Finding Consolation on Churchyards in Lutheran Denmark

To many visitors, Danish churchyards appear highly secularized, but in this article I will argue that they in fact materialize religious Protestant norms, especially norms about how to find consolation in the face of death. Due to the character of Protestant material culture, however, we tend to overlook the Protestant norms of consolation that these graveyards embody. The appearance of the churchyards thus does not result from a lack of religion, but rather from a particular form of religion with a particular understanding of material culture and consolation. In this article, I will describe how this understanding came about at the time of the Reformation and how it was implemented in different ways in churchyards in Lutheran Denmark. I will further show that the advent of cremation and the changes in the structural design of Danish churchyards this brought about – though normally seen as features of secularization – strengthened Protestant norms. I thus argue that instead of a withdrawal of official religion, we find that the Lutheran Church has actually increased its grip on the graveyard.Conflicts concerning the appearance of churchyards are regularly under- stood within a framework of aesthetics but should instead be considered as religiously based. Because the Protestant norms that the graveyards embody are overlooked, it is not fully recognized how they repress non-prescribed forms of religion and with them connected understandings of consolation. This repression can give rise to conflicts about the material culture. The Evangelical Lutheran Church has a near-monopoly on burial grounds in Denmark and therefore almost all Danes end up on a Lutheran churchyard, whether they are members of the church or not. It is to be expected that the regulation of material culture and its implicit Protestant norms can make it difficult to find consolation for the 21 per cent of the population that are non-members. However, the same is also the case for many members of the Lutheran Church, as I will show in the last part of this article. As I will describe below, they find consolation in ways that testify to a discrepancy between what official religion prescribes and how they actually live their religion. This state of affairs raises also an important, practical question with regard to the future planning of churchyards: for whom will they be landscapes of consolation? I will address this question towards the end of the article, but first we need to understand how the material side of Protestant religion is manifest on Danish graveyards.

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