Sunday, April 3, 2011

Lilla Röd Kyrka

Like a Carl Larsson painting but 300 years before his time, the wedding party gathered outside the little red "kirka" for the post nuptual celebration; these 28 families who had come to honor a new life, the solemn pairing of two of their own.

The couple stood centered amongst their friends and family as kisses, handshakes and gratitude moved from guest to guest; the receiving line more a clump than a queue, a group needing to stave off a bit of the early spring chill.

A dozen children wound around the churchyard maypole, each holding a streamer attached to the finial of the post, and dancing this way and that...over and under and over again, braiding the multicolored ribbon into a rainbowed canopy that wedding gifts might be protected from an unexpected spring rain.

A roaring blaze, a cooking fire, a handful of smoking pipes kept fingers and toes from turning blue while the ladies of
Karlstad church moved foodstuffs from individual cabins into full view of a hungry and cheering audience. They surrounded the long table, soon laden with pickled cod and roast pork, fresh herring and fruktsuppe; and flatbreads baked that morn by the elder women too excited to leave their hands idle.

A punch of lingonberry, cloudberry and currant bubbled in its cast iron pot, hung carefully over stacked coals the color of autumn maple leaves. And quite nearby, the bride's grandmor stirred her gift of rommegrot, her sour cream pudding topped with sugar and cinnamon that would signal the end of the feast and the beginning of the couple's first sleigh ride as man and wife.

While the smorgasbord was prepared the manfolk moved within their Sunday homes as well, each returning with handfuls of tools and furs, molded lead nails and blown glass trinkets, and handcrafted furniture built weeks in advance as offerings to the 29th family born of this clan.

They ate and sang and laughed the afternoon away, the temperature dropping each hour that passed, turning dripping thaw into sturdy, glittering icicles that reached to the ground from the eaves of the church.

As desert was spooned into steaming mugs, the talented chose their weapons and music sprang from plucked psalteries and hardanger fiddles, the children slapping a prone, hollowed log in accompaniment as if Viking drum masters calling the oarsmen to time each stroke.

A round ensued, a traditional Swedish dance with multiple raised knees and flailing skirts of powder blue and yellow; clapping hands and wide smiles moving the participants to give their all to properly entertain the wedded couple now stepping into their horse drawn sleigh.

The ride was nigh, the
Lake Vanern ice tested and its covering of snow moved aside for the grand circle; a victory lap if you will, a custom practiced for as long as the elders could remember.

The sleigh moved out followed closely by the revelers, a pied piper affair with musicians still playing, children running alongside and older couples dancing in wide flourish to keep up with the train now jingling a few hundred yards from shore.

As this was in the early 1600's and I am simply creating a picture of a story once told me, I can only imagine the sound of splintering ice and the frightened screams of all within its range. The four heavy set men who'd earlier tested their weight against all odds were no balanced match for two horses and sleigh, and the newlyweds it carried.

The placard says 64 people died that day, elders and children alike, as well as the couple in whose honor the parade had been held. But this tragedy and the rich, beautiful and endearing custom that had precipitated it would never have been written of, if not for a happenstance some 200 years later.

In the late 1800's a fisherman, dragging the bottom in search of a big fat catch, snagged a wire crown. As it was only a few hundred yards from the now expanded church, he quickly rowed to shore and called out for the minister in hopes of an explanation or at least, an educated guess.

Running to the church vault, the two poured through records searching for what the pastor knew he'd seen mention of while browsing church lore one boring day. And lo and behold, a drawing of this very crown sprang from the tattered and dusty tomes.

A pewter wire braid with 5 slight, pointed peaks; and dangling from each peak, a tiny pearl, drilled through and tethered by single golden strands. The wedding crown, made for the church faithful by a clan artisan, worn by every bride to take the altar in the little red wooden church surrounded by the 28 scattered Sunday homes from the time of its raising, until the day the ice would no longer hold its celebrants.

It sits in a glass case, now polished and primped and protected from the elements within the oldest portion of this centuries old building. It's well off the main road, and hardly noticeable to any who are not actively seeking history as my father and I were some 15 years ago.

Just a slightly bigger, but still little red church; a sparse but tasteful garden adorning its face and a crumbling graveyard to its rear that spreads its moss covered granite stones and rusted cast iron crosses right to the edge of Lake Vanern in central Sweden.

A pretty picture outside; A truly tragic...but somehow still incredibly sweet story inside. I could damn near see her freshly scrubbed face below the crown; the long blonde braids and twinkling blue eyes; her radiant smile and the sound of a muffled giggle as she took her place as Lara next to her Zhivago and snapped the horses to attention. Two the last.

1 comment:

  1. What a tragedy. Poor people. You build the tale beautifully.