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Christmas calendar 2020 – 22: Luleå Old Town church town (Gammelstads kyrkstad)

Advent calendar 2020 - 22: Luleå Gammelstads kyrkstad

Just outside Luleå there is a large town which, for the most part of the year, is devoid of people. While eerie, it isn’t abandoned.

The red-painted town surrounds Nederluleå (Lower Luleå) church, inaugurated in 1492, funded by regional trade in animal hide (skin) and salmon. Over time, (by 1600 the latest) a town formed around the church—but it isn’t a usual town. While some people did live there, a good part of the town wasn’t populated every day—people lived there only over weekends to attend church services. Such a town is called a church town.

The church town was a phenomenon that once was common in the northern part of Scandinavia. Distances were far and travel very difficult during the winter. People going to church on Sundays could not make a return trip home due to such harsh conditions, and thus need room to stay over the weekend.

Luleå was chartered in 1621 as a city, but just 28 years later, in 1649, the harbour was deemed too shallow (due to the rising of land; we’ll explain another day) and the city was moved to the current site. The church town remained, and with improvements in transportation, became largely obsolete but, besides having become a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, is still being used for parish stayover activities a few times every year.

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