The Danish media was today invited to Roskilde Cathedral to see the projected sarcophagus of Queen Margrethe II and Prince Henrik. The sarcophagus is the work of the artist Bjørn Nørgaard and will measure about 330 by 85 centimetres. There will be a coffin of transparent glass which will contain silhouettes of the Queen and Prince Consort, carried by three columns made of granite from Bornholm, marble from Greenland and basalt from the Faeroes, representing the lands governed by Margrethe II. Each column will be adorned with two silver elephant’s heads symbolising the Order of the Elephant. The base for it all will probably be made of French sandstone, which may perhaps be interpreted as a recognition of Prince Henrik’s French origins.
The work is expected to take six years to complete and the artist has already worked on the idea in cooperation with the royal couple since 2003. The Queen and Prince Consort will be laid to rest in St Birgitte’s Chapel inside the Cathedral, a small side chapel next to the Glücksborg chapel (which houses the remains of Christian IX, Frederik VIII, Christian X and their queens). The couple will be buried under the floor, meaning that the sarcophagus itself will be empty. Three of Christian IV’s children by his morganatic wife Kirsten Munk are already buried in the chapel.
Generations of Danish monarchs have been buried in Roskilde Cathedral, but with his extrovert personality and an old sailor’s love for a wide horizon, Frederik IX wished to be buried under the open sky. An open-air mausoleum was therefore built for him and Queen Ingrid just outside the main entrance to the Cathedral. There is still space for eight people to be buried there and many had expected Queen Margrethe and Prince Henrik to occupy two of those places.
Yet Queen Margrethe’s choice to rest inside the Cathedral seems understandable considering what we know about her great interest in history and her awareness of being a link in a chain stretching back over Christian IX and Frederik IV via Christian IV and Margrete I to time immemorial.
It is quite unusual that such projects are presented already in the lifetimes of those concerned. For comparison the work on Frederik IX’s resting place was begun only after his death in 1972 and completed in 1985, while the chapel housing the remains of George VI of Britain was completed seventeen years after his death in 1969. It feels quite bizarre to see photos of the artist, the Lord Chamberlain and others involved grinning as they stand next to the models of the sarcophagus of the current monarch.
Among Bjørn Nørgaard’s works are the new Christiansborg Palace tapestries illustrating the history of Denmark, which were a present to the Queen for her 50th birthday but only completed in time for her 60th, and the “pavement mosaic” from 1993 at Amager Square in Copenhagen. A major exhibition of his works, titled “Re-modelling the World”, will be shown at the National Gallery in Copenhagen from 16 April to 24 October this year.
Some media reports: