Religious motifs : Overview. Search. About religious motifs

Keywords:

Church, death

Description of this motif: Graveyards are a frequently present location in Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales. The motif is usually not remarkably described in any way; Focus is, as one might expect, on graves, the dead, sorrow, devotion and faith. One unusual, "Gothic" romantic example is the tale about the "The Child in the Grave", in which a grieving mother goes underground at the graveyard in her longing for her late child.

Example 1:

It was a bright, sunshiny Sunday in late September; the peals of the church bells extended to one another all along the Nissum Fiord. The churches there are like immense stones, each like a piece of rock mountain; the North Sea itself might wash over them, and they would still stand firm. Most of them have no towers, their bells hanging out in the open air between two wooden beams.

The services had ended, and the congregation emerged from the House of God into the churchyard where then, as now, there grew neither tree nor shrub. No plants, flowers, or wreaths adorned the graves; only rough hillocks showed where the dead had been buried, while sharp grass, beaten flat by the wind, covered the whole cemetery. Here and there a single grave still has a tombstone, perhaps a moldering log, cut in the shape of a coffin. These are pieces of driftwood from the forests of West Jutland. The wild sea provides the shore dwellers with many hewn planks, cast upon the coast. But the wind and salt sea spray soon wear away these monuments.

One of these blocks had been placed on the grave of child, to which a young woman came from the church. She stopped and gazed down at the rotted wood; shortly her husband joined her. They spoke no word; presently he took her hand, and together they walked away from the grave, on over the brown heath and over the moor toward the sand dunes. For a long time they walked in silence.

"That was a good sermon today," said the man. "If we didn't have our Lord we would have nothing."

"Yes," replied his wife, "He sends us happiness and sorrow. He has a right to. Our little boy would have been five years old tomorrow if we had been allowed to keep him."

"It does no good to grieve," said the man. "He is much better off there than here; he is where we pray to go."

Example 2:

Then they talked about the sand dunes, and how they came to be here, and this was very interesting. The peasants found a corpse on the shore and buried it in the churchyard; then the sand began to fly about, and the sea broke in with violence. A wise man of the parish advised that the grave be opened, for if the stranger were found sucking his thumb, they could then be sure that he whom they had buried was a merman, and that the sea would not rest till it had fetched him back. So they opened the grave, and sure enough, the dead man lay with his thumb between his lips. He was quickly laid on a cart drawn by two oxen, and as though stung by hornets they rushed with him over heath and moor to the sea. That stopped the shower of flying sand, but the dunes that it formed are still there.

That was what Jrgen learned and carried away with him from the happiest days of his childhood – those four days at the funeral party.

Example 3:

The Sunday before her departure, all were to go together to Holy Communion. The church was large and stately, built by the Dutch and Scotch many centuries before, and quite a distance from where the town is now situated. The church was somewhat dilapidated now, and the way through the deep sand made hard walking, but people did not mind these difficulties to get to the house of God, to sing psalms, and to hear the sermon. The sand was piled up outside the wall around the cemetery, but the graves had still been kept free of it.

It was the largest church north of the Lime Fiord. The Virgin Mary, with a golden crown on her head and the infant Saviour in her arms, was painted in bright colors above the altar; the holy Apostles were ranged around the choir, and high on the wall there hung portraits of Skagen's old burgomasters and councilmen, with their insignia of office. The pulpit was carved. The sun shone brightly into the church, lighting up the polished brass chandelier and the little vessel that hung down from the roof. Jrgen was overwhelmed by the same pure, childlike feeling of devotion that had thrilled his soul when, a boy, he had stood in the rich Spanish cathedral. But here the feeling was different, for in this place he felt that he was one of the congregation.

After the sermon came the Communion, and when Jrgen knelt with the others to receive the consecrated bread and wine, he found that he was kneeling next to Miss Clara. But his thoughts were so raised to God and the Holy Sacrament that not until they rose did he realize that she had been his neighbor. Then he saw the salt tears rolling down her cheeks.

Example 4:

"Let us pray for our Lord to take him; he will never be a man again."

(...)

"Poor crazy Jrgen," people said. And this was he who before he was born, was destined to have such a rich, earthly fortune and such happiness that it would be arrogance, terrible vanity, even to wish for or believe in an afterlife. Were all the fine qualities of his soul wasted? Only cruel days, anguish, and broken hopes had been his lot. He was like a precious root which is torn from its rich soil and flung out to rot in the sand. Could this really be the destiny of a soul created in the image of God – a mere game, battered by the chances of this world? No! The God of love will compensate him in another life for all that he lost and suffered in this. "The Lord is loving unto every man, and his mercy is over all His works." The pious old wife of Merchant Brnne repeated these words from the Psalms of David in faith and comfort, and she prayed that our Lord would soon end Jrgen's life of sorrow and take him to enjoy "God's gift of grace," the life everlasting.

Clara lay buried in the churchyard, where the sand drifted over the walls, but Jrgen did not seem to know this. It never penetrated the narrow world of his thoughts, which lived only in fragments from the past. Every Sunday he accompanied the family to church, and sat quietly with a blank face. Once, during the psalm singing, he sighed deeply, and his eyes took on life. He was gazing at the altar, at the very spot where, over a year ago, he had knelt beside his dead friend; his face turned white, his lips murmured her name, and the tears rolled down his cheeks.

Comment on this quote: Jrgen is retarded, after having hit his head against the figurehead of the ship, the shipwreck of which his Spanish mother survived as the only one. She gave birth to Jrgen shortly after, and then died from the labour. The recent accident took place, while Jrgen desperately tried to save his Clara from drowning due to another shipwreck.

Example 5:

The flying sand had drifted over the graves in the churchyard up to the very walls of the church; here among those who had gone before them, among relatives and friends, the dead were still being buried. Merchant Brnne and his wife now rested here under the white sand, among their children.