A trip to Denmark for the 2018 European Association of Urology Congress turns into a modern pilgrimage. Here are my reflections during Easter Week.
Making a pilgrimage
Recently, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to Copenhagen, Denmark, to present a poster at the 2018 European Association of Urology Congress. Following the presentation, my wife and I took the train to Odense, on the Island of Fyn, to visit St. Michael’s Church in Sanderum, Denmark. St. Michael’s is a very ancient church. It is also the church of my ancestors.
A battle of beliefs
For many centuries, the Vikings inhabited a large part of Northern Europe and the area that is now Denmark. The Vikings worshipped many gods and were considered pagan. Christianity was introduced as early as 725 A.D. However, it is King Harald “Bluetooth” Gormsson, ruler of Denmark between about 940 and 986 A.D., who is most often credited with converting the Danes to Christianity.
“On land I worship Christ, but at sea I always invoke Thor.”
It must have been an interesting time to be alive as these two belief systems interacted with each other and mixed. St. Michael’s is believed to be built between 1000 and 1100 A.D.
The architecture of St. Michael’s is really remarkable, unlike anything I had seen before. Arguably, what is most amazing about the church is its frescoes.
Hidden from view
Centuries ago, approximately 1500 AD, an artist used chalk to inscribe the story of Scriptures onto the ceiling of the church. Over the years that followed, as beliefs and tastes changed with the times, some of these drawings were hidden from view.
Since the church underwent a modern restoration, some of drawings, long covered, are once again exposed. Looking up at the ceiling, I wondered what my ancestors thought of these images – from the illustrations of Heaven to these graphic representations of Hell.
The suffering servant
Perhaps because of the Easter Season, what spoke to me most, was the illustration of Jesus as the suffering servant. The Jesus in this illustration is a bit different than the Jesus most of us think of today.
Historically speaking, I don’t know if these illustrations are any more or less accurate than the images we see in our more contemporary American churches today. What I do know, is that viewing these images forces me to reimagine and rethink the Gospel stories within the context of my own culture and time.
Ancient questions, modern challenges
“It’s possible that losing faith in America’s political and economic system leads one to lose faith in organized religion.”
These days, we are living in a culture of rapid change of our own. At the same time, church membership and participation is falling in the United States and in the Western World. In many ways, our culture has never been more connected. In other ways, it seems we are splitting farther and farther apart. Regardless of our faith tradition, I believe we all would benefit from repeatedly asking ourselves the following questions.
- What do I really believe?
- How do my beliefs influence my behavior?
- Do my behaviors benefit me?
- How can I change my behaviors to better serve others?
I would like to thank Mr. Bjarne Larsen, his wife Lone, and Mrs. Jane Crewe from St. Michael’s for the amazing hospitality they extended to me and my wife during our stay in Sanderum.
Visiting this ancient church has given me the opportunity to reflect more on my faith, my beliefs, and my behavior. I hope these ancient illustrations, and this modern post, will provide you with an opportunity to do the same. It is in this spirit, and with this hope, that I wish you and yours a blessed Holy Week.