Thursday, 25 October 2012

What to see: Elverum Church, Elverum

When I visited the small town Elverum last month to attend the opening of the travelling exhibition which is part of the royal jubilee exhibitions I also took the opportunity to visit Elverum Church, which turned out to have a rather remarkable interior (first photo), something one would not guess by its very simple exterior (second photo).
The cross-shaped church was built in 1735-1738 after a design of a lieutenant in the artillery named Nicolai Gustav Sandberg. It was, remarkably for the time, paid for entirely by the citizens of the small community, and most of the work, which is of a very high standard, was also carried out by local artisans: The woodcarvers and carpenters Nils Hansen Engen and Ole Hansen Rønne and the painter Ole Gundersen.
The church is an exquisite example of Norwegian regénce style, a style which takes its name from the regency in France of Philippe, Duke of Orléans during the minority of Louis XV from 1715 to 1723 and in which elements of what would come to be known as rococo began to influence the baroque style.
The interior is a symbolic synthesis of king and god, to institutions which were closely related during the Dano-Norwegian absolute monarchy. The absolute monarchy, which was introduced in 1660, was indeed one of the most absolute monarchies the world has known, and only god was above the King.
King Christian VI’s monogram is to be found on the altar (third photo), which was inspired by Nicodemus Tessin the Younger’s altar in the Church of Our Saviour in Copenhagen (which was again inspired by the altar in the Church of Domenic e Sisto in Rome). The altarpiece, showing the crucifixion, was done in Copenhagen by an unknown artist. The two sculptures standing in front represent justice and piety.
On each side of the altar are clocks (a memento mori) and on each of them stands a little angel (fourth photo) holding respectively the bible and the law book. Altogether there are seven putti – two on the altar, two on the clocks and three in the ceiling, all holding banners with biblical quotations calling on the faithful to praise god, honour the King and love fraternity.
Another, larger angel supports the baptismal font (fifth photo), carved by Nils Hansen Engen (on a personal note I may add that I was myself baptised in this font, as my parents worked at Elverum at the time of my birth). Originally this stood in an enclosure to the right in the choir, under a crown-shaped canopy surmounted by an orb (sixth photo). Another crown-shaped canopy (seventh photo), topped by the monogram of King Christian VI, is found above the richly carved pulpit (eighth photo).
At each side of the entrance to the choir is an obelisk resting on four golden balls (ninth photo). On the top of the obelisk to the left is again the monogram of King Christian VI, on the one to the right the monogram of his consort, Queen Sophie Magdalene. King Christian VI and Queen Sophie Magdalene had both visited Elverum during their great journey through southern Norway in 1733, making the latter the first queen to visit the town. Between the obelisks, hanging from the ceiling, can be seen a crucifix from the thirteenth or fourteenth century, which dates from the first church built in Elverum. Its most recent feature, on the other hand, is the new organ which was installed in 2006-2007.
Most of the original interior was removed when Elverum Church was transformed into a simple and rather unoriginal late neo-Gothic church in 1878-1879. However, it was not long before one wished to restore it to its former splendour, and luckily the original interior could be reassembled from attics and barns. The restoration was completed in time for the church’s bicentenary in 1938.
Two years later the church came close to being obliterated. It was at Elverum on 9 April 1940, the day Norway was invaded by Germany, that Parliament transferred its powers to the government for the duration of the war, and it was at Elverum that King Haakon the following day met the German minister, Curt von Bräuer, and famously refused the German demands that he should appoint Vidkun Quisling, the leader of National Unity (the Nazi party), Prime Minister. The King’s refusal caused the whole town, which had no military or strategic value, to be flattened by German bombers in an attempt to kill the King and government. The church narrowly escaped being hit in the bombing raid and is thus one of the few pre-1940 buildings left in Elverum today. Today it is one of the most interesting sights to be seen if one ventures into this part of Norway.

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