Bible texts have always been an obvious source for Swedish church textiles. Over centuries, embroidered altar cloths and lectern draperies used such texts, rendered in beautiful lettering, and images inspired by and illustrating the biblical word. While many of the rugs produced for churches were decorative patterns drawing on architectural elements or color schemes of the churches themselves, or even abstracted patterns, such biblical texts or passages provided the inspiration for quite a few of the rugs proposed and produced during the period of the 1930s-70s as well.
It is easy to find sketches of rugs drawing inspiration from biblical texts in archives of regional County Craft Associations (“hemslöjden”). Many of these rugs were produced although they are not all still in use. Clearly some of them still are in Swedish churches originally served by such craft associations, and this blog has looked at several of those. Others of them may have now been replaced. But it is fun to see the wildly divergent stylistic interpretations of the designers in working with these texts— in some cases even with the same texts.
Several sketches based on biblical texts follow. The first, from 1951, was done by Kerstin Bergman, later Kerstin Mauritzson, then working for the Kristianstad läns hemslöjd—the County Craft Association in Kristianstad as a proposal for Stehags Church, located about half-way between Kristianstad and Lund. The sketch, for a red rug —probably a pile rug, since the word “Flossa?” is noted, takes as its theme the biblical tree of life. This is the tree that appears first in Genesis and then again in many other Bible citations. With its many branches and leaves, I like to think that Bergman’s design illustrates the lovely statement in Revelations 2 in which the leaves of the tree are “for the healing of the nations.” This rug is not today evident in Stehags church, although the area directly in front of the altar, within the kneeling rail, does have a red rug of a different and simpler design.
Two designers from the Jönköping County Craft Association did designs for flat-weave rugs carrying the same title, “Consider the Lilies,” from Jesus’ instruction, cited in Matthew 6:28. “Consider the lilies of the field how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin; And yet I say unto you that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” In 1951, Mary Karlsson designed a proposal with this title for an unknown church. It is a complex and rather fantastic design, with three rows of flowers composed of tall stylized lilies surrounded by roses, other flowers and leaves. The pinky-red panels of flowers are almost like gothic church windows. But it is not clear whether this rug was ever woven.
Five years later, in 1956, Inga-Mi Vannérus also designed a sketch titled “Skåden Liljorna, according to Mark 2” but it was such a different size one wonders if it was for an entirely different church. However, in this case the name of the church is given: Mellby, which is just south west of Jönköping. Vanerus’ sketch captures some of her practical character, in that it is not only a sketch—and much more explicitly of lilies this time— but at the same time a mock-up of the situation in the church that the rug is intended for. With a simple fold of the cardboard, we see the way the rug is intended to lay on the steps leading to the altar. The only confusing part of this is that there are no references to lilies in Mark 2.
One of the most interesting rugs based on biblical texts is one designed in 1960 by the energetic designer Anna-Maria Hoke who was head of the Kalmar County Crafts Association from 1956-60.
During her time with the Kalmar County Crafts Association, Hoke designed rugs for a number of churches on the island of Öland. Öland is a long skinny island located to the east of Kalmar and reached by a very long bridge which was, until the Oresund Bridge linking Denmark and Sweden, the longest Swedish bridge. One of these churches was in the small town of Gärdslösa, on the north-east side of the island. This was a medieval stone church from the 12th-century with a stepped-gable and tower, embellished inside with wall-paintings in the decorative plaster. The church may have occupied a site which was already in some way sacred; two pieces of an ancient limestone rune stone with a dragon’s tail stand in the church entry hall. The church has been loved and well-maintained and added to over the years: there are bas-relief memorial stones in the floor dating from the 14th-19th centuries; in the 1660s a pulpit was built with elaborate carving, painting and and gilding, and a hundred years later, an almost-as-elaborate baroque altarpiece added; a ship’s model, or “votive ship” commemorating the loss of the ship Nyckeln, a warship that sank in Kalmarsund in 1679, hangs in the center of the church; a tower was added to the west side of the church in 1845; there are memorials to various priests; the church’s exterior stone was whitewashed in 1958, and recently a memorial grove was opened in the cemetery as a place of contemplation.
