Friday, December 30, 2011

Viking Church at Moesgård Museum, Århus

The Vikings
A Viking Church

photo 1

Historians built in 1997 at Moesgård in Århus a 9,5 m long and 4,5 m broad stave church in oak with dragon heads on the gables and Viking-windings under the roof. The starting point for the building of this church were traces of postholes and floor layers from the original wooden church in Hørning close to Randers, but it was also inspired based on experiences from archaeological excavations in various places of the country, where were found floor layers and postholes from Nordic stave churches. From the church in Hørning comes the famous Hørning plank with the traditional Viking-windings. These windings are copied under the roof of the Viking church. The plank is dated to ab. 1066, in the transition time between the Viking period and the Middle Ages.
Viking-windings from Hørning-plank


decoration of portal


the bronze bell

At the excavation in Hørning were also found traces from a bell tower, and a reconstruction was built beside the church  in 2003-2004.  Moesgård Museum and Århus University carried through an experimental-archaeological project in 2005 to cast a bronze bell for the bell tower after a method, which was described in the 1100s by a medieval monk Theophilus. The bell is now in the bell tower.

History in short:
In 822 the pope had ordered the archbishop of Reims, Ebbo, to preach for the heathen Danes -  and around 826 arrived the missonary Ansgar. But both Ebbo and Ansgar were driven out of the country in 827. Ansgar did not give up. In 845 -  now as bishop of Hamburg - he was by king Horik allowed to build a wooden church in Hedeby, but it was destroyed in 854 when king Horik was killed in a battle. The church reopened in the 860s, and Ansgar established another wooden church in the important trade town Ribe.

The impious Vikings were not easy to persuade to give up their old gods. Christianity came gradually and slowly. Missionaries swarmed into the country from both Germany and England. King Harald was baptized in 960 -  and  Denmark was officially christianized ab. 965. The first churches in Denmark looked quite different from what we know today. Almost all churches from before 1050 were built in wood,  decorated with fine patterns, the wellknown traditional style of the Vikings. The construction was the simple stave church with a free-standing bell tower. The first wooden churches appeared in towns and villages where Christianity was gaining ground. The landlords built churches inside the walls surrounding their farms to show their proud ownership. Together with the church emerged a new holy place, the church yard. Christians had to be buried in consecrated soil if they wanted to go to heaven - while people who had broken the law were buried outside the church yard.

photo 2
Some stave churches were built upon ancient holy places like a church in Hørning (Randers district), which was built upon a grave hill, containing a rich grave of a prominent Viking woman who had died just before the church was built. The above mentioned Hørning-plank is a piece of the hammerbånd (edge decoration) from the ancient wooden church. The wooden churches did not live for long in the humid Danish climate. Archaeological examinations have proved that they were often renewed once or twice, but during the 1100s and 1200s they were replaced by stone churches in the parishes. The original stave churches still exist in a few places in Norway. None of the earliest Danish wooden churches are left, but the stave church at Moesgård gives a qualified bid on the look of a Viking church.

A new Viking church at Bork Viking Havn in southwest Jutland is the second reconstruction of a Viking church in Denmark. In this church is a woodcut of a one eyed god, who might be the Nordic god, Odin. The woodcut is a copy from an original stave church from that period.

section of Moesgaard

Moesgård Museum,Danmarks Kirker, Politikens Danmarkshistorie

photo 26 December 2011:
church nr. 1 and 2:  stig bachman nielsen,; other photos: grethe bachmann

Thursday, December 22, 2011


Mistletoe/Mistelten Viscum album
photo Paris, October 2009: stig bachmann nielsen, Naturplan Foto

Flora and Fauna
The Old Norse word for mistletoe is mistiltein. The evergreen 20-70 cm high bushy plant is a parasite, in Denmark found especially on apple, hawthorn, poplar and birch - the stalks are bifurcated and articulated with oblong leatherlike leaves, the small yellow-green flowers are in the bifurcate-corners, the berries contain a sticky juice. It is planted in many gardens and parks, in Knuthenborg park at Lolland (southern DK-island) is a large growth - from here are sold twigs for gardeners and flower-shops at Christmas time.The mistletoe immigrated about 7000 years ago. Pollen analyses show that the mistletoe was common in DK in egetiden (the oak-period), but declined between Bronze and Iron age - it might later have disappeared, but was brought back in the Middle Ages with the improved sweet-appletrees from Middle Europe. The plant was considered a sickly excrescence and was therefore destroyed in many places by people in present times.

