas Blix (1725). Torvald Moseid made the east windows (1955) above the three altars of the church as well as a red altar frontal. Church textiles are by Bjørg Abrahamsen (1970s), and a Christmas crib by Turi A. Eng (2005-08). The new organ is from 1977 (Paul Ott) and has 24 stops, and there is a concert grand piano (2011). The soapstone baptismal font that was used between 1878 and 1950 now stands at the back of the church. The main aisle seats about 250 people.
The church has two bells, cast in 1728. The smaller one has been cast using metals from the two old bells that were ruined in the fire of 1703 (these bells had been taken over from Akershus in 1599). On the larger bell is the inscription “Eftedi mig Almuen selv har bekostet, nyde Alle og Enhver, saavel Fattige som Rige udi Menigheden, efter den høie Øvrigheds Tilladelse, fri Ringing for sig uden Betaling”
(Since the common people themselves have paid for me, each and everyone, both rich and poor in the congregation, with the permission of the highest authority, shall enjoy free ringing without any payment). And on the smaller one: “Da Fredrik den Fjerde her Kongesepteret rørde. Og Frederik von Gabell Statholderskabet førde. Da Akershuus Syift (Stift?) Hans Munch forestod. Mig Menigheden til Kirken støbelod.” (When Fredrik IV held the royal sceptre here, And FrederikvonGabell was vice-regent. When Hans Munch was in charge of Akershus diocese. The church congregation had me cast.)
In the early 1990s, the church was given new floodlighting. The oldest piece of church inventory is a ‘craftsman chest’ (a chest in which the guilds kept ritual objects) that was given to the church in 1656 to keep church vestments in. The chest was later used for keeping the church silver, but is now no longer in use.
Aker Church, as it was called until it was placed under Christiania with the city regulation of 1859, is one of the oldest known buildings in Eastern Norway, and the oldest preserved building in Oslo. It is logical to assume that a wooden church existed here prior to the stone church. Aker estate was linked to the royal house even before the stone church was built. No traces of medieval whitewashing were found during the restoration of 1950-55, so it was decided to remove the existing white paint.
The church was provincial church for Vingulmark, between 1186- and 1536 owned by Nonneseter abbey; between 1587 and 1823 united with Akershusslottskirke (the castle pastor of Akershus was also parish vicar in Aker); between 1723 and 1849 privately owned; taken over in 1849 by Aker municipality, but sold to the municipality of Christiania in 1852 and thereby saved from being demolished. Old Aker Church was the principal church for Aker until 1855, with Oslo hospitals kirke as annex church (1823-1861).The church was plundered once and damaged by fire on several occasions, most recently after being struck by lightning in 1703, when all the inventory except for three of the chandeliers and one iron chest were lost. Parish church for Old Aker (1861-2013). Local church for the joint parishes of Sentrum and St. Hanshaugen (2013-).
During the Occupation of 1940-45, Queen Maud’s sarcophagus was kept in a crypt beneath the chancel. The reason for this was that in the days immediately after 9 April 1940 bombs had fallen quite close to the place at Akershus where the sarcophagus stood. Lord Chamberlain P. F. Broch and Bishop Eivind Berggrav took the initiative of moving the sarcophagus to a safer location. The crypt in Old Aker Church was deemed highly suitable and, with the German authorities’ approval, the sarcophagus was transported to the church around midday on 19 April. After it was in position, the crypt was converted into a small chapel, with two silver candlesticks and a hanging crucifix. As a token of gratitude, King Haakon VII was present at the re-opening of the church after the restoration of 1950-55.
After Quisling took over the government in 1942, Old Aker congregation was hard hit when both the clergymen and bell-ringer were later dismissed, with both the church and the church hall being taken over by the Norwegian Nazi party, Nasjonal Samling (NS).
Round the church lies the cemetery of Gamle Aker kirkegård. Beneath the cemetery on Akersbakken lie the four old beer halls of Ytteborg Brewery. During the war, they were used to store vegetables and a new entrance was established from Akersbakken.
Under the cemetery and the church lie the mines of Akersbergets gruver.