In praise of the pipe organs of Greenland

I don’t travel as much as I like, or I think I’d like, so I let my mind wander instead. As a child, I occupied myself with atlases and encyclopedia. In college, I heard the Iron Curtain fall by shortwave and met strangers by Usenet. Since the early 1990s, I’ve trekked down the back alleys of the internet. Today, I remembered a site I once enjoyed about the pipe organs of Greenland. I could have picked something else as a window into Greenland; indeed, I also look at sales flyers. (Frozen pizza, anyone?) But with pipe organs, I not only get something of obvious ecclesiastic interest — I know nothing of organs but I do like to snoop around a church — but also a slice of what Greenlanders value in music, architecture and religion.

Pipe Organs of Greenland (

I’ve written about churches in Greenland before, but not for ten years or so.

The site has been nicely updated since I last looked it up. Be sure to click on the photos, which cycle you through the images for the town or village. The dramatic landscapes! Both the spare Nordic modernism of the larger towns, and the colorful historic churches. The lighting fixtures!

I think I prefer the more homespun choices. For example, I rather like what appear to be metal house numbers used in lieu of cards on hymnboards. (I’ve seen something like this before, at the now-demolished Third Church of Christ, Scientist, here in D.C.)

That little church in Nutaarmiut (2010 population, 36) is simple but endearing, and I might harbor wistful, romantic notions of the hamlet if it hadn’t been the scene of a triple murder in 2012. (I think that was about the time I stopped looking at Greenlandic churches.) Which, I suppose, is the value of travel — in fact, or by armchair — namely, the appreciation of what is, and not you would imagine to be.

More churches in Greenland

I love churches in liminal places, so when I was fixing corrupted links in past blog posts, I found that the Greenland diocese of the (Lutheran) Church of Denmark has its own site:

There are few (in theory) resources in English, but the site reads in Greenlandic (Kalaallisut) or Danish. I thought “who do I know that knows Danish?” — I know nobody who reads Greenlandic — and realized the only one I know is (or was) Tim Jensen. This made me sad. So I muddled through using Germanic cognates.

The pictures of the Greenlandic kirker help. Exterior elevations and interior shots of little churches — some traditional and no bigger than sheds, but others 60s-modern and large — suggesting a familiar part of a public life otherwise wholly unknown to me.

I love that most have baptismal fonts front and center, topped not with a lid but a ewer. I love that many have seven-branched candelabra on their altars. I love how there could be a Celtic cross, Latin cross, Latin crucifix or even a picture of Christ behind the altar, suggesting different kinds of churchmanship.

Oh, and that would make Juaanna Platou the most northerly parish pastor in the world.