The word Mistletoe is synonym with the Greek word mysterion, and the plant mistletoe was always wrapped in superstition, mystery and fascinating imaginations. It had a symbolic significance connected to purity and innocence, and it was able to keep away evil, misfortune and witchcraft - therefore people hung it over their doors by midwinter to protect themselves against the evil demons who feared the Green - but the evergreen plant was also a symbol of people's welcome to the increasing light after winter solstice.

Elmer Boyd Smith 1902, Balder
Although many sources say that kissing under the mistletoe is a purely English custom, there is another explanation for its origin that extends into Norse mythology. It's the story of a loving if overprotecting mother. The Norse god, Balder, was the best loved of all the gods. His mother was Frigga, goddess of love and beauty. She loved her son so much that she wanted to make sure that no harm would come to him. So she went through the world, securing promises from everything that sprang from the four elements, fire, water, air and earth - that they would not harm her beloved Balder. But then Loki turned up, a sly, evil spirit, and he found the loophole. The loophole was the mistletoe. He made an arrow from its wood, and then he revealed his nasty and treacherous mind. He took the arrow to Hoder, Balder's brother, who was blind. Guiding Hoder's hand, Loki directed the arrow at Balder's heart, and he fell dead. Frigga's tears became the mistletoe's berries. In the version of the story with a happy ending, Balder is restored to life, and Frigga is so grateful that she reverses the reputation of the offending plant - making it a symbol of love and promising to bestow a kiss upon anyone who passes under it.

Mistel (Mistil) is together with tidsel (tistil) and a little kiste (kistil = box) mentioned in a magic formula upon a rune stone found at Gørlev in northwest Sjælland. A branch placed in the stock of the gun abolished a witchcraft which caused no shot to hit target - at Christmas and New Year's Eve the plant was hung upon fruit trees, which then would bear much fruit. The plant became a symbol of purity and innocence, to kiss under the mistletoe was a sign of love. The girl who did not get a kiss under the mistletoe, would not be a bride the following year. On Christmas Eve it was allowed to kiss every girl who came to you under a mistletoe. The custom origins from England. In the year 1888 the mistletoe was used for the first time in a Danish Christmas - and since then it was often used as a Christmas symbol. Misteltoe is especially imported from Italy.

The folklore and the magical powers of this plant blossomed over the centuries. To burn the herb banished evil, and a magic quality like invisibility was achieved by wearing the herb around the neck. A sprig placed in a baby's cradle would prevent the child from being mixed up or abducted by the fairies. Put under the pillow at night mistletoe promoted sleep and beautiful dreams.

Druids cutting Mistletoe, Henri Paul Motte 1895
From the Celtic tradition the Mistletoe was known as the golden bough, and it was held sacred by both the Celtic Druids and the Norse. The plant was used in forms of immortality conditions and in order to open locked doors, and the Druids used mistletoe in a very special ceremony, held around the sixth day after the New Moon in the new year. The Druids had to cut the mistletoe from a holy oak tree with a golden sickle and let it fall down upon a white cloth. This scenery is also known from Asterix! The priests then divided the branches into many sprigs and distributed them to people, who hung them over their doorways as protection against lightning strikes and other evils. The power of the mistletoe lasted until the Twelfth Night.

Mistletoe was once called All-heal, and it was used in folk medicines to cure many ills. Wearing a ring cut in mistletoe prevented illness, and women wore the herb in order to conceive. The use of mistletoe in Denmark goes back to what was written in Antiquity about the plant in southern Europe, where it was considered to be fertilizing. Giving a sprig to the first cow calving after New Year would protect the entire herd. The plant was also known to give good luck in hunting, and if enemies by chance met in a forest where mistletoe grew, they laid down their arms and maintained a truce until next day. If it was plucked in March at new moon and hung around the child's neck it would protect the child against epilepsy. Simon Paulli said in 1648: crushed mistletoe alone or mixed with peony seeds and roots drunk in lily-of-the-valley-water on every change of the moon against epilepsy - some women added gold dust filed from heritage or from their wedding ring - and they felt protected from this terrible and bad disease.

The plant was considered to counteract nightmares and protect sheep against Fasciola hepatica. Stalks, leaves and berries were written into the Danish Pharmacopoeia in 1772-1850; in Danish pharmacies was still in 1922 used a formula collection with mistletoe, mixed in a means against epilepsy, and "Markgrevindens pulver" (the powder of a countess)  was in pharmacies as late as in 1950. From the berries were, cooked together with linseed oil and white spirit, made a birdlime catching little birds, (now forbidden). And cooked with lye-salt the berries gave a good soap.

