A Short Interview with Professor Martin Jürgensen

Martin Wangsgaard Jürgensen is an associate professor in the Faculty of Theology at the University of Copenhagen. His research considers material culture and architecture during the age of the Reformation. We were fortunate to be able to speak to Professor Jürgensen about his forthcoming article in Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture, which is titled, “Between New Ideals and Conservatism: The Early Lutheran Church Interior in 16th Century Denmark.”

How did you come across the topic of your article?
I have been working with churches and church interiors as a result of the Reformation for quite a few years now so it really is not a new topic to me. I am fascinated by ways in which the Reformation changed the interiors of church spaces, how they came to be remodeled by the Reformation, and how they were reinterpreted or the meanings of holiness changed as a result of this religious change. My article stems from these years of research about the intersection of religiosity and materiality in the late medieval and early modern periods.

What inspired you to write this article?
One of the striking things when you work with church interiors after the Reformation is the few critical attitudes toward church interiors by the Lutherans. There is a surprising willingness to compromise with these Catholic objects within churches. This struck me as odd. I thought that there must have been some critical voices who had a vision for something completely different. I began to speculate as to how these visions played out in church spaces. This article sought to find these radical voices that have been pushed aside in the grand narrative for what happened with the Reformation and the Lutheran church.

Is there a particular source you came across during the course of your research that you would like to share with us?
There is not one specific source or object that I used for this article. In fact, it is very important when looking at materials in Reformation-era churches not to cherry-pick the material culture of one specific church. Instead, I think it is important to look at things as broadly as possible. Some of these changes that we see are only possible to discern by looking at large amounts of materials. Looking at the art-historical highlights can only get us so far. By looking at the more anonymous places, particularly in Danish parish churches, we can gain new perspective about materiality and the Reformation.

Where did research for this article take you (archives, cities, etc.)?
I had the joy of traveling across the Danish countryside and looking at rural parish churches. One church on Funen, a small Danish island, was completely renovated in 1586 and was called Svindinge. It had a highly fascinating altar that is worth considering because it is emblematic of what the radical voices within the Lutheran community wanted. I was also able to do archival work at the National Museum in Copenhagen.

Is there anything else relating to this article and the 500th anniversary of the Reformation that you would like to share?
What really strikes me, coming from a perspective of material culture, is how difficult it is to see what these reformers 500 years ago were facing when looking at churches. So much has changed since then. It is very hard to determine what was in these churches on the eve of the Reformation and what changes came about after the Reformation. This process was one of continuous reinterpretation of the liturgy and the Lutheran message (if we can call it that). These elements continued to change so that there are layers and layers upon changes that now exist in these churches. This makes it difficult to discuss these issues but also makes for fascinating research.

Abstract for “Between New Ideals and Conservatism: The Early Lutheran Church Interior in 16th Century Denmark.”

This essay examines how the Lutheran Reformation changed church spaces in the Danish kingdom after 1536—the official year of Reformation in Denmark. Rather than addressing the long-term consequences of the Reformation, the essay demonstrates how the ideas of the first and second generation of reformers came to be expressed in churches; that is, how the reception of Lutheran thinking was materialized in church interiors prior to what is commonly known as the period of Lutheran orthodoxy. This period of nascent change, spanning the second half of the sixteenth century, is particularly fickle and difficult to grasp, not only because many of the first Lutheran church fittings were replaced in later centuries, but also because the speed at which the new religious ideals found their way into churches varied greatly from region to region. Nevertheless, certain trends did emerge and can still be described today. While these short-lived, idealistic attempts at a new evangelical church interior failed as a whole, they nevertheless left a pronounced impact on the churches in general.

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