DANISH HISTORY EXPLAINS MORAVIAN MISSIONARIES

Second in a series on the Summer 2001 visit to Denmark by the Friends of Denmark, hosted by the West Indian Society there
Wednesday – rural religious and royal strongholds
On Wednesday of our first week, the Fynn group met in Christianfeld on Jutland where we got a good orientation to how it came to be that Moravian missionaries played such an important role in educating slaves in the colonial period of the Danish West Indies.
In 1457, a group of Christians gathered together in the Bohemia/Moravia area of Germany and called themselves Unitas Fratrum — the United Brethren. Two centuries of persecution by the Roman Catholic Church drove most of the church's members elsewhere, mainly in Eastern Europe. A small company of the Brothers and Sisters found refuge in 1722 in Saxony, where Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf was taken with the Moravian ways and joined the Brotherhood, granting them land upon which they founded the town of Herrnhut and in 1727 established the renewed Moravian Brethren movement.
Count Zinzendorf supported Moravian missions to the Danish West Indies (from 1732) as well as to Greenland and India. The count was related to King Christian IV and Queen Sophie of Denmark and convinced them to accept a mission of Moravians. The mission purchased a sizable plot of land in Jutland and founded the village of Christianfeld in 1772.
As a religious community under the wing of the king, Christianfeld was forgiven taxation, and the Moravians were quick to make maximum use of their money.
The Christianfeld Moravian Church is a masterpiece of understatement. It is a simple rectangular solid with the largest chapel without supporting columns in Denmark. The floors are lightly sanded, raw wood planks, and the room is painted stark white. it has no altar, baptismal font or religious art imagery. The only ornamentation, if you can call it that, are numerous candelabra suspended from the ceiling or attached to the wall.
Sitting in the middle of the church, I admired the Moravians for putting aside pomp and splendor with a total commitment to their God and his teachings, and I really wanted to join them in worship in the evening under the flickering light of hundreds of candles.
Other church-erected buildings in Christianfeld include a vicarage, choir houses — including the Sister House, where unmarried females lived and studied, the Widow House, a pharmacy with its garden of 69 different medicinal plants, and a hotel.
In the church, brothers sat on the left side facing the front, while sisters sat on the right. In the churchyard Gudsageren ("God’s Field") cemetery, males are buried on the left of the center lane while females are buried on the right. All headstones are of a standard size, with identical lettering to emphasize equality after death. There is bare dirt throughout the burial grounds.
One stop on our tour was at a bakery, where most of us purchased honey cakes. This delicacy has been a Christianfeld speciality since 1783.
Lunch was a smorgasbord of herring, salmon, pork and cheese served in the bowels of Koldinghus Castle. The castle was the early palace of Danish kings and a favorite of Denmark's builder king, Christian IV.
The oldest parts of the castle date from the 15th century. In 1808, Spanish troops hired to fight in the Napoleonic Wars stoked a fire so fiercely that the castle caught fire and was destroyed. Rebuilding didn't begin until 1890 — and wasn't completed until the 1990s, under the direction of architects Inger and Johannes Exner.
The restored traditional sections house an impressive collection of lace and one of Denmark's finest collections of silver. A modern wing is used to display special collections and exhibitions. At the time of our tour, the wing was filled with a Danish industrial design exhibition.
Our final stop of the day was the Lyng Church, built to replace a historic church removed to make way for the Fynn-Jutland Bridge. This church also was designed by Johannes Exner. The large sanctuary is covered by a cantilevered roof set on beams emanating from a central core, the effect being a "tree of life." The walls are decorated tiles and the altar cross is three dimensional.
The Lyng Church organ is a masterwork of design and function with trumpets projecting horizontally from the pipes. The West Indian Society had prevailed upon the church organist to play a short concert for us which showed off the instrument and the sanctuary acoustics.
Thursday – family ties
Our host drove me to Helnaes By to visit my cousin — my grandfather's brother's daughter's son. He spends October through March in an apartment in Assnes, and then retires to his beach cabin in Helnaes By from April to October.
My cousin does not speak English and I have no Danish, so we talked through an interpreter and drank a lot of beer. He lives with a Laplander who also is most interesting. His oldest daughter knows some English and is working on a family tree, so I expect to know more about the Danish side of the family in the near future.
Returning to Norre Lyndeise, we stopped at my grandfather's village of Flemlose. Here we visited my great-grandfather's tailor shop, the home my grandfather was born and raised in, and the village church.
Even having to use a translator for our conversation, my cousin and I felt a strong family bond, and we were able to trade family information. I learned that a member of his father's family went down with the Titanic, having set out on the voyage to immigrate to America.
Friday – Transfer day
For our last day in the rural north of Denmark, our hosts took us on a bicycle trip throughout the immediate countryside. We visited a goose farm — which set the juices flowing for pate and crackling goose fresh from the roaster. We pedaled along country lanes through forests and stopped to inspect several historic buildings. The Norre Soby Kirke was constructed in the 1400s. We were lucky to encounter the local archivist — who also waters the grounds and rings the bells. He gave us a thorough history of the church and led us to the tower with its two bells cast in 1470 that have been in continuous service since their installation.
We also stopped at the birthplace and favorite home of the Danish composer Carl Nielsen. We were treated to a comprehensive history by the local caretaker, who even played some early recordings of Nielsen's music for us.
After a final country smorgasbord, we boarded the train, joining more than 50 fellow Virgin Islanders for the ride to Copenhagen and our metropolitan hosts for the second half of our two-week visit.
Next: Copenhagen

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