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Between New Ideals and Conservatism: The Early Lutheran Church Interior in Sixteenth-Century Denmark


This essay examines how the Lutheran Reformation changed church spaces in the Danish kingdom after 1536—the official year of Reformation in Denmark. Rather than addressing the long-term consequences of the Reformation, the essay demonstrates how the ideas of the first and second generation of reformers came to be expressed in churches; that is, how the reception of Lutheran thinking was materialized in church interiors prior to what is commonly known as the period of Lutheran orthodoxy. This early period of change, spanning the second half of the sixteenth century, is particularly fickle and difficult to grasp, not only because many of the first Lutheran Church fittings were replaced in later centuries, but also because the speed at which the new religious ideals found their way into churches varied greatly from region to region. Nevertheless, certain trends emerged that are still evident today. While these short-lived, idealistic attempts at a new evangelical church interior failed as a whole, they nevertheless left a pronounced impact on the churches in general.

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1 A general discussion of the changes in Danish parish churches after the Reformation, of which most is published in Danish, can be found in: Kjær Ulla and Grinder-Hansen Poul, Kirkerne i Danmark, vols. 1–2 (Copenhagen: Boghandlerforlaget, 1988–1989); Bøggild-Johannsen Birgitte and Johannsen Hugo, Ny dansk kunsthistorie: Kongens kunst, vol. 2, ed. Hornung Peter Michael (Copenhagen: Forlaget Palle Fogtdal, 1993); Bolvig Axel, Reformationens rindalister: Om kunst og arkitektur i 1500–tallets Danmark (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1996); Jørgensen Marie-Louise, Kirkerummets forvandling: Sjællandske landsbykirkers indretning fra reformationen til slutningen af 1800–tallet (Copenhagen: Nationalmuseet, 2009); Jürgensen Martin Wangsgaard, Changing Interiors: Danish village churches c. 1450–1600 (Copenhagen: University of Copenhagen, 2011); and Bøggild-Johannsen Birgitte and Johannsen Hugo, “Re-forming the Confessional Space: Early Lutheran Churches in Denmark, c. 1536–1660” in Lutheran Churches in Early Modern Europe, ed. Spicer Andrew (Farnham: Ashgate, 2012), 241276 .

2 The Reformation history of Denmark can be found (mostly in Danish) in: Lausten Martin Schwarz, Biskop Niels Palladius: Et bidrag til den danske kirkes historie 1550–60 (Copenhagen: Gad, 1968); Grane Leif, Confessio Augustana (Copenhagen: Gad, 1980); Lausten Martin Schwarz, Biskop Peder Palladius og kirken (1537–1560) (Copenhagen: Akademisk, 1987); Lausten Martin Schwarz, Christian d. 3. og kirken (1537–1559) (Copenhagen: Akademisk, 1987); Grane Leif and Hørby Kai, eds., Die dänische Reformation vor ihrem internationalen Hintergrund (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1990); Grell Ole Peter, ed., The Scandinavian Reformation: From Evangelical Movement to Institutionalisation of Reform (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995); Bach-Nielsen Carsten and Ingesman Per, eds., Reformation, religion og politik: Fyrsternes personlige rolle i de europæiske reformationer (Aarhus: Aarhus Universitetsforlag, 2003); Lausten Martin Schwarz, Peder Palladius: Sjællands første lutherske biskop (Copenhagen: Alfa, 2006); Lockhart Paul Douglas, Frederik II and the Protestant Cause: Denmark's Role in the Wars of Religion, 1559–1596 (Leiden: Brill, 2004); and Lausten Martin Schwarz, Die Reformation in Dänemark (Heidelberg: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 2008).

3 See Hamberg Per Gustaf, Temples for Protestants, Studies in the Architectural Milieu of the Early Reformed Church and the Lutheran Church (Gothenburg: Acta Universitatis Gothoburgensis, 2002).

4 Concerning the presentation of Lutheran service in Denmark, the first source is the 1542 version of the church ordinance: Kirkeordinansen 1537/39, ed. Lausten Martin Schwartz (Copenhagen: Akademisk, 1989), 166173 . General information is to be found in: Engelstoft C. T., Liturgiens eller Alterbogens og Kirkeritualernes Historie i Danmark (Copenhagen: C. A. Reitzels, 1840); Poulsen S. H., Danske Messebøger fra Reformationstiden (Copenhagen: Schultz, 1959); Sørensen Søren, Kirkens liturgi: En fremstilling med særligt henblik på den liturgiske musik og med forslag til salmevalg for hele kirkeåret, 2nd ed. (Copenhagen: Wilhelm Hansen, 1969); and Bach-Nielsen Carsten, “Mellem liturgisk frihed og enhedsbestræbelse - Gudstjenestens bøger på reformationstiden,” Fyens Stiftsbog (2000): 2238 .

