Saturday, March 24, 2012

Saturday's postcards: Churches in Norway, Denmark and Belgium

Today's theme is churches featured on postcards. All three of these churches have foundations or portions that are at least 750 years old.

Nikolaj Church in Copenhagen, Denmark

This undated Dancolor postcard has captions on the reverse side in two different languages.

The English caption states: "COPENHAGEN -- GL. STRAND i.e. 'Old Strand' with the well-preserved old houses. In the background we see the spire os [sic] St. Nicholas' Church."

"GL. STRAND" is the Gammel Strand, a street and public square in central Copenhagen that features brightly colored houses from the 18th and 19th century.

The church pictured here hasn't served as a church for more than two centuries. It's the Nikolaj Copenhagen Contemporary Art Center. (See it's English-language page here.) Here is some history of Nikolaj Church, culled from a pair of websites:1
  • The original church was supposedly built in the early 11th century, but there is no official record of it until 1261.
  • A total reconstruction was completed in 1517. Given its location, it was considered a church for sailors.
  • By 1536, as the Danish Reformation continued, Nikolaj ceased to be a Catholic church.
  • In 1567, according to the Nikolaj Copenhagen Contemporary Art Center, "A number of supposed witches, causing a 'sudden darkness' during a sermon were being burned."
  • In 1611, the first Gothic spire was constructed and, in January 1628, a storm sent the spire crashing down.
  • The church survived Copenhagen's fire of 1728, but only "sooty remains" of Nikolaj remained after the fire of 1795. That fire destroyed about 900 buildings and left about 6,000 residents homeless.
  • The church ruins from the fire stood for several years. Eventually, everything was torn down but the high tower, which became an observation post for the fire department for 60 to 70 years in the 19th century.
  • The church was finally rebuilt to its current appearance in 1917. A few years earlier, a new copper spire identical to the one from the Renaissance period had been paid for by brewer/philanthropist Carl Jacobsen. The complex was reinaugurated, but not for church services -- it was to be used for other cultural and commercial activities. Since 1980, it has been the aforementioned Nikolaj Copenhagen Contemporary Art Center.

St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral in Brussels, Belgium

This undated Colorprint postcard features St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral (as it is now called) in Brussels, Belgium, and gives you its name in four different languages on the reverse side:
  • BRUXELLES: Collégiale des SS. Michel et Gudule.
  • BRUSSEL: St. Michiel en Ste. Goedele Kerk.
  • BRÜSSEL: St. Michael und St. Gudula Kirche.
  • BRUSSELS: St. Michael and St. Gudules Collegiate Church.
This location has housed a church since at least the 11th century. The patron saints of the church, archangel St. Michael and the martyr St. Gudula2, are also the patron saints of Brussels.

The cathedral was renovated in the Gothic style in the 13th century, and the current facade was completed in the 15th century. More good information about the church can be found at its official website, on this travel/sightseeing website, and on

But here's my question: How did Colorprint chose this photo for the postcard? Did they tell their photographer to go get a nice vertical shot of the cathedral ... but wait until there's a car driving right in front of the shot! Did they think a photo of just the cathedral would be too boring?

As for the car, we're pretty sure it's a first-generation (1955–1956) or second-generation (1957–1959) Ford Fairlane. Can any car experts out there provide confirmation and/or further details?

Borgund Stave Church, Norway

Finally, this undated postcard shows the Borgund Stave Church in Borgund, Norway.

The reverse features an Ultra logo and has this credit line: "ENERETT: KNUT Aüne KUNSTFORLAG - PRINTED IN NORWAY".

The 12th century structure now serves as a museum for the Lutheran Church of Norway.

Here's an excerpt from Wikipedia on the building's history:
"Borgund was built sometime between 1180 and 1250 CE with later additions and restorations. Its walls are formed by vertical wooden boards, or staves, hence the name 'stave church'. The four corner posts were connected to one another by ground sills, resting on a stone foundation. The rest of the staves then rise from the ground sills, each stave notched and grooved along the sides so that they lock into one another, forming a sturdy wall."
Churches that were inspired by this church or serve as replicas of it can be found in Bergen, Norway; Hahnenklee, Germany; and Rapid City, South Dakota.

Also of note at Borgund Stave Church are the runic inscriptions on its walls. One of them, Runic inscription N 351, translates roughly to: "Þórir carved these runes on the eve of Olaus-mass, as he travelled past here. The norns presented measures of good and evil, great toil ... they created before me."

The norns of Norse mythology were female beings who had control over the destinies of both gods and men. It was believed there were both malevolent and benevolent norns. Here's more information, from Wikipedia:
"According to Snorri Sturluson's interpretation of the Völuspá, the three most important norns, Urðr (Wyrd), Verðandi and Skuld come out from a hall standing at the Well of Urðr (well of fate) and they draw water from the well and take sand that lies around it, which they pour over Yggdrasill so that its branches will not rot."
Belief in norns continued even after the introduction of Christianity, as evidenced by Þórir's inscription at Borgund Stave Church.

And the legends of the norns may have inspired Shakespeare when he envisioned the Three Witches in Macbeth.

1. Sources for Nikolaj Church's history are The Illustrated History of Nikolaj on the the Nikolaj Copenhagen Contemporary Art Center's website and Nikolaj Kirke - Copenhagen on Copenhagen Portal.
2. Gudula lived in Moorsel, Belgium, and died and was buried in Hamme. Then her remains (called relics) went on a bit of a whirlwind tour. The relics were moved to the church of Sint-Salvator in Moorsel and later transferred to the chapel of Saint Gaugericus at Brussels before finally landing at the church of Saint Michael. Somehow, along the way, Gudula's skull separately ended up at Eibingen Abbey in Rüdesheim am Rhein, Germany.

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