Advent Calendar – Door 21: The Churchyard Gate in Bunge

Bertil Berthelson, The Churchyard Gate in Bunge, 1941
Swedish National Heritage Board (Public Domain)

When I first saw this photo, its almost poetic simplicity immediately appealed to me: There’s an empty lawn, a rough stone wall cutting across it, a line of barren winter trees against the sky, and that’s basically it. Upon looking more closely, admittedly, one discovers several houses and other buildings in the background, but what dominates the composition are the diagonal lines of the wall and the treetops receding into the distance. Almost – but not quite exactly – in the centre of the picture, a white, high-gabled gate stands out, drawing the viewer’s attention towards it.

To be honest, though, what really excited my interest in this photo was the place name given in the original image caption: “Bunge kyrka” – the church in Bunge, a settlement in Gotland, Sweden. Now, I’m aware I said in an earlier post that I didn’t know too much about Scandinavian art, but I do know about medieval art, so the name Bunge rang a bell: This church was once home to one of the most important Gothic sculptures in Gotland, even in all of Sweden, i. e. a wooden statue of St. Olof, now in the Statens Historiska Museum in Stockholm.

Statue of St. Olof from Bunge, c. 1325-1350
Statens historiska museum, Stockholm (CC BY-NC-ND)

Carved in the first half of the 14th century, this figure is of exceedingly high quality and has stylistic ties to the Hanseatic cities of Northern Germany, especially Lübeck. Unfortunately, nothing is known about the artist’s identity, so art historians, with their usual flurry of imagination, have dubbed him the Bunge Master.

When the sculpture was made, the church building in Bunge was still brand new as well. It dates from the very beginning of the 14th century, and so does the wall that surrounds it, including the churchyard gates. Thus, when photographed from a more frontal position, the gate visible in the first photo also reveals itself as rather fine piece of Gothic architecture:

Johnny Roosval, The Churchyard Gate in Bunge, 1916
Swedish National Heritage Board (Public Domain)


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