Østre Porsgrunn Church
Østre Porsgrunn Church (full name: Jesu Kirke i Østre Porsgrunn, also called Østsiden Church) was a church in the Rococo style built in 1760 and located in the city of Porsgrunn in Vestfold og Telemark, Norway. In 2011 the building was completely destroyed by a fire.
|Østre Porsgrunn Church|
|Jesu Kirke i Østre Porsgrunn|
|Consecrated||10 July 1760|
|Events||Restored in 1888, 1960–1966, 1997. Destroyed in fire 2011.|
|Architect(s)||Lauritz de Thurah and Andreas Pfützner, Joen Jacobsen|
|Architectural type||Cruciform church|
|Construction cost||5,836 rigsdaler, 3 ort, 11 skilling|
|Floor area||450 m2 (4,800 sq ft)|
|Spire height||5 m (16 ft)|
|Materials||Wood, Copper (spire)|
|Diocese||Diocese of Agder and Telemark|
The church was built in the Kirkehaugen district of Eastern Porsgrunn. The church site is located on Kirkebakken 17, just east of Fylkesvei 356.
In the mid-1700s, the wealthy population of Porsgrunn wanted a new church on the east side of the neighborhood. The reason for this was mainly prestige but also politics, as the building of a grand church in Porsgrunn would prove that the neighborhood in Skien was prosperous enough to be a city in its own right. Also, despite the fact that Vestre Porsgrunn Church had just been built, there was no bridge across the Porsgrunn River, so the residents of eastern Porsgrunn had to travel all the way to Eidanger Church in Eidanger to worship.
The idea for a church on the east side of Porsgrunn was a few years in the making, but came to fruition due to the influence and capital of a few of the city's wealthy merchants, shipowners and ironworks owners. On 9 August 1754, a message urging residents to donate towards a new church was sent out by four of Porsgrunn's most important men, all of whom were successful businessmen with connections to Danish royalty. The men were: Danish brothers Carl Deichmann and Wilhelm Deichmann, literary publishers and co-owners of Fossum Ironworks in Skien, Ulrich Frederik Schnell, owner of Næs Ironworks in Holt, and customs officer Thomas Lange. The fundraising campaign was a huge success, and within a short time, the men had collected between four and five thousand rigsdaler for the church. The land that was to be the future site of Østre Porsgrunn Church was donated by Friederich Biener, who owned the land as part of his Jønholt farm and used it as a pen for his horses.
Since they now had the land and the funds required, the new committee for Østre Porsgrunn Church just needed permission from the Danish government to begin construction. In 1755, they sent a petition to King Frederik V in Copenhagen. After four years, on 16 March 1759, they finally got a response, with the king giving the plan his endorsement. The plan would also need to be signed by the local governance, and Bent Bentzen, who was the stadtholder in Skien at the time, reluctantly agreed, saying, "I cannot see why the construction of a church in the suburb of Porsgrunn would be necessary, except to reduce Skien, one of the oldest cities in the country, into a pile of rubble."
The merchants who funded the church enlisted local Skien resident Joen Jacobsen as the master builder for this project, who had proven himself a capable engineer and builder working on churches in Brevik and Langesund in the years prior. Jacobsen had just finished work as master builder on the Vestre Porsgrunn Church in 1758 when he drafted up architectural plans for the new church in eastern Porsgrunn. However, when he sent his drawings in for approval, he was puzzled to find that the Danish architects had sent them back marked full of corrections.
Jacobsen had originally planned to make the church very similar to his previous one in western Porsgrunn, with a traditional Norwegian long rectangular floor plan that represented the sacred road. However, the architects who were responsible for reviewing the plans, renowned architect Lauritz de Thurah and his apprentice Andreas Pfützner, wanted the church much bigger and with a cruciform floor plan. The architects assumed the church would be built using stone as most were in Denmark, and completely overlooked the limitations of wood in construction. Not wanting to upset the elite in Denmark, Jacobsen kept the revised plans, and while it was standing the church remained not only the largest wooden church in Telemark but also one of the largest in the country.
