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The churches in Vejle

The name ‘Vejle’ comes from an Old Danish word for a ford (wæthæl) and tells us that the town grew up where traffic crossed the river Vejle Å immediately before it flows into Vejle Fjord. This was where the eastern Jutland traffic artery crossed the wide river valley, and from here there was access to a sea route to the rest of the country and to the Baltic.

The town arose on a small islet, today the town centre; in the course of the 12th-13th century a small trading place there developed into a larger settlement. The first houses must mainly have been built on the north side of the old ford, in a development similar to that of the other Jutland fjord towns. Until 1530, what is probably the oldest market square in the town lay c. 150 m to the east of the present town hall square – on the square in front of the St. Nicolai Church. There can be little doubt that this church was the first in the town and that its placing was closely related to the formation of the market place. In essence the church is a Late Romanesque/Early Gothic brick building, which must have been begun shortly before 1250.

The oldest known municipal charter for the town is from 1327, when the King affirmed the town’s special privileges. In view of our relatively meagre knowledge of the early history of the town, it is interesting that in 1256 Vejle was selected as the meeting place for the entire higher clergy of Denmark. This synod probably meant that the town had developed so far that it could provide suitable facilities – including a presentable church for the joint services. How far the construction of the St. Nicolai Church had come by 1256 cannot be determined.

A now no longer extant Dominican monastery was founded relatively late, c. 1330-40. A hospital established after the Reformation included a chapel that was housed in several buildings in succession from the 1530s on.

The forms of the more recent churches of the town give us an interesting picture of the development of church architecture throughout the twentieth century. The St. Nicolai Church remained the only parish church in the town until 1907, when Vor Frelsers Kirke (the Church of Our Saviour) was consecrated, representing the Art Nouveau movement. Skt. Johannes Kirke, built in 1939-41, takes the form of an enlarged Danish village church in a successful mixture of medieval stylistic features. Søndermarkskirken, consecrated 1945, was original build as a chapel in 1943. With Nørremarkskirken, consecrated in 1976, Vejle also acquired a ‘church centre’ with highly experimental architecture. By comparison Løget Kirke, consecrated in 2004, marks a return to the axis-based church with a basilical form. – The Methodists built a church, Skt. Pouls Kirke, in 1876, and the Catholics, who had come to the town in 1904, acquired their present church in 1924, consecrated to St. Norbert.

The town has four cemeteries, the oldest of which, Gamle Kirkegård, was established in 1826, after the churchyard around the St. Nicolai Church was discontinued.