Fun Facts about the Unique Design of St. Henry’s Cathedral in Helsinki, Finland

The Catholic Church has a long history of producing magnificent cathedrals that serve as architectural marvels, places of worship, and hubs for community life. Each cathedral has its own unique story, design features, and theological symbolism. St. Henry’s Cathedral in Helsinki, Finland, is no exception to this tradition. The following “fun facts” explore various facets of this particular Catholic institution, including its history, design elements, and significance within the larger context of Catholicism.

1. Nordic Modernism: An Unusual Architectural Choice for a Catholic Cathedral

Modernist Influence

St. Henry’s Cathedral was designed by the Finnish architects Hilding Ekelund and Pauli Lehtinen and was completed in 1969. The design is rooted in Nordic Modernism, a branch of architectural design that strays from the more classical and Gothic styles commonly associated with Catholic cathedrals. Nordic Modernism emphasizes simplicity, functionality, and a harmonious relationship with the natural environment.

Theological Significance

The architecture’s focus on simplicity resonates with various aspects of Catholic theology. St. Francis of Assisi, for example, famously encouraged a simple and unadorned life. Similarly, Pope Francis has said, “True power is service” (Evangelii Gaudium, 104), emphasizing humility and simplicity over grandiosity. The cathedral’s design seems to echo this focus on the service and humility that Catholicism often extols.

2. The One and Only: Finland’s Sole Roman Catholic Cathedral

Unique Status in Finland

St. Henry’s Cathedral has the distinction of being the only Roman Catholic cathedral in Finland, a predominantly Lutheran country. This unique status makes it a significant site for the Catholic minority in the country, serving as the mother church for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Helsinki.

Ecumenical Importance

The unique status also means that St. Henry’s Cathedral serves as an important ecumenical bridge between Catholicism and Lutheranism in Finland. In Ut Unum Sint (1995), St. John Paul II emphasized the importance of ecumenism, stating, “The unity willed by God can be attained only by the adherence of all to the content of revealed faith in its entirety” (no. 36). St. Henry’s Cathedral serves as a physical and symbolic locus for such aspirations in Finland.

3. An Altar Sculpture from Italy

Italian Connection

One of the central pieces of artwork in St. Henry’s Cathedral is the altar sculpture, which was imported from Italy. Italy, the home of the Vatican, has a special role in Catholic tradition and art.

Symbolic Unity

The choice of an Italian altar sculpture serves to symbolically link this Finnish cathedral with the heart of the Catholic world. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The altar of the New Covenant is the Lord’s Cross, from which the sacraments of the Paschal mystery flow” (CCC, 1182). By choosing an altar sculpture from Italy, the cathedral emphasizes its connection to the universal Church and the sacraments that emanate from Christ’s sacrifice.

4. Wooden Pews: A Nod to Finnish Cultural Heritage

The Use of Wood

Unlike many traditional Catholic cathedrals, which use stone or marble for their pews, St. Henry’s Cathedral has wooden pews. Wood is a common material in Finnish architecture, reflecting the country’s vast forests.

Cultural and Theological Synthesis

The use of wooden pews can be seen as a merging of Finnish culture with Catholic tradition. In the Old Testament, wood has various symbolic significances. For example, Noah’s Ark was made of “gopher wood” (Genesis 6:14), and the Ark of the Covenant was made of acacia wood (Exodus 25:10). The choice of wood in St. Henry’s Cathedral can thus be seen as an innovative way to combine local culture with Biblical symbolism.

5. Glass Windows: Emphasis on Natural Light

Natural Light

The cathedral features large glass windows that allow ample natural light to flow into the sanctuary. This is a marked difference from the stained glass commonly found in Gothic cathedrals.

Theological Light

Natural light has important theological implications. The Gospel of John states, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). By allowing natural light to illuminate the interior, St. Henry’s Cathedral manifests the idea of Christ as the “light of the world” (John 8:12).


St. Henry’s Cathedral in Helsinki, Finland, is an architectural and theological gem that reflects the synthesis of Catholic tradition with Finnish culture and modernist design. Its unique architectural elements echo various aspects of Catholic teaching, from simplicity and humility to the symbolism of light and wood. As Finland’s only Roman Catholic Cathedral, it serves as a pivotal center for the Catholic minority in the country and as a bridge for ecumenical dialogue. Through its design and the elements that comprise it, St. Henry’s Cathedral remains a compelling locus of faith, culture, and unity.

🙏 Your PayPal Donation Appreciated

Select a Donation Option (USD)

Enter Donation Amount (USD)


As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Thank you.

Note: While content aims to align with Catholic teachings, any inconsistencies or errors are unintended. For precise understanding, always refer to authoritative sources like the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Always double-check any quotes for word-for-word accuracy with the Bible or the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Scroll to Top