Sunday, January 25, 2015

Vestervig church, Thisted Kommune, Thy, North Jutland



Vestervig church lies desolate and stately with a magnificent view to the Limfjorden and the North Sea. It is a a church in Vestervig parish in Thisted Kommune (municipality) in Thy. The church is unusually large and is said to be the largest village church in the North (see note later). Its size is due to its history as a church of the lost Vestervig kloster. (Augustinian abbey). Besides existed a royal manor while it was built,  and the opinion is that Knud den Store gathered his fleet at Vestervig for a Viking expedition to England.

The church in 1897/wikipedia
Thøger, a missionary who originally came from Thüringia, built aleady in the 1000s a church at this  place. Before this he had studied theology in England and was a missionary in Norway, where king Olav II Haraldson attached him to his court. After the king's death Thøger worked as a missionary in Jutland and settled about 1030 in Thy in the northwestern part of Jutland. He built his church made of "ris og kviste" (spruce and twigs) and he soon succeeded in christening the heathen  Thy-inhabitants  He died on June 24 in or around 1065 and was buried in his church. Soon was seen a heavenly light on his grave and his bones were taken from the grave and shrined at the altar.

A cathedral and a kloster.  
Svend Estridsen was Danish king at that time and in the 1060s the Danish church was being organized into eight bishoprics. The effort to create a legend around Sct Thøger's grave must have been important for assigning the bishopric of North Jutland in the desolate Vestervig - and in ab. 1070 the building of a stone-cathedral began, a magnificent church upon a hill about 100 meter east of Sct Thøger's old church. Sct Thøger's remains were translated on 30 October 1117 to the church of the Augustinian Vestervig Abbey which was built beside the cathedral

The building masters masters came from England from where also the Augustinian monks arrived for the kloster. The basic church plan was a traditional three-naved cross church, built as a basilica in heavy granite ashlars  and with a choir and apse to the east. In the cross sections were chapels to the east with apse-finish. The church was almost 60 meter long and worthy of the new bishopric, but the building had not yet finished completely when a complicated feud about the power began about the bishopric. The result was that the bishopric between 1134 and 1139 was moved to Børglum in Vendsyssel. The church and the kloster buildings remained however and Vestervig developed into a place of pilgrimage around Sct Thøger's church.

Rebuild and Reformation
The church in Vestervig was rebuilt in the 1400s -  a fresco inscription in the northern sidenave dates the rebuild till 1444. The building was shortened to the west by almost 6 meter and a mighty tower in monk bricks was built at the western gable. The cross arms were demolished and the choir built into a longhouse choir at the expense of the apse. Under the mighty roof, which covered the whole church, were built Gothic vaults. The kloster complex at the southside of the church building was also rebuilt with access to the church by the southern walls of the tower and by the choir.

The rebuild was finished, but the kloster was shortly after abandoned at the reformation. The kloster church did not disappear though,  but Sct Thøger's old church was demolished in 1547. The kloster buildings remained and was used by the Danish Crown for various purpose. One of king Frederik 3.'s  officials was in 1661 given Vestervig kloster which during the following years was rebuilt into a manor. In 1839-1840 the manor was demolished because of bad economy and with it the choir of the church.

Rebuild in the 1900s
A new rebuild started in 1917-21, which was  a complete rebuild of choir and apse. The Romanesque kloster church was recreated on the outside, but the architect respected the 1400s rebuild of the cross arms and the late Gothic west tower. Note: The cathedral and kloster church in  Vestervig is mentioned as the largest village church in the North, although it is not situated in a village or has anything to do with a village church as to a historical meaning.

Reliefs and  a Sundial Upon the outer walls are many stone images, but none of the sculptures are placed in their original place.Some of them probably originate from the old Sct. Thøger's church which was demolished in 1547. The reconstructed south door is flanked by two columns with a pretty tympanum. The motif is Christ on the rainbow throne which is held by two angels. At the right side of the church entrance is a very rare Romanesque sundial marking the ecclesiastical times. The letters T, S and N refer to the third, sixth and ninth hour where the monks gathered for their prayers. Above the priest door on the north wall of the choir is a  carved relief stone, which originates from Sct. Thøger's church: a cross lamb for Christ and a dove for the Holy spirit.


The landmark of Vestervig  In the middle of the choir wall is a strange ashlar with a relief called the landmark of Vestervig. The relief has four heads, surrounded by leaf ornaments and to the right two dragons where one bites the other in the tail. The upper heads are two bearded men and below two caricatured animal-like heads, which can be interpreted as the devil with his tongue out of the mouth and a Christ mask with lushly leaf-windings out of his mouth. The devil is the work of the devil, while the Christ mask and the flowers are the makings of God.


There are several Gothic fresoes inside the church, in one is a pig playing a bagpipe, another fresco shows a dog eating a goose, but there are also some pretty rib-decorations and Gothic leaf windings.

The oldest inventory is the baptismal font, which is uniqe in Denmark. It was made in Norway, carved in soapstone.The carved decorations on the font refer to the transition time between the Viking period and the early Romanesque style. The font was not originally a part of the inventory since the kloster did not have any baptismal ceremonies, but it probably came from Sct. Thøger's church, and he himself might have brought the font back with him from Norway.
The pulpit is a Renaissance work from 1610 with a decoration from 1718. Next to the pulpit hangs the oldest chandelier of the church, a fine secular Renaissance work, which according to the coat of arms belonged to Ellen Marsvin and her husband Ludvig Munk. The crown which is from the end of the 1500s was given to the church  in 1679.

