King Canute IV may have died more than 900 years ago, but his legacy of division among the locals continues to this day.
The Danish national church, which is Evangelical Lutheran, and the Catholic Church have reached a stalemate over the kings’ remains.
The bones of the king and his brother are on display behind glass in the crypt of Odense’s Lutheran Cathedral. The king, whom Catholics consider the patron saint of Denmark, was placed in the crypt after he was slain in a nearby church by rebels in 1086.When forensic scientists from the University of Southern Denmark examined his remains last year, the leading Danish representative of the Catholic Church requested that some of the bones be transferred to that church as relics.
Bishop Czeslaw Kozon requested that two of the bones be handed over in a gesture of good faith as the remains of saints are highly regarded by members of his church, who celebrate Canute’s death annually on 10 July.
However, the Lutheran bishop of the Funen diocese, Kresten Drejergaard, has ruled out the possibility of handing over any bones to the Catholic Church.In a recent interview, Drejergaard pointed out one of the founding principles of the Evangelical Lutheran religion is that no person can be closer to God than another based on their merits.
‘If the national church gives some of Canute away with the goal that his bones will become relics in the Catholic church, then the Lutheran church will have contributed to a complete turnaround on the idea of the relationship between man and God’.
The parochial Lutheran church council of the cathedral initially reacted positively to the idea of giving the bones away, but Drejergaard quickly intervened. The bishop sought the advice of a theology professor, who recommended rejecting the request, and his fellow bishop and the royal chaplain, Erik Norman Svendsen, on the issue.
Svendsen said that after a discussion with the queen about the case, nothing should be handed over until the reigning Lutheran authority on Funen had been consulted. And that authority would be Drejergaard, who is firmly set against the idea and believes it would violate the decency and respect of a royal grave to distribute part of the remains.
Earlier this month, the Minister for Ecclesiastical Affairs, Birthe Rønn Hornbech, was dragged into the debate. Following consultation with the Funen bishop, Hornbech agreed with his reasoning that the bones should remain where they are.
However, Catholic Bishop Kozon is hopeful that a resolution can be reached.
‘Naturally I respect the Lutheran views on relics and we have no rights to force them to deliver the bones, but I think that it is incomprehensible that the rejection is so categorical. It would have been a lovely gesture,’ said Kozon.
Odense Cathedral has offered an olive branch to their Catholic counterparts and said that they can hold a service in the Lutheran church that houses the bones of their beloved saint.
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