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The Church of S:t Mary

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The Church of St. Mary in Helsingborg has a long history. In its foundation it was finished in 1410. The church is, like its counterpart in Elsinore, built in Gothic style and contains a number of art treasures – many from the Middle Ages.

The Church of St. Mary
The late medieval church is situated right in the centre of the old Helsingborg. In the Helsingborg of the 21th century it is not a dominating part of the town picture and can hardly be seen from the sea. It is actually a little difficult to see, but when you are standing in front of it, you have to admire the beauty of the thorough Gothic gilding style. If you go inside a great deal of Helsingborg´s late medieval church culture´s interior is preserved.
The Eastern Facade of the Church of St. Mary
The Eastern Facade of the Church of St. Mary

Gothic
The St. Mary Church was finished in 1410 after a long building period of about 100 years. It is built as a basilica and is almost a cathedral. The mid aisle is, like the great Gothic cathedrals in Europe, low and has no windows under the vault. The building style is often called half basilica or ”pseudo basilica”. The same characteristics can be seen on the other side of the Sound, where the Mary Church in Elsinore has the same architectural traits.
The Gothic characteristics are prominent, the pointed arched windows and the pointed vaults. This also can be seen in the gable doorsteps of the exterior and the external buttresses, which support the church.
The church replaced an earlier Roman sandstone church from the 12th century. And in comparison to the small houses of the time, it became a striking and dominant building in Helsingborg. There were other churches in town, but only Kärnan and the Nicolai Monastery were able to compete with the dominant St. Mary Church.
The Western Front of the Church of Saint Mary
The Western Front of the Church of Saint Mary
The Buttresses of the St. Mary Church
The Buttresses of the St. Mary Church
The Vault of the Church of Saint Mary
The Vault of the Church of Saint Mary
Helsingborg in the Year 1400
Helsingborg in the Year 1400

The Art Treasures of the Middle Ages
The font is from the 14th century and cut from Gotland limestone. Originally it was painted and scientific examinations point towards fragments of red and blue oil paint.
The altarpiece is in remarkable good condition. It is painted around the time of the church´s inauguration in the period 1449-1452. Probably by a master from Stralsund. In the centre of the piece the scene with Mary and the newborn Jesus dominates. The motifs around are from the life of Christ as it is described in the New Testament.
The altarpiece, which is designed as some sort of cupboard can be closed at certain periods in the church year. During Lent, for example. Here the viewer must do without the sculptures and contents himself with looking on the motifs from Christ´s last days. One of these scenes shows how Jesus drives the merchants from the temple. An interesting detail here is that the appearance of some of the coins in this motif can be located in Stralsund. One detail which makes it probable that the altarpiece have been made n this town.
The triumph crucifix in Gothic style is from the latest Middle Ages. It is interesting that the foot of the cross says 1753. But it only states the time when the crucifix was repainted/restored. This is further complicated by the fact that the cross itself is of a later date that the crucifix. The originator of the crucifix is unknown, but experts assume that it is made in the southern part of Scandinavia.
The original plaster, which covered the church walls has later been removed. The walls now appear as brick walls. However, there are still remnants of the old plaster behind the altar, where there are still fragments of the old murals. Among them the saints: S:t Magnus and Brandanus. The murals are from the 15th century and are done by the so-called: Helsingborgmester, (Helsingborgmaster), whose somewhat better preserved murals can be seen in Brunnby Church in the Kulla peninsula.
From the Middle Ages are also the so-called piscinan at the bottom in the choir wall.
The Altarpiece of the Church of Saint Mary
The Altarpiece of the Church of Saint Mary
The closed altar cabinet
The closed altar cabinet
The merchants are driven from the temple
The merchants are driven from the temple
St. Mary´s Church´s Crucifix
St. Mary´s Church´s Crucifix
The Font of the Church of St. Mary
The Font of the Church of St. Mary
The Mural of the Church of St. Mary
The Mural of the Church of St. Mary
The Picscina of the Church of St. Mary
The Picscina of the Church of St. Mary

A New Day Dawning
The tower was not finished before 1500. I.e. by the beginning of the century which was not only to change the church organisation and dogmatism in the North, but also the Middle Ages as it was later called.
However, the medieval origin of St. Mary Church is still very pronounced. Despite the later modernizations with pulpit, organ and rows of benches. The church is, rightfully so, characterized as an example of what the Middle Ages can display when it comes to stylish architecture, capable constructions and amazing craftsmanship.