5 See, for instance, the wording in Kirkeordinansen 1537/39, 174–179.

6 Wulff D. H., “Bidrag til Kirkernes og den ydre Kirketugts Historie,” Samlinger til Jydsk Historie og Topografi 5 (1874–1875): 251.

7 Hamm Berndt, “Reformation als normative Zentrierung von Religion und Gesellschaft,” Jahrbuch für Biblische Theologie 7 (1992): 241279 ; Hamm , “Von der spätmittelalterlichen reformatio zur Reformation: der Prozeß normative Zentrierung von Religion und Gesellschaft in Deutschland,” Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte 84 (1993): 782 ; and Hamm , “Normative Zentrierung im 15. und 16. Jahrhundert: Beobachtungen zu Religiosität, Theologie und Ikonologie,” Zeitschrift für Historische Forschung 26, no. 1 (1999): 163202 .

8 Find further reading on this in Thomas Keith, Religion and The Decline of Magic (London: Penguin, 1991), 5890 ; and Jürgensen, Changing Interiors, chaps. 7, 8.

9 Garde Georg, “Alterbordsforsiden fra Torslunde og dens grafiske forbilleder: En dansk udløber af agitationen fra Wittenberg,” Aarbøger for nordisk Oldkyndighed og Historie (1955): 125131 ; Johannsen and Johannsen, Ny dansk kunsthistorie, 33–36; Bach-Nielsen, “Mellem liturgisk frihed og enhedsbestræbelse”; and Jürgensen, Changing Interiors, 111.

10 This emphasis on the word was of course something the Lutherans shared with the Protestant reform movements in general, but they are not to be touched upon here. See Kaufmann Thomas, Konfession und Kultur: Lutherischer Protestantismus in der zweiten Hälfte des Reformationsjahrhundert (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2006); and Zachman Randall C., Image and Word in the Theology of John Calvin (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007).

11 I have primarily cited Luther's works from the Schriften series of the Weimar edition: D. Martin Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe, Schriften, ed. Knaake J. R. F., Kawerau Gustav, Pietsch Paul, Knaake D., Drescher Karl, Koffmane Gustav, Walther Wilhelm, et al. , 73 vols. (Weimar: H. Böhlau, 1883–2009) (hereafter cited as WA). Here, see WA, vol. 30, part 3, pp. 250–255. See also the discussion of this list in Werner Hofmann, preface to Luther und die Folgen für die Kunst: Katalog der Ausstellung in der Hamburger Kunsthalle (10.11.83–8.1.1984), ed. Hofmann (Munich: Prestel, 1983); and Koerner Joseph Leo, The Reformation of the Image (London: Reaktion, 2004), chap. 19.

12 Calvin John, Institution of the Christian Religion, ed. McNeill John T., trans. Battles Ford Lewis (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 1975), 12.

13 All translations are my own, with the assistance of Euan Cameron, unless otherwise indicated. Vingaard Hans, Een lidhen Indgangh udj Schriffthen (Viborg, 1530), 2021 .

14 Ibid., 21: “All troo christhen menniskers forsambling / huilke forsamlet er y thn helligandh / utj een lerdom / een troo / een kierlighz / edt hobb.”

15 Especially relevant for the Lutheran spheres is the formulation from Der grosse Katechismus of 1529 (WA, vol. 30, part 1, pp. 189, 190): “Denn wiewol Gottes gnade durch Christum erwoben ist und die heilickeit durch den heiligen geist gemacht (durch den Gottes wort yn der Christlichen kyrchen)” but “wo man nicht von Christo predigt, da ist kein heiliger geist, welcher die Christliche kyrche machet, berueffet und zusamen bringet, ausser welcher niemand zu dem Herrn Christo komen kann.” See also Phillip Melanchthon, Confessio Augustana 7, 8.

16 It should be noted that Niels Heldvad here has confused the palace chapel of Kronborg with that of Frederiksborg, but this is of little relevance to his sentiment as such.