The rug Hoke designed for the Gärdslösa church in 1960 was thus another thoughtfully-designed addition to this much-appreciated church building, one both decorative and functional. Her rug design takes as its text the first verse of Psalms 84, which reads in English, “How lovely are thy dwellings, Lord, my soul longeth, yea fainteth for the courts of the Lord.” In Swedish that is “Hur ljuvliga är dina bostäder Herre, min själ längtar och svimnar för herrens domstolar,” or as Hoke transcribes the phrase in more archaic language, “Oh hur ljuvliga äro icke dina boningar, min själ längtar och trängtar efter Herrens gårdar!”
The rug’s image is that of a fanciful medieval castle with towers and roofs piled up and tall windows and portals, something quite far from this quiet country church, and yet one with many scriptural referents. This may be Hoke’s image of “the Lord’s dwelling place,” and it also evokes the biblical “city four-square,” and the idea of the church triumphant. A church brochure notes that the four gates or portals represent the 4 Gospels. The colors of the rug are soft pinks, greens, browns and blues— similar to the tones of the medieval wall paintings and, as a church brochure notes, they “reflect the rich color-play of the church.”
There don’t seem to be any preliminary sketches or proposals for this rug in the Kalmar County Craft Association archives, but there is the original working drawing, worked out on graph paper for this rug.
The rug itself was woven by the weavers of the South Kalmar County Craft Association and installed in the church at the conclusion of a respectful mid-century church renovation. Seeing the rug in color and in its intended location brings the weaving cartoon to life.
Despite its almost naif style, the richly-colored rug in place in front of the nave is a very effective element of the decor, warm, and welcoming. One can see why a Swedish princess chose to be married here in 1964, and why Anna-Maria Hoke herself chose to have her own funeral here. Although the rug has no lettering—the biblical text is not made explicit— the rug certainly contributes to making this ancient church building feel like it is indeed, in some sense, “the Lord’s dwelling place.”
The Bible, King James Version
Boström, Ragnhild, “Gärdslösa Kyrka,” church historical brochure.
Crandall, Birgitta and Haidi Björk, Hemslöjdens Skattkammare, catalog of 1994 exhibition at Kalmar Museum.
Gärdslösa Church, Öland, Sweden, site visit September 2018. All photos of church and rug not otherwise identified are from this visit.
Jönköpings läns museum. Permission granted to use photos taken of the Jönköpings County Craft Association collection (Jönköpings läns hemslöjdsförening). The moral rights must be respected and the names of the creators behind the photographed objects will follow the photos at publications. Jönköpings läns museum shall be named as the owner of the collection. Particular thanks to Maria Ridderberg, Verksamhetsutvecklare Samlingar (Developer of Collections) at the Jonköpings Museum.
Kalmar läns hemslöjd archives, now located in designarkivet building in Pukeberg, Sweden. Permission granted to use photos taken of the Kalmar County Craft Association collection (Kalmar läns hemslöjdsförening). Kalmar läns hemslöjdsförening shall be named as the owner of the collection. These photographs may not be reproduced without permission. The individual artifacts depicted are protected by copyright, and the names of the creators behind the photographed objects will follow the photos at publication. With thanks to Agneta Gefors, Hemslöjdskonsultent for access and for help with translating old Swedish.
Kristianstad läns hemslöjd archives, Kristianstad
Permission granted to use photos of drawings and woven samples, taken in the collection from Kristianstad County Craft Society (Kristianstad läns hemslöjdsförening). The photos may not be reproduced without such permission. Östra Skånes hemslöjdsförening (The Handicraft Association of Eastern Scania) shall be named as owner of the collection. The individual artifacts depicted are protected by copyright, and the names of the creators behind the photographed objects will follow the photos at publication. Particular thanks to Åsa Stentoft, Hemslöjdskonsulent, for arranging access to these archives.
Ridderstedt, Margareta , “Kyrklig Textilkonst i Sverige, 1890-1990” in Svenska Textilier 1890-1990, Bokförlaget Signum, Lund, 1994.
Sandström, Katarina and Gunilla Petri, Gunnar Hillerdal, and Rolf Lind, Livets Tråd Anna Maria Hokes textila värld. Barometerns förlag, 1996.