The Church in Lillhärdal
“This place seemed to offer them fish, grass- and farmland so they sat down. Shortly thereafter they erected a small wooden church by the river Herjaa. At that time there were, all in all, 12 settlers in Herdahl”.
These words are taken from: “A Short Description of the Herdahl Valley”, an essay included in the exam work of P.J. Hedenberg from Lillhärdal sometime around 1722-1730 when he was a student at the University of Uppsala. It is based on what “the inhabitants of the land agreed in the old folklore they had heard well back in time from generation to generation”. The original to “A Short Description” is today kept in the library of Uppsala University.
The time for the building of the first church in Härjedalen can be estimated from reading the “Oldest document in Härjedalen”. It stems from a Norwegian-Swedish border meeting in 1273. The document is kept in the Arnemagnean collection in the library of Copenhagen University. At that meeting Tord of Trosavik recounts 15 generations from the first settlers, from “Härjulf Hornbrytare” up to “Asuluf” of that day. He also tells of “Ljot”, eight generations after Härjulf, “who is said to have been the first to build a church in Härjedalen”.
Härjulf’s settlement at Sliarosvellir, close to the present day Snösvallen, approx. 30km northwest of the present village, is dated to around AD 840. If we calculate 25 years for each generation, we find that the first church would have been built sometime around 1050.
In 1030 the first Christian Norwegian King, Olav Haraldson, was slain at the battle of Stikklestad and virtually immediately declared a saint.
The death of Saint Olav was the beginning of one of the biggest folk movements within the Nordic Countries with pilgrimages to his grave at Nidaros (today Trondheim). Hundreds of thousands visited the grave site where they were healed and given forgiveness from sins.
Lillhärdal grew into an important road junction where several pilgrim trails merged before finding a route through the mountains and wilderness to Nidaros. It would surely have influenced the settlers in Lillhärdal a great deal to have their isolation broken in this way resulting in a cultural influx and upswing, especially to their spiritual life. We probably don’t make any greater mistake when we assume that it was this influence from passing pilgrims and monks that made “Ljot” decide to build a church here. The time for the pilgrimages and the building of the first church coincides remarkably well.
After having continued for 500 years, the pilgrimages ceased about 400 years ago, much due to the influence of the reformation and Lillhärdal once again returned to become a more or less isolated settlement.
However, the site for this first wooden church had to be abandoned. This is explained in “The Short Description” with the sentence: “But as they noticed through time, the river Herjåhn not only rose with the spring floods but the strong current also began to break up the churchyard by the riverbank to the extent the bones of the buried began to show along the riverside and also threaten the church itself, so it had to be moved further inland wherefore they built a church of stone on a new site. Within living memory, remnant of the old church was seen by thick columns in the ground where it once stood, also property and land that once, without doubt, had belonged to the vicarage on the same site”.
The exact site for the first church is no longer known, but has been said to be east of the present building in an area called “Graven” (The Grave). We do not know for how long the first church on this site was in use but a consecration took place in 1407. It is, however, uncertain if this consecration was a result of a new church, or whether it referred to the rebuilding of an older church.
In “En Härjedalsbok” (A book on Härjedalen) Mr Olov Högman is of the opinion that the consecration in 1407 did not refer to a new building but to an older church after a substantial refurbishment. Högman believes that the first church was first built on this site about 100 years earlier, i.e. at the beginning of the 14th century. Erik Modin in his book is of the same opinion.
Every hundred years the church has gone through a major renovation, the last one 1979-80. The floor, comprising of heavy pine logs split in two, was relayed and polished. The walls renovated both internally and externally. Four steel tension bars were anchored between the south and north wall below the ceiling in order to counteract the perpendicular forces from the roof which had increased in weight when the old covering of wooden tiles was replaced with slates in 1949. The vestibule in the tower was heat insulated and a wash room and toilet installed.
The organ was renovated and tuned and damage to paintwork repaired. The three sceptres on the roof, much worn by weather and wind, were thoroughly renovated by Mr Helge Trygg. The whole renovation was organised by the master builder Mr John Mattson, Lillhärdal.
During the renovation of the inside some of the old plaster came loose on the south wall and revealed traces of paint. An investigation showed that this paint was from an old mural painting hidden by the plaster, probably remnants of a wall painting that the author of “A Short Description” refers to when he says: “In the latter church there are many paintings with old Swedish captions”.
The discovered painting is not complete, as it was partly destroyed during the 1880 alteration to the south wall to accommodate the new and wider doorway. The art restorer, Evald Håkansson, Sollerön, offered the parish to highlight and restore the wall painting as a gift without charge. This was gratefully accepted.
