About the church building
The present church was built close to the heart of Copenhagen in 1885 and was consecrated in 1887, just a stone’s throw from the the royal palace and the little mermaid. However, before this there had been an Anglican presence in Denmark for many years and we were one of the first foreign denominations to be granted royal approval to hold services which previously had been restricted to den danske folkekirke (the Danish Church).
The Church was named after Saint Alban, the first martyr of England, murdered on the 22nd of June in the year 303 A.D. and buried in Ely in Cambridgeshire in eastern England. Canute of Denmark (Knud den Hellige), son of Svend Estridsøn and nephew of Canute the Great, King of England, in 1075 moved the remains of Saint Alban to the Church of St Mary at Odense, Denmark, a small wooden church which was consequently renamed Church of Saint Mary and Saint Alban. In the year 1086, Canute of Denmark, or as he was now called, Canute the Fourth of Denmark, together with his brother Benedict, was murdered in front of the altar of this church and was sainted in 1101. Today the remains of Canute the Fourth and his brother Benedict, as well as those of Saint Alban, are kept in the present Church of Saint Canute (Sankt Knud) in Odense. The original church of Saint Mary no longer exists. [Funnily enough, the local brewery, Albani in Odense, was named after Saint Alban.]
The history of the church begins in Elsinore, situated at the entrance to the Sound between Denmark and Sweden, and the logical port for the collection of the so-called “Sound Dues” (Sundtolden), which was inaugurated in 1426 and not abolished until 1857. Already in the early 16th century, a large group of Scots resided in Elsinore (as may been seen from the Scotch altar dedicated to Saint Jacob, Saint Andrew and the Scotch Saint Ninianus, previously in St Olai Parish Church in Elsinore, now in the Danish National Museum). Later, also Englishmen arrived. A great part of the ships passing Elsinore were British, thus, for example in 1850 when out of 20,000 passing ships, approximately 7,000 were British. For this reason many English shipping agencies were established in the town, and there was even a British consul, whereas Copenhagen had only a vice-consul. All these people, of course, had a need to worship in their own language and according to their own rituals, but this was forbidden by the King’s Law of 1665, issued by Frederik the Third, according to which no other church than the Lutheran was tolerated in Denmark. However, English ambassadors and ministers at the Danish Court were allowed to hold private services in their own homes, but only in their own language and only for their own family and English servants. It was, however, forbidden to administer Holy Communion.
As time went by, several exceptions to the King’s Law were made. Thus, in 1792, when a reformed English congregation with its own chaplain and wardens were specially allowed. However, it seems that there must have been earlier exceptions, as, for instance, already in 1781 there was an English clergyman in Elsinore and a property in Stengade was used as a chapel. But the clergyman left his post already in the same year following a dispute with the Danish vicar of St Olai Church. However, the congregation still wanted to have their own chaplain, and at the beginning of the 1790s it must have been decided to act since a new chaplain arrived in 1791. The following year, well-to-do members of the congregation, merchants Howden, Brown and Belfour, bought a property in Søstræde No. 4, demolishing everything except the main building, which was restored and used as residence for the chaplain. In connection with this building a proper chapel was erected in 1792-1793. When the chaplain, W. Jackson, had obtained Danish citizenship and the choice of him had been confirmed by the Danish King, the chapel was consecrated on 25 August 1793. In 1795, the chaplain’s residence and the chapel were sold at an auction to Arthur Howden, and since the congregation had temporarily been dissolved, he endeavoured to organise more modest and private religious services. In 1798 the chapel and the rest of the property was taken over by the merchant, John Good, who used the building inter alia as an auction room. In 1833, there was again an English chaplain in town, and it was attempted to bring the church back to life. The chaplain, however, only stayed until 1838, and there was no successor. Francis C. Macgregor, consul in Elsinore, took an active interest in church affairs, but apparently the Church Establishment was not very well supported. Macgregor called the people together each year to meet “at the vestry room of the British Chapel”, but the better element was apparently too small, and things went steadily downhill until, finally, in November 1839, at a meeting at the British Consulate, the congregation was dissolved and the Church given up. In 1854, a certain farmer Bertelsen attempted to establish an English congregation and a church, but also this attempt came to nothing.
Apparently, each new Danish king had to renew any given permissions. Thus, Frederik the Fourth, in July 1815, gave his permission for public services to be held in Elsinore. However, on condition that the congregation, after having prayed for the Danish King and Royal Family, might pray for the British King and Royal Family, and they must observe Sundays and Holy Days as in Denmark. They were also allowed to appoint their own chaplains, and to acquire, fence, and arrange a piece of ground outside the town as their own churchyard.
As Copenhagen more and more had become the centre for commerce, an English congregation was developing in Copenhagen. And following the various exemptions made to the King’s Law, it was possible for the congregation to have religious services in Copenhagen. Thus, in 1834, they rented a room in Store Kongensgade 51 for 400 silver rix dollars (Rigsdaler) (a Rigsdaler was worth about 2 shillings). Freedom of worship was not granted until the Danish Constitution of 5 June 1849.
In the long run, however, it was not a very satisfactory arrangement renting rooms for worship, and the congregation began to wonder if it would be possible to build their own church. They worked on this for more or less 30 years! And it was difficult. Not only did they have to obtain all the necessary permissions from the Danish State to rent the site and build a church, they also had to obtain the necessary financial support for this purpose. And especially this latter was extremely difficult. It is here that the Danish Princess Alexandra enters the picture. She was the oldest daughter of King Christian the Ninth (1818-1906) and married Queen Victoria’s oldest son Edward, Prince of Wales, later King Edward the Seventh. Thanks to their untiring efforts it became possible in the end to procure the necessary funds, and on 19 September 1885 Princess Alexandra laid down the foundation stone in the presence of the Prince of Wales, King Christian the Ninth and Queen Louise, The Czar and Czarina of Russia, the Danish Crownprince (later Frederik the Eight), Prince and Princess Valdemar, the Princes Christian and Carl of Denmark (later, respectively, King Christian the Tenth of Denmark and King Haakon of Norway), as well as representatives of other European Royal Houses. On this occasion, the following statement on vellum was placed in a hermetically sealed bottle, together with some English, Danish and Russian coins, and deposited in a cavity of the stone, “This foundation stone of St Alban’s English Church was laid on September 19th 1885 by H.R.H. the Princess of Wales in the presence of’, then followed the names of the Imperial and Royal persons present and the names of the members of the Church Building Committee.
Less than two years later, on 21 May 1887, the top stone of the spire, which is of granite, some 150 feet above the ground, was raised and the event duly celebrated, both ecclesiastically and in more mundane fashion, the latter by the workmen who received 415 Danish Kroner for the purpose, the elite being content with a glass of sherry at 1.50 Kroner per bottle.
The church was consecrated on 17 September 1887. Present were the Prince and Princess of Wales, the King and Queen of Denmark, The Czar and Czarina of Russia, the King and Queen of Greece, the Danish Crownprince and Princess Marie of Denmark, and many other members of foreign Royal Houses, besides the entire Diplomatic Corps, Ministers and representative from Army and Navy, Church Officials, as well as Greek, Russian and Roman Catholic Priests. Following the consecration, the Prince and Princess of Wales on board the royal ship Osborne were hosting a lunch, to which all those who had been closely connected with the realisation of the church were invited.
Bells were not installed in the tower until November 1887. The ladies of the congregation had previously collected money for an organ, and had already about £100 in hand, when, at Mr Grøn’s suggestion, this campaign was switched over to bells. The tower was not built for large bells, and the Prince of Wales suggested tubular bells. The first set was not correctly tuned and the makers sent a new set, which was then installed in November 1887, i.e., after the consecration. As the Prince of Wales wished to have some bell-ringing, the obliging Marine Minister kindly lent, and had suspended in the tower, two bells from the navy yard; these were rung before the consecration service. In addition, a table was set up in the vestry, and English ringers with hand bells played hymn tunes prior to the service.
The 30 years it lasted for the church to become a reality were more than well spent, when one considers its beauty and magnificent location!
