Alta Cathedral Article

Something a little different for this article about a cathedral. The building is the Northern Lights Cathedral at Alta in Norway. The cathedral came about as a result of an open competition in 2001 and was built in 2013. The authorities wanted an architectural landmark that would underline Alta's role as a public venue from which the natural phenomenon of the Northern Lights could be observed.

Churches have existed in Norway since around 1000. The first ones were 'Post Churches' which were later replaced by more robust 'Stave Churches'. There were over a thousand distinctive wooden Stave Churches of which only 28 remain now.

There was no significant patronage of churches by nobility or the wealthy so churches have always tended to be built by the people for their own use. Most early Norwegian churches have been lost and very many were burnt to the ground during the German invasion when whole cities were destroyed.

The Northern Lights Cathedral at Alta is known as 'The People's Cathedral.' The architect behind the design was Kolbjørn Jenssen from Link Arkitektur in Stavanger. The building is constructed from concrete with external cladding of titanium sheets which well reflect both sunlight and the Aurora. Construction was quite a challenge because of the circular shape. In many ways the building represents and reflects the nature of the Northern Lights. Some say that it is best viewed at night when the Lights are in the sky.


Alta Cathedral At Night - Courtesy of their Facebook Page.

A senior partner at the architects said: "The cathedral reflects, both literally and metaphorically, the northern lights: ethereal, transient, poetic and beautiful. It appears as a solitary sculpture in interaction with the spectacular nature."

The lighting of the interior is particularly notable - bear in mind that for three months of the year there is very little daylight. Vertical lights are arranged to suggest the pattern made by the natural phenomenon. Very striking was the bronzed figure of Christ by Peter Brandes which is positioned behind the altar and is bathed in light from from above.

The building is used not just by worshippers but also many from the local community including a well supported youth group. It is very much a 'people's church' and visited by thousands.

My visit to the cathedral came about as part of a cruise to view the Northern Lights and the Norwegian Fjords. This was one of my longest journeys to visit a cathedral, but well worth it.


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