I grew up in a small German Lutheran congregation in a cornfield in Northeast Nebraska. Outside the door is a reference to the Unaltered Augsburg Confession which was important when it was begun but now seems to be more a matter of curiosity or indifference. Inside is an oak altar, a small version of a high altar that these Germans might have remembered from their past. It has a crucifix, candles, and a statue of Christ. Nearly ever other congregation of this era has the same statue. Those who have built new buildings probably took this statue with them (though not, perhaps, the crucifix) if they constructed it in the 1950s or 1960s.
The statue is, of course, the famous Thorvaldsen Christ now, strangely, associated more with the Mormons than the Lutherans. Bertel Thorvaldsen is probably not well known out side of Europe or Denmark, in particular. Many do not consider him a great sculptor since the movement is away from an idealized realism to more abstract art. But in his day and age, this Copenhagen-born son of a wood carver was considered one of the 19th-century’s greatest sculptors on the continent, with patrons from all over Europe.
Strangely, he lived for most of his life in Italy. Born in 1770, he moved to Rome in 1797 and did not return to Copenhagen in 1838. Some thought him the successor of the Italian neoclassical master sculptor Antonio Canova, famously known for his statue of Eros and Psyche. Some of Canova’s sober beauty and warm naturalness are seen in Thorvaldsen’s Christus Consolator, often referred to simply as Christus.
Made in Carrara marble, the Christus is around 11 feet tall and portrays the Risen Christ with the inscription “Kommer til mig,” that is, “Come to me,” in Danish. According to Fanny Coe’s 1896 travel book The World and Its People, this statue was exceptional. She wrote:
Christ is represented with open arms, saying to the world ‘come to me and I will give youThe moment Thorvaldsen finished the sculpture it was moved to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen, where it resides today.