Issue Date: 8 June 2021
Graphic Design: Post Greenland, based on 1955 painting by Hans Lynge
Sheet Composition: 10 stamps each design; miniature sheet of 2 stamps
Printing Method: Offset lithography
300 Years of Christianity and Hans Egede. Mint set 2 values. The 300th anniversary of the reintroduction of Christianity in Greenland and the 300th anniversary of Hans Egede’s arrival are the titles of two stamps. In 1955 the renowned Greenlandic artist, Hans Lynge (1906-1988), painted a now famous painting that has formed the basis for both stamps. The stamps are printed in offset. Face value / post office price: 46 DKK. Date of issue: 8th June 2021
The majority of the Greenlandic population is Christian and associates with the Church of Denmark via the Church of Greenland, which is Protestant in classification and Lutheran in orientation. The Church of Denmark is the established church through the Constitution of Denmark; this applies to all of the Kingdom of Denmark, except for the Faroe Islands, as the Church of the Faroe Islands became independent in 2007. But traditional Inuit spiritual beliefs remain strong in many of Greenland’s remote communities.
Lutheranism, mostly represented by the Church of Denmark, is the predominant religious category within Christianity, followed by small communities of Baptists, Mormons, Roman Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh-day Adventists.
Christianity was first brought to Greenland in 1000 by Norse settlers. It is not certain what happened to the Norse but they eventually disappeared, likely because of an increasingly harsh climate, decline in trade with mainland Europe, and possibly conflicts with native tribes. By the 18th century, the Norse returned. When Norway and Denmark separated in 1814, Greenland remained Danish, though with a certain degree of autonomy necessitated by its remoteness. Today, the Church of Denmark is still the predominant religious preference in the country, but with a degree of autonomy, including its own bishop, 19 parishes divided among 3 deaneries, 40 churches or chapels, and 25 vicars or priests.
The Church of Greenland, consisting of the Diocese of Greenland is the official Lutheran church in Greenland under the leadership of the Bishop of Greenland, currently being Sofie Petersen. The Church of Greenland is semi-independent from the Church of Denmark, however, it is still considered a diocese of the Church of Denmark. Historically (before the Reformation) the Diocese of Greenland was known as the Diocese of Garðar. This ancient diocese fell into disuse in the 14th century with the death of Bishop Álfurin 1377. Nonetheless, bishops were still appointed up until 1537, though none of these ever made it to Greenland.
From 1905 to 1923 Greenland was part of the now derelict Diocese of Zealand. From 1923 to 1993 it was part of the Diocese of Copenhagen. In 1980 a bishop was appointed for Greenland on behalf of the Bishop of Copenhagen. The Diocese was only re-established in 1993 when it was renamed as the Diocese of Greenland, independent from the Diocese of Copenhagen.
The Church of Greenland, in common with other institutions within the territory, is governed from Denmark, but with a large measure of autonomy. The Church of Greenland consists of a single diocese, which is part of the Danish church but is moving towards full independence. In this respect, it is following the example of the Church of the Faroe Islands, which is also a single diocese and achieved full independence from the Church of Denmark in July 2007.
On June 21, 2009, the Church of Greenland was taken over by the local government of Greenland, where both funding and legislation now falls under the government of Greenland as opposed to other dioceses in the Church of Denmark who fall under the authority of the Danish parliament. Nonetheless, the Church of Greenland is still a diocese of the Church of Denmark.
In common with other evangelical episcopal Lutheran churches, the Church of Greenland recognizes the historic three-fold ministry of bishops, priests, and deacons; it acknowledges the two dominical sacraments of baptism and the eucharist; it provides liturgies for other rites including confirmation, marriage, ordination, confession, and burial; its faith is based on scripture, the ancient creeds of the Church, and the Augsburg Confession. It is in full communion with the other Lutheran churches of the Nordic and Baltic states and with the Anglican churches of the British Isles. The clergy, who work with local parish councils, but are ordained and supervised by the bishop, work in a network of seventeen parishes, with churches and chapels across Greenland. Four senior priests hold the title of ‘Dean’ – one as Dean of the cathedral church, and three as Area Deans for the three deaneries, an administrative structure between the level of the diocese and that of the local parishes.
Catholic Church in Greenland
The Catholic Church in Greenland is part of the worldwide Catholic Church, under the spiritual leadership of the Pope in Rome. There are very few Catholics in this overwhelmingly Protestant territory. There are 50 registered Catholics and only approximately 4 native Greenlander Catholics out of a population of 57,000. They are part of the only Catholic parish in Greenland, in Nuuk, Greenland’s capital. The whole island is under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Copenhagen, Denmark.
