The Gateway to Russia: Memory Politics, Materiality and Collective Identities – St Catherine Swedish Congregation in St Petersburg around the turn of two Centuries
There are numerous church buildings in St Petersburg. Walking Nevski Prospekt one passes Dutch, Finnish, Swedish, German, Armenian, Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. They give witness to the religious-cultural variety, which has been an important part of the history of St Petersburg since the time of Peter he Great. This project is focused on one of these churches, the Swedish Lutheran St Catherine. The presence of Swedish Lutherans in the area can be dated back to the 17th Century when the Swedes ruled the area. The congregation rose to its peak in 1865 and inaugurated a new Church, which is still there. The building was taken over by the Soviet authorities in the early 20th Century due to the political upheaval. In the next Century Swedish politicians started to “claim back” the building as a Swedish entity even though it has never really been Swedish, more Finnish.
This project places St Catherine in the centre in the periods 1900-1936 and 1990-2015 but the aim is not only the building and its history, but more the place, which has been attributed properties and values, and formed the arena for a wide range of people from Sweden, Finland and other countries. There are major differences between the cosmopolitan St Petersburg around 1900 and the post-Soviet city in 2000 but the common history with collective memories, and material remnants of buildings, archives and sites are conspicuous. The major political changes starting in the 1990ies connect to and illustrate the altering history in the multi religious city of St Petersburg.
The aim is to investigate and compare the importance and role that St Catherine Church has played in two periods in order to detect the political, economic and religious changes as well as cultural continuity. The building and its function as an arena for collective and individual memory and identity formation will be analysed. Memory politics and analysis of political and religious use of history will be combined with the international field called cultural memory studies.
Religious contacts between Russia, Sweden and Finland are essential to our knowledge and understanding of the variety of interactions between these areas, both in the past and today. Furthermore it is interesting to notice that the two turns around the Centuries (1900 and 2000) have their resemblances, especially when it comes to negotiations of religious identities.