So far, this painting has not been subject to any more thorough investigation but from photos sent to the County Museum in Jämtland, the Nordic Museum in Stockholm and the Swedish National Antiquaries Board, the painting has been dated to the late 15th or early 16th century. It depicts St Christopher with child Jesus on his shoulders. The image to the upper right could possibly be; “The creation of Adam still asleep on the ground”. The lower right image shows either; “The 10.000 Martyrs on Mount Ararat”, or “The Last Judgement with the Saints guarding their graves”.
The High Altar was designed by Mr Johan Edler, the elder, 1774-75. Painted by Nils Lindström 1780. The altar painting shows the Crucifixion, with Mary, John and Mary Magdalene.
The Pulpit was also designed by Johan Edler. On the pulpit can be seen four hour glasses on a gilded iron sceptre set in wood. The sceptre is crowned with a star. Inscription: Donated by Rolf Ericsson in Orrmo 1790.
The paintings on the pew doors, highlighted during the restoration, are based on the original light blue-green shading from 1938. The doors and panels are decorated with roses, carnations and tulips, cornflowers and narcissi, in natural colours on a grey green foundation. The panels in front of the first line of pews show four medallions decorated on both sides with faint landscape paintings, probably by the artist Anders Berglin around 1770. He also painted the now lost ceiling decorations.
From an artistic point of view, one of the most valuable objects in the church is the Madonna sculpture on the south wall dated from the middle of the 13th century, called the Madonna of Lillhärdal. This is a Norwegian work, carved from one piece of wood with the rear hollowed out. After having been sold at an auction and for a long time held in a private collection, it was donated back to the church in 1955.
Beside the altar circle is seen a late medieval Sacrament Cabinet designed as a free standing tower on a footing covered by a saddle roof with pinnacles. The almost vanished paint has an inscription telling of death and salvation. Some of the material, like the door, seems to come from some earlier rejected inventory.
On each side of the high altar there are two number boards for the hymnals. The one on the north side has the inscription: Donated by Olof Olofsson 1776, and on the south side: Made and funded by the church 1780. There is now a third number board newly return to the church by the side altar along the north wall. It bears an inscription “Carved by Jöns Halvarsson-Björnlind 1786”.
An oil painting of a priest and his bell ringer is seen to the left of the high altar set in a simple frame. It depicts the Norwegian priest Alexander Magnus Burk from Elverum and his bell ringer. The picture is, according to the inscription, donated to the parish as a memento of this priest’s last visit and sermon in Lillhärdal on St Michael’s day 1646. The following text is added above the portraits: “Isaiah chapter 58; Cry aloud, do not hold back, lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression; to the house of Jacob their sins”. “To the glory of God and an adornment of this church donated by the painter A Hyvell”.
To the right of the entrance to the vestry is the speech, by king Gustav III (1771-1792) to the four estates on the 21st of August 1772. Set in a wooden frame in provincial rococo style with the king’s monogram on top. Inscription on the back in pencil: This frame was made by J.Ljungberg 1775 on the 8th of February.
The Angel of Baptism, by the side altar along the north wall, was probably carved in wood 1775 by Johan Edler, the elder, at the same time as the high altar and pulpit. It is painted white with golden wings. The outstretched right hand holds a wooden tray on which to rest the baptism bowl of tin, all purchased 1787.
The Triptych above the side altar along the north wall originates from the latter part of the 15th century, probably a Swedish work. With the side panels open, we can see 8 figures set in recesses with carved decorated pointed arches, all removable from their individual base. The figures are set against a golden background with partly gilded clothes. Blue and red dominate the colouring but also green, black and silver can be seen. They are from the left: The Archangel Michael, Mary Magdalene, St Bridget, (Birgitta in Scandinavia), Christ, St Mary and Child, a Holy Bishop and two Saints with bags of books, possibly Peter and Laurence.
To the left of the exit on the west wall is a Commemorative Plaque giving the building history of the church. It is made of wood with painted text and slightly marbled frame of Gustav III period with crown and decorations in gold. Also a speech by king, Karl XIII (1809-1818), given to the four estates on the 2nd of May 1810. To the right of the exit is the line of vicars since 1867, together with a tablet reminding us of the re-consecration of the church in 1771.
Chandelier No 1. In the middle of the nave has sixteen arms in two layers above each other with round cuff plates. Each light arm is adorned with flames. Between the upper and lower set of arms are inserted stalks with flowers. The central stem is crowned by a cast female figure in whose outstretched arm was held a now lost object. (today replaced by a crosier). At the base a ball with the inscription: Purchased in Stockholm this year for 300 dlr.