Source: V.J.Brøndegaard, Folk og Flora, Dansk Etnobotanik, 3, 1979

Monday, December 19, 2011

Randers District and Lysnet Bakke, a hill more than 45 million years old.

A Taste of Denmark

During the winter season we usually drive a short tour closer to where we live. It's too cold to stay out for a long time like we do in summer. I'll often combine the tour with some church or manor photos, and this time we took the road north of Århus, first stop Spørring church. We were  lucky that day. The sun was shining after a dark week and the air was fresh. Good for the brain to get some sunlight they say -  and my brain felt better!

In the horizon were some low dark blue clouds looking like peninsulas in a sea. I don't know if you can see it?  And here were the silhouettes of trees upon a blue sky. Such lovely trees. There was no parking place by the church, so we had to park opposite by a little supermarket. Outside stood the most miserable Santa Claus I ever saw. He was so thin - his clothes were like put on a hanger, and his curly - and extremely shining - Santa-beard was placed upon his own beard, which was brown. He looked like the manager of the bank who had taken the role of Santa Claus. He was easily recognized, and I'm not sure the children were very impressed!



A nice church in Spørring with some good details. There was a strange stone in the church yard. Not like a usual hollow stone. I don't know if it was one of the ancient ones, those rock carvings from late Stone Age or from Bronze Age with carved or polished hollows. Since there are no written sources from that time, the experts have not agreed the meaning of these stones. They might be symbols of fertility, or used in sacrifice, or cult-tables in rituals etc. There are many ways to interprete these skålsten.
The sun was behaving well - look at sunshine on the church tower!  The church door was locked, like they usually are on a Saturday, but I can tell you who like unicorns that there is a frescoe with two unicorns at the tree of life inside the church! Outside are two chessboards on the wall - and those carved patterns are a mystery like the hollowed stones. No one knows how to make a certain interpretation of them. I believe they are the Devil's game board. When he played on this gameboard outside the church, he would not go into the church and disturb the service. But I might be wrong! No one knows. That's why it is so exciting to examine such things. Like a detective story.
chessboard, Spørring.

We went on and outside Spørring the landscape was covered in a light haze and the clouds began to gather. What now? You'll never know on a December afternoon. We came to Hadsten, just passing through. I have never been interested in the church in Hadsten which you can see on the photo I took from the car. I don't like the architecture, in my opinion it is boring. It's built in 1871-72. And the dull grey colour. No, I love the old Romanesque churches. Hadsten is a large village - almost a town - what we call a stationsby = railway town, between Århus and Randers. It has the shortest pedestrian zone in Denmark, 35 meter, with no name. In return Hadsten has got one of the largest model railways in Europe - called Model Railway Europe. But we must continue, for we did not stay in Hadsten. A few minutes later we heard screams and crying and I didn't know what it was. It was a tree with black flowers. Lots of rooks. What a racket. And close to a house! I'm glad I don't live there.
The next little stop was by the church in Lerbjerg, and here I couldn't find what was supposedly upon the wall, until I came home and looked in my book! Why didn't I look properly before we went out!
outside Lerbjerg church
But it was lovely outside the church dike and later we took a little stop by a small water stream, Lilleåen ( the Little river). There is much water in the streams now. That's good. Fresh, cool water for the fish and the water plants.  Lilleåen is the most important inlet of the big river, Gudenåen, more than half of the sea trouts go up the Lilleå. It's a good fishing place.

There was some cattle grazing close to a farm. Maybe they had to go inside soon. It was cold. Well, I think they can go out all day and night if it's Hereford. There was a little fat calf. It looked so funny. It was almost shaped like a square.

Near the Lilleå was a fishing lake, but I don't think the lake has any inlet of the river. They put out trouts in the fishing lake for people to catch, so you're always certain to bring fish with you home for suppper. You don't have to go buy fish from the fishmonger. It's a nice place and people bring their lunch and the children are fishing together with their dad.

Then we came to Bidstrup where we have been  several times. There is a fantastic beautiful landscape around Bidstrup. The present building is from the 1600s. 

Although I've got a better photo of the building itself I thought you should see the newly cut trees. The red building is a corner of a farm building. The estate might have roots in a fortification from the Viking period. The name Bidstrup is from the 1300s and means the place of the bishop. 

A few minutes after Bidstrup we saw two dilapidated houses. I don't know if they belong to the Bidstrup estate, but if they do then it's not worthwhile to restore them! They are probably private - and I guess they 'll soon be broken down, leaving place for something new.  


