53 Peter Christian la Cour

He was born on 26 January 1805 in Odder, and his parents were Jørgen la Cour (no. 09) and Charlotte la Cour (née Guldberg). Christian, as he was called, was only four and a half years old when his father died and consequently had very few memories of him from the time before he became ill. However, he remembered his father’s last days quite clearly: how he and his three-year-older brother Lars were once together in a small attic room talking about how it would go “if Father died”. Lars said, with childish confidence, “We can probably help Mother. I can plough, and you, Christian, can harrow.”

About Christian’s early childhood, his daughter Georgia la Cour Petersen (no. 83) wrote, “My father often expressed his
delight in having the luck to reside at home with his mother for a number of years after the death of his father. To him,
nowhere was cosier than their small home in Odder, where his mother and Aunt Worm helped each other with housework, sitting companionably together at their spinning wheels while the boys learned to be productive with their hands as well. Their mother gave them their first instruction both in normal school subjects and in knitting. When my father was ten years old, he had only the socks he himself had made. And when he later on saw people busy washing floors and doing heavy cleaning, he would often exclaim, ‘At home with my mother in Odder, the floor was only washed four or five times a year, but never has any place ever been cleaner and prettier than when we boys sat knitting with my mother and my Aunt Worm, with fresh white sand spread on the floor or swept into flame patterns, and the fire burning in the stove, while they sang or told us stories.’

“Christian had good skills and was a fast learner, so it was his desire early on to become a pastor, but that was impossible because his mother could not afford to pay for the books and schooling. Both he and Mother often told us how he reached his goal nevertheless. Jørgen la Cour had a cousin, Albert Philip Bregendahl [1771–1835], who was a pastor in Skive. When in the summer of 1815 he came to Aarhus, he met Jørgen la Cour’s widow [Lotte] while visiting shared acquaintances. He asked about her and her children with sympathy and was told that they fared rather well. ‘The three oldest boys are staying with good friends who have promised to take care of them, so it is only Christian and Carl I have at home,’ she replied, adding, ‘Christian would like to become a pastor, you know, but I can not afford to help him there, although he is quite intelligent. He is also good with his hands, and I think when he grows up I could find him an apprenticeship with a carpenter since, I hope, he also could become a skilled carpenter.’ Bregendahl replied: ‘If he really wishes to study, then you can send him up to me in Skive. I have a couple of boys he can go to school with: that way, we can probably help him graduate from upper secondary.’

“When Lotte Guldberg [Charlotte La Cour] came home and told Christian about her meeting with Bregendahl, he was very happy with the way he could have his wish to go to school fulfilled, but he probably felt it would be very hard to leave home. He was graced with the lovely scenery of Odder and all his rich childhood memories until he died, but greatest of all was the shining image of his mother. Life with her would now be disrupted and in some ways almost at an end.

“It was in the summer of 1815 when Christian arrived in Skive. Madame la Cour and her two sons, Christian and Carl, drove from Odder together with their old farmhand, Jens Rask, as coachman in their own carriage, but when they reached their destination in Skive, Bregendahl and his wife were away from home for a few days to attend a wedding in the home of some of their friends in the countryside. They had not known exactly when Madame la Cour would bring her son, but had been afraid it would happen while they were gone, so they had instructed Miss Møller, their housekeeper of many years, and the rest of the household to welcome the awaited guests as best they could. Everyone was excited about their arrival, and when one evening the girls, Marie [born in 1803] and Bine [Jacobine, born in 1809], wanted to go for a walk with Miss Møller, they would do so only on the condition that they walked in the direction from which the guests could be expected to come.

“It was a lovely summer evening, probably in late August, and they had not gone far before they saw a carriage coming towards them in which there was a not quite young but very beautiful lady sitting beside an old farmhand, with a little boy between them and a slightly larger boy on a stool at their feet. It was Lotte la Cour and her two boys, Christian and Carl, and her old servant, Jens Rask. Miss Møller realised right away that it had to be the guests they were waiting for. She and the girls hurriedly turned back and took a shortcut in order to reach the parsonage before the carriage did so they could stand in the courtyard and welcome their guests when they arrived.

“Here, my mother – because little Bine, then six years old, many years later married Christian la Cour – saw her future mother-in-law for the first and only time,” continued Christian’s daughter Georgia, “and she made the same pleasing impression on her as claimed by everyone else who had met Lotte Guldberg. But what was most impressive to little Bine that evening was Christian, ten years old, serious and somewhat timid, who she now knew would be staying there in her home. She wanted to play with him but did not really have the courage to approach him, so she stood outside the living room door and looked at him, saying, ‘Peek-a-boo, little stranger boy.’

“Later, she often had to endure her brothers’ taunts, because the very first evening she saw Christian, she proposed to him. Many years later, as young grammar school* pupil and later as a student, he dreamt that he was a pastor in Odder and walked with Bine as his wife in the grove of the parsonage under the new spring-green leaves of the beech trees. This dream was, for both him and her, a premonition that someday their dearest wish would be fulfilled: that they would live together in the place where Christian’s father once had hoped to remain, in the vocation which both father and son wanted to practise and live for. As an old married couple, they saw their dream come true with gratitude and joy, but unfortunately it was only a short time they were able to enjoy it, as Christian only had fire years as a pastor in Odder.

“For seven years, Christian and Bine made their home in the small and pleasant town of Skive, back then quite pretty with its lush fields and meadows reaching all the way down to the Limfjord shore. A spacious parsonage with half-timbered buildings and a large garden gave their children room to tumble and play. Both farming and animal husbandry were part of the parsonage property. The household was a very hospitable one that often played host to people from the town and surrounding area, as well as to local officials and manor owners. If foreign travellers passed through Skive, there was no inn in the town good enough for dignitaries; they would rather seek accommodation in private homes, and certainly not least at the parsonage, where they were always well received.”

As a child, Christian was enrolled in the municipal school, whose head teacher, R. Rasmussen – who, with his master’s degree in theology, later became pastor for Håsum and Ramsing – later prepared him for the Aarhus grammar school, in which he enrolled in 1822 and from which he graduated at the upper secondary level in 1824. That same year, Bregendahl, the county dean, was transferred from Skive to serve as parish pastor at the Frelsers Kirke church in Copenhagen, the same church at which Grundtvig*, one of Denmark’s most influential historical figures, had been curate* since 1822. While Christian studied theology, he taught his three future brothers-in-law and later (March–October 1827) also his half-brothers Frederik and Peter Barfod. He received a master’s degree in theology in 1831, repeated illness causing him to receive his degree seven years after he started at university. In 1832, Christian became a stipendiary curate* in Fakse and rented the small house that had formerly been the home of his half-brother Magnus Barfod while Magnus had been curate there.

On 30 December 1835, Christian married Bine – Caroline Jacobine (Bine) la Cour (née Bregendahl) – in Ønslev. Born in 1809, Bine, as she was called, was a daughter of Albert Philip Bregendahl, a rural dean*, and Karen Marie Mørch. In the three years prior to her marriage, she lived with her future husband’s cousin Elisabeth (Elise Thørche, wife of Jørgen Nissen of the Boderupgård farming estate on the island of Falster).

“In the little curate’s residence,” their daughter Georgia later wrote, “Father and Mother lived happily for about two years. Their income was certainly limited, but Mother often mentioned that they had never been more financially carefree than they were back then. A lovely area with the broadest views of the lush Zealand outdoors made them happy, as did being
among so many good friends in the area, where they were met with much kindness. Father was popular and gifted as a pastor, with a powerful, handsome and rich singing voice. Being a pastor’s wife when Christian was the pastor was
fulfilment enough for Mother. Perhaps he had not yet felt anything was lacking back then, but I do not think it took long before he felt called to tend to his ministry in a better and more intense way, and soon he started longing for a richerspiritual

In 1837 Christian was transferred to work as pastor for Nimtofte and Tøstrup, near where the Ryomgård train station is today. About her childhood home in Nimtofte, Christian and Bine’s oldest daughter Charlotte Lillelund (no. 78; born in 1836) wrote: “Mother loved Nimtofte: to her, it was the most wonderful place. The pleasant valley through which the brook runs between high banks covered with forest, scrub or heather is like a little oasis in the otherwise rather sparse and drab countryside. The garden went down to the brook, where a bathing hut was built – and further along a gazebo. After he had first broken up the soil, drained it and prepared it as one did back then, since most of it was meadow, its wettest areas were planted with different kinds of shrubs and trees. But most of it was used to grow horseradish, caraway and asparagus, crops that were rare at the time. A tall heather hill nearby he planted with fir trees that he had sown and encouraged to grow in the garden. And in a thicket a little farther away, he cut out trails and built a large round gazebo, which he surprised Mother with one year on her birthday, which was on 9 June.”

According to the 1840 census, Christian and Jacobine lived at the parsonage in the town of Svenstrup in Nimtofte parish with their two daughters, Christine Charlotte (no. 78) and Karen Marie (no. 79); Jacobine’s aunt Ane Dorothea Bregendahl, the widow of the previous pastor, and her servant; and eight servants.