Good Deeds
The altarpiece has a double portrait and three pictures above each other on the left side. The portrait shows a noble couple, perhaps the vassal of Helsingborg´s castle, Arild Urup and his wife Thale Thott. Their gold chains can identify them, which symbolize noble wealth and power.
The motif is, like in the dining hall in the Our Lady monastery in Elsinore, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The poor beggar Lazarus will get his reward in Heaven, while the rich man is tormented in Hell.The subtext says:
You Christians, whom God have given enough, consider the poor, who suffer grief, sickness, misery and distress, poverty and hunger for bread, with something in this collection box. Show your faith with good deeds and God in his Heaven will look agreeably upon you.
The old notion that God looks agreeably on good deeds seems to have outlived the reformation.
Nobel couple
Nobel couple

Sickness and Health
Epidemics were well-known since the black death in the middle of the 14th century, but in the latter half of the 16th century Elsinore was struck 13 times. It has been established that more or less local epidemics took place every other year. It was different forms of the plague, but also typhoid fever, cholera and children´s diseases took many lives. The priest and writer in Elsinore, Hans Christensen Sthen, wrote a comfort script after having lost eight children in one of the epidemics.
Tycho Brahe lost in 1576 a two-year-old daughter, after which he put up this plaque in the Mary Church in Helsingborg with this inscription:
Kirstine led, when she went away, her tender dust here.
She, who was once Tycho Brahe´s daughter.
She was just an insignificant inhabitant of this world.
But in that short time, she grew considerably. In spiritual goodness, she exceeded her gender, in good deeds her young age, in eloquence her contemporaries.
This is why nature has taken her back
So that she would not exceed the boundaries of the standards.
But still she lives; she has defeated the resistance of nature.
Instead of the short time, she now owns the period of eternity.
And improved by the Heavenly Good she rejects the Mortal,
as she through Christ have been admitted to Heaven.
Died in the Plague on September 24th
in 1576, lived for 2 years and 11 months, 11 days and 11 hours.
Death
The sooner the more dear
The later the bitterer
To Kirstine my beloved daughter
Lively and well-bred for her age,
Have I, the father, written this.
Tycho Brahe’s Daughter’s Epitaph
Tycho Brahe’s Daughter’s Epitaph

Buxtehude – A Sound Citizen
It is difficult to say how the man in the street experienced Scania´s abrupt transition to Sweden at the peace treaties in 1658 and 1660. In paragraph 9 in the Roskilde peace treaty it was stated that all estates in Scania had the right to maintain their distinctive cultural characteristics and inherited rights, so nothing prevented them from living as they had done before. Furthermore it was difficult to say how much nationality meant for the individual. Sweden as well as Denmark was at this time complex – in reality multinational states, which to some extent demanded some loyalty from their citizens, but hardly a national disposition in the modern sense. That came with Romanticism’s worship of the nation and the people at the end of the 18th century.
The example of the composer Diderich Buxtehude may illuminate this connection. Posterity has not succeeded in establishing where he was born – in Holstein, Elsinore or Helsingborg – in any case he was born in an area, which belonged to the Danish state around 1637. His father, Johannes Buxtehude came from Oldesloe in Holstein – to where he probably had emigrated originally. In 1638 he became an organist at the Maria Church in Helsingborg. In the years 1638-41 the father worked in Helsingborg and here Diderich had some childhood years. In 1642 the father was the organist at the St. Olai Church in Elsinore, where he was active until around 1670. Diderich Buxtehude thus spent his childhood and youth in Helsingborg and Elsinore.

