The Bishop of Børglum and his Kinsmen
Now we are up in Jutland, even further north than the raised bog of Vildmosen; we can hear the rumbling and roaring of the North Sea that is not far off; but ahead of us rises a large sandhill, we have seen it for quite some time, and we continue to journey towards it, a slow, difficult process in the deep sand. On top of the hill lies a large, old building, it is Børglum Abbey, the largest wing is still a chapel; we are approaching it in the late evening, but the weather is clear, the short northern nights of summer are here; one can see so far, so far in every direction, out across field and bog down to Aalborg Fjord, across heath and meadow, right out over the dark-blue sea.
Now we have reached the top, now we trundle in between barn and outbuilding, and turn in through the gateway to the old courtyard, where the linden trees line the walls; there they are sheltered from wind and weather, allowing their branches to grow until they almost hide the windows.
We go up the paved spiral staircase, walk along the long passages under the raftered ceiling, the wind sighs here so strangely, outside or inside, it’s difficult to tell which, and people say things – well, people say so many things, see so many things when they are scared or want to make others feel scared. The old, deceased canons, it is said, glide silently past us into the chapel, where the mass is being sung, one can hear it in the sighing of the wind; it gives one such a strange feeling, one thinks of former times – feels oneself transported to former times.
– A ship lies wrecked on the shore, the bishop’s folk are down there, they do not spare what the sea spared; the sea washed away the red blood that flowed from the crushed skulls. The jetsam belongs to the bishop and there is a great deal of it. The sea rolls up anchor and barrel, full of precious wine for the abbey cellars, and they are already full of beer and mead; the kitchen is full of game, of sausages and hams; in the ponds outside swim plump bream and delicious carp. The Bishop of Børglum is a powerful man, he owns land, and is eager for more; everyone must bow down to Oluf Glob.
In Thy his rich kinsman has died. ‘Kinsman is the worst of foes’, as the saying is. That his widow down south certainly came to feel. Her husband ruled over the whole area there, except for the lands belonging to the Church; her son is in foreign climes; already as a boy he was sent out to learn foreign customs at his own wish; nothing was heard from him for years, perhaps he already lies in his grave and will never return home to rule where now his mother rules.
‘What, is a woman to rule?’ the bishop asks. He sends her a writ summoning her to the courts; but to what avail? She never departed from the law, and her just cause is a strong one.
Bishop Oluf of Børglum, what are you thinking of? What is it you are writing down on that blank sheet of parchment? What does it conceal beneath its band and seal, since you give it to a horseman and his man to ride off with to a foreign country, far off, in the city of the Pope.
It is autumn, the season of shipwrecks; now icy winter will soon be here.
Twice the winter came, and finally a third with a welcome to the horseman and man, returning from Rome with a papal brief of excommunication on the widow who dared to insult the pious bishop. ‘A curse be on her and all that is hers! May she be cast out from Church and Congregation! May no one lend her a helping hand; kinsmen and friends abhor her like the plague and leprosy!’
‘What will not bend must be broken!’ the Bishop of Børglum says.
All of them abandon her, but she does not abandon her God, he is her guardian and protector.
A single servant, an old spinster, remains faithful to her; she helps her plough, and the corn thrives, despite being cursed by pope and bishop.
‘You child of hell! I shall finally prevail! the Bishop of Børglum says, ‘now I will let you feel the hand of the pope, and be tried and sentenced!’
Then she hitches her last two oxen she still owns to the cart, climbs up onto it with her servant and drives across the heath, out of Danish territory; she comes as a foreigner to a foreign people, where a foreign language is spoken, foreign customs are practised; far off, where the green hills rise up into mountains and wine grows on their slopes. There travelling merchants come who anxiously keep a lookout from their heavy-laden wagons, who are afraid of being attacked by robber barons and their men. The two poor women on their paltry cart drawn by two oxen travel safely through the treacherous sunken roads and the dense forests. In Franconia she meets a handsome knight accompanied by twelve battle-clad men; he stops and looks at the strange procession, and asks the two women what their destination is, and from which country they have come; when the younger one says Thy in Denmark, speaks of her sorrow and misery that will soon come to an end, the Lord God has so ordained it. The foreign knight is her son. He reaches out to her, holds her in his embrace; and the mother weeps, that she has been unable to do for many years, but she bites her lip, so that drops of warm blood trickled out.
It is autumn, it is the season of shipwrecks, the sea rolls casks of wine ashore into the bishop’s cellar and kitchen, where game on a spit braises over the flames; up there it is nice and warm indoors, now that winter is in earnest. There is news abroad: Jens Glob from Thy has returned home with his mother; Jens Glob has served a writ, he has served a writ on the bishop to appear at an ecclesiastical court as well as a secular court.
‘A lot of good that will do him!’ the bishop says. ‘Just you let the courts decide, Knight Jens!’
It is autumn, the following year, the time of shipwrecks, soon icy winter will be here; the white bees sting, sting your face until they themselves melt.
The weather’s fresh today, people say when they have been outside the door. Jens Glob stands thinking so hard that he singes his silken coat, yes, burns a hole in it.
‘You Bishop of Børglum! I’ve got the measure of you! Under the Pope’s cape the law cannot reach you, but Jens Glob will!’
He then writes a letter to his brother-in-law, Sir Oluf Hase in Salling, summoning him on Christmas Eve to matins in Hvidberg Church; the bishop will be taking mass over there, so he will have to travel from Børglum to Thyland, that Jens Glob knows for certain.
