Monday, May 24, 2010

Vitskøl Kloster,(Bjørnsholm), Himmerland, North Jutland

Vitskøl Kloster, ab. 12 km south of Løgstør
Overlade sogn, Års herred, Ålborg amt.

In the autumnn of 1573 rigsråd Bjørn Andersen (Bjørn) of Stenalt became the owner of the old Vitskøl kloster in Himmerland, of which he established the manor Bjørnsholm. This happened in an exchange with Frederik II, where Bjørn Andersen gave some estate at Sjælland, among others his fortificated farm Vinstrup at Tystrup sø and a part of his wife's estate. Together with the kloster he achieved the island Livø and 3 water mills and furthermore 125 farms and several houses.

The Jutland manor klosters were in two large groups, one along the Gudenå river and its lakes, the other along the coasts of Limfjorden with 8 klosters. Vitskøl kloster owed its existence to Valdemar den Store. Providence had first saved him from Svend Grathe's treacherous attack in Roskilde in 1157 and a few months later given Valdemar Sejr, and in thankfulness he decided to do a pious action. He gave from his paternal estate in 1158 the village "Vithscuele" with additions to an establishment of a kloster for monks of the Cisterciense-order. This order owned several of the most wellknown klosters of the country, like Esrom and Sorø at Zealand, Holme at Funen, Øm and Vitskøl -or as the monks called it Vitæ schola - in Jutland.

The kloster was managed by an abbot, next to him were a prior and a subprior. The kloster enjoyed highly the favour of the royal house, since it was founded by a king. It was given much estate, and there is witness that it stretched far and wide beyond the borders of the district. It owned 8 churches and at least 165 farms and small farms, 4 watermills and several other estate both north of Limfjorden and in Salling and at the island Mors - furthermore it had until 1320 part in the island Læsø. It was not one of the richest klosters in Denmark, but it had a solid economic basis.

The Cistercienses was a hard-working monk-order, who was engaged in architecture and music and obtained great credits for being pioneers inside agriculture. Their farms were models, from where others could get new inspiration. When the kloster was transferred to the Crown at the Reformation, the monks were allowed to stay. The last abbot was mostly a kloster-manager, he was a married man and also a parish-priest. Not until 1563 was the kloster abandoned and became a royal vasalry, which was pawned to Henrik Gyldenstierne, who was a vasal until the exchange between Bjørn Andersen and the king in 1573.

Bjørn Andersen (Bjørn) was a learned man, he had been a landsdommer at Zealand and was also a rigsråd. He had on and off many vasalries both in Denmark and Norway, at last he had Århusgård and the largest vasalry in Jutland, Ålborghus, which had a good situation for him, since he moved to the area after his large exchange. When he died at Bjørnsholm in 1583, the farm went to his son Truid Bjørnsen, while the younger son Jakob got the family's old farm Stenalt, and three lesser manors, Vår, Gunderupgård and Strandbygård went to his daughters and their husbands.

At this time the old Bjørn-family was almost extent. The two brothers died young without leaving heirs, Truid died in 1590 and Jakob six years later as the last male of the family. A month after Truid was buried in Bjørnsholm's church, his widow fru Ermegård Gyldenstierne gave birth to a son, who at once was baptized with his father's name, but died the same day. The widow became at the birth of her son the owner of the farm , since the child had inherited his father and she had inherited the child, but her late husband's siblings wanted to plead that the child had been stillborn and therefore could not inherit anything. A trial started, but the result was that fru Ermegård kept the inheritance, when she in 1592 with the oath of 12 knights had cleared herself of the accusation of inheritance-deceit from her sisters- and brothers-in-law.

In 1600 fru Ermegård married Gjord Kaas of Tårupgård, and thus she became the part in a very sensational and intimate case; her husband was unfaithful to her and had two children with his late cousin's widow fru Birgitte Rosenkrantz. This was considered kætteri (incest) at that time . They were both sentenced to death, and she had to mount the scaffold. He took flight abroad, but when he years later came back to the country, he was caught and executed ( in 1616). His marriage to fru Ermegård had of course been annulled. Her year of death is not known, but it was probably ab. 1608, since her brother Niels Christoffersen Gyldenstierne in 1609 was the owner of Bjørnsholm. He probably owned it together with his unmarried sister jomfru Sophie Gyldenstierne. They both died without heirs, he in 1619, her year of death is uncertain, but already in 1622 the farm was sold to their siblings' children, Holger Bille and Jesper Friis of Ørbæklunde (+ 1643). Holger Bille sold 1637 his part to Axel Nielsen Juul of Kongstedlund (search blog), who from 1643 owned it together with Jesper Friis' widow fru Elsebeth Ulfeldt.

