On the island of Møn in southern Denmark wind turbines spin behind thatched cottages and home-grown princess-identifying peas are sold by the wayside. Out of their shells they pop, crisp and sweet. Along the path lies the white-washed Elmelunde Church which I have come to visit for its arresting 15-16th century creationist frescoes. Wander a little further and a fossil-strewn cliff presents a different view of our origins.
Inside the church the air is heavy with the smell of must, furniture polish and unchanted psalms waiting to break into sonorous echoes. But a tilt of my head towards the vaulted roof blows all that weightiness away into the lightness of wonder. The ceilings are adorned with frescoes of biblical scenes, naively drawn by an anonymous artist and with an endearing simplicity to them. The Garden of Eden is represented in earthy, mulchy tones with a sinuous woman-headed serpent slipping itself around the tree of knowledge. To one side, Adam is supine, and startled, as Eve rises fully formed out of his a rent in his torso. In common with most birth experiences, he does not appear to be enjoying himself that much.
A comical depiction of a monkey gazing into a mirror still serves as a warning against narcissism, even more poignant in today’s image-obsessed age. But it is also perhaps an unwitting representation of our scientific origins. As I turn to leave, I glance at the list of priests who have served in this church, starting with Herr Niels in 1370 and following a predictable pattern for over six centuries. In 1996, change comes in that the name etched on the board is that of a lady.
A few miles more and I have travelled back 70 million years. Juxtaposed against this Eden artwork is Møns Klint, a chalk cliff sprinkled with the fossil evidence of evolution. Its 124 metre sheer face shimmers in the sunbeams, as white as the church, but when looked at more closely, I see that it is speckled with soft brown, green and turquoise hues similar to those in the frescoes. Suddenly there is a resonance between the church and nature as if they are shouting their opposing views at each other in harmonious tones.
The cliffs are eroding, sometimes slowly, sometimes through landslides that thunder into the Baltic Sea. Bets are on as to which will survive the longest, this unstable geographical phenomenon or a carefully preserved church. The wooden steps from the (forested and orchid-spotted) cliff-top down to the beach are almost vertical and as I skip down, I meet other tourists panting their way back up.
“Christ!” blasphemes one as she rests her hands on her hips.
“For God’s sake,” swears another, mopping away the sheen on his forehead.
The shallow sea that once covered Denmark receded to reveal the cliffs, formed from the compressed skeletal remains of marine life. So I am rummaging around for finds in what is essentially a graveyard, however light and glistening. Along the thin shoreline lie fossils of dart-shaped belemnites, sea lilies, and sea urchins whose spines have moved apart from the mass of their bodies. These animals are delicately, and thought-provokingly, captured – it is difficult to explain away calcite squid remains when my hands are full of them.
Is our world a 7 day wonder or is it celebrating its 5 billionth birthday? How long is a day in Genesis? Are Adam and Eve allegorical? So this debate is enacted on Møn, a most genteel battlefield. But staring at the glory of the cliffs brings a temporary ceasefire in my mind as the result is, in all its miraculousness, just the same.
Take heart, Hard Luxe Living