17 Niels Heldvad, Amphitheatrum Fidei Catholicæ & Ceremonium Ecclesiæ Jesu Christi (Hamburg, 1622), 20: “Ein Tempel und Gotteshaus . . . von alabaster und Porfier-Steinen / uberauß köstlich und scheinbar. Das Altar und der Taffel / so mit schönen bildern darein gefezt / ist von eitel lauterm Silber und herrlich verguldet / Der Predigstul ist von eitel lauterm Silber gleichermassen kunstreich gemacht und verguldet . . . Die Orgel ist mit Golt und Silber gar wunderbar gezieret.”

18 Mads Jensen Medelfar, Encoenia Sacra: Christelig Indvielsis Prædicken (n.p., 1633).

19 Dix Gregory, The Shape of the Liturgy, 4th ed. (Glasgow: Dacre, 1949), 36.

20 Danmarks Kirker: Holbæk amt (Copenhagen: National Museum of Denmark/Syddansk Universitetsforlag, 1933–), 24912494 .

21 Finney Paul Corby, ed., Seeing beyond the Word: Visual Arts and the Calvinist Tradition (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdman, 1999); and Dyrness William A., Reformed Theology and Visual Culture: The Protestant Imagination from Calvin to Edwards (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

22 Jürgensen, Changing Interiors, part 1.

23 Hans Jørgen Frederiksen, “Reformationens betydning for den kirkelige kunst i Danmark,” in “Reformations-Perspektiver,” ed. Frederiksen, special issue, Acta Jutlandica, Teologisk serie 14, vol. 62, no. 3 (Aarhus: Aarhus Universitetsforlag, 1987): 100126 ; Arvidsson Bengt, Bildstrid - Bildbruk – Bildlära: En idéhistorisk undersökning av bildfrågan inom den begynnande lutherska traditionen under 1500-talet (Lund: Lund University Press, 1987); Hansen Anita and Johannsen Birgitte Bøggild, “IMO LICET: Omkring Niels Hemmingsens billedsyn” in Kirkearkeologi og Kirkekunst: Studier tilegnet Sigrid og Håkon Christie (Øvre Ervik: Alvheim & Eide, 1993), 181198 ; and Havsteen Sven Rune, “Lutheran theology and Artistic Media: Responses to the Theological Discourse on the Visual Arts” in Lutheran Churches in Early Modern Europe, ed. Spicer Andrew (Farnham: Ashgate, 2012), 221240 .

24 Palladius Niels, Commonefactio de vera invocatione dei, et de vitandis idolis (Wittenberg, 1557), 4.

25 Concerning Luther's longest exposition of his views on images, see “Wider die himmlischen Propheten, von den Bildern und Sakrament” in WA 18:62–125. See also “Eyn brief an die Fürsten zu Sachsen von dem auffrurischen geyst” in WA 15:210–221; and Havsteen, “Lutheran Theology and Artistic Media.”

26 Skielderup Jens, En Christelig Underuisning aff den hellige Scrifft (Christiania: Det Mallingske Bogtrykkeri, 1905).

27 WA 31/1: 415.

28 Joseph Braun remains the fundamental authority on the status of the altar in the Danish as well as other European contexts. See Joseph Braun, Der Christliche Altar, vols. 1–2 (Munich: Alter Meister Guenther Koch, 1924).

29 [Front] “Opløfter ethers hiarter till herren: oc søger først guds rige och hans retferdichedt: Saa skal alting gifvis ether / 1578 / christoffer walckendorff”; [South side] “Hoseæ VI / jeg haffver lyst til miskundhed oc icke til offer oc til at kiene gud oc icke til brendoffer / jhs”; [North side] “Psal LI / En angerfyld aand er det offer som gud behager / Gud forsmaar icke ett sorgfyld oc angerfult hierte.”

30 Jürgensen Martin Wangsgaard, “Image and Time – Altar and Retable: The Motif of the Last Supper in Lutheran Churches” in Art and Ritual in Late Medieval and Early Modern Northern and Central Europe, ed. Kodres Krista and Mänd Anu (Cambridge: Cambridge Scholar, 2013), 6888 .

31 Jacobsen Lis, ed., Visitatsbogen, Peder Palladius’ Danske Skrifter (Copenhagen: H. H. Thieles Bogtrykkeri, 1925), 5:36.

32 Ibid., 5:37.

33 Ibid., 5:36.

34 Garde, “Alterbordsforsiden fra Torslunde og dens grafiske forbilleder.”

35 Luther's Works, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan, Helmut Lehmann, Christopher Boyd Brown, and Benjamin T. G. Mayes, 67+ vols. (St. Louis: Concordia; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1955–), 13:375; WA 31/1:415: “Wer hie lust hette, tafeln auf den altar lassen zu setzen, der solte das abendmal Christi malen und diese zween vers . . . [surrounded by] grossen guelden buchstaben.”