Bjørnsholm experienced troubled years after the death of fru Ermegård, and they lasted till about the end of the century. The old kloster church gradually fell into ruins, but excavations have showed that it was rightfully famous; it was a large and impressive church, a cross church with side-naves both in the longhouse and in the cross arms. Its choir was surrounded by an aisle with nine small apses, which made the Vitskøl church the most magnificent of all Cisterciense-churches , and it might even not be inferior to the mother-church Citeaux in France. The outer plinths and many details were carved in granite, but else was the church built in monk bricks. It was however never finished.

The large church had - from the time where the kloster was transferred to the Crown - to be repaired like other village churches for small means, which came to it via kirketiender (church taxes) from Bjørnsholm's parish - and this was not enough. In 1589 the king allowed Truid Bjørnsen to have the kongetienden (royal tax) from three parishes for its repair and after his death the same was allowed his widow, but in 1643 it is said that it "haver længe ligget slet øde." (that it has been ruined for a long time"). In Axel Juul's time the church service was in the fruerstue (ladies' room) of the farm, but in 1668 a new church was used; it was the northern wing of the farm, which Niels Juul with little expense had furnished for this. It served as a parish church until 1916, when it was replaced by a new church in Overlade, to where most inventory was transferred.

In 1660 the estate of Bjørnsholm was only a small part of the kloster-estate in 1573, when Bjørn Andersen got it. In the exchange after him a big part came to his daughters, and maybe the following troubled times also brought some recession. Axel Juul and fru Elsebeth Ulfeldt had together only ab. 60 farms, but it was worse that the estate was in a very bad state. Fru Elsebeth had in 1660 pawned her halfpart of farm and estate to Henrik Thott, who later took over the pawn and sold it to Niels Juul, who had become the owner of the second half, when his father Axel Juul died in 1664. Niels Juul was only owner by name, he actually owned nothing. His estate was pawned and his creditors had him arrested several times on royal permission. In 1672 it was said that he because of his debts had left the country.

It is not known what happened to Niels Juul later, but already in 1668 his father-in-law Axel Juul of Volstrup (Hjerm parish) had let himself enter in his main farm Gunderupgård with estate and some land from Bjørnsholm's estate. He, (+1671) or his widow fru Elisabeth Friis, must later also have been the owner of Bjørnsholm, which she shortly before her death (1677) willed to her daughter Ingeborg Juul's 10 children with Tyge Below, but they were in 1686 allowed by royal permission to sell it, since it could not unravel the taxes. In 1689 they conveyed the farm to Anders Mortensen Kjærulf, and then the farm came into safer conditions. It was high time, if the the estate should be prevented from being a ruin.

There was enough to do for Anders Kjærulf; he was a son of a herredsfoged in Kær herred and had been a manager of several manors - and he very much extended the added estate of the farm and achieved several tiender (taxes). He established the farm Lundgård, and a far away placed farm Padkær came also in existence - it laterbecame an impressive property. He bought five other manors. It was said about him after his death that he had "scraped togethere much estate and means", but it was added " not quite fair, for he was a hard man to deal with". He managed Bjørnsholm himself, of course by villeinage, and therefore the domestic staff at his farm was small. He was a great bullock-breeder - in 1718 he had 360 bullocks in his stables. Although he was not a "fin" (noble) man, he achieved in 1724 to be enobled together with his brother Laurids of Wiffertsholm.

Anders Kjærulf died at Sødal in 1735, but he had already exchanged property with his only living son, regimentskvartermester (military title) Søren Kjærulf, since he had got married again. The son got Bjørnsholm, Ørndrup at the island Mors and Halkær, which together had a value of ab. 60.000 rigsdaler. He lived at Halkær and died there already two years later. He succeeded in losing everything, and his widow pawned in 1731 Bjørnsholm estate to her mother's brother Peder Thøgersen Lassen of Rødslev (+ 1737), who the same year was enobled in the name Lasson - and who the following year became its owner. In the exchange after him it was transferred together with Sønder Vosborg to his son Mathias Lasson, who later became the owner of several important manors. He extended the adjoining estate of Bjørnsholm and bought several tiender (taxes) and became the owner of the church, which was built together with Bjørnsholm. His name is especially attached to the manor, since he built or rebuilt the eastern wing, partly upon old foundations and with the medieval walls.

