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Ellingsøy Church

Ellingsøy Church in Ålesund municipality was designed by the architect Oscar Nordeval and was consecrated in 1999. This is a central-plan church, built according to an almost quadratic design with a high, pyramid-formed roof.

As is the case for most of Gullvåg’s liturgical commissions, also here there was a competition which Håkon Gullvåg won. The simple, tightly framed pictorial program functions surprisingly well in this modern church interior, with its expansive smooth surfaces. The work has a somewhat unusual shape; when we enter the church we are unexpectedly met by a large rectangular volume or box floating in front of the altar. There is also a circular painting hanging on the front focal wall. These basic geometrical shapes have symbolic functions: the rectangular volume represents the earth, and the circle’s perfect form –without beginning or end – represents the divine.

The Relativity of Weight

The floating rectangular volume is decorated with scenes from Jesus’ earthly life: the Foot Washing, the Last Supper, the Crucifixion and the Deposition. The under-side shows the planet earth against a Greek cross, with evangelist symbols in the spaces between the cross-arms. The painting hanging on the focal wall behind the altar depicts The Miraculous Catch of Fish (John 21). Here we see Peter and two other disciples with a huge catch from the Sea of Tiberius. In the foreground the risen Jesus turns towards us with a gesture of blessing.

While the motifs in Ellingsøy Church are traditional and closely tied to the liturgy, they distinguish themselves sharply from what we are accustomed to seeing in churches. Given that these compositions bubble over with details, one could say that they verge on the surreal, yet their vibrant mood can in fact be comparable to the finest of Medieval art. The function of the decoration is actualized during the mass, most acutely during the Eucharistic liturgy: to the crucified and the risen Christ. When celebrating the Eucharist in Ellingsøy Church, one kneels in a ring around rectangular volume covered with sacred motifs. We look right into the Last Supper; the table-end closest to us is empty and invites us to take part in the meal together with Jesus and the disciples.

The works have also been well received by the parish, not least because the priests are knowledgeable about them, and they are actively used during the mass. These complex pictures demand mediation in order to open themselves up, but such a form of maturation occurs over time – Sunday after Sunday.