Thursday, September 10, 2009

Dalum: A Danish Cloister Comes Full Circle

A Benedictine cloister becomes the Danish King's retreat after the Reformation, then a manor house, and finally a convent once again:

Fruens Bøge is a grove of beech trees bordering the Odense River in Dalum Parish in greater Odense, Denmark. "Fruens Bøge" is best translated as “Our Lady’s Beech Grove”. From 1536 to 1877, Fruens Bøge belonged to an estate called Christiansdal. The estate property, however, once belonged to a Roman Catholic Benedictine religious order of nuns.

Formerly located at Nonnebakken (“Nuns Hill”) in central Odense, the Benedictine nuns established a cloister at Dalum in 1197. The church now referred to as Dalum Church was part of the cloister holdings and comprised the north wing of the cloister’s four-sided courtyard. The church was constructed in such a manner that the cloistered nuns could sit in a loft and look down into the sanctuary during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass without being seen by those in the nave.

The property remained in the possession of the Benedictines until 1536 when, as a result of the Reformation, the land was “assigned to” (i.e. taken over by) the Danish crown, which held it from 1536 to 1662. During that time, the property became a fief called Christiansdal. King Christian IV went there often. In 1620, the King’s mother-in-law became the holder of the fief. King Christian’s second wife Kirsten Munk, who bore him 12 children, raised her daughter Leonore Christine on the estate.

In 1627, during the Thirty Years War, the King established his headquarters at Christiansdal. It was while living at Christiansdal that King Christian IV and Kirsten Munk’s marriage failed. In 1646, King Christian described the property as highly dilapidated. He ordered the buildings restored at the cost of the parish churches. In 1647, however, he had the south transept of Dalum Church torn down.

In either 1659 or 1662 (depending on the source), King Christian IV’s son, Frederick III, transferred Christiansdal to Jens Lassen, a judge, who held the estate until 1682. Jens Lassen’s daughter, Margrethe, the first Danish novelist, grew up at Christiansdal. After 1682, the estate passed through various hands and at times reverted to the crown.

In 1764, Lt. Col. Christian Benzon purchased Christiansdal at an auction and it remained a private estate in the hands of the Benzon family until 1882, except that in 1877 the municipality of Odense purchased Fruens Bøge, the beech grove portion of the estate. (It is now a city park.)

From 1882 the remaining land was purchased by a baron who sold it to a widow named Christine Lange in 1891. Lange died in 1902. In 1906, her heirs sold the estate to the Roman Catholic religious order of St. Hedvig, which has held it ever since. The St. Hedvig sisters returned the structure it its original use as a convent. (The convent buildings are now referred to as Dalum Cloister. The Sisters of St. Hedvig operated a sanatorium there for some time. Now, they serve the housing needs of the elderly at the same location.)

During the years 1926 to 1927 the church was restored and the south transept rebuilt. The church, however, is not part of the current Catholic holdings at Dalum but rather is Lutheran.

Sources in addition to those linked above:
Catholic Encyclopedia article, "Ancient See of Odense in Denmark".
Trap Denmark (a Danish atlas), pp. 206-207.

1867 book illustration of Christiansdal, from Wikimedia Commons. In the public domain.


Matterhorn said...

Fascinating- I just linked to this post.

Marie-Jacqueline said...

Thank you, Matterhorn. I found your post on Anna of Austria quite interesting and am planning on linking it soon.


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