Catholicism was introduced to Greenland in the 11th century with the help of the King of Norway, establishing the first churches in the western hemisphere, and after much effort, the people of Greenland received a bishop. The church thrived with the Norse colony which saw its peak in the 14th century, and had an active relationship with Scandinavia and the European continent; the church also participated in the European exploration of the Americas.
The abandonment of the colony around 1450 ended any church presence in Greenland and the Protestant Reformation in Denmark effectively shut Greenland from any Catholic presence until the 20th century, when freedom of religion was declared and a small permanent Catholic presence reestablished. Greenland was part of the “Apostolic Prefecture of the Arctic Pole” based in Norway from 1855 to 1868. Since that time, Greenland has been part of the Danish Catholic Church hierarchy, first the Apostolic Prefecture of Copenhagen, which was raised to a Vicariate Apostolic, and later a full Catholic Diocese.
The territory was under the jurisdiction of the Vicar Apostolic of Copenhagen in the early 20th century. Catholic priests have been visiting Greenland since 1930, after the bishop of Copenhagen, Benedictine Theodore Suhr, received permission from the Vatican to ask permission of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate to missionize there. Catholic priests have also served with the United States military as chaplains in the 20th century. State-enforced Lutheranism was kept in place until 1953 when religious liberty was declared. In the summer of 1980, the Little Sisters of Jesus established a fraternity in Nuuk with three sisters.
Denmark has requested UNESCO to acknowledge the ruins of the episcopal residence at Gardar as part of a World Heritage Site. In 2007, a global environmental summit was held in Nuuk at their Catholic church, which was attended by Catholic, Orthodox and United Nations officials, with the approval of Pope Benedict XVI.
As of 2013, the only known Muslim living in Greenland is Lebanese citizen Wassam Azaqeer, who lives in Nuuk, where he runs a restaurant.
Inuit Spiritual Beliefs
Ethnographically 80% of the population is divided between the Inuit population and population mixed with Inuit and Danish. It is said that the Inuit population is descended from Siberians who crossed from Asia to North America on that island. Although less than 1% of the residents practice Inuit spiritual beliefs, the presence of shamanism is widespread.
Hans Poulsen Egede (31 January 1686 – 5 November 1758) was a Dano-Norwegian Lutheran missionary who launched mission efforts to Greenland, which led him to be styled the Apostle of Greenland. He established a successful mission among the Inuit and is credited with revitalizing Dano-Norwegian interest in the island after contact had been broken for hundreds of years. He founded Greenland’s capital Godthåb, now known as Nuuk.
Hans Egede was born into the home of a civil servant in Harstad, Norway, nearly 150 miles north of the Arctic Circle. His paternal grandfather had been a vicar in Vester Egede on southern Zealand, Denmark. Hans was schooled by an uncle, a clergyman in a local Lutheran Church. In 1704 he travelled to Copenhagen to enter the University of Copenhagen, where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Theology. He returned to Hinnøya Island after graduation, and in April 1707 he was ordained and assigned to a parish on the equally remote archipelago of Lofoten. Also in 1707 he married Gertrud Rasch (or Rask), who was 13 years his senior. Four children were born to the marriage – two boys and two girls.
At Lofoten, Egede heard stories about the old Norse settlements on Greenland, with which contact had been lost centuries before. Beginning in 1711, he sought permission from Frederick IV of Denmark-Norway to search for the colony and establish a mission there, presuming that it had either remained Catholic after the Danish–Norwegian Reformation or been lost to the Christian faith altogether. Frederick gave consent at least partially to re-establish a colonial claim to the island.
Egede established the Bergen Greenland Company (Det Bergen Grønlandske Compagnie) with $9,000 in capital from Bergen merchants, $200 from the Danish king, and a $300 annual grant from the Royal Mission College. The company was granted broad powers to govern the peninsula (as it was then considered to be), to raise its own army and navy, to collect taxes and to administer justice; the king and his council, however, refused to grant it monopoly rights to whaling and trade in Greenland out of a fear of antagonizing the Dutch.
Haabet (“The Hope”) and two smaller ships departed Bergen on 2 May 1721 bearing Egede, his wife and four children, and forty other colonists. On 3 July they reached Nuup Kangerlua and established Hope Colony (Haabets Colonie) with the erection of a portable house on Kangeq Island, which Egede christened the Island of Hope (Haabets Ø). Searching for months for descendants of the old Norse colonists, he found only the local Inuit people and began studying their language.