36 A thorough introduction to this material is found in Bugge Ragne, “Ikonoklasmen i Norge og de norske katekisme altertavlene” in Tro og bilde i Norden i Reformasjonens århundre, ed. Blindheim Martin, Hohler Erla, and Lillie Louise (Oslo: Universitetets Oldsaksamling, 1991), 8592 ; and Dietrichs-Gottschalck Dietrich, Die protestantischen Schriftaltäre des 16. und 17. Jahrhunderts in Nordwestdeutschland (Regensburg: Schnell und Steiner, 2005).

37 See, for instance, the examples in Poscharsky Peter, Die Kanzel: Erscheinungsform im Protestantismus bis zum Ende des Barocks (Gütersloh: Verlagshaus Gerd Mohn, 1963).

38 Jacobsen, Visitatsbogen, Peder Palladius’ Danske Skrifter, 5:32.

39 Ibid., 5:33.

40 Jørgensen Marie-Louise, “Lektorieprædikestole i Østdanmark” in Kirkens bygning og brug - Studier tilegnet Elna Møller, ed. Johannsen Hugo (Copenhagen: National Museum of Denmark, 1983), 89108 ; Nyborg Ebbe, “Lektorieprædikestole og katekismusaltertavler” in Tro og bilde i Norden i Reformasjonens århundre, ed. Blindheim Martin, Hohler Erla, and Lillie Louise (Oslo: Universiteets Oldsaksamling, 1991), 223252 ; and Jürgensen, Changing Interiors, 146–149.

41 Ulrike Köcke, “Lettner und Choremporen in den nordwestdeutschen Küstengebieten, ergänzt durch einen Katalog der westdeutschen Lettner ab 1400” (PhD diss., Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, 1972); and Kirchner-Doberer Erika, “Der Lettner. Seine Bedeutung und GeschichteMiteilungen der Gesellschaft für vergleichende Kunstforschung in Wien 9, no. 2 (1956): 117122 .

42 Danmarks Kirker: Ribe amt, 1173, 1372.

43 This volatile tension can be elucidated from many different angles, but one crucial aspect has been evocatively illustrated by Brad Gregory in his study of martyrdom. See Gregory Brad S., Salvation at Stake: Christian Martyrdom in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999).

44 A seminal work on this is Hofmann, Luther und die Folgen für die Kunst. See also Vind Anna, “Luther's Reflections on the Life of a Christian—Expounded on the Basis of his Interpretation of Magnificat, 1521” in Transfiguration: Nordic Journal of Religion and the Arts (2013): 727 ; Vind , “The Human Being According to Luther” in Anthropological Reformations: Anthropology in the Era of Reformation, ed. Eusterschulte Anne and Wälzholz Hannah, Refo500 Academic Series (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 2015), 6985 .

45 Danmarks Kirker: Frederiksborg amt, 1673–1926; Johannsen Hugo, “The Protestant Palace Chapel: Monument to Evangelical Religion and Sacred The Protestant Palace Chapel: Monument to Evangelical Religion and Sacred Rulership” in Masters, Meanings & Models: Studies in the Art and Architecture of the Renaissance in Denmark; Essays Published in Honour of Hugo Johannsen, ed. Andersen Michael, Nyborg Ebbe, and Vedsø Mogens (Copenhagen: National Museum of Denmark, 2010), 3353 ; Johannsen, ‟The Writ on the Wall: Theological and Political Aspects of Biblical Text-Cycles in Evangelical Palace Chapels of the Renaissance” in Masters, Meanings & Models, 55–69; and Johannsen, “The Humble King: On a lost Painting from Christian IV's Oratory in the Chapel of Frederiksborg Castle” in Masters, Meanings & Models, 89–115.

46 Both have been explanations in older research as to why these retables could gain such widespread popularity in rural churches. See, for instance, Christie Sigrid, Den lutherske ikonografi i Norge inntil 1800 (Oslo: Land og Kirke, 1973), 1:1138 ; and Bugge, “Ikonoklasmen i Norge og de norske katekisme altertavlene.”

