Some 125 years ago this weekend, a special event took place here in Copenhagen. The little church with the big spire next to the Gefion Fountain was opened. Taxi drivers call it ‘the English Church’, but its real name is St Alban’s Anglican Church. Named after the first English Christian martyr, it is now a popular visiting place for tourists, pilgrims and worshippers. On just one day last month, we had over 1,000 visitors. At Christmas there are so many people, we have two services of nine readings with carols. This little church in the corner of the city has a special and unique history. In many ways, St Alban’s is a symbol of the heart of the warm Danish/British relationship.
The realisation of the vision for the building was down to one person. Princess Alexandra, the Danish princess, married Edward VII and became Queen Alexandra of Great Britain in 1901. She laid the foundation stone on 19 September 1885, and less than two years later, the church was consecrated and opened. With no power tools or modern equipment, the building went up with a speed, fired by three decades of planning by a committee of dedicated volunteers. The architect was Sir Arthur Blomfield, who had built The Strand and several other key London locations. The ceremony on 17 September 1887 was attended by Edward and Alexandra, along with the king and queen of Denmark, the emperor and empress of Russia, the king and queen of Greece, as well as the Danish crown prince and Princess Marie of Denmark. Four hundred people packed into the church, and there followed a luncheon on the royal yacht Osborne. An historic account reads: “The bright sunshine, the gay dresses of the ladies and the varied uniforms of the many officials made the scene at once splendid and striking; while the surroundings of the site, the trees, moat, citadel, and harbour, added to the
Earlier this year, Prince Charles visited us and planted a tree to commemorate both his mother’s Diamond Jubilee and our 125th anniversary. As he handed me the spade, he said: “I plant many trees around the world and I want them to grow, so please water this regularly Jonathan.” With that royal command, you will now see me running out between weddings or funerals with a watering can. I don’t fancy a sojourn in the Tower of London, so this dutiful citizen is obeying the heir to the British throne.
But the most important thing about St Alban’s is its people. For the last 125 years, committed and dedicated volunteers of all nationalities and backgrounds have come together to form a living Christian community, caring for a heritage building without receiving any ‘church tax’ or help from the national church.
That is something worth celebrating.