A common myth states that, as the Inuit had no bread nor any idea of it, Egede adapted the Lord’s Prayer as “Give us this day our daily seal”. Egede at first tried the word “mamaq” but it does not mean “food”, as Hans Egede thought, but “how delicious!” This first attempt stems from 1724, when he had only been in the country for three years and he has probably often heard someone say “mamaq!” It was not long before he came up with the word “neqissat“, “food”. When Egede’s son Poul published the four Gospels in print in 1744, he used the word “timiusaq“. This word was already written down by Hans in 1725 and is used by Greenlanders as an explanation of how bread looks. The old dictionaries suggest that at that time one could use the word “timia” in the sense of “bone marrow” or, as Samuel Kleinschmidt wrote in his dictionary in 1871, “the inner, porous part of the leg or Horn”. “Timiusaq” therefore originally means “it which resembles bone marrow ”. Today, this word is used in it ecclesiastical languages in the sense of “wafer” and in North Greenland in the sense of “ship’s custom”.
By the end of the first winter, many of the colonists had been stricken with scurvy and most returned home as soon as they could. Egede and his family remained with a few others and in 1722 welcomed two supply ships the king had funded with the imposition of a new tax. His (now ship-borne) explorations found no Norse survivors along the western shore and future work was misled by the two mistaken beliefs – both prevalent at the time – that the Eastern Settlement would be located on Greenland’s east coast (it was later established it had been among the fjords of the island’s extreme southwest) and that a strait existed nearby communicating with the western half of the island. In fact, his 1723 expedition found the churches and ruins of the Eastern Settlement, but he considered them to be those of the Western. At the end of the year, he turned north and helped establish a whaling station on Nipisat Island. In 1724 he baptized his first child converts, two of whom would travel to Denmark and there inspire Count Zinzendorf to begin the Moravian missions.
In 1728, a royal expedition under Major Claus Paarss arrived with four supply ships and moved the Kangeq colony to the mainland opposite, establishing a fort named Godt-Haab (“Good Hope”), the future Godthåb. The extra supplies also allowed Egede to build a proper chapel within the main house. More scurvy led to forty deaths and abandonment of the site not only by the Danes but by the Inuit as well. Egede’s book The Old Greenland’s New Perlustration (Norwegian: Det gamle Grønlands nye Perlustration) appeared in 1729 and was translated into several languages, but King Frederick had lost patience and recalled Paarss’s military garrison from Greenland the next year. Egede, encouraged by his wife Gertrud, remained with his family and ten sailors.
A supply ship in 1733 brought three missionaries and news that the king had granted 2,000 rixdollars a year to establish a new company for the colony under Jacob Severin. The Moravians were allowed to establish a station at Neu-Herrnhut (which became the nucleus of modern Nuuk, Greenland’s capital) and in time a string of missions along the island’s west coast. The ship also returned one of Egede’s convert children with a case of smallpox. By the next year, the epidemic was raging among the Inuit and in 1735 it claimed Gertrud Egede. Hans carried her body back to Denmark for burial the next year, leaving his son Poul to carry on his work. In Copenhagen, he was named Superintendent of the Greenland Mission Seminary (Seminarium Groenlandicum) and in 1741 the Lutheran Bishop of Greenland. A catechism for use in Greenland was completed by 1747. He died on 5 November 1758 at the age of 72 in Stubbekøbing at Falster, Denmark.
Egede became something of a national “saint” of Greenland. The town of Egedesminde (lit. “Memory of Egede”) commemorates him. It was established by Hans’s second son, Niels, in 1759 on the Eqalussuit peninsula. It was moved to the island of Aasiaat in 1763, which had been the site of a pre-Viking Inuit settlement. Statues of Hans Egede stand watch over Greenland’s capital in Nuuk and outside of Frederik’s Church (Marmorkirken) in Copenhagen. His grandson and namesake Hans Egede Saabye also became a missionary to Greenland and published a celebrated diary of his time there.
The Royal Danish Geographical Society established the Egede Medal in his honor in 1916. The medal is in silver and awarded ‘preferably for geographical studies and researches in the Arctic countries’.
Hans Egede also gave one of the oldest descriptions of a sea serpent commonly believed to have been a giant squid. On 6 July 1734 he wrote that his ship was off the Greenland coast when those on board “saw a most terrible creature, resembling nothing they saw before. The monster lifted its head so high that it seemed to be higher than the crow’s nest on the mainmast. The head was small and the body short and wrinkled. The unknown creature was using giant fins which propelled it through the water. Later the sailors saw its tail as well. The monster was longer than our whole ship”.
A crater on the Moon is named after him: the Egede crater on the south edge of the Mare Frigoris (the Sea of Cold).
Egede’s statue at Frederick’s Church in Copenhagen was vandalized with the word “decolonize” spray-painted on its base on June 20, 2020. Another Egede statue in Nuuk, Greenland was likewise vandalized on June 30, 2020. Both acts were tied by a few radical activists to global efforts to remove controversial statues following anti-racism protests. The responsible were arrested. In a consequent vote, 900 Greenland voters decided to keep the statue.