The eastern wing held the manor-apartment and was modern furnished with several "upholstered" rooms with loft-paintings, painted tapestry and fine joinery, which is still seen at the manor. The northern wing was the church, which was furnished by Niels Juul - and the western wing from late Middle Ages was used for various things, upon the gable is the year 1646 and the initials of Elsebeth Ulfeldt. At a southern wing, which probably was broken down in the beginning of the 19th century, was possibly a high tower built by Mathias Lasson, of which are no traces left. He also built on the farm-building in half-timbered oak. (which burnt down in 1931). Upon this was the year 1754 and the letters M.L.B.R. He was married to Birgitte Cathrine Rosenkrantz. They died almost at the same time in 1756, and in the exchange after them farm and estate were laid out in 1759 for 50.010 rigsdaler to their son Peter Lasson, who owned it for about 50 years until his death in 1808.

He let as far as possible everything be as it was, but the impressive garden was his work. There was a herb-garden from the kloster-period, but not until Niels Juul's time is something written about it. The tradition says that the priest in Strandby competed with him in embellishing his garden with the finest garden-plans. In Mathias Lasson's period is often mentioned both a kitchen garden and a "beautiful pleasure- and fruit-garden". The son Peter Lasson had got something to pass on. Of him and his wife from the family Rosenørn is an obelisk-shaped grave memorial at the church yard. They left no children, and the farm was in 1809 at auction and was bought by the energetic and skilled captain Johan Caspar de Mylius, who gradually became the owner of many manors on the islands and in Jutland.

From the herb-garden.

Mylius lived for a period at Bjørnsholm . The three farms, which for a long time had existed from the former land of Vitskøl Kloster, were divided - and upon the island Livø, which long ago had come back to the owner of Bjørnsholm , he re-established the abandoned ladegård (farm-building). He rebuilt both mills of Bjørnsholms, and it was probably also Mylius, who introduced a better operation of the land and started dairywork in connection to studehold (bullocks). But times grew difficult, and in spite of his cleverness he suffered great loss and had to give up several farms, which had considerable loans from den kongelige kasse (royal bank). In 1828 he had to give Bjørnsholm, Lundgård and Padkær with all adjoining estate and the large estate Ågård in Vester Han herred to den kongelige kasse .

Herb Garden

During almost all the time when the Danish State owned these farms J. Wulff was estate- manager of the collected estate and A.C. Nyholm was lessee at Bjørnsholm. He was a skilled farmer, who cultivated considerable heath-areas etc. In the late 1850s most of the estate was sold. Bjørnsholm was sold to ritmester Allan Dahl ab.1867. In spite of all changes Bjørnsholm was still a large farm. Dahl sold the farm in 1873 to navy captain H.L. Thalbitzer, after whose death in 1887 his widow Ida Marie née Hansen owned it till 1908, when it was sold to cand. phil. A. T. Loehr, who owned it for ab. 10 years. After this various owners. In an exchange in 1920 the rest of the estate was after some outparcelling sold to farmer J.Eriksen in Ranum, after whom it in 1930 was taken over by his son Robert Eriksen. In 1931 the farm-building burnt down and a new was built in 1932 north of Bjørnsholm.

The old church yard.

The main building is listed in class A, but in 1934 the owner announced that he saw it necessary to break down the buildings, since the repair was too costy. The result was that the Danish State bought the old buildings in 1934. In 1942 was avlsgården( the farm-building which burnt down 1931 and was rebuilt in 1932) bought. Its name is still Bjørnsholm.

There is now a ungdomshjem (community home/youth-home) in the old main building which again has its old name Vitskøl Kloster after ab. 375 years A beautiful and interesting new establishment is the kloster-garden with many rare plants.

Vitskøl kloster seen from Ertebølle beach.

In 1958 the National Museum started, with the assistance from the students at Vitskøl, a comprehensive restore of the church ruin. Lots of granite ashlars from the building were found and re-used. The 280 cm tall granite pillar - where one half was found at Børglum Kloster in Vendsyssel - is especially interesting. At the same time the medieval room in the west wing of the kloster was restored and the church wing and the old sacristi repaired. The architect C.M. Smidt, who in the 1920s was the leader of the excavation of the National Museum wrote among other things that the ruin is the last rest of a church building, which belonged to the Cisterciense-order. Among the Cisterciense-churches of the North it was one of the most shining examples of how they in the Danish Valdemar-period kept up with the great European cultural movements. This Limfjord-church was in its imaginative peculiarity and its strange personal look without parallel among Europe's medieval Cisterciense-klosters.

Vitskøl Kloster

Herb Garden

Source: Danske slotte og herregårde, bd. 11, 1966, Vitskøl Kloster, by arkivar, cand.mag. S. Nygaard.

photo Vitskøl Kloster 1999,2004,2006,2009: grethe bachmann

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