Chandelier No 2. In front of the high altar also has sixteen arms in two layers above each other. At the base a ball with the inscription: Donated in the will of S.H.R magistrate H Hedenberg, J Söderhamn anno 1740 by Mad: EM Bro and his wife M: Pers d:r and O Hedenberg J Lilleherieådahl. This chandelier is mentioned in the inventory of 1746 as hanging in the choir and donated by the descendants of “The Blessed Magistrate Hedberg”
The first organ was a chamber organ used up until the restoration 1880. It was then replaced by a pipe organ with 8½ stops, one manual and pedals, built by E.A. Zetterqvist & Son, Örebro. During 1942-44 the present organ was rebuilt by Oskar Sundström of Leufsta Bruk to have 14 stops.
Another rebuild took place 1965-66 by Gustav Hagström’s Organ Workshop Ltd, Härnösand. It now has 12 stops, two manuals and pedals and was re-tuned 1980 by Johannes Menzel. The Organ front is painted in grey white and gold.
The balcony, initially built in the 1820’s, has a slightly forwardly rounded middle section. It is supported on four separate columns and eight pilasters along the walls. The balustrade is divided into eleven panels separated by small pilasters. These panels were decorated with paintings in oil by the artist Arne Bohman in 1956.
They depict from the left: 1. Jesus at the age of 12 in the temple. 2. The temptation of Jesus. 3. Jesus calling two of his disciples. 4. Jesus awakes Jairi’s daughter. 5. Jesus blesses the children. 6. Jesus calms the storm (middle panel). 7. The Miraculous draught of Fishes. 8. In Gethsemane. 9. In front of Pontius Pilate. 10. Jesus carries his cross. 11. The Resurrection.
Before leaving the church, have a look at a small drawing to the right of the main exit. It depicts the old 15th century stone church with a separate belfry.
The Church Bells
The big bell is richly decorated in yellow metal with a crucifix and trinity symbol, angels heads and acanthus borders, Inscription along the upper edge: “Come, let us worship and bow down before this God of great renown Our Maker, Ps 95 v 6” and on the other side: “In the year of 1845 when E.E.Forslöf was curate, Olof Jonson in Sunnanå bell ringer. Hans Olofson of Nordägg and Jon Jonson of Östansjö churchwardens in Lillherrdal this bell was recast in Sundsvall by N.P.Linderberg, all at the instigation of farmer Olof Ersson in the village ” On the other side under the crucifix: “When you hear my sound let it be known it carries the message to get to God’s temple in time, to find hope, belief and love”.
In 1660 the big bell cracked, so did also the smaller bell at the ringing to the soul of king Karl X Gustav (1654-1660). In 1664 both bells were recast, possibly in the church yard. A kept inscription on one of the bell beams state that this was done by a Mr Jacob Hök, active in the diocese of Västerås.
In 1713 the big bell was once again recast due to a crack, this time in Älvdalen. 1792 one of the bells was recast in Falun by Mr Erik Gjöte Eriksson. The big bell was once again recast 1809-10 this time at the bell cast foundry of Pehr Öberg in Hudiksvall.
The bell cracked again during a funeral in 1842 and in 1843 Mr Carl Sell of Jättedal, Hälsingland, tried to recast it in the churchyard. This failed so the material was transported to Sundsvall where the bell was given its present form in the Lindberg foundry workshop 1845. Mr Olof Högman gives the weight as 6 “skeppund” (approx.1020 kg).
The smaller of the bells is, according to Olov Högman, “the older, however not too old”. It has two wide acanthus arches along the upper part and a narrower along the lower edge. The inscription on one side is: “In the year of 1807 recast in Hudiksvall by Mr Pehr Öberg with the addition of 2 “skeppund” (approx. 340 kg) to which the farmhand Rolf Ersson in Orrmo gave 266/2/3/ “riksdaler banco”. Wilhelm Samuelsson Huss was then the Vicar”. On the other side: The people of Herrdal, come to honour the Lord when you are called by my sound to listen, come and learn what he says in his message. But you, who like the masses slouch and join in the prayers and hymns, don’t be like this bell that sounds cold and without thought”. Also along the lower edge: Praise the Lord of the earth, both young men and maidens; old men, and children; Ps 148, v 12
As stated this bell cracked in 1660 together with the big bell and was recast in 1664. 1807 it was once again recast to its present form at the bell cast foundry of Pehr Öberg, Hudiksvall.
Electric bell ringing was installed 1930.
The old church cockerel, on top of the church tower, was sold at an auction after the restoration in 1880. A few years ago it was donated back to the church by the sisters Maja, Sofia and Svea Sandström. (In 2011 it won a price as being the finest church cockerel in the country/translators note).
Enjoy the visit to the church in Lillhärdal.
Translated by P Hammarberg from the Swedish booklet by Mr Oskar Olofsson.
©2012 Härjedalens Kulturcentrum