Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Folklore Snippets: The Troll who built a Church

Esbern Snare, 1127 to 1204, was a daring Danish nobleman and commander who, around 1170, fortified the town of Kalundborg, Zealand, with a castle and towers, and also set about building a rather wonderful five-towered church which still exists. Here it is!

But the story goes that Esbern had supernatural help.  Here is the account, from Thomas Keightley’s Fairy Mythology:

When Esbern Snare was about building a church in Kalundborg, he saw clearly that his means were not adequate to the task.  But a Troll came to him and offered his services; and Esbern Snare made an agreement with him on these conditions, that he should be able to tell the Troll’s name when the church was finished; or in case he could not, that he should give him his heart and his eyes.

The work now went on rapidly, and the Troll set the church on stone pillars; but when all was nearly done, and there was only half a pillar wanting in the church, Esbern began to get frightened, for the name of the Troll was yet unknown to him.

One day he was going about the fields all alone, and in great anxiety on account of the perilous state he was in; when, tired and depressed, by reason of his exceeding grief and affliction, he laid him down on Ulshöi bank to rest himself a while.  While he was lying there, he heard a Troll-woman within the hill saying these words:

Tie stille, barn min!
Imorgan komme Fin,
Fa’er din,
Og gi’er dig Esbern Snares öine og hjerte at lege med.

Lie still, baby mine!
To-morrow cometh Fin,
Father thine,
And giveth thee Esbern Snare’s eyes and heart to play with.

When Esbern heard this, he recovered his spirits and went back to the church.  The Troll was just then coming with the half-pillar that was wanting for the church; but when Esbern saw him, he hailed him by his name and called him “Fin.”  The Troll was so enraged by this, that he went off with the half-pillar through the air, and this is the reason that the church has but three pillars and a half. 

(However, as Keightley adds in a footnote that ‘Mr Thiele saw four pillars in the church’ - the four granite columns supporting the central tower - and that ‘the same story is told of the cathedral of Lund in Funen’, and anyway the tale is clearly a variant of Rumplestiltskin and Tom Tit Tot – then perhaps this story isn’t true after all…)

Picture credit:  The church "Vor Frue Kirke" in the town Kalundborg. The town is located in West Zealand, Denmark.  Photo by Hubertus, Wikimedia Commons, 14 April 2010


  1. A version I didn't know! Thanks Kath.
    I was also struck by how close the Danish is to dialect English and Scots - given that the 'd' is pronouced something like 'th', the 'g' is often silent, or nearly so; and the 'j' pronounced like our 'y'.

    Tie stille, barn min!
    (Be still, bairn mine)
    Imorgan komme Fin
    (In morn comes Fin)
    Fa'er din
    (Fayther thine)
    Og gi'er dig Esbern Snare's oine of hjerte...
    (And gies thee... eyn and heart...

    And Esbern Snare! What a wonderful name!

  2. Yes it does sound like Rumpelstiltskin. :-) just another folk tale of a certain variety, then, but there are plenty of these around famous places, aren't there?

  3. You're so right, Sue P. - it's almost comprehensible without the translation.

    Sue B. - yes! But different from Rumpelstiltskin and its like in that this is a male protagonist, and an 'explanation' for a real building (which obviously struck those who saw it as so impressive, it needed further explanation than merely human builders.) Rather like the way in which some modern people like to think the Pyramids must have been built by aliens. I am convinced aliens are the modern fairies. Another blog post coming on that, some time.