Music with Class
During the first half of the 17th century the musical scene at the Danish court and in the major churches was of a very high standard. (It is to be remembered that the court and the churches at that time were the most important customers, when it came to music and thus the music scene evolved around these institutions). Names like Heinrich Schütz and John Dowland are still remembered. Schütz was a church musician in Copenhagen and there he established the court orchestra. Dowland, a famous lutanist and composer, was a court musician. He lived in Elsinore. Johann Lorentz worked during the first half of the 17th century as a royal organ builder and he built or rebuilt all the important organs in the Sound region in a quite conservative renaissance style, a style, which then were represented by Schütz and Dowland. One of the most important remnants of Lorentz´s activity is in the organ facade in the Holy Trinity Church in Kristianstad.

New Organs
Diderich Buxtehude followed his father’s footsteps and became the organist in the Maria Church in Helsingborg. In 1660 he applied for and got the organist post in Elsinore´s Maria Church. Probably because this post was better paid and by taking it he came closer to the rest of his family. In the time up to 1668, where he went to Lübeck to apply for a post there, he lived in the same house as his mother and father. The house still stands.
Simultaneously the old Lorenz organs were modernized in a modern Baroque style, a style, which was represented musically by Diderich Buxtehude. The German organ builder did the modernization and he was the man behind the building and rebuilding of organs in Copenhagen, Elsinore, Halmstad, Helsingborg, Landskrona and Malmo.
Diderich Buxtehude experienced and participated in a very active renewal of the music scene through the new building, which was made. Two years after he had moved to Elsinore he came back to Helsingborg to supervise the rebuilding of the organ in the Maria Church. This indicates that the Swedish takeover in Scania in 1658 did not affect the music scene right away.
The Maria Church in Helsingborg
The Maria Church in Helsingborg
Saint Anne Street in Elsinore
Saint Anne Street in Elsinore
The Old Organ
The Old Organ
Buxtehude
Buxtehude
Choir Organ in the Mariakyrkan (Church of St, Mary)
Choir Organ in the Mariakyrkan (Church of St, Mary)

Connections over the Sound
In his time in Elsinore Buxtehude kept in close touch with Swedish as well as Danish officials. The only piece of music we know of that Buxtehude wrote in his time in Elsinore, is from 1665 and dedicated to Christoffer Schneider, a Swedish postmaster and later consul resident in Elsinore. From his time in Elsinore Buxtehude also was friendly with the Swedish court conductor and organist Gustav Büben. Perhaps it was on his request that Buxtehude composed the wedding cantata to the wedding between Carl XI Gustav and his Danish queen Hedvig Eleonora in 1680.
LargeAperte mihi portas iustitiae, Elsinore 1665. (Diderik Buxtehude)
LargeAria sopra le Nozze di Sua Maesta il Re de Svecia (1680). Diderik Buxtehude

In Lübeck
In 1668 Buxtehude moved to Lübeck, probably for career reasons, but also to get away from the meagre financial circumstances in the devastated Sound region. The three Maria Churches in Helsingborg, Elsinore and Lübeck are the main threads in his life. Even though he spent most of his active life in Lübeck and even though he achieved fame and honour there, he never forgot his roots by the Sound. That was why the periodical “Nova litteraria Maris Balthici” could claim in 1707: “He considered Denmark his native country” (Patriam agnoscit Daniam).
Diderich Buxtehude´s career as a composer and an organist culminated in Lübeck and great composers like Händel and Bach came and listened to his music. He was especially renowned for his “Lübecker Abendmusiken”, which were concerts in connection with the evensong before Christmas. He wrote new organ works for this every year.

©  Øresundstid 2009