47 See, for instance, Gaimster David M. and Gilchrist Roberta, introduction to The Archaeology of Reformation 1480–1580, ed. Gaimster and Gilchrist (London: Maney, 2003); and Jäggi Carola, “Braucht es eine Archäologie der Reformation? Rückblick und Ausblick” in Archäologie der Reformation: Studien zu den Auswirkungen des Konfessionswechsels auf die materielle Kultur, ed. Jäggi Carola and Staecker Jörn, Kirchengeschichte Arbeiten zur, vol. 104, (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2007), 469480 .

48 This is a truth with some modifications. A number of medieval churches were redressed into a Renaissance guise by some simple adjustments to the gables. This rendered the exterior of the building in a new style while the interior was basically left untouched. An example of this can be seen in the Nørre Lyndelse Church on the island of Funen: Danmarks Kirker: Odense amt, 3927–3940.

49 The most recent contribution to the discussion of this can be found in the volume Reframing the Danish Renaissance: Problems and Prospects in a European Perspective, ed. Andersen Michael, Johannsen Birgitte Bøggild, and Johannsen Hugo (Copenhagen: National Museum of Denmark, 2011).

50 Jürgensen Martin Wangsgaard, “The Rhetoric of Splendour: Matter and the Invisible in Seventeenth-Century Church Art,” Transfiguration: Nordic Journal of Religion and the Arts (2013): 163187 .

51 Fritz Johann Michael, ed., Die bewahrende Kraft des Luthertums: Mittelalterliche Kunstwerke in evangelischen Kirchen (Regensburg: Schnell & Steiner, 1997).

52 And indeed many scholars have, as can be gleaned from recent publications such as: Spicer Andrew, “Martin Luther and the Material Culture of Worship,” in Martin Luther and the Reformation (Dresden: Sandstein, 2016), 250251 , 259–260; Heal Bridget, “Sacred Image and Sacred Space in Lutheran Germany,” in Sacred Space in Early Modern Europe, ed. Coster Will and Spicer Andrew (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 3959 ; and Heal , “Visual and Material Culture,” The Oxford Handbook of the Protestant Reformations, ed. Rublack Ulinka (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 7.

53 D. Martin Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe, Briefewechsel, ed. Bebermeyer Gustav, Clemen Otto, Wolgast Eike, Müller Norbert, Köckert Christian, Volz Hans, and Ebeling Gerhard, 18 vols. (Weimar: H. Böhlau, 1930–1985), vol. 9, no. 3591, p. 357: “Es sind Gott lob unsere kirchen ynn den Neutralibus so zu gericht, das ein leyhe oder Walh oder Spanier, der unser predigt nicht verstehen kundte, Wenn er sehe unser Messe, Chor, orgeln, glocken, Tafeln etc., wurde er mussen sagen, Es were ein recht Bepstisch kirche und kein unterscheid.”

54 Jacobsen, Visitatsbogen, Peder Palladius’ Danske Skrifter, 5:36.

55 Göbel Walter, ed., Die Schleswig-Holsteinische Kirchenordnung von 1542 (Neumünster: Karl Wachholtz, 1986), 57 : “Damit wir für diese unaussprechliche Gnade Gottes nicht undankbar sind und sich auch unsere Erblande in der Sache der christlichen Religion nicht weiterhin so beklagenswert in unheilvoller Zerrüttung befinden mögen, haben wir uns aus Gottes Gnade in Zusammenarbeit mit unseren Räten und unserer Landschaft vorgenommen, eine christliche Kirchenordnung gemäß Gottes Wort und Christi Befehl ergehen zu lassen, nicht um etwas Neues zu stiften (davon behüte uns Gott).”

56 General studies on the liturgy of baptism can be found in Spital Hans Josef, Der Taufritus in den deutschen Ritualien von den ersten drucken bis zur Einführung des Rituale Romanum (Münster: Aschendorffsche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1968); and Karant-Nunn Susan, The Reformation of Ritual: An Interpretation of Early Modern Germany (New York: Routledge, 1997), 4371 . Concerning general studies of baptism in Denmark, see Severinsen P., Daabens Ord: Et Bidrag til den kristne Daabs Historie (Odense: Kirkeligt Samfund, 1924); and Ottosen Knud, “Danske middelalderlige dåbsritualer,” Dansk Teologisk Tidsskrift 1, no. 1 (1970): 3154 . See also Spinks Bryan D., Reformation and Modern Rituals and Theologies of Baptism: From Luther to Contemporary Practices (Burlington: Ashgate, 2006).

57 “Sermon von der heiligen Taufe,” in WA vol. 37, part 3, p. 628.

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