A Christian nation
The national anthem "Der er et yndigt land" (There is a Lovely Land) refers to Denmark as "Freya's hall". It is doubtful that all Danes are aware that Freya was a Norse goddess. The gods of the Vikings had their roots in the Iron Age, around the first century AD, and their development was influenced by many outside cultures. Precisely what ideas and rituals are tied to the names and images of these gods is difficult to say, just as it is difficult to say what the human and material sacrifices made to them hoped to achieve. Our knowledge of Viking gods Thor and Odin is due in large part to the retellings found in children's books, comics and the writings of church father Nikolai Frederik Severin Grundtvig (1783-1872), a devotee of the ancient Norse religion.
Jesus as identifying symbol
The Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs approved Forn Sidr as an official religion in 1999. Forn Sidr worships the ancient Norse gods of the Asir and the Vanir, but is a heathen group established in modern times. They aren't Vikings. They have chosen these gods from among all the other religions, and members themselves decide how they worship.
But even though Forn Sidr is one of the country's youngest religions, it is still no competition for the belief that replaced the Viking gods around the year 1000. For over a millennium Christianity has dominated in Denmark.
The picture decorating the inside cover of the Danish passport since 1997 is a picture of Christ. The picture comes from the Jelling Stone, whose runes declare that King Harald Bluetooth(?-986) Christianised the Danes. The Jelling Stone is nicknamed Denmark's birth certificate, and the picture of Christ inside the Danish passport is a sign of our identity; Denmark is a Christian nation.
Objectively speaking, that statement is correct. Even though the 1849 and the 1953 Constitutions both guarantee freedom of religion, both also declare that the "Evangelical-Lutheran church is the Church of Denmark, and is supported as such by the state".
Despite falling membership in the Church of Denmark, the vast majority of Danes – 81.1 percent – continue as tax-paying members. Over the past 40 years, the number of people subscribing to other religious beliefs has risen, but for the traveller in the Danish landscape, rural churches still serve as an attraction, and for those who live here, the calendar is filled with Christian holidays that mean time off from work.
A millennium of Jesus
The Christianisation of Denmark began well before Harald's time. A missionary named Ansgar built the country's first churches in Hedeby and Ribe in the ninth century. And by the year 1000, the people had accepted the new, dominant faith.
The Reformation brought Protestantism to Denmark in 1536. The Catholic Church was banned, and the only religion permitted was Evangelical-Lutheranism. In 1682 the Roman Catholic Church, a reformed church, and a Jewish congregation were officially recognised. Weddings performed by clerics from the faiths were considered to be legally valid. A new Marriage Act passed in 1969 gave the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs the power to allow individuals to conduct legally valid marriages. A 2007 update of the law transferred the authority to the Ministry of Justice. This type of recognition serves a symbol of status, and also carries with it some financial benefits.
After Christianity's 1,000-year monopoly on religious life, globalisation has pushed the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs into a hectic period in recent years. Immigrants and refugees have brought with them a wide range of faiths. Christian faiths, however, still dominate. They make up 71 of the officially recognised religions outside the Church of Denmark. The largest is the Roman Catholic Church, which has 37,000 members.
Still a single religion
Officially recognised non-Christian congregations include two Jewish, 22 Muslim, six Buddhist, and four Hindu. The Muslim congregations have been given the right to conduct weddings. The number of mosques (about 120) and congregations of Muslims (Sunni and Shiite) is larger, but the total number of people with Muslim roots is only about 205,000 – or 3.8 percent of the population. But studies show that only about one in four Muslims is practicing. The number of members of other non-Christian religions is even smaller. The best estimates suggest there are about 18,000 Buddhists, 13,000 Hindus, 6,000 Jews and 400 Sikhs.
The vast majority of Danes still continue to belong to the same religion.
Only one mosque
Members of non-Christian faiths make up around five percent of the population. About 3.8 percent are Muslims. Christians make up around 83 percent.
There are few temples, pagodas or mosques in Denmark. A few modest Buddhist and Hindu temples exist, and there is only one proper mosque – the Ahadiyya Mosque in suburban Copenhagen. Other Muslim houses of prayer are found in converted factories or homes.
Christian in life and death
Recognised faiths are permitted to establish their own cemeteries. The Jewish congregations, the Reformed Church of Fredericia, Jutland, the Moravian Church and a group of Muslim congregations all have their own cemeteries. Members of recognised faiths may also be buried in special sections of some Church of Denmark graveyards. Throughout Denmark, there are six Jewish sections, 14 Catholic and 15 Muslim. The Church, however, does not own a single public cemetery.
Denmark is a Christian country. Non-Christians and the non-believing take up little space in the country's history or in its soil.