Christian was a very talented and conscientious farmer for his time: it was even asserted in 1845 – although perhaps with some exaggeration – that his parsonage was the best- run farm in the county. There must have been some truth to it, however, because his reputation as a farmer lived long enough for his daughter, Charlotte, to hear it confirmed during a visit she made to the area 60 years later. “He was out and about,” his daughter Charlotte wrote, “among the people a great deal, was always plain and straightforward in his behaviour and sometimes grew indignant when he felt someone was being overlooked. I clearly remember once, when he was a member of parliament, he came home and told people about his experiences on the journey: back then, the trip took longer than it does today, because people travelled in mail carriages. There were four gentlemen travelling together: three members of parliament and a lively younger man who talked about his experiences in foreign lands and kept the other three quite interested and entertained until they discovered that he was a shoemaker’s apprentice and had travelled as such. Then there was silence, and neither of the other two gentlemen had any more questions for him.

“In the actual parishes where Father was a pastor, I do not think he won that much approval or found much understanding. It was mostly further away, in the Nørreherred area, that he found like-minded people. In 1842 he founded a so-called rural municipal association in Grenaa, an organisation he chaired for several years while it worked to make various community-service improvements.”

In 1848 Christian was elected to the Danish parliament, and his time in Copenhagen proved important for his development in spiritual terms. “Being together with other liberal Christians made him happy. There was so much they could share, although he later complained that there came to be too much of an emphasis on politics, and their conversations ended up mostly being about that. But he benefitted greatly from regular visits to Vartov* to hear Grundtvig* or P. Boisen speak. And the hymns sung at Copenhagen’s Vartov church back then were something completely new and different that particularly interested him. At the home of Uncle Frederik [Barfod], whom he regularly visited, these hymns were sung again, and many like-minded young people gathered around Aunt Emilie [née Birkedal], who was the heart and soul of the place. Father was happy to be there and happy to bring the new hymns home with him, and I remember him well when he sang them at home with joy and much liveliness and taught them to us children: A Child Is Born, Praise Be to Jesus Christ and the others, which had first been sung at Vartov church. Before 1848, his sermons were probably mostly aesthetic, but still serious and presumably highly influenced by Mynster*, whose picture, together with those of Professor Clausen and Thorvaldsen, hung on the wall in the living room of the house in Nimtofte. At the house in Ålsø, these pictures were moved into the garden room, and Grundtvig, Birkedal and Frederik Boisen replaced them in the living room. At the house in Odder, I do not think they were hung up on the wall at all.

“He retired from his position as a member of parliament in 1852. Part of the reason was that his health was less than good, but it was also because the working conditions at the parliament presented many disappointments to liberal men. In the autumn of 1853, he was transferred to Ålsø and Hoed. In many ways, conditions in Ålsø were different than in Nimtofte. He was better understood, and more people gathered to hear his sermons, just as there were also more people – especially on Sundays – who found their way to the parsonage, where conversations often resulted in people confirming each other in their viewpoints. And he himself found a great deal of joy and benefit in being out among other people.

“He evolved a great deal during his years in Ålsø, in his dealings with various serious Christian men, both laymen and pastors, who became his friends. He read a great deal, and he was particularly fond, I think, of what Birkedal wrote: his Synd og Nåde (‘Sin and Grace’: 1848 -49) and later Nådens Sorg og Sorgens Nåde (‘Sorrow of Grace and Grace of Sorrow’: 1855-57). Also Hofacker’s sermons, translated from the German, but especially Wexel’s sermons and other written-word sources helped him to cast light on a few things he reflected on, for example the phrase ‘descended into hell’. It became for him a constant and dear idea that he often talked about, clear proof to him of the love of God the Father: that not only the people who here on Earth saw and heard about the grace of God towards sinners became God’s dear children when they declared to belong to him in their faith; but also for those who had passed away without having heard the Word or without it having found its way into their hearts so that they could really understand it, repentance or grace was to be found in the realm of the dead, as surely as Jesus Christ had been there and spoken the words, ‘Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.’

“He worked in Alsø until 1861, when the dream of his youth came true and he received the call to become a parish pastor in Odder. It had been a rich and important time for both himself and those he lived and moved among. It was the words he said at the end of his farewell sermon which were remembered: ‘It is not bishops or pastors or erudite men who have actually helped me forward and brought Christianity to me. It was dealing with ordinary farmer folk in the countryside.’ Offence was taken at these words in several quarters, and the bishop [presumably Peter Gerhard Brammer] was outraged to hear about it. The bishop was travelling in the area at this time, but did not come to visit because we were moving.