The Church building
The church is a typical English church in Early English style, designed by the Victorian church architect Sir Arthur Blomfield, and executed by the Danish architect Professor L. Fenger. As far as possible it is built as it would be in England. The walls are faced externally with cleft flints from Stevns in Denmark, the stone dressings are of the harder quality of limestone from Faxe, also in Denmark, except the spire, which is of cut stone from Åland in Sweden. The facing and mouldings of the internal walls are executed in the fine white Faxe limestone. Please note the particularly beautiful moulded chancel arch and the arches and column dividing the nave from the north aisle. The dado and floor are of Campbell tiles, the roof is covered with brindled Broseley tiles from Shropshire. The reredos, pulpit and font are carried out in terracotta and Doulton ware from the firm of Doulton, Lambeth, the subjects moulded in terracotta being the work of George Tinworth, who was a well known artist in the modelling of religious subjects. The foundations were troublesome to the tune of about 5,000 Danish Kroner, as it was necessary to pile under the whole church and to strengthen the underwater bank of the moat. The cellar is waterproofed by an asphaltic membrane through walls and floor.
The reredos, pulpit and font were presented by Messrs Doulton; the floor tiles by the Campbell Tile Co.; the oak pews for the nave by Mr John M. Cook of Thomas Cook & Sons; the east window and two side sanctuary windows by Sir Francis Cook; the west windows by Sir Edmund Monson and Mr and Mrs Grøn (Mr Grøn was the Treasurer of the Building Committee in Copenhagen).
Strangely enough, the church, when built, was not provided with artificial lighting; gas lighting was discussed and practically decided upon, but somehow or other not carried out. It was not until 1928 that at long last the electric lighting was installed. Furthermore, the church was built without any toilet facilities, which, probably, is more comprehensible, being due to the difficulties of drainage, and it was only in the 1930s that a fully equipped lavatory was installed in the basement. After several not very successful attempts, adequate heating facilities were installed during the winter of 1932-1933.
Since the church was consecrated it has functioned without interruption. Even during the occupation 1940-1945 the German Wehrmacht did not close it. According to Mr Henrik Lundbak, Manager of the Danish Resistance Museum, this may be due to the fact that Germany did not consider Denmark an occupied country but an independent country under German protection. This was an arrangement which was valid only for Denmark, but not for other countries occupied by the German Wehrmacht. If the Germans, therefore, had wanted the church to be closed, they would have had to apply to the Danish authorities to do so, and apparently they did not consider this a sufficiently important question. Especially during the first years of the occupation they may have considered it of more importance not to interfere in Danish affairs.
The baptismal font is placed to the left just inside the entrance to the chapel, in contrast to the Danish churches where the font is placed near the altar. The reason for this is, that a child does not belong to the church until it has been baptised and, therefore, is not allowed into the church until this has taken place. (Apparently this was also the case in earlier times in Denmark. Thus, for instance, in St Olai Church in Elsinore a baptismal font (from 1579) is placed just inside the old entrance. It is occasionally still used today, although a font, more regularly used, is placed near the altar.) The panels of the font represent: The Saviour in the Manger; Hannah bringing Samuel to Eli; the Finding of Moses; and the Saviour Blessing little Children. In the panels between these four may be read: Ye shall not enter into / the Kingdom of Heaven / except Ye be converted & / become as little children.
Further on to the left is found a beautiful memorial to Princess Alexandra (1844-1925) flanked by two stained glass windows. In the right window, the centre light is occupied by the figure of St Hilda, Abbess of Whitby. She was a Princess of Royal blood, being the grandniece of Edwin, first Christian King of Northumbria. She is shown holding a model of a church in her right hand, with the crozier in the left. She died in 679 A.D. Above this figure is the Shield of the Diocese of London, the church of St Alban being within the jurisdiction of that Diocese. The centre light is flanked by two smaller ones, of which the left one bears the arms of His Majesty King George the Fifth, and the right that of His Majesty King Christian the Tenth of Denmark. Beneath the British Royal Arms on the left, are the shield and supporters of the City of London, and under the Royal Arms of Denmark, the shield and supporters of Copenhagen, representing Queen Alexandra’s native City and that of her adoption.
