Religious motifs : Overview. Search. About religious motifs

See also Hymn book, hymnal


Song, church

Description of this motif:

Psalms are religious songs. A remarkable example of the motif in the fairy tales and stories of Hans Christian Andersen is At the Uttermost Parts of the Sea. The title is a quote from psalm 139 of the bible's book of Psalms, a psalm by David.

Example 1:

He went to a party; it was a funeral party.

A wealthy relative of the fisherman had died; his farm was far inland, "to the east, a bit northerly," as the saying goes. Jörgen's foster parents had to go, and they took him with them.


Psalms were sung, and a few of the older people wept, but aside from this, everything was very pleasant, Jörgen thought. There was plenty to eat and drink; the finest fat eels, with schnapps afterwards "to settle the eels," as the eel seller had said. And his words were certainly carried out at this gathering.

Jörgen went in and out of the house, and by the third day he was as thoroughly at home there as in the fisherman's hut among his own sand dunes, where he had spent all his life. But the heath here was far more beautiful, with its myriads of brilliant blossoms and luscious sweet bilberries, growing so thickly that if one stepped on them, the ground became stained with their red juice. Here lay an old viking grave, and near it lay another. When the mysterious columns of mist curled upward through the calm air, they said, "The heath is on fire." It shone brightest toward evening.

But the fourth day came at last and brought the end of the wake; it was time to return from the inland sand dunes to the coastal sand dunes.

Example 2:

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. Jörgen 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 Jörgen 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 3:

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


"Poor crazy Jörgen," 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 Brönne repeated these words from the Psalms of David in faith and comfort, and she prayed that our Lord would soon end Jörgen'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 Jörgen 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: Jörgen 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 Jörgen shortly after, and then died from the labour. The recent accident took place, while Jörgen desperately tried to save his Clara from drowning due to another shipwreck.

Example 4:

He went toward the church, where the sand lay drifted up against the wall and half covered the windows. The church door was unlocked and easy to open; Jörgen went in.

The wind raged and howled over the town of Skagen; such a hurricane had not been known within the memory of man. It was awful weather! But Jörgen was sheltered within the house of God, and while black night reigned outside, within him everything grew bright – bright with the light of the immortal soul. He felt as if the heavy stone in his head had burst with a clang! He imagined that the organ was playing, but it was only the storm and the roaring of the ocean that he heard. As he sat down in one of the pews he thought the candles were being lighted, one by one, until there was a blaze of light such as he had only seen in the land of the Spaniards. Then all the portraits of the old councilors and burgomasters came to life; they stepped down from the walls where they had hung for so many years, and seated themselves in the choir. Then the gates and doors of the church swung open, and all the dead entered, festively dressed, as was customary in the olden days; sweet music was played as they walked in and seated themselves in the pews. The psalm singing swelled like the rolling of the ocean. Jörgen's old foster parents from the Hunsby sand dunes were there, and the good Merchant Brönne and his wife, and beside them, next to Jörgen, sat their gentle, loving daughter. She gave her hand to Jörgen, and together they went up to the altar where they had knelt once before, and the pastor joined their hands and consecrated them to a life of love. Then the sound of the trumpet burst forth, marvelously like the voice of child, full of longing and expectation; it swelled into the sound of an organ, full of rich, glorious tones, blessed to hear and yet mighty enough to burst the tombstones on the graves.

The ship hanging in the choir sank downward, in front of them, and grew vast and splendid with silken sails and golden masts, with anchors of red gold and ropes of silken twine, like the ship in the old ballad. The bridal couple stepped on board, and all the congregation followed; there were room and enjoyment for all. Then the arches and walls of the church blossomed like the elder and the fragrant lime trees; joyfully they waved their green branches, and bowed, and parted. The ship was lifted up and sailed with them through the ocean, through the air. Every candle in the church became a tiny star; the winds sang a hymn, and all joined in:

"In love, to glory! No life shall be lost! Supreme happiness forever! Hallelujah!"

And these were Jörgen's last words in this mortal world, for the thread that held the immortal spirit snapped; only a lifeless corpse lay in the dark church, while the storm howled and covered it with drifting sand.

The next morning was Sunday, and the pastor and congregation set out for church. The road, buried in sand, was almost impassable. When they reached the church they found an enormous sand heap completely covering the door. Then the pastor prayed briefly and said that as God had now closed the door to this His house, they must go forth and raise Him a new one elsewhere. So they sang a psalm and returned home.

In vain Jörgen was sought throughout the town of Skagen and the sand dunes; it was supposed that the rolling waves of sand had buried him beneath them.

But his body was entombed in a vast sarcophagus, in the very church itself. During the storm our Lord cast earth over his coffin; the great heaps of sand lay above and around it, and they cover it to this day. The drifting sand lies piled above those mighty arches; thorns and wild roses now twine over the church, where the visitor struggles on toward its tower still showing above the sand. His tombstone may be seen for miles; no king ever had a more magnificent one. And no one will ever disturb the repose of the dead, for none until now has ever known his resting place; for this story was sung to me by the storm among the sand dunes.

Comment on this quote:

Jörgen's transformation and redemption in the church takes place inside his head. It is unclear whether what happens is real (in any sense) or not. It is a sort of dream, in which Jörgen's soul sees a divine light and experiences happiness in illusive dream pictures, while he – as a matter of fact – dies. The scene is closely related to the death of The Little Match Girl and The Old Oak Tree's Last Dream.

The oak tree dream is, according to Johan de Mylius, at the core of the entire oeuvre, which Mylius conceives as centered about transformation in death and rebirth, and the striving against this kind of transformation. Cf. Mylius: Forvandlingens pris. H.C. Andersen og hans eventyr (The price of transformation. HCA and his fairytales), 2004.