Saturday, August 27, 2011

Bornholm's Round Churches




Among other things Bornholm is famous for its four round churches. The one shown on this modern day postcard is Østerlars. Note the separate bell tower building on the left. The bell was hung in the top portion, a rope hung down through the floor, a person, usually the clerk, pulled the rope to ring the bell thus alerting the people to come to church for services or to flee to the church for safety. The other three churches are Nylars, Olsker, and Nyker.

We took the next picture of Nyker and went in both it as well as Østerlars.
One of the interesting things about these churches besides the shape is that they were used as combination church and fortress. Church services were held on the lower level with an opening in the ceiling for a ladder to be dropped down. In times of invasion the townsfolk would climb up into the upper level, pull the ladder up and hide out until the unwelcome marauders left. They could stock food and other necessities, there were small window openings through which the people inside could hurl things down or shoot things out but they were fairly safe behind walls that are a meter thick. The stark contrast between the white exterior tower walls and the conical black roofs is arresting.


These churches were constructed in the 12th and 13th century with the interiors remaining much as they were with the exception of new pews and electricity. The pews ring the outer edge facing inward toward the altar located in the center of the circle. The ceiling of the lower level is domed; doorway openings into the altar and baptistery area are arched. At Østerlars the organ is squeezed in between a row of box pews. The center interior pillar has primitive looking frescos of biblical scenes that were originally painted in the middle ages. We found that the small fee the churches charged for entry inside was well worth it. It is interesting to contemplate the dual nature of these structures, one of spiritual safety in the gospel the other the temporal safety the building offered those living nearby, different but similar purposes.

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