In 1917, the two young architects were commissioned to design a funeral chapel. They divided the work between them: Sigurd Lewerentz stood for the landscaping and Gunnar Asplund for the chapel itself. His first proposal was thought to be too large so Asplund submitted a smaller, wooden chapel set in the forest.
The Woodland Chapel is intimate, with no windows to tempt the gaze. The interior dome lets in daylight through a round opening at the top. Candlelight provides the only other illumination. Focus is on the catafalque in the middle of the room and the light over the coffin. The floor of rough red limestone has been intentionally designed to allow a diversion for the eyes - meeting the gaze of others or looking at the coffin can be taxing. Like the landscape, the chapel has sparse, discreet symbols, welcoming different creeds and beliefs.
Everything signals the concept of the life-to-death journey — we are constantly moving on towards something else, the new.
Inauguration on September 19, 1920
The inauguration of the new cemetery drew a large crowd. Prominent architect Ragnar Östberg praised its serenity and openness, contrasting with the confinement of traditional cemeteries and their feeling of a “city of the dead”. Others found the site pleasing but the Woodland Chapel cramped and unpractical, although many appreciated its simple restraint and the fine proportions of the structure.
Angel of Death and skulls
The angel was commissioned in 1920 from sculptor Carl Milles. She was unusual and controversial: a woman, full-figured and thinly clothed - perhaps a symbol for both death and new life? She was the object of intense debate and labelled a “scarecrow” and a “lewd seraph”. But art historians and architects defended her and she kept her place on the ceiling.
On the other hand, the skulls on the main door and glass gates were uncontroversial. As was the inscription over the gate: Hodie mihi cras tibi - Today me, tomorrow you - showing the proximity in time to death and its symbols.
After the inauguration, burials began in the plots closest to the Woodland Chapel. Soon, the chapel became too small for many funerals. And in 1922 resources were allocated for a second, larger chapel.