Meadow and bog lie covered with ice and snow, they can bear both horse and rider, the entire procession, the bishop with his priests and men; the take the shortest route among the brittle reeds, where the wind sighs mournfully.
Blow your brass trumpet, you foxskin-clad music-maker! It makes a fine noise in the clear air. They then ride over heath and bog, the meadow garden of fata morganas on a warm summer’s day, southwards, their destination Hvidberg Church.
The wind blows its trumpet more strongly, it blows up a storm, god-forsaken weather, it swells in strength and violence. Off they set to God’s house in this god-forsaken weather. God’s house stands solid, but the god-forsaken weather sweeps across field and bog, over fjord and sea. The Bishop of Børglum reaches the church, Sir Oluf Hase is scarcely able to, no matter how swiftly he rides. He would cross the fjord with his men to come to Jens Glob’s aid, now that the bishop is to be summoned before the supreme court.
God’s house is the courthouse, the altar table the table of legal proceedings; all the candles are lit in the heavy brass candlesticks. The storm reads out the charge and the sentence. It roars through the air, over bog and heath, over the rolling waters. No ferry can cross the fjord in such god-forsaken weather.
Oluf Hase stands at Ottesund; there he takes farewell of his men, bids them keep horse and armour, allows them to return home and bring a greeting to his wife; on his own he will risk life and limb in the foaming water; but they are to be his witnesses that it is not his fault that Jens Glob stands unaided in Hvidberg Church. The faithful men do not abandon him, they follow him out into the deep water. Ten of them are swept away; Oluf Hase himself and two of his young boys reach the far side; they still have thirty miles to ride.
It is past midnight, it is Christmas night. The wind has died down; the church is lit up; the great gleam shines through the windows out across meadow and heath. Matins are long since over; it is completely silent inside God’s house, one can hear the wax drip from the candles onto the stone floor. Now Oluf Hase arrives.
He is greeted by Jens Glob in the church porch. ‘Good day to you! I have now reached a settlement with the bishop.’
‘What have you done!’ Oluf says, ‘in that case, neither you nor the bishop will leave the church alive!’
And his sword is out of its sheath, and Oluf Hase strikes a blow that splits the plankwork of the church door, that which Jens Glob shuts between him and himself.
‘Stay your hand, dear brother-in-law, and look first at the settlement! I have struck down the bishop and all his men. They will not say one more syllable in the entire matter, nor will I concerning all the injustice that has befallen my mother!’
The wicks of the altar candle gleam bright red, but there is a yet brighter gleam from the floor; they in a pool of blood lies the bishop, his brow cleft in twain, and all his men lie slain around him; it is silent and still in the holy Christmas night.
But on the third evening of Christmas the bells of Børglum Abbey toll out for the funeral of the dead bishop and his slain men, who are placed on show beneath a black canopy with candelabras draped in crape. The dead bishop, the once mighty lord, lies dressed in a cloth-of-silver cape, his crozier in his powerless hands. The smell of incense is in the air, the monks sing; it sounds like a complaint, it sounds like a sentence of wrath and condemnation that must surely be heard far and wide, borne by the wind, sung too by the wind; it comes to rest, but it will never die out, will always regain its strength once more and sing its songs, sing them into our own age, sing up here of the Bishop of Børglum and his hardy kinsmen; it can be heard in the dark night, heard by the fearful peasant who drives past Børglum Abbey along the heavy sandy road; be heard by the sleepless listener in Børglum’s thick-walled rooms, and that is why there are faint noises in the long, echoing passages that lead to the chapel, the entrance to which has long since been closed and walled up, but not for superstitious eyes – they still see the door there, and it opens, the candles in their brass candlesticks gleam, the incense fills the air, the chapel gleams in the splendour of former times, the monks chant the mass over the slain bishop, lying there in his cloth-of-silver cape, with his crozier in his powerless hand, and from his pale, proud brow gleams the bloody wound which shines like fire; it is his worldly nature and evil desires burning themselves out.
Sink into the grave, sink into night and oblivion, horrible memories of olden days!
Listen to the tossing of the wind, it drowns out the rolling sea. There is a storm out there that will cost human lives! The sea has not changed its nature with the new age. Tonight it is solely a mouth that devours, tomorrow perhaps a clear eye in which to mirror oneself, as in a former age, that which we now have buried. Sleep sweetly, if you are able!
Now it is morning.
The new age shines into the room with sunshine! The wind gets up once more. A shipwreck is reported, as in a former age.
In the night, down by Løkken, a small fishing hamlet with red roofs, we can see it from the windows up here, a ship lies wrecked. It struck something out there, but the rescue rocket established a link between the wreck and dry land, all those on board were rescued, they came a ashore and were given a bed; today they are invited to Børglum Abbey. In the pleasant rooms they will find hospitality and meet kindly eyes, be able to be greeted in the language of their own country; from the piano the melodies of their homeland will sound, and before these are over, another wire will throb, soundless and yet so resonant and sure: the wired message will reach the homes of those shipwrecked back in their own country and tell of their rescue; then relief will be felt, then they can join in a dance at the celebration that evening at Børglum hall. We will dance waltzes and folk dances, and songs will be sung about Denmark and ‘The valiant Soldier’ in this new age.
Blessings be on you, new age of ours! Bring summer to the town on the cleansed current of air! let your sun’s rays shine into hearts and minds! against your gleaming background float past the dark legends of former harsh, rigorous times!