Due to the constraints of the revised architectural plans, Joen Jacobsen had to be creative with his carpentry techniques. Since timber framing techniques were not yet commonplace, Jacobsen was constrained to building with logs that were paneled with cut planks on the exterior walls. However, the plans specified right-angled corners, which, while easy to achieve with other materials, was more difficult with wood, since the common saddle notch joint left excess wood protruding from either side of the corners. Subsequently, Jacobsen took advantage of precise cutting techniques from the sawmills in Skien to make use of lap joints (Norwegian: sinklaft) for the logs, almost half a decade before the technique was in common use.
The church's steeple was topped with a copper-clad Baroque spire with a unique profile. On top of that lay an elaborate ornamental iron weather vane which was the work of local blacksmith Hans Christian Arveschoug.
Construction on Østre Porsgrunn Church began in 1759 and was completed the next year. The total construction cost came out to 5,836 rigsdaler, 3 ort, and 11 skilling. The church was consecrated on 10 July 1760, an event that was presided over by Bishop of the Diocese of Oslo, Frederik Nannestad. Østre and Vestre Porsgrunn became their own parishes in 1763, with the death of Jørgen Herman Monrad, parish priest of Eidanger, and in 1764, Jeremias Hagerup became the first parish priest of Østre Porsgrunn parish.
The church was restored several times. The first time was in 1888. The second was in 1960, on the 200th anniversary of the church's construction, where it underwent major structural repairs that finished in 1966. After that, there were minor repairs in 1997, when two of the planks in the corners were replaced. Lastly, in 2011, the church was undergoing a further multimillion kroner structural repair following its 250th anniversary in 2010, during which the church was burnt to the ground.
As is characteristic of many of Joen Jacobsen's churches, the church had a wooden barrel vault ceiling, and it was painted with depictions of the sky and angels. The altarpiece was built in 1890 and painted with an image of Jesus on the cross by esteemed Norwegian romantic nationalist painter Axel Ender. The retable that framed the altarpiece was donated by Niels Aall. It was in Baroque style, with two Ionic order pilasters on either side and above it an arched architectural motif superimposed with a cloud shining light to represent God. Surrounding the altar was a semicircular wooden balustrade that served as an altar rail, thought to be another contribution of Jacobsen's. There were two figurines on either side of the retable, one of Moses and the other of Aaron. These were donated by local entrepreneur Nicolai Benjamin Aall, brought back from a trip to the Netherlands.
The pulpit was located in one of the interior corners of the crucifix, between two arms of the cross. It was a carved wooden pulpit in the Rococo style, ornamented with round mirrors and gold leaf. The church also contained a pipe organ, which was built by a royal organ builder from Copenhagen. The organ alone made up about 1/3 of the church's building expenses, and it later received a decorative organ case created by Daniel Wroblewsky. The organ was replaced with a new one around 1850. The organ was rebuilt in the early 1980s by Bruno Christensen retaining its organ case and several registers.
The majority of the church grounds are used as a graveyard. The first person buried there was Søfren Nielsen, a merchant from the farm Floodegården, in 1860. Other notable people buried in the graveyard are the city's richest man at the time, Nicolai Benjamin Aall, in 1798, shipowner and politician Jørgen Aall in 1833, and former Minister of the Navy in Norway, Jens Schou Fabricius, in 1841.
There is also a small chapel for funerals located across the street from Østre Porsgrunn Church, but still on church land. The chapel was built in 1921 by Haldor Larsen Børve, a local architect who was also responsible for Vår Frue Church down the road, as well as bigger projects such as Dalen Hotel and the new Porsgrunn City Hall. The chapel was not damaged by the fire and has subsequently been brought back into use following volunteer work by the congregation.
