Finland: The iconic Helsinki Cathedral

Finland: The iconic Helsinki Cathedral

Last updated: 04/30/2021

Discover the iconic Helsinki Cathedral in Finland, one of the symbols of the country and full of curiosities and stories.


Helsinki Cathedral is one of ten cathedral churches of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. It is the main church of the Diocese of Helsinki and the Parish of Helsinki Cathedral. Designed by Carl Ludvig Engel and located in Senado Square, the Helsinki Cathedral is the most famous postcard in town and receives around half a million visitors every year. In neoclassical style, it was originally built between 1830 and 1852 as a tribute to the Grand Duke of Finland, Tsar Nicholas I of Russia. It was known as St. Nicholas Church until Finland's independence in 1917. The cathedral was built on the site of the Ulrika Eleonora Church, which had been dedicated to its patron saint, Ulrika Eleonora, Queen of Sweden. The bells of the old church were reused in the cathedral. 

Finland: The iconic Helsinki Cathedral
Helsinki Cathedral
Finland: The iconic Helsinki Cathedral
Cathedral architecture details

With a capacity for 1,300 faithful, the cathedral draws attention due to its large green dome surrounded by four smaller domes. The church has a Greek cross plan, symmetrical in each of the four cardinal directions, with the façade of each arm featuring a colonnade and pediment. The building was later altered by Engel's successor, Ernst Lohrmann, who also installed larger-than-life-size zinc statues of the Twelve Apostles at the apexes and corners of the roof line in 1849.

Finland: The iconic Helsinki Cathedral
Interior of the Cathedral | Photo: official website
Finland: The iconic Helsinki Cathedral
Cathedral Ceiling | Photo: official website


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Read more: Finland: How to get from Helsinki Airport to the center



The altar is located in front of the church, in the choir. One of the main highlights of the church is the impressive altarpiece with statues of angels on each side. The altarpiece is a painting depicting the burial of Jesus before his resurrection. The painting was a gift from Tsar Nicholas I and was painted by Timeon Karl von Neff. The painting was hung in a classic frame of pilasters and pediment. Within the pediment triangle there was originally a text intended to illustrate the meaning of Jesus' atonement. Below the triangle are four laurel wreaths that symbolize the four Evangelists of the Bible (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). Two small angels in relief illustrate the basic elements of Lutheran service: the word and the music. The wooden pulpit, covered with marble plaster, was built after Engel's designs in 1849. The canopy (canopy) above declares the kingship of God. On the right side of the choir area there is also a pulpit.

Finland: The iconic Helsinki Cathedral
Altar on the right and the pulpit can be seen on the left
Finland: The iconic Helsinki Cathedral
Altar detail | Photo: official website


Music is a fundamental part of church life. Organs are the main instrument for accompanying hymns and liturgy in Western Christianity. The Cathedral's first organ was built by the German EF Walcker and the organ's facade was designed by Lohrmann. The current main organ was manufactured by the Danish company Marcussen & Son in 1967, and the choir organ in 2006 by the Swedish company Åkerman & Lund. The Crypt organ, also made in 2006, was made by Martti Porthan.

Finland: The iconic Helsinki Cathedral
Cathedral Organ | Photo: official website


The vaulted rooms under the Cathedral are called the Crypt (Krypta in Finnish). The cathedral crypt was originally built as a basement with heating equipment and log cellars. The crypt was renovated between 1972 and 1973, and between 1996 and 1998 the crypt was improved during the extensive renovation of the cathedral building. Currently, the crypt hosts services, concerts and exhibitions. In summer, the crypt is home to Café Krypta. In winter, the crypt is open for parish events.

Finland: The iconic Helsinki Cathedral
Helsinki Cathedral Crypt | Photo: official website
Finland: The iconic Helsinki Cathedral
One of the exhibits in the Crypt | Photo: official website


After Engel's death, four corner towers designed by Lohrmann were added to the church building. Pavilions were also placed on either side of the tall main steps. The west pavilion is the clock tower of the Cathedral and is used as parish facilities. The bells are housed on the top floor of the Clock Tower and are used for events in the Cathedral. The East Pavilion became a Chapel.

Finland: The iconic Helsinki Cathedral
Clock Tower | Photo: official website


The Cathedral Chapel is located in the side pavilion, on the right, as you climb the steps to Praça do Senado. Baptisms, weddings, Eucharist services, youth services, prayer services and other services are held in the chapel which seats around 70 people. Funerals cannot be held in the chapel.


The Bell Tower, is the pavilion on the left, when viewed from Senado Square. In summer, the Bell Tower is home to the Cathedral Shop, which sells Christian jewelry, ornaments and gift items, as well as Helsinki souvenirs and a large selection of Finnish handicrafts. Coffee, tea, ice cream and soft drinks to go can also be purchased at the Bell Tower.



Statues of the twelve apostles, disciples of Jesus, are located on the roof of the Cathedral. The statues are of Saint Peter, Saint Thomas, Saint Simon, Saint James Major and Saint James Minor, Saint Paul, Saint Andrew, Saint Philip, Saint Judas Tadeu, Saint John, Saint Matthew and Saint Bartholomew. They were added to the roofs after the death of the architect Engel. This was done because a church building committee felt there was an imbalance between the central dome and the main body of the church. The statues were cast in zinc in Berlin and brought to Finland in three shipments during the years 1847 and 1948. They are believed to have been placed on the roof in 1850.

Finland: The iconic Helsinki Cathedral
Statue of one of the apostles | Photo: official website


Aiming to remind visitors of the history of the Lutheran Church, inside the cathedral are statues of the reformers Martin Luther and his colleague Philipp Melanchthon, as well as the reformer from Finland, Mikael Agricola.

Finland: The iconic Helsinki Cathedral
Detail of one of the Reformers' statues | Photo: official website


  • CATHEDRAL COFFEE: O Krypt Coffee It is located in the crypt and access is via Kirkkokatu 18 or by elevator via the Cathedral. It serves hot and cold options, as well as drinks. Open Monday to Friday from 11 am to 3 pm.
  • CATHEDRAL STORE: The gift shop offers a number of items related to Helsinki Cathedral, including souvenirs, books, postcards and more.

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Helsinki Cathedral

  • Address: Unioninkatu 29, 00170 Helsinki, Finland
  • Schedules: Cathedral: Monday to Saturday from 9 am to 6 pm | Sunday from 11 am to 6 pm
    • Café Krypta: open from June to August
    • Cathedral Store: open from May to September and in December
  • Entrance: free

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