And then uphill to a special place called Lysnet Bakke. Lysnet Bakke (hill) lies in a landscape which rises markedly from a plateau-landscape. The transition is especially marked by a long 30-50 m high  slope. The inside of the hill is clay, which in one word can be described as plastic clay. The Lysnet Bakke is now a clay pit, from where was earlier extracted the plastic clay. The clay pit gives opportunities to watch the many various clay types, which are from a period 45-55 million years ago. The red clay, which you can see in some places,  is what 's called the Røsnæs clay. It's found in a few places in Denmark. The clay was deposited in an ocean, which covered large parts of the present North Sea-area, like Holland, Beligum, North Germany and all Denmark. South of the highest point is a clay pit, where was earlier extracted clay for a production of clinkers. The pit is marked by slippage today. The calcareous underground with slippage in the plastic clay gives possibilities for a rich flora, and some listed orchids grow here.From the hill is a fine view down to the landscape with the river in the middle. Stone Age people lived down there after the ocean had disappeared and the hills were their hunting place.This hill we stand on has been here forever and ever.


view from the hill down to the plateau-landscape, which lies in a haze

Then we continued our day-tour from the hill, first along the gravel road, and then it went downhill  through a lovely landscape. A pretty red house lies in shelter in the middle of the hilly area.  




Next little stop was Vissing church,  placed  halfway downhill. Some churches in this area are very marked by frost and weather. The granite ashlars have got cracks on the northern and western side of the building. I guess it's the weather, for it's rare to see such cracked stones in the old ashlar churches, although they have been here for a thousand years. suddenly saw a glimpse of a white cat on the church yard, but then it was just a little sculpture on a grave. There must be a sweet story about the cat's connection to this grave.

But the afternoon was icy cold. The wind had changed and I'm a sissy - sometimes. I wanted to go home to a warm house and have some good hot soup!

See you soon.


Source: Danmarks Naturfredningsforening.

photo 17. December 2011: grethe bachmann

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Question needs an Answer!

Someone asked me a question and here is the answer: 

On Google is a picture of a Grethe Bachman who's 91 years old. That's not me. And there is also a Grethe Bachmann in Norway. That's not me either!!

Grethe in Denmark ´)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Russian Christmas in Copenhagen and Russia

A large area in the amusement park "Tivoli" in Copenhagen is laid out for a Russian Christmas with a version of the Vasilij cathedral and striped onion domes. When they visit the cathedral people are brought through Russian landscapes  - and animated pixies and angel choirs are singing Russian Christmas songs.

Russian Christmas in Tivoli

Russian church, Copenhagen, foto: gb
The Russian Christmas is different from Christmas in the West. The Russian Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on 6. January, and the actual Russian Christmas celebrations are held together with the New Years' celebrations. A Danish woman, Connie Meyer, who  has lived in Russia since 1992, tells to a Danish newspaper that Christmas eve begins with an evening service 22.30 on of January and goes on all night. This midnight mass is held in every Russian church. The Russian Orthodox Church follows the old Julian calendar, but to most Russians this Orthodox Christmas is not their cup of tea, although 3/4 of the population describe themselves Orthodox Christians.

Moscow Red Square with Christmas tree
During the Soviet years Christmas was replaced by a winter feast, which culminated on New Year's Eve. This night was the night of  the decorated Christmast tree, the presents and the dancing and singing. The freedom of religion, which Perestrojka and finally the collaps of the Soviet Union in 1991 brought with them, has succeeded in reviving Christmas, but not in making it a dominating feast. It is still New Year's Eve, which is celebrated, and the Christmas tree is decorated on 31. December, not 6th of January. The New Year's Eve in Russia is a mix of Christmas, New Year and carnival. The young people go out and fire off fireworks after the evening meal, and Russia's answer to Santa Claus, Father Frost and his helper, Snegurotjka (Snow Maiden) give out presents during an abundance of Christmas celebrations.

Father Frost arrives in a Troika.

Father Frost and his helper origin from an ancient myth . Father Frost is like Santa Claus a friendly old soul, the Russian name is Ded Moroz (=Father Frost) - and the girl Snegurotjka, who's with him, is not Snow White from Pushkin's poem and Grimm's fairy tale, but the Snow Maiden from a famous Russian folk tale about two elderly people who ardently wanted a child. Their prayers were answered. A lump of snow, which the man in despair clenches in his fists, suddenly comes to life as a beautiful adult girl. She's living with them through winter, but when the young people of the village go to spring feast, she sneaks out to take part in the fun. This includes that the girls have to lift their skirts and jump across a fire, which is a wellknown fertility ritual - and she wants to do like the others. She jumps across the fire, and she melts like ice, she disappears. This folk tale is much more complicated and beautiful than I have told here. It's described in lots of connections.