The three-light window to the left, of the memorial represents, in the centre light, the figure of St Elizabeth of Hungary in the robes of a Royal Princess. St Elizabeth, who was the daughter of Andrew the Second of Hungary, was born in 1206 A.D., and married at the age of fifteen to Ludwig, Landgraf von Thæringen. She was widowed seven years later, and died at the age of twenty-four. She was canonised in the year 1235. She was renowned for her charity to the poor and for the care of the sick, devoting the years of her widowhood to their service at her own hospital. Of the two lights flanking this centre one, that on the left contains the arms of Queen Alexandra as Queen of England, with the shield of St Alban below. The light on the right contains the arms of Queen Alexandra when Princess of Wales. The shield of the Danish flag, Dannebrog, appears in the base.
Still further on, in the small chapel, is a magnificent stained glass window dedicated to Princess Viggo, American-born Eleanor Green. Prince Viggo, her husband, was the son of Prince Valdemar, who in his turn was the son of King Christian the Ninth and younger brother of Princess Alexandra. The left half of the window represents “Compassion”, the right half St Alban. Princess Viggo (1895-1966) was very active in the work of the church, it is told that often she was found on her knees scrubbing the floors. She left a fortune to the church. This small chapel is consecrated in grateful memory of the fact that the church was not closed during the German occupation.
Stained glass windows in the Sanctuary: East windows are, (from left): The Virgin Mary, and the Annunciation; The Crucifixion “Consummation Est”; and the Last Supper. On the right: St John and the Tomb. North windows: left: St Michael; right: St Gabriel. South windows: left: St Raphael; right: St Vriel.
On the reredos, the centre panel represents the Ascension, and the side panels: Christ appearing to St Thomas, and The Betrayal.
The organ, an anonymous gift, was delivered by Messrs J.W. Walker and Sons, London. It was renovated in 1966 by the same firm, having been dismantled and sent to England. The outer frame is of English oak and is the original one, designed by the architect of the church, Sir Arthur Blomfield. The year 1966 may be seen on the firm’s nameplate.
On the wall opposite to Princess Alexandra’s memorial is a somewhat similar memorial to her husband, Edward the Seventh, dedicated on 22 October 1911. The memorial was executed by Fuchs under supervision of Queen Alexandra.
Of the four stained-glass windows above this memorial, the first one from the left represents: Nunc Dimitis (Depart in Peace). In cinquefoil the Archangel Gabriel. Upper portions of the two lights represent care and ministry of angels, left-hand light shows Mary and Joseph, right-hand light The aged Simeon; the other figure is the prophetess Anna with the Holy Child. “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace for mine eyes have seen thy salvation”. (Dedicated in June 1890).
Second window from left: The Finding of Christ in the Temple by His Parents. “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business”. (Dedicated on Easter Day 1894).
Third window from left: Queen Victoria Jubilee Memorial to commemorate the 60-year anniversary of her reign. The subject is the “Home at Bethany”. Cinquefoil bears royal monogram; and, below, royal arms with dates 1837-1897. “Mary has chosen that good part which shall not be taken away from her”. (Dedicated 17 April 1898). (A small window in the porch bears the same dates: 1837 – 1897).
Fourth window from left: The subject is “Bearing the Cross”. “And He bearing His cross went forth into a place called Golgotha”. (Dedicated 17 April 1898).
These four windows form a series of illustrations from the life of Christ from His birth to His death on the cross.
Just before leaving the chapel, on the end wall to the left, one may see a miniature of one of the works by the Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844): John the Baptist preaching in the desert. This was a gift from the Danish Baroness C.S. Dæring Rosenkrantz, who for more than twenty years had been a staunch supporter of the Church. She died in 1919 and was the last of her family. The original of this work may be seen above the entrance to the Church of our Lady (Vor Frue Kirke) in Copenhagen. The four stained-glass windows above the door represent (from left) St Alban, St Knud, St Edward, and St George.