The altar piece is voluptous Baroque, originally meant for the cathedral in Viborg but sold to Vestervig church in 1729. The paintings are from 1735.
In the tower room is the large Marcussen organ, a great craftsmanship from 1978. 

A fine collection of gravestones are also from the Romanesque period, several prettily carved with crosses in high relief and long Latin inscriptions, like the priest Tue's stone from 1210 and the canon Atte's stone from 1217. A couple of Gothic gravestones for Niels Strangesen Bild and wife Ingeborg Dusenradedatter from ab. 1424 and for Peder Friis and Christine Nielsdatter from 1483.


The legend about Liden Kirsten and Prince Buris The most famous grave memorial in the large grave yard is "Liden Kirstens Grav." The legend about Liden Kirsten is a story about king Valdemar den Store's sister, who in the king's absence was seduced by prince Buris, a halfbrother of Valdemar's evil queen Sophie, who actually was behind the intrigue. When Valdemar came home and saw the result of the illegal love relation beween the two young people, he grew so furious that he danced and whipped his sister to death, while Buris had his eyes cut out. Kirsten was buried in Vestervig and the mutilated Buris spent his last years behind the walls of the kloster. According to a legend he haunted the church yard in his chains. Another legend says that he was buried by the feet of Liden Kirsten.

A dramatic and grim story about one of our hero kings and his little sister. The persons are real, but the historical facts do not fit well with the legend. Buris Henriksen was not Sophie's brother,but Valdemar's second cousin and a son of Henrik Skadelaar. Buris was born ab. 1130 and belonged like Valdemar to the royal family, they were both great grandsons of Svend Estridsen. Buris was one of few, who in the 1160s would not acknowledge Valdemar as king. But Valdemar was overbearing and endowed Buris with large property in North Jutland, but since Buris conspired with the Norwegian king Erling Skakke against Valdemar things went wrong. Buris was sent to prison at Søborg castle in 1167 and disappears from historical sources..

It was correct that Valdemar had a sister named Kirsten, she was not his little sister, but thirteen years older than Valdemar., born in 1118. In 1133 when Valdemar was 2 years of age, she got married to the Norwegian king Magnus. After his death in 1139 she returned to Denmark and in 1165 when the legend took place Kirsten was a woman of 47 years.

And Valdemar was hardly a guardian of virtue. At nineteen he had a love affair with Tove. which resulted in 1150 in a son Christoffer.

But it might be that the king's sister and  Buris Henriksen were buried in the church yard at Vestervig, where she as a widow and he as a mutiliated prisoner of state had lived their last years.

Excavations of the grave.
In 1890
Romanesque grave/ Nors church, North Jutland/gb.
Two Romanesque graves were found consecutively in excavations in 1890. A gravestone with wornout hexameter inscriptions says that the stone covers a brother and a sister. The graves contained bodies of different sex. The gravestone is decorated with two crosses and ends with a vertical stone in each end. The crosses of the gravestone have the same shape as the crosses of the three gravestones inside the church, which are dated to ab. 1200.

In 1962:
The grave was reopened in 1962. Two Romanesque graves were found. In one was a woman of 30-50 years, in the other grave a male of 50 years, who was heavily weakened. In connection to examinations in 1962 new theories were forwarded  about the two persons. The male person might be Buris Henriksen, son of Henrik Skadelaar. Buris had served king Valdemar den Store, but fell from grace in 1167 and was chained at Søborg castle, whereafter he disappears from the historical sources. The woman might be the Norwegian princess Kristine Sigurdsdatter who was married to Erling Skakke with whom she had the son Magnus. Erling Skakke wanted to secure Magnus against rivals for the Crown and let Kristine's illegal son kill in 1168. Kristine went to Denmark in 1169 and died here in 1178.

Buris Henriksen had stayed at Erling Skakkes' court. Was he the father of Kristines child and did he live his last years in Vestervig together with Kristine as residents at the kloster?

There are more theories and more suggestions of other persons in this story, but this would be a very long description!!

A beautiful tradition. 
It is a tradition that  a newlywed  bride puts her bouquet on Liden Kirsten's Grave because Kirsten never got one herself. The same tradition is used in Landet church at the island Tåsinge where the bride puts a bouquet on Elvira Madigan's grave. 

An ancient Danish folksong about Liden Kirsten and prince Buris is connected to the story.  

Danmarks Kirker, Niels Peter Stilling, 2000; Kirkens Hjemmeside og "Knakken" af henrik Bolt Jørgensen 1990 samt wikipedia dansk og engelsk.

Vestervig church seen from the North. (Google Earth)

Iron Age settlement north of Vestervig church  (Google Earth )

An Iron Age settlement north of the church was partly excavated in the 1960s. Visible are  stone pavings, contours of houses, herring bone pattern-pavings at the entrance. 

About 500 meter to the west is another Iron Age settlement at Vestervig Kloster Mølle (Mill).There are several Iron Age settlements in the neighbourhood.

photo: grethe bachmann, wikipedia and google Earth.

No comments: