These old structures may surprise you

Photo: Tom Thowsen 2022

There are four of them at Bornholm, which is Denmark’s most eastern island. They are not just what they seem to be. No, there’s more to it.

Let’s have a closer look.

We’ll begin with Sankt Ols Kirke, built in the 12th century.

The castle-like building you see above is both a church and a fortress.

That fits well with this specific saint, I thought.

King Olaf II Haraldson (Saint Olaf or Saint Olave), “the eternal king of Norway”, fell at the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030 AD.

In folk traditions, he figured as a protector against evil forces and had healing power. Even water springs had sprung where he had been. Pilgrims from different parts of Europe came to his shrine, and several churches in Scandinavia and England bear his name.

Photo: Tom Thowsen 2022

The first room at the entrance is the so-called porch. Or weapon house, like we used to call it in Scandinavia. It might have functioned as a guardroom or armoury to store weapons in case of need.

Please note: I focused more on unexpected details rather than frescos and altars in this article.

Photo: Tom Thowsen 2022

Just like the outer part of the church, it’s round inside as well.

Photo: Tom Thowsen 2022

There is a pillar in the middle to support the two floors above.

The modest apse lies next.

Photo: Tom Thowsen 2022

Near the altar lies this piquant stairway that leads to a tiny door — the entrance to the fortress.

Photo: Tom Thowsen 2022

Behind the door in question, you must climb this steep and claustrophobic stairway.

Photo: Tom Thowsen 2022

Then there is another floor, a round room with a pillar like the church beneath. But fewer windows, quite dark space.

Photo: Tom Thowsen 2022

And then, another stairway leads further up.

Photo: Tom Thowsen 2022

And finally, the citadel emerges with its pointy roof rafters and small glowing hatches.

Photo: Tom Thowsen 2022

The conical roof rises 13 meters from the base, which stands at a hilltop 112 meters above sea level. And with its thick granite walls, it is no wonder why this was a stronghold. Up here, all the openings were excellent for tossing stones and shooting arrows at an enemy.

Okay, when we are in the defensive mood, there are three other round Churches at Bornholm. So let’s have a look at them too.

Østerlars Church

Photo: Tom Thowsen 2022

It was dedicated to Saint Lawrence and is one of Denmark’s oldest Romanesque churches, built around 1160 AD. A stronghold initially, with an open shooting gallery at the top.

Photo: Tom Thowsen 2022

Østerlars is the biggest of Bornholms round churches.

And, as shown in the photo beneath, there are steep stairways here as well.

Photo: Tom Thowsen 2022
Photo: Tom Thowsen 2022
Photo: Tom Thowsen 2022

Why are these churches round? The sign asks.

Then it gives four explanations.

#1 Knight Templars

According to a theory developed by a Danish journalist, Erling Haagensen, these churches were built by the Knight Templars. But most scholars doubt he’s right.

#2 Church of the Holy Sepulchre

However, the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is a good candidate for inspiration. The same explanation goes for the round Churches in the Slavic part of Europe.

#3 Defence Tower

This theory is supported by a medieval document, dated 1376, where the bishop of Lund gave a catapult to Aa church at Bornholm. But, on the contrary – no proof of war; no arrows have been unearthed in the area. Fair enough to me. Sacred ground.

#4 Observatory

Again, an idea by the Danish journalist Erling Haagensen, based on its location etc, etc.

What do you believe?

Photo: Tom Thowsen 2022

Then, a view to a more peaceful perspective.

A new theme emerged.

Oh, my word! there are rune stones too

To the surprise of some, there are even stones with runic letters. Even if these enigmatic signs are more associated with the Viking era than medieval Christianity, they were in use until the 14-hundreds.
Hence one can wonder: is there any traces of Thor and Odin here, the old Norse religion?

Yes, sometimes there is. And I kept that in mind while I searched through these round churches.

So please hang on till the end.

Nylars Church

Photo: Tom Thowsen 2022

This church, built around 1165 AD, was dedicated to Saint Nicholas. In old Danish, this name was Nilaus and has developed to Nylars. Here the original defence systems are pretty much intact, but unfortunately, it was closed when I was there.

The rest of the church, however, was open. Hence, I managed, thank goodness, to take some photos of interest.

Photo: Tom Thowsen 2022

Photo: Tom Thowsen 2022

Photo: Tom Thowsen 2022

The church also has two rune stones

These are from around 1000 AD, which eventually means they were carved in the Viking age (793 – 1066 AD).


The text on the left side rune stone: “Kaabe-Sven set up this stone after his son, Böse, the good man, killed at Udlänge. May God and Saint Michael help his soul”.

The text on the right side rune stone: “Sasser set up this stone after his father, Alvard. He drowned with his sailors. May Christ help his soul in all eternity. This stone shall stand memory.”
So these are examples of early Scandinavian Christians. But how about traces of pre-Christian religion? That they built these churches on old sacred ground is a known fact.

Well, they are there somewhere. No doubt. But I found one possible ancient religious altar—a pretty modest one at the smallest and youngest round church of Bornholm.
Please come with me to the end.

Ny Kirke

Photo: Tom Thowsen 2022

On my arrival at Ny kirke — New Church — built in the 12th century, I’ve got disappointed. With its closed doors, I couldn’t get in.
Sorry about that.
Nevertheless — never so bad that it’s not good for anything.

Then I spent more time outdoors.
And luckily, it had rained a few hours ago.
Wich made a huge difference.
Otherwise, I would hardly have seen them.
Hurrah! Cup marks on the stepping stone.
Grey sun-dried surface as a contrast.
These sparkled with water.

Photo: Tom Thowsen 2022

So, what are they?

Even if these shallow marks usually date between 1700 to 500 BC., they probably were used up to the Viking Age around 1000 AD. Or they could be as old as 8000 years, for that matter.
Nobody knows for sure.

The cup marks could have been fertility marks, which may also have had a protective effect — they possibly believed.

We often find them on rocks and stones that surround the ancient fields.

The cup marks are called Freja marks, too, after the fertility goddess Freja. Freja, together with Freyr, Uller and Njord, were included as fertility gods in the old religion along with Odin, Thor and others …

Okay, I stop there.

Thank you for reading my brief article.
Please, feel free to share it with others if you wish.
Tom Thowsen

Young Ibsen’s footsteps

Next to Shakespeare, he is the world’s most performed playwright. But let’s turn back the clock and see what ignited the spark in him.

November 22, 1797

It is dark and cold, and a violent storm is raging from the southeast. The 32-year-old shipowner and captain Henrik Ibsen is on his way home from London when he and his crew discover the danger. The sound of waves crashing against shallows and reefs. They understand that they must turn around, but it is not easy to defy the onshore wind and the strong current.

They fight in despair onboard the «Charitas» as the ship hits land with a crash. Wooden planks splinter against hard granite. The mezzanine masts fall overboard. Parts of the upper decks also go along as the beams break apart. A few minutes later, the crushed wreck of «Charitas» finally settles down at a depth of 30 meters.

This night, Henrik Ibsen and his entire crew of 15 men drown in the ice-cold water off Hesnesøya by Grimstad, Norway. And the tragedy is a fact.

Time goes by, but the memory remains.

November 29, 1843

Forty-six years after the shipwreck, the boat «Lykkens Prøve» docks at the pier in Grimstad, a town in the southern part of Norway. Now, 15-year-old Henrik Ibsen goes ashore, ready to stand on his own two feet, a few kilometres from where his grandfather disappeared into the sea.

Part of a painting by Lauritz Hansen

In 1843, Grimstad was a small town of about 800 inhabitants, where most families lived in their own houses with a small garden. Otherwise, the city has a customs station, post office, savings bank, registrar, district doctor, midwife, and pharmacy. No church other than Fjære church, a few kilometres inland. Neither newspaper nor library. Only a private reading society where members can borrow books.

Pharmacist Jens Arup Reimann has started a business in Storgaten. There, the young Henrik Ibsen begins as a pharmacist’s apprentice, and the pharmacist lets him into the family home and treats him almost like his own son.

On the ground floor, there are two rooms, consisting of the pharmacy room and the Reimann family’s living room.

The pharmacy room also functions as a post office.

Reimanngården. Photo: Wikipedia

On the second floor, there are three bedrooms. Henrik shares the room in the middle with the three oldest boys. Mr and Mrs Reimann sleep with the youngest children in the outer, the two maids in the inner.

Due to his upper-class family, back in his hometown of Skien, Henrik was initially used to having plenty of space for servants and guests. But in recent years, the size of their family homes had shrunk along with their shrinking wealth. In 1843, all his parent’s properties were almost gone, and the father’s law firm had no assignments. Moreover, many in the upper class were struggling with the economy. Thus, prospects did not look promising.

Henrik and his friend had seen that the «Svaneapoteket» (Swan Pharmacy) in Skien had survived most of the troubled times. So, studying pharmacy seemed to be a safe choice.

With the Reimann family, Henrik learns everything from the basics of plants’ medicinal properties to the art of preparing adhesive plasters, as well as some doctor’s Latin. But it is not easy to study with a bunch of kids around. Hence Henrik often stays up late at night to read without any disturbance.

Still, it was not easy when the maids’ room door was open. Finally, after three years, Henrik received a letter from the mayor of Grimstad. The maid Else Sophie mentioned him as the father of her newborn boychild. The bailiff wanted to know if this was true.

Henrik admits paternity but at the same time casts doubt: In the relevant period, the maid has also had contact with other men, he claims. Nevertheless, he does not dare to renounce the reported paternity because he has, unfortunately, had physical intercourse with her. Her tempting behaviour and their service in the pharmacy gave them the opportunity.

But here, we turn the clock to the 21st century.

Street art, Grimstad. Photo: Tom Thowsen 2021

May 2021

When flowers were in full bloom, I went to Grimstad to follow young Ibsen’s footsteps. In connection with my new novel, I felt a strong need to get closer to this great poet and his sources of inspiration.

But I soon discovered that Ibsen’s legacy in Grimstad, even to this day, is marked by the paternity case where the maid Else Sophie Birkedalen in 1846 gave birth to a child whom she named Hans Jacob Henriksen.

As previously mentioned, Henrik, who was ten years younger than Else Sophie, acknowledged paternity. Still, he would not have anything to do with his son, except that he paid statutory contributions until the boy was 14 years old and could support himself.

At the same time, it is a fact that Henrik Ibsen, early in his career, was repeatedly threatened with forced labour for unpaid child support. Thus, it is reasonable to believe that these difficulties left traces in later writing.

All in all, the teenager Ibsen must have experienced enough family dramas in life to get inspiration to write his plays. Not least from home with forced auctions and financial ruin, which probably led to quarrels and worries for all involved.

But also, the pharmacy family Reimanns had something to struggle with, and it cannot have been unproblematic to live as close to them as Henrik did.

After three years, the pharmacy was sold to Henrik’s four-year-older colleague Lars Nielsen and moved to a larger building. There he was allowed to keep his position and could breathe a sigh of relief. Oh, more than that, now he had graduated as a pharmacist’s assistant. Plus, he got a private sleeping room, greater freedom, and a higher salary.

Else Sophie then lived with her parents, and her child out of wedlock completely ruined her life. She never saw Henrik again and died many years later, aged 74 and poor.

Ibsen Museum. Photo: Tom Thowsen 2021

Visiting the Ibsen Museum is a must when you are in Grimstad, and here my family and I got a fantastic tour of the museum’s guide. And it was great to see that so much of the interior in Lars Nielsen’s pharmacy was well preserved. At this pharmacy, Henrik grew up as an artist, where he joined the reading society and became more extroverted and made intellectual friends who encouraged him to write.

Catiline Table. Photo: Tom Thowsen 2021

At this table, Henrik wrote his first play, «Catiline». This play is about a Noble Roman, Lucius Catilina, who wanted to restore Rome’s greatness but failed because of erotic mistakes he had made. Perhaps not surprisingly, Henrik felt a certain sympathy with this Roman and managed to live into his role.

In addition, Henrik was affected by the revolutionary activities in 1848. They first broke out in Sicily and spread rapidly to France and Europe. A violent reaction to the significant changes the continent had undergone in recent decades. The rapidly growing bourgeoisie wanted to increase their representation in the governance of their nations.

Henrik probably heard that the unrest had reached Copenhagen, Stockholm and Christiania. Some referred to this as a mob riot without any ideological content of significance or any political leadership. But Henrik’s Catiline is a hero, a strong leader who fights corruption.

Catiline had a particular interest for him because «there are a few given examples of historical persons, whose memory has been more entirely in possession of their conquerors, than Catiline», Henrik said.

Henrik’s close friends Ole Schuleruds, Gunder Holst, Jacob Holst and Christopher Due also got excited about Catiline while they drank punch and discussed politics with him.

Two years later, he released Catiline under the pseudonym Brynjolf Bjarme. Since no publisher wanted to publish the book, the publication was paid for by Ole Schulerud. He used a small inheritance for the purpose. Nevertheless, sales were poor.

Much ended up as waste.

The customers influenced Henrik.

The Pharmacy. Photo: Tom Thowsen 2021

At this counter, Henrik often talked to the customers, which set the creative joy of the young artist in motion. Both in the form of poems and drawings. Here he had exhibited an oil painting, a portrait he painted on cardboard of «the old sailor». Everyone thought it looked much alike. It depicts pilot Svend Hanssen Haaø from an island named Håhøya.

Part of Henrik Ibsen’s painting: «Pilot with the cairn»

People said that Henrik had a great interest in the pilots and the fishermen. However, it was clear when it came to Svend Hansen Haaø. The clever and bold pilot, with his weather-beaten appearance, thrilled him with his tales of war events and the navy.

It must be from him that Henrik got the idea to write his incomparable poem «Terje Vigen», which has made the city of Grimstad and the surrounding area famous.

There lived a remarkably grizzled man

on the uttermost, barren isle

«Terje Vigen» illustrated by Christian Krogh

Terje Vigen is a poem written by Henrik Ibsen, published in 1862. It describes the dramatic saga of Terje, who, in 1809, tried to run the British blockade of Norway’s southern coast in a small rowboat in a desperate attempt to smuggle food from Denmark back to his starving wife and daughter.

The publication of the poem Terje Vigen enjoyed solid popularity in Norway. Almost the only instance in Ibsen’s works of what the Northern critics call «epic.» Very delicate formed. Practically impossible to reproduce with felicity in English.

This poem has become an icon of Norwegian coastal culture and national identity. Read at festivals and included in dance and music performances every year. In addition, NRK, the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, broadcasts Terje Vigen on New Year’s Eve at midnight.

The poem consists of 43 verses.

Here is the opening verse:

The archipelago of Grimstad. Photo: Tom Thowsen 2021

Visiting Håøya island was high on my wish list, along with Hesnesøya, the island where Henrik’s grandfather drowned. Booth Hesnesøya and the neighbour island Kvaløya could have been «the uttermost, barren isle» where Terje lived. That question generates an endless debate among the locals.

Hence we wanted to see them all. Consequently, we stopped by Grimstad Tourist Office and rented a 15-foot Pioneer dinghy with an eight hp outboard motor and life jackets. Very convenient and well arranged.
Then we set the course for where the pilot Svend Hanssen Haaø lived. And Terje Vigen, if he ever was a genuine living person.

A cosy cove on Håøya. Photo: Tom Thowsen 2021

The crossing went entirely without drama, and we found a sheltered cove where we did a beach break at the old pilot community.

Our boat at the pier. Photo: Tom Thowsen 2021

Luckily there was no sign with a private pier to see where we moored the boat. The island was primarily open and pleasant to travel, except for nature’s fences, in the form of dense wilderness and gorges in the rock with pebbles at the bottom.

Pilot Svend Hanssen Haaø`s farm. Photo: Tom Thowsen 2021

Henrik also came out here to hear the pilot’s stories from the old days. Many of these were self-experienced. For example, during the Napoleonic Wars, with the British blockade of the country, Svend Hanssen Haaø had taken over to Denmark several times to buy grain and other food.

But nowadays, this may seem incomprehensible. The ocean should be full of fish and oysters.

Terje Vigen vers 10:

In the spring of 1808, Denmark-Norway also came to war with Sweden. The summer became wet and cold, and there was misgrowth in the country. In addition, the herring fishery failed. As early as October, military food stocks ran out. People became ill from putrefactive fever, and many died from it. From the beginning of January 1809 to the middle of February, there was thick ice in all ports east of Lindesnes.

So yes, Henrik Ibsen did not exaggerate.

But now Håøya was dressed in summer clothes, and everything was just bright and pleasant.

But why did people row to Denmark when they could sail?

Terje Vigen verse 12:

The answer lies in the text. It was important to make oneself as small and insignificant as possible. A sailboat is easy to spot than a boat without a sail. The English navy’s ships had personnel at the top of the mast who followed closely and could thus detect a small sail at a long distance.

A wooden boat in Grimstad. Photo: Tom Thowsen 2021

In addition, «Terje Vigen» and the pilot Svend Hanssen Haaø went out to sea in bad weather. To row over to Denmark. Preferably in the winter when most were in winter storage. Often in open boats, as shown in the picture.

We did not dare to go far out from land in the Pioneer dinghy that we rented. The waves went so rough that we had to give up our plan to visit the other islands; Hesnesøya and Kvaløya. We had to turn back to the safe harbour of Grimstad. Our dinghy was 15 feet. «Terje Vigen’s» boat was possibly 12. That is what I call daredevils.

I firmly believe that Henrik Ibsen’s poems about Terje Vigen deserve to live on for future generations. And to walk in young Ibsen’s footsteps was so inspiring that I wrote «Three Barrels of Barley»; my novel about Terje Vigen.

PS. Look at the strange cloud behind me. It almost felt like Ibsen was present. But then you have to believe in «Ghosts», an entirely different story …
Thank you.

I unge Ibsens fotefar

Nest etter Shakespeare er han verdens mest fremførte dramatiker. Men la oss skru klokken tilbake og se hva som tente gnisten i ham …

22. november 1797

Det er mørkt og kaldt, og det herjer en voldsom storm fra sydøst. Den 32 år gamle skipsrederen og kapteinen Henrik Ibsen er på vei hjem fra London da han og mannskapet hans oppdager faren. Lyden av bølger som slår mot grunner og skjær. De forstår at de må snu, men det er ikke lett å trosse pålandsvinden og den sterke strømmen.

Om bord på «Caritas» kjemper de fortvilet idet skipet treffer land med et brak. Treverk splintres mot hard granitt. Mesanmastene ryker over bord. Deler av de øvre dekkene går også med idet bjelkene gir etter. Noen minutter senere legger det knuste vraket av «Caritas» seg omsider til ro på 30 meters dyp.

Denne natten drukner Henrik Ibsen og hele mannskapet hans på 15 mann i det iskalde vannet utenfor Hesnesøya ved Grimstad. Og tragedien er et faktum.

Tiden går, men minnet består …

29. november 1843

Førtiseks år etter skipsforliset legger båten «Lykkens Prøve» til ved bryggen i sørlandsbyen Grimstad. Nå stiger 15 år gamle Henrik Ibsen i land, klar til å stå på egne ben, noen få kilometer fra der hvor hans farfar forsvant i havet.

Utsnitt av maleri, Lauritz Hansen(Grimstad 1860)

I 1843 er Grimstad en liten by på om lag 800 innbyggere, der de fleste familiene bor i egne hus med en liten hage. Ellers har byen tollstasjon, postkontor, sparebank, sorenskriver, distriktslege, jordmor og apotek. Ingen kirke annet enn Fjære kirke. Heller ikke avis eller bibliotek. Kun et privat leseselskap der medlemmene kan låne bøker.

Apoteker Jens Arup Reimann har nettopp startet forretning i Storgaten. Der begynner ynglingen Henrik Ibsen som apotekerlærling, og apotekeren slipper ham bokstavelig talt inn i familiens hjem og behandler ham nærmest som sin egen sønn.

Reimanngården. Foto: Wikipedia

I første etasje er det to værelser, bestående av apotekerlokalet og familien Reimanns stue. Apotekerlokalet fungerer også som postkontor.

I andre etasje finnes det tre sammenhengende soveværelser. Henrik får ligge i det midterste sammen med de tre eldste guttene. I det ytterste sover ekteparet Reimanns med de yngste barna, og i det innerste de to tjenestejentene.

Opprinnelig hadde Henrik vokst opp i et av hjembyen Skiens overklassehjem, med god plass til både tjenestefolk og gjester. Men i de siste årene hadde familiens boliger krympet i takt med den krympende formuen. Nå er de fleste eiendommene solgt, og farens advokatvirksomhet står uten oppdrag. For akkurat nå er det mange i overklassen som sliter med økonomien, og fremtidsutsiktene ser dermed dystre ut.

At Svaneapoteket i Skien overlevde det meste, hadde Henrik og kameraten hans sett.

Å gå i apotekerlære syntes derfor å være et trygt valg.

Hos familien Reimann lærer Henrik alt fra det grunnleggende om planters medisinske egenskaper til kunsten å preparere heftplaster, samt litt dokterlatin. Men det er ikke lett å studere til artium med en skokk unger rundt seg. Ofte blir Henrik sittende oppe til langt på natt, for å lese i fred.

Men det er ikke lett når døren til tjenestejentenes værelse står åpen heller. Etter tre år mottar Henrik et brev fra byfogden i Grimstad. Der står det at tjenestejenten Else Sophie oppgir ham som barnefar. Fogden vil vite om dette stemmer.

Henrik vedkjenner seg farskapet, men sår samtidig tvil: I det aktuelle tidsrommet har tjenestejenten også hatt omgang med andre mannspersoner, hevder han. Likevel våger han ikke bestemt å frasi seg det anmeldte farskapet, fordi han dessverre har hatt legemlig omgang med henne. Dette skyldes hennes fristende oppførsel og det at deres tjeneste hos apotekeren ga dem anledning …  

«… uagtet Pigens Samqvem ogsaa med andre Mandspersoner paa den vedkommende Tid, tør jeg ikke bestemt fralægge mig bemeldte Paternitet, da jeg desværre med hende har pleiet legemlig Omgang, hvortil hendes fristende Adfærd og samtidige Tjeneste med mig hos Apotheker Reimann i lige Grad gav Anledning … »

Nå skrur vi tiden frem til det 21 århundre

Gatekunst i Grimstad. Foto: Tom Thowsen 2021

Mai 2021

Da sommeren var i emning og naturen sto i full blomst, dro jeg til Grimstad for å vandre i unge Ibsens fotefar. Dette var i forbindelse med min nye roman, hvor jeg følte et sterkt behov for å komme tettere innpå vår store dikterhøvding og hans inspirasjonskilder.

Åh, du veid, Henrik var jo ikke så god å stagge

Men jeg oppdaget fort at Ibsens ettermæle i Grimstad, selv den dag i dag, er preget av farskapssaken der tjenestejenten Else Sophie Birkedalen i 1846 fødte et barn som hun ga navnet Hans Jacob Henriksen.

Henrik, som var ti år yngre enn Else Sophie, vedkjente seg farskapet, men han ville ikke ha noe med sønnen å gjøre, bortsett fra at han betalte lovpålagte bidrag frem til gutten var 14 år og kunne forsørge seg selv.

Samtidig skal det heller ikke stikkes under en stol at Henrik Ibsen, tidlig i sin karriere, gjentatte ganger ble truet med tvangsarbeid for ubetalte barnebidrag. Så det er rimelig å tro at disse vanskelighetene satte spor i det senere forfatterskapet.

I det hele tatt må tenåringen Ibsen ha opplevd nok av familiedramaer å hente inspirasjon fra. Ikke minst hjemmefra med tvangsauksjoner og økonomisk ruin, som sikkert medførte en del krangel og bekymringer.

Men også apotekerfamilien Reimanns hadde sitt å slite med, og det kan ikke ha vært uproblematisk å leve så tett på dem som det Henrik gjorde.

Etter tre år ble apoteket solgt til Henriks fire år eldre kollega Lars Nielsen og flyttet til en større bygård. Der fikk han beholde sin stilling og kunne puste lettet ut. Ja, ikke bare det, nå var han blitt uteksaminert apotekermedhjelper, samt at han fikk sitt et eget værelse, større frihet og høyere lønn.

Da bodde Else Sophie hjemme hos sine foreldre. Det å få barn utenfor ekteskap ødela hennes liv fullstendig. Hun så aldri Ibsen igjen, og døde mange år senere som et «fattiglem», i en alder av 74 år. Ifølge Robert Fergusons biografi om Henrik Ibsen 1996 s. 394, skal en eldre kone som prøvde å hjelpe Else Sophie ha spurt henne om hvordan «ulykken» skjedde, hvorpå svaret ble: «Åh, du veid, Henrik var jo ikke så god å stagge».

Lars Nielsens apotek – Ibsen-museet. Foto: Tom Thowsen 2021

Å besøke Ibsenmuseet er selvfølgelig et must når man er i Grimstad, og her fikk min familie og jeg en fantastisk omvisning av museets guide. Og det var flott å se at så mye av interiøret er bevart i Lars Nielsens apotek, i det apoteket hvor Henrik vokste som kunstner. Der han kom med i leseselskapet og ble mer utadvendt og fikk intellektuelle venner som oppmuntret ham til å skrive.

 «Catilinabordet». Foto: Tom Thowsen 2021

Ved dette bordet skrev Henrik sitt første verk «Catilina». Dette verket handler om en romersk statsmann som ønsket gjenreise Romas storhet, men hans politiske ambisjoner ble blant annet hindret av erotiske feiltrinn som han hadde begått. Kanskje ikke å undres at Henrik følte en viss sympati med denne romeren og klarte å leve seg inn i hans rolle.

Dessuten var Henrik preget av de revolusjonære aktivitetene i 1848. De brøt først ut på Sicilia, og spredte seg raskt til Frankrike og videre gjennom Europa. Dette var en voldelig reaksjon på de store forandringene kontinentet hadde gjennomgått de siste tiårene. Den raskt voksende borgerklassen ønsket å øke sin representasjon i sine nasjoners styresett.

Henrik hørte sikkert at urolighetene hadde nådd København, Stockholm og Christiania. Noen omtalte dette som pøbelopptøyer uten noe ideologisk innhold av betydning eller noen politisk ledelse. Men i stykket fremstilles Catilina som en karismatisk leder som utfordrer korrupsjonen i den verden han lever i.

Også Henriks omgangsvenner Ole Schuleruds, Gunder Holst, Jacob Holst og Christopher Due lot seg begeistre av Catilina mens de drakk punsj og diskuterte politikk med ham.

To år senere ble Catilina utgitt i Christiania under pseudonymet Brynjolf Bjarme. Siden ingen forlag ville gi ut boken, ble utgivelsen bekostet av Ole Schulerud. Han brukte en liten arv til formålet. Likevel ble salget dårlig, og mye av opplaget endte som makulatur.

Apotekets kunder påvirket Henrik

Apoteket. Foto: Tom Thowsen 2021

Ved denne skranken kom Henrik ofte i snakk med kundene, noe som satte skapergleden i sving hos den unge kunstneren. Både i form av dikt og tegninger. Blant annet hadde han utstilt et oljemaleri, et portrett som han malte på papp «af den gamle søulk». Alle mente at det lignet godt. Det sto bestandig på reolen. Det forestiller losen Svend Hanssen Haaø fra Håhøya.

Utsnitt av Henrik Ibsens maleri «Lodsen ved varden»

Det sies at Henrik hadde stor interesse for losene og fiskerne. Det var tydelig når det gjaldt Svend Hansen Haaø. For denne flinke og djerve losen, med sitt værbitte utseende, begeistret ham med sine fortellinger om krigsbegivenheter og sjøvesenet.

Det skal være fra ham Henrik fikk ideen om å skrive sitt makeløse dikt «Terje Vigen», som har gjort byen Grimstad og omegn kjent.

Terje Vigen er et episk dikt, skrevet av Henrik Ibsen i 1861. Det ble første gang publisert i heftet Nytaarsgave for Illustreret Nyhedsblads Abonnenter for 1862, og ble senere gjenutgitt i hans eneste diktsamling Digte fra 1871. «Terje Vigen» ble i 1890 utgitt separat med illustrasjoner av Christian Krohg.

Diktet bygger på fortellinger fra sørlandskysten under Napoleonskrigene. På denne tiden var Danmark-Norge i krig med blant andre England, som hadde innført handelsblokade og dermed kuttet all kontakt mellom Norge og Danmark. Dette medførte hungersnød i Norge. Diktets hovedperson ble tatt av et britisk marinefartøy og sendt i krigsfangenskap i Storbritannia, den såkalte «prisonen»

Diktets åpningsstrofe:

 «Der bode en underlig gråsprængt en 
på den yderste nøgne ø …»

Skjærgården i Grimstad. Foto: Tom Thowsen 2021

Å besøke Håøya sto høyt på ønskelisten min, sammen med Hesnesøya, øya der Henriks bestefar druknet. Både Hesnesøya og naboøya Kvaløya kunne ha vært «den yderste nøgne ø» der Terje bodde. Dette spørsmålet genererer en endeløs debatt blant lokalbefolkningen.

Derfor ønsket vi å se dem alle. Følgelig var vi innom Grimstad Turistkontor og leide en 15 fots Pioneer-jolle med åtte hk påhengsmotor og redningsvester. Veldig praktisk og godt tilrettelagt.

Så satte vi kursen for hvor losen Svend Hanssen Haaø bodde. Og Terje Vigen, om han noen gang var et genuint levende menneske.

En lun vik på Håøya. Foto: Tom Thowsen 2021

Selve overfarten gikk helt uten dramatikk, og vi fant oss en lun vik hvor vi gjorde strandhugg ved det gamle los-samfunnet.

Vår jolle i den lune viken. Foto: Tom Thowsen 2021

Heldigvis var det ingen skilt med privat brygge å se der hvor vi fortøyde båten. Det var åpent og trivelig å ferdes der ute, med unntak av naturens egne stengsler, i form av tett villnis og kløfter i berget med rullesten i bunnen.

Losen Svend Hanssen Haaø sin gård. Foto: Tom Thowsen 2021

Hit ut kom også Henrik for å høre losens historier fra gamle dager. Mange av disse var selvopplevde. Under Napoleonskrigene, med britenes blokade av landet, hadde Svend Hanssen Haaø tatt seg over til Danmark flere ganger for å kjøpe korn og andre matvarer.

Men i våre dager kan dette virke ubegripelig. I havet er det fullt av fisk og østers.

Terje Vigen vers 10:

Våren 1808 kom Danmark-Norge også i krig med Sverige. Sommeren ble våt og kald, og det ble misvekst i landet. I tillegg slo sildefisket feil. Allerede i oktober gikk de militære matlagrene tomme. Folk ble syke av forråtnelsesfeber, og mange døde av den. Fra begynnelsen av januar 1809 til midten av februar, lå det tykk is i alle havner øst for Lindesnes.

Så ja, Henrik Ibsen overdrev ikke.

Men nå var Håøya kledd i sommerskrud, og alt var bare fryd og gammen.

Sejl og mast lod han hjemme stå …

Men hvorfor rodde folk til Danmark når de kunne seile?

Terje Vigen vers 12:

Mers = utkikksplatformer i mastetoppen

Egentlig ligger svaret i selve teksten. Det gjaldt å gjøre seg så liten og ubetydelig som mulig. En seilbåt er lettere å oppdage enn en båt uten seil. Den engelske marines skip hadde personell i mastetoppen som fulgte nøye med, og kunne dermed oppdage et lite seil på lang avstand.

En sjekte i Grimstad havn. Foto: Tom Thowsen 2021

I tillegg dro «Terje Vigen» og losen Svend Hanssen Haaø ut på havet i dårlig vær. For å ro over til Danmark. Gjerne om vinteren når de fleste lå i vinteropplag. Ofte i åpne båter, som vist på bildet.

Vi turte ikke å gå langt ut fra land i Pioneer-jolla som vi leide. Bølgene gikk så grove at vi måtte gi opp planen om å besøke de andre øyene; Hesnesøya og Kvaløya. Vi måtte snu tilbake til den trygge havnen i Grimstad. Jolla vår var 15 fot. «Terje Vigens» båt var muligens 12. Sånt står det respekt av!

Når det er sagt, så mener jeg bestemt at Henrik Ibsens dikt om Terje Vigen fortjener å leve videre i vår folkesjel. Og det å gå i unge Ibsens fotefar, i sørlandsperlen Grimstad, ble såpass inspirerende at jeg fikk skrevet «Stormens hjerte»; min roman om Terje Vigen.

PS. Se på den underlige skyen bak meg. Det føltes nesten som Ibsen var til stede. Men da må man tro på «Gjengangere», og det er en helt annen historie …

Takk for meg.

Nothing to find

That mound is only mother nature’s work, the experts said for many years. But one day in 1944, Erling Johansen is on his way from Fredrikstad to the neighbouring town, Halden. He works as a plumber but has begun to take an interest in traces of earlier times. The train slows down, and Johansen looks out the window. When he passes the field named Viksletta, he suddenly sees a high and exciting mound of earth.

Shortly after, Erling visits the farmer who owns the field to investigate this case.

“Don`t you know?” the farmer said, surprised. “That mound is Jellhaugen, where King Jell rests in his ship!” This local legend has been known for a while amongst the farmers.

This event might very well have been the spark that ignited Johansen’s interest in archaeology. In record time, he learns the subject of archaeology and gets a comet career in the professional community.

But the years go by, and only in 1968 does he finally start the excavations at Jellhaugen. Inside, he finds traces of a simple tomb, and later carbon dating shows that the tomb is from between 426-598 AD – that is, before the Viking Age.

Johansen understands that he is on the trail of something big: Jellhaugen bears resemblance with Oseberghaugen and Tuneskiphaugen. The same technique as with these two ship burial mounds.

On the other hand, the investigations showed that there have been grave robbers on the site in the ninth century, and Johansen must settle down with the fact that any ship remains must have been dug up and eroded by the ravages of time.

Erling Johansen (1919 – 2000)

But what was initially presumed to be an art of nature has turned out to be Norway`s second-largest grave mound. An oval mound. Eighty meters in diameter and 13 meters high. Unfortunately, the lucky plumber did not live long enough to see the famous Gjellestad ship, found with ground-penetrating radar in 2018, a few meters away from this mound. Not only that, a whole community and a large grave field lies there too. Quite cool. From nothing to find to this. That is science.

Join the intriguing journey to Gjellestad and experience what the archaeologists discovered. Click the green button below.

What if the KRS is a pre-Columbian artefact?

Collage design: Tom Thowsen. Photo: Gioele Fazzeri (Pixabay)

Imagine you were on a mission, deep into a foreign land, where you have realized that you would not survive. Then you probably leave a message behind. But if you had foreseen that people would call your message a hoax … based on your grammatical errors … you likely got horrified …

Here is a take on the Kensington Runestone, the biggest historical mystery in North America.

Let us go back to 1905

Norwegian soldiers on border guard at the national border with Sweden 1905.
Photo: Narve Skarpmoen. File source: wikimedia.

In 1905 Norway and Sweden stood on the brinks of war. If it breaks out, it will be the third war since the beginning of the 1800s. The first 1808-1809 ended in a stalemate. Norway lost the second. But this time, the Norwegians are much more prepared. Stronger fortresses, better weapons, and very motivated soldiers. This will not be like the short and humiliating war of 1814, called Kattekrigen (Cat war), because the Swedes were hunting the Norwegians like they were mice. Now the Norwegians will break free from a union with roots back in medieval times. This longing for freedom had gradually grown in force and intensity on every level. Not only for the military that had been strengthened a lot — especially since the late 1880s — but also for the elite of Norwegian art, culture, and history.

The big boost

Photo: Cultural History Museum in Oslo

To find a Viking ship is something remarkable. Not an everyday occurrence, to put it mildly. So, when they found a longship in the “Gokstadhaugen” burial mound in 1879, it boosted Norwegian pride. Norwegians had long been the little brother among the Scandinavian siblings, with hundreds of years without their own Norwegian king. Hence this Viking ship was a reminder of the good old days when Norway was a strong country. With war heroes and discoverers.

Leif Eiriksson discovers America, painting by Christian Krohg, 1893.
Editor of the Norwegian trade and shipping magazine, later director of shipping Magnus Andersen, sailed his reconstruction of Gokstad ship called «Viking» to Chicago in 1893. «Viking» is currently located in Geneva, Illinois, at Good Templar Park.

Note the flag in the stern. During the 1870s, the union became increasingly unpopular in Norway. Consequently, the union mark was seen as a sign not of equality, but a union forced upon the country against its will. Radicals made it their political goal to reintroduce the «pure» Norwegian flag as the first step toward the union’s dissolution. The parliamentary majority voted for removing the mark three times but was defeated by royal veto twice.

Finally, in 1898 (note this date), the third royal veto was overruled, and the union mark was removed from the national (merchant) and the state flag. It remained in the war flag (naval ensign), as this was under the king’s jurisdiction. However, parliament introduced a new state flag for government buildings, like the war flag, but without the union mark. The «pure» Norwegian flag was hoisted again in 1899.

So, when a Swedish immigrant unearthed a stone with runic letters in Minnesota in 1898, it did not get the same attention as the Gokstad Viking ship. Especially in Norway, since it talked about Swedes and Norwegians on an expedition in America in 1362 — 130 years before Columbus. The experts at the University of Oslo perceived the language form as “impossible, a very clumsy attempt at to construct an old language form without possessing the required knowledge. For runological, linguistic and historical reasons, the inscription cannot be genuine”.

Hm, of historical reasons too?

Intentionally or not, what if they were wrong? In the 14th century, there were no grammatical rules for the Scandinavian languages, which were also constantly changing. And most of the surviving documents were written in a solemn and formal language as well.

Quite frankly, I can imagine linguists 600 years into the future study written sources from the 21st century, what a nightmare that will be. Today we have two different languages: Bokmål and Nynorsk. Bokmål, literally «book tongue,» is an official written standard for the Norwegian language, alongside Nynorsk. Bokmål is the preferred written standard of Norwegian for 85% to 90% of the population in Norway. Unlike, for instance, the Italian language, there is no nationwide standard or agreement on the pronunciation of Bokmål. Plus, some even choose to write in their own dialect, which could be difficult to understand for those who do not speak this dialect—no wonder why many Norwegians struggle to write Norwegian perfectly.

Quotes from Professor Eyvind Fjeld Halvorsen: 
“The peculiarities of the language situation in Norway are the product of Norwegian and Nordic history. The languages of the three main Nordic countries, Denmark, Norway and Sweden, are so similar that the inhabitants basically understand each other and can use their own language when talking to people from the other countries. This is because the language evolved from a common Nordic tongue and that development has mainly followed the same course throughout central Scandinavia. One thousand years ago, when Nordic pioneers settled in Russia and Western Europe, and on the islands in the Atlantic Ocean from the Orkneys and Shetland islands to Greenland, the same common Nordic language was spoken throughout the entire region. The differences in dialects that existed then were insignificant, and were far smaller than the dialectical variations found today in each of the Nordic countries.

The languages underwent great change in the late Middle Ages. Most of the changes began in the country located the farthest south, Denmark, and spread north, like ocean waves. Norway lay farthest from Denmark, and Norwegian therefore retained the characteristics of the common Nordic language the longest.
The Christianization of the Nordic countries in 900-1100 brought with it written language. In Norway the national language was adopted as a written language before 1100, perhaps patterning itself after England in this respect, while Denmark and Sweden used Latin in public discourse in the first years following the coming of Christianity. Danish and Swedish were not brought into use as written languages until the 12- and 1300s, at a time when Denmark in particular had become removed from the common Nordic foundation”. 

Göter: The sentence of the text says, “8 Göter and 22 Norwegians”. This is an important detail because it reveals a significant detail. Unlike Norway, which had been more or less a united kingdom since the Viking age, Sweden was more divided. The distinction between Swedes (Svear) and Geats (Göter) lasted during the Middle Ages.

Numbers: as they appear on the Kensington runestone, the so-called pentadic numbers and their usage in the 1362 date are highly debated. It is a matter of an unknown development.  (The same goes for the specific runic alphabet.) Still, it makes sense.

The numbers below are from a calendar book dated 1399

Rise: means “journey”, and this word occurs twice on the Kensington runestone. Therefore, it must have been intentionally. Except for these examples, this scarce word has only been found in a few documents from the 1300s, found in, guess where — Götaland. Isn’t that awesome?

Ö: is a puzzling runic letter, not because of the two dots, but because it consists of two runes: the Ö and a tiny N-rune in the middle.

This is very tiny, considered that most of the runes are just one inch high, which gives small margins to make the N-rune. Neither does the N-rune make sense regarding the sound. So, there must be an explanation. Maybe a prayer or some secret message, a hint.

Since runic writings gradually went out of use in the 13th and 1400s, it might explain why someone developed this exceedingly rare runic alphabet. Maybe it has been used in a guild or something, a closed society. However, most runologist believe it originates from the Swedish Dalecarlian runes from the 1500s. When that said, it could perfectly well have been used in 1362. It is a matter of belief.

AVM: The abbreviation for Ave Maria consists of the Latin letters AVM, which fit very well with the 14th century because back then, most Scandinavians were Catholics.

Let us go further back

Summer in the Greenland coast circa the year 1000 by Carl Rasmussen (1874).

Greenland was colonized from Iceland and Norway in the Viking Age and the Middle Ages. The saga literature tells that Erik Thorvaldsson, also known as Erik the Red, came to Greenland in 982. The name is an early example of misleading marketing; it is an ice-covered island, so Erik called it Greenland to lure people to move over there. Admittedly, the climate must have been more favourable in his time, with better conditions for agriculture. When the Norse population established themselves, they found no indigenous people. It is believed that the Inuit’s lived north of the island and only later came south and met the settlers.

In the Middle Ages, there was extensive trade with Greenland, primarily over to the Norwegian town Bergen. From Greenland, hides, skins, furs, walrus stalks and wadding were brought in, and iron, grain and wood were sent out from Norway. The emigration from Norway to Greenland continued through the 11th and 12th centuries. The population may have reached around 4,000 people in the High Middle Ages, and sites from more than 290 farms have been found. The Norse population was divided into two main areas, Western Settlement, and Eastern Settlement. The latter was the largest settlement.

At the beginning of the 11th century, Christianity was introduced. In 1124 a separate diocese was established for Greenland, and in 1153 this was placed under the archdiocese of Nidaros. In 1216, under king Haakon IV Haakonsson, Greenland was formally linked to the Norwegian Empire. A royal estate was established in Eastern Settlement. In the 14th century, the Greenland trade was limited to one ship, “Grønlandsknarren”.

After the Black Death, the annual trade trip to Greenland ceased. The last Norse bishop died in 1378, and the Western Settlement seems to have been deserted from the middle of the 14th century. Eastern Settlement lasted until around the year 1500. A ship that docked in 1540 to seek refuge did not find any living inhabitants but a body that had not been buried. Why this society died out is unclear. The suggestions that often occur are a combination of several factors: the lack of imports of vital supplies after the Black Death and struggles with the Inuit’s, famine, and disease. The climate got colder.

Hvalsey Church. Wikipedia

But there is another explanation that is barely mentioned, even though it has a written source.

In 1630, after a whole archive was lost in a fire in Iceland, bishop Gisle Oddson immediately started to make a synopsis of the most important documents. Old reports, which he writes in Latin. One of these is dated to 1342, and there he gives us a fair enough answer: The population of Greenland left their Christian belief willingly and turned to the American people.

Did these people choose to immigrate to America, or Vinland as they called it back in those days? It is could be the most obvious explanation. They have known this rich and fertile land since Leif Erikson discovered it some 300 years earlier, around 1000 AD.

Such an event would, of course, not pass by without a reaction from the king and church.

November 3, 1354, the king of Norway, Sweden and Scania, Magnus Eriksson, ordered an expedition to Greenland. Paul Knutsson is the captain of the king’s ship. He can freely choose his crew, whether they are the king’s own men or others, then the king asks them to show goodwill for the matter in question:  «for our souls and our parent’s sake » do not let Christianity lapse in Greenland.
(A copy of this letter is stored at the Royal Library in Copenhagen).

Print screen from ESOP Volume 27 * 2009, translation by Williams and Nielsen

With its 1362 date, it fits well into the drama around the lost Greenlanders. The Kensington runestone is now at the Runestone Museum in Alexandria, Minnesota.

The experts at the University of Oslo perceived the language form as “impossible, a very clumsy attempt at to construct an old language form without possessing the required knowledge. For runological, linguistic and historical reasons, the inscription cannot be genuine”.

My name is Tom Thowsen, and I`m just an ordinary bloke from Norway interested in history. I also happen to be an artist who likes to create things in all kinds of material, from clay, stone, paper, digital, canvas, to write novels and articles.

Tom Thowsen (selfie) 2021

Ever since the Kensington runestone caught me in 2007, I have spent some hours of research during the years. I have had correspondence with most of the recent researchers connected to this stone. I even sat on the board of directors for the American Association for Runic Studies for a short period. In 2010 I established the Facebook group: The Kensington Rune Stone International Supporters Club, consisting of 1338 members worldwide. In 2017 I released my novel Kayaweta, an archaeological thriller about the Kensington runestone.

But this very blog article is only a shallow dive into this huge matter.

However, my goal is to make people aware of this and get science back on the right track lost in our Norwegian fight for independence.

Thank you so much for your attention.