Snow Maiden, ballet
The Russian Christmas and New Year's celebrations also include some  dressing up, like carnival, more or less colourful and more or less refined. It also includes dances like ring dance and other Russian folk dances. In some places children and youngsters dress up and go out singing. The old custom was that the house they visited put good food and other good things in their sack, and they sang songs of praise for them, but if people were stingy they sang libellous songs. After the tour they gathered in a cottage and went on feasting sharing what they had in their sacks.

Another custom connected to Christmas and New Year's Eve was to tell fortune. It was very popular, and it is still used in some places - it was especially common among young girls. The girls went to a foretell-meeting without making the sign of the cross by the door as they used to, they walked aside the usual paths to the meeting-place, they turned the sacred pictures to the wall and covered them in a cloth, and they told fortune in places, which had no connection to any gods or any ikons, places like the bath house, which was always placed isolated down by the water, the river or the lake. One way in which to foretell was in a plate with a little water, in which was melted wax or stearic - and then they took omens from the emerging patterns. The girls was usually guided by an experienced woman, preferably a widow, who helped them interpreting the omens.

It seems that those meetings also included a pawn-omen. The girls delivered an object, like a ring or earring, to the leader, who - following some rituals -  put them in a bowl with water and covered it while stirring. Then they sang some special omen songs. After each song an object was chosen, and the owner was connected to the song. The songs were not what they seemed to be. If they sang a song about the rich suitor, then it meant early death, it they sang about the rutting tomcat, then it meant early marriage etc.
Pewter hand mirror
A mirror was a usual object in foretelling, and the custom is described in "Eugenie Onegin" by the Russian poet Pushkin. He tells about Tatjana who "lifts her mirror to the moon, but in the dark mirror glitters only the sad moon". She had hoped to see an image of her suitor. Under her pillow she has a girl's mirror. The mirror is an important part of the old folk tales like the troll mirrors. And Tatjana begins to dream -  and her dream is a strange and creepy description of a reversed wedding. Under her pillow Tatjana has probably placed a bridge, a mostick - she has bound some straws in a little bunch, and she has said a long string of words which tells her suitor to help her to cross the bridge. The bridge has an important double role in Russian folklore. It's a symbol of both wedding and death.

It's difficult to know how much and in how many places customs like these are still performed, but like in other countries some old customs have survived - often in other shapes. I think the folk tale about the Snow Maiden is absolutely  beautiful. The Snow Maiden is seen in lots of versions, in various folk tales and in poetry  - she's a part of both classical and modern music - and in ballets and operas by Tshaikowsky and Prokofieff, but here is a short moment from a ballet, the Snow Maiden with music by the Russian composer Vladimir Podgoretsky.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! 

Monday, December 12, 2011

What children say about Christmas

Letters to Santa from various children: (5-7 years)

I know I behaved badly this year but I promise to behave much better next year so will it be okay if you still come and visit me with presents?

Can Mrs. Santa come instead of you? I'm very sorry but I'm scared of you.

Don't worry if our dog Jack barks.

Mummy will leave out biscuits and milk for you but you have to share with the reindeers as well. They  must be very hungry.

Dear Santa. Hope you have a good life at the North Pole. How deep is the ice?

Dear Santa. Please may I have a Unicorn.
I love you


Jesus's Mummy and Daddy are called Mary and Jovis.
Debbie, 4.

We celebrate Christmas because Santa comes and gives us lots and lots of presents.
Ben, 7.

The Angel Gabriel is a big white fairy. He helped Mary and Joseph look after the baby - kind of like a doctor.
Erin, 6.

I am not really a Christian. I believe in unicorns and pixies.
Ellyshia, 9.

I don't know what presents the wise men brought Jesus, but a Lego set would have been better.
William, 7.

They brought Jesus gold and myrhh, but I would have brought him a nice warm blanket.
Rebecca, 5. 


Where was Jesus born?

A long way away from Liverpool.
Dominic, 6.

Two boys talking:

Do you believe in the devil?

No, I'm sure it's just the same thing like Santa Claus, it's just my dad.

Happy Christmas time to all of you!
Grethe ´)