Christianskirkja (Christian’s church) is Klaksvík’s main site and is one of the first major modern churches in Scandinavia that is inspired by the old Nordic style. It was named after King Christian X of Denmark and consecrated in 1963. Christianskirkja was dedicated in memory of the Faroese sailors who lost their lives during the Second World War.
The font used in the church is thought to be up to 4,000 years old and was once in use in a heathen temple. Designed by Danish architect Peter Koch, the imposing church is considered one of the islands’ aesthetically most notable modern buildings.
The church’s architecture is inspired by old Viking halls and the common halls in traditional Faroese homes. The acoustics within the church are said to be astonishingly good, better than in any other Faroese church of similar size.
The altarpiece (altar fresco), of The Parable of the Last Banquet from St Luke’s Gospel painted by Joakim Skovgaard in 1901, originates from the cathedral in Viborg, Denmark. It was moved a decade later to Denmark’s National Art Museum to protect it from damp. After some time, Koch was offered the fresco and immediately donated it to Klaksvík when he was commissioned to build Christianskirkja. Conservators from all over the world came to Klaksvík in 2012 to restore the altarpiece, as well as other parts of the church.
Christianskirkja includes a traditional wooden eight-oared boat which hangs from the ceiling. It was once the largest such vessel in the islands. Built in 1890, the boat has quite a history, being used not only by the local minister who sailed out in it from his home in Viðareiði to the remoter islands to give his sermons but also by the people of Fugloy as a fishing and whaling boat. At Christmas time in 1913, this boat and three others were caught in a ferocious storm whilst out fishing: as the others went down, this boat limped home carrying the only survivors: two boys aged nine and 11 and an old man in his 70s.
In 2013, Faroese artist Edward Fuglø made 10 tree reliefs for Christianskirkja. The reliefs depict scenes from the life of Jesus and the material used – wood – is appropriate when taking into account Jesus’s training with his carpenter father, Joseph.
The style is “biblical history”, simple, clear and with an emphasis on surface. As such, the reliefs link to the church’s big altarpiece by Joakim Skovgaard, who like Fuglø was inspired by old Italian masters.
The reliefs are not only retro. As a kind of puzzle, they contain so many major shifts in depth that the subject almost dissolves when you see them up close or from the side. Abstract rhythms enrich the storytelling, and strange foreign elements – like an old lock – turn up unexpectedly.
The story is brief and dramatic with a calm Jesus amid outraged crowds – their facial expressions and gestures are a story in themselves. The round format amplifies the dynamics and is in itself a symbol of eternity.
Joakim Skovgaard would certainly have been proud of his younger colleague, Edward Fuglø, for creating this masterpiece in Faroese church art.