“It was a bit hard for him to leave Ålsø, where he had spent such good years and found so much understanding. But his health had worsened, and he had difficulty doing his job there as well as he wanted to. Shortly after arriving in Odder, he became seriously ill with pneumonia, and this happened again several times that first winter, so he never really got to know the community there, which caused him great sorrow and disappointment, as he wanted so badly to practice his chosen profession and had such high hopes for doing so there. While ill, he was assisted especially by Otto Møller in Gylling, a young curate* who a few years earlier had started out at home with his own father.”

Later, in the spring of 1862, Anton Kirkeby became curate in Odder and remained there until Christian’s death on 16 March 1865. One of the speakers at Christian’s funeral was that same Otto Møller, who said, “Indeed, I will always remember him thus, even though I did not meet him until his night was drawing near and his day was waning. In the end, he dwelt in a fragile and ramshackle hut, and he often spoke so humbly about how he in his ministry answered the call of the Lord. And none of us could have wanted him to speak otherwise of himself, as humility is far and away a Christian man’s most beautiful attire. But what you all know so well and will rejoice many times in remembering, I daresay, is that his testimony was true about grace and truth, because it was filled with both grace and truth. He was so gentle in all his judgments, because he had received much mercy from God. And his testimony was true because he would only testify to what he had seen. Many a pastor lives and dies who preaches the grace and truth of Christ, but few also preach it with grace and truthfulness. Thus he went into the house of the Lord, mild in mercy and zealous for the truth; thus he always met me with a gentle and honest gaze; thus he will remain in my memory; and that is why I feel that we must all thank our Heavenly Father, because he blessed him such that we could see it with our own eyes: he looked like the only begotten, about whom it is said that he was full of grace and truth.”

His stepbrother, Frederik Barfod, said of him: “He was a true Nathanael, in whose heart there was no deceit, and to an extent that only the very few do, he continued to grow in faith and the outspokenness of faith as long as he lived.”

After her husband’s death, Bine remained in Odder. She was a devoutly pious, sensitive and loving soul in a body that had been fragile and delicate since her youth. Bine died on 19 February 1871. (Eight children: nos. 78–86.)

Poul la Cour (no. 74) published this poem published in the local newspaper on 30 March 1865:

There walked a young man under beech trees on Zealand
One summer evening, red from the sun going down.
A wood pigeon cooed, fearing no hawk;
The moon rose in the east, full and bright;

Each leaf that trembled called forth thoughts,
An army of shining childhood memories:
The green crowns and trunks standing tall,
Them he knew well from his first home.

He rested. Half awake, half aslumber
He dreamt about the village over yonder in Jutland,

Where the mill wheel turns and the brook bends
Itself between the meadow flower and the twigs of the grove,

And the visions of his dream shifted before his eyes,
While hope and memories formed a secret pact;
He saw himself bend a knee at the altar
Like a pastor of the Word dressed in church black.

And while everything lights the lamps of the night,
And higher among them is the moon,
He sees himself walk arm in arm with her,
Whom he bound himself to wed in earliest spring;

He sees them both walk in the apple garden,
Where trees stand in their May costumes, white and red
– Then a gust of wind brushes through the lap of the grove,
It quietly quivers like a voice from the grave.

And a year passed by. Like a true proclaimer of the
Word He stood far too long in his Lord’s house;
He built on rock, not on gravel,
Where the river of time hurries towards its destination

His voice was mild but his talk was solemn;
He surely understood each heart in distress;
He taught his soul, awakened from the trance of sin,
To base life’s hope on Jesus’ death.

A heart rich, a spirit favoured by God:
For right and truth it drove him forward.
He had been on the people’s council
And signed Denmark’s charter.

A foreign name. Towards the north the family was drawn,
When children of France became the slave brood of the Pope;
But it had taken all their maternal inheritance
A mind that was as Danish as fields of gold.

Long ago was his wedding celebrated,
A silver wreath lay around the bride’s brow,
And around the two had long ago sat
A pack of happy children, no longer small;

But just a short while only the cosiness of home
Found the man there where the child’s cradle stood.
Everywhere he was tired; everywhere the evening shadows descended;
Everywhere death burrowed into his innermost heart.

It is over; now he’s gone again.
Two fresh graves stand above the snow,
There rest the pastor and his youngest daughter,
To the Lord come high in the blue sky.

Peace be with your spirit! Farewell, my noble kin,
My father’s friend! – Have you found him there?
Peace be with your memory, and God’s peace with her
Who went with you with faith in Jesus Christ!

While life changes and times change,
And kin sink down into the earthen grave,
What however remains eternal, what the Lord creates,
The good shepherd, he who was gracious to you.