On the night of 11 April 2011, Østre Porsgrunn Church was set alight. The local police were notified at 3:15 in the morning, but when a nearby patrol unit arrived a few minutes later, the fire was already quite large. The police proceeded to evacuate the surrounding neighborhood. By the time the spire collapsed, the building was judged not to be a potential risk of fire spread to the wooden buildings nearby. The evacuation order was called off at 5:07, by which time the church had completely burnt to the ground. Parish priest Per Johan Wiig arrived at the site as soon as he heard the news. He said of the incident, "It is very sad, especially for all those who had planned to have baptisms, confirmations, and weddings at the church." He went on to say, "What's special about these old churches is that they're not museums, but it is a building that has been in use almost every day for 250 years. And through both joys and sorrows."
The estimated value of the church was 41 million kroner, which consisted of 29 million for the building and 12 million for the interior decoration and furnishings. The most valuable items in the church were the organ, altar, and the pulpit, at an estimated value of 6.5 million, 1.3 million, and 1.2 million kroner respectively. The only things saved from the church were a small silver baptismal font and some silver cups and plates used for communion, all objects from 1760 that were kept in a fireproof cupboard. The insurance sum came out to 30 million kroner, as only the building was covered and not the inventory. The money will be used towards building a new church.
The fire was suspected to be as a result of arson, as the fire started from the outside of the church and the fast rate at which the fire spread indicated the possible use of an accelerant. The same night, there had also been an attempted arson about 6 km (3.7 mi) away, at Borgestad Church in Skien, but only a few benches were damaged. The police revealed that two boys, aged 17 and 18, were suspected of both incidents. Earlier that night, the 17-year-old suspect had written on Facebook, "Now we're going out to play pyromaniac." He later confessed to the arsons at both Borgestad Church and Østre Porsgrunn Church, under pressure from his mother. The 18-year-old's DNA was discovered on a scarf near the scene of the Borgestad arson, but he still denied involvement. The two suspected arsonists were put on trial at Nedre Telemark District Court, with proceedings beginning on 21 February 2013. The younger suspect was sentenced to three and a half years in prison, and the older four years in prison, and the boys also must pay 34 million kroner in damages. The older suspect has appealed the verdict, and the younger boy has appealed the compensation sum.
There has been a good amount of debate over whether the church should be rebuilt as it stood, or if a more modern church should be built in its place. The planning committee involved in the church's reconstruction recently advised the parish council against making an exact replica of the old church, but encouraged keeping some of the old elements, such as a prominent tower and organ. However, many others want the church to be rebuilt for its historical value, similar to how Fantoft Stave Church was rebuilt in 1997 after it too was destroyed by arson. Others still, such as the local branch of Rødt in Porsgrunn, believe that the church should not be rebuilt at all, but instead the land be used for some secular purpose.
Building Project - Pre building phaseEdit
During a meeting in the autumn of 2014, the church congregation in attendance agreed to build a new church following the suggestion of the building committee, for a new building meeting the requirements of function and form, rather than for a historic reconstruction.
Following this decision the building committee has selected several architect firms to design a new building with a May 2015 deadline, based on the churches requirements, with a final decision made in June 2015. In June, the design competition was completed and a winner was announced - "Reis Opp".
In September 2016, it was announced that (following consultation with the construction company) the church building design had to be modified in order stay within budget. To reduce costs (1) a portion of the church building has been removed, reducing its footprint, and as a consequence (2) the nearby church hall will be no longer be redesigned.
It was predicted that the church would be completed late 2017, however, this timeline slipped due to delays in the pre-building and the bureaucratic process. Construction began spring 2018 with completion september 2019. the new church was officially opened 15th september 2020.
In March 2016, the competition process for the churches new organ began. In May 2016 the organ builder Weimbs was confirmed as winner and a contract was signed during spring 2018 (in line with the official start of the churches construction). The organ is currently being built and expected to be installed in the spring of 2021.
Official information regarding the progress of the organ project can be found at https://weimbs.de/2020/06/04/porsgrunn-ev-kirche/
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