Sunday 16 June 2019

Greenland 1971 - 250th Anniversary of the Arrival of Hans Egede

"Give us this day our daily bread and--"
     "But Minister" - one of the parishioners in the back of the room suddenly stood - "what is this bread you speak of?"
     The minister looked around at the baffled looks of his new flock. His brow creased in thought for a moment. Then his eyes widened as a thought occurred to him. He cleared his throat, silencing the agitated audience. "Give us this day our daily...seal."
     The room erupted in murmurs of sudden understanding.


Hans Egede, born 31 January 1686 in Norway, was groomed from a young age into the life of a missionary. When he was still a kid, Hans was schooled by an uncle, who was a clergyman in the Lutheran church. It wouldn't be much of a leap to assume these teachings were heavily steeped in theology. In 1704, at the age of 18, Egede travelled to Copenhagen to attend the University of Copenhagen, where he earned a Bachelor's degree in Theology. At the completion of his training in 1707, he returned home, where he was promptly assigned a parish of his own on the remote archipelago of Lofoten. It was here that he met and married Gertrud Rasch (or Rask), a woman 13 years his senior. Together they had four children, two boys and two girls.

While living at Lofoten, Egede became enamored by the many stories he heard about the old Norse settlements on Greenland, with which contact had been lost centuries before. Did this colony still exist? Perhaps there was the potential for missionary work in the colony? In 1711 he petitioned Frederick IV of Denmark to search for the colony and establish a mission there.

Fredrick IV consented, so 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. Then on 2 May 1721, ten years after first approaching the king, Egede, his wife, their four children, and forty other colonists set sail for Greenland on the ship, Haabet ("The Hope") and two smaller ships.

After two months at sea the small fleet reached Nuup Kangerlua on 3 July. Wasting no time, they established Hope Colony (Haabets Colonie), symbolised by the erection of a portable house on Kangeq Island, which Egede christened the Island of Hope (Haabet Oe). Now that home base was set up, Egede set about searching for descendants of the old Norse colonists. But after searching for months, he found only the local Inuit people. He began studying their language in order to preach the word of God to them. This brings us to my blog introduction. While primarily fiction, my story is rooted in fact. The Inuit had no bread nor any idea of it, requiring the Lord's Prayer to be translated as "Give us this day our daily seal".

Hans Egede continued to live and preach in Greenland until 1735 when his wife, Gertrud died during a smallpox epidemic. He took his wife's body back to Denmark, leaving his son, Paul, to carry on his work. Eegde died in Denmark on 5 November 1758 at the age of 72.


On 6 May 1971, Greenland issued a lovely stamp commemorating the 250th Anniversary of the arrival of Hans Egede in Greenland. This stamp was designed by J. Rosing and engraved by the master, Czeslaw Slania. It depicts Hans and his wife Gertrud on the deck of Haabet, full of hopes and dreams of their upcoming life adventure.


Then on 3 July 1971, Greenland issued a semi-postal stamp, again featuring Hans Egede and his loyal wife, Gertrud, instructing the Inuit on the ways of the bible. This stamp was again the product of a collaboration between designer J. Rosing and engraver Czeslaw Slania.

Until next time...

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