Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Come to me. . .


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 you
rest.’ It is considered the most perfect statue of Christ in the world. Thorwaldsen (sic) did the whole work himself, not entrusting any portion of it to his pupils, as was his custom. When it was finished, he was seized with despondency. “My genius is decaying,” he said to his friends, “my statue of Christ is the first of my works that I have ever felt satisfied with. Till now my idea has always been far beyond what I could execute; but it is so no longer. I shall never have a great idea again.”
The moment Thorvaldsen finished the sculpture it was moved to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen, where it resides today.


Anonymous said...

From the same referenced article and church website:

"The Protestant Reformation was hard on St. Mary's. Citizens of Copenhagen had elected to follow Luther, but Roman Catholic officials at St Mary's tried to maintain the church as a centre of Catholic resistance to change in Copenhagen. By royal decree both Roman Catholic and Lutheran priests were commanded to use the church jointly, which incensed the majority of Copenhagen's population. On 27 December 1530 hundreds of citizens stormed St. Mary's, destroying every statue and dismantling the choir stalls. The 17 richly gilt altars were stripped of jewels and gold and smashed, as were reliquaries, vestments and altar equipment. Even the name "St. Mary's" became Our Lady's Church (Vor Frue Kirke), keeping the historic reference to the Virgin Mary without the use of the un-Lutheran "Saint" appellation."

Interesting. Had no idea "Our Lady" was considered Lutheran and "St. Mary" not at that place in time.

Joanne said...

The German term for church buildings that are shared by different Confessions is "Simultankirche." Here's a wiki article with a long list of them. In the areas on the fringes of the Holy Roman Empire where borders were under constant pressure, it was often expedient to just "cut the baby in half." So to speak.

Unknown said...

Ugly, ugly statue.