Sunday, 27 August 2017

Votive Ship in Medevi Church


Enlarged image of the ship in the church at Medevi Brunn, from the photo in my previous post. (Also repeating, below, the original interior photo + one of the exterior, so that you won’t have to go back to compare.)

One reader asked in a comment to my post yesterday from Medevi, about the ship hanging from the ceiling in the church. Spontaneously, I was going to just answer that such model ships are rather common in churches in Scandianavia (and also some other European countries). They are called votive ships and were usually donated by sailors thankful to have been saved from a storm at sea. The name “votive” comes from the Latin term of Ex-Voto, meaning “made after a vow”. The practice goes back to the Middle Ages.

Googling Medevi church to check for details, I find something else about this particular votive ship that I did not know, though: It has a reputation of being able to predict the weather over the next 24 hours – at an accuracy of 99%. If its front points towards the altar (which in this church is to the north, rather than to the east, as is otherwise the common practice), it will be rainy, and you had better stay in. If it points towards the door (south), it will be sunny, and you will be able to spend time outdoors. If the fore of the ship points east or west, the weather will be mixed … I did not know about this when we were there; but looking at the photo now, if the altar is to the north, then the ship in my photo is pointing  west – and the weather was indeed “mixed” that day. (We had rain later in the day, having rounded the north end of the lake...) The ship’s ability to predict the weather is said to be due to the quality of the hemp rope that it’s hanging from, which is said to react to air humidity. All according to Swedish Wikipedia. The same article also says that the ship was made by someone who was a patient in the asylum at Vadstena in 1821. Intriguing; but I’m afraid I can’t find any more details about that!


The interior of the church is also unusual, not only in that the altar is on the north side of the church, but also because the pulpit is above the altar. As we just popped into the church very briefly when we were there, I didn’t really take all these details in! (So thanks to Sandra for asking, and making me look into it further!) Moreoever, I learn that the main entrance from the south was only for the nobility, who then sat down on the left side (west side), facing east. The commons and poor people came in through a door on the east side of the church, and sat facing west. With the altar and the pulpit in the middle.

Thinking about it, I don’t think I’ve seen this particular arrangement anywhere else, or at least not in any church of this (small) size. The usual standard in old churches is to have the altar to the east, and the entrance – and the tower, if there is one – to the west. And a raised pulpit usually to one side, and a little in front of the altar. (Although in big cathedrals, the layout can sometimes be a bit more confusing; and I’m really no expert!)


InSPIREd Sunday


  1. I'm glad I asked a question because I've never seen anything like that and it was the first thing I noticed and now I know why they call votive candles vote if it's probably the same reason because the candles are taking a vow I enjoyed reading about the ship thanks for doing the post

  2. Well, I NEVER! So fascinating!! So this is a replica of a ship that was donated to the church because the sailors were saved from a storm? It is a beautiful ship as well. And rope predicting the weather!! Why is this not more well known? It is weirdly wonderful. The separate entrances seem to be against what Christianity is about.

  3. What a fascinating bit of research! The model ship is interesting, and I would never have thought that it would be common to have one suspended on a rope so that it swings round.
    (and, of course, I had to scroll back to read your previous post...)

  4. A fascinating piece of history. The votive ship and it's story are quite unusual.


  5. I've seen votive ships in churches in Schleswig-Holstein and Danmark, too; can't remember ever having seen one in an English church, even though the English were a sea-faring nation for most of their existence.

    Isn't it strange how even in what is presumed to be the House of God, people had to enter and sit according to their classes? Equality before God's eyes apparently did not extent to his house, and probably really did not exist in the minds of most people (and still does not).

  6. Like Meike I can't recall seeing a votive ship before. If ever a place would have one it would be Liverpool though. I shall do some research.
    I haven't see an alter to the 'side' like that before either so far as I can recall.

    1. For me, votive ships seem to fall into that weird category of things that I've "always" knows - although of course, there must have been a a time and place when I first heard it explained! The story of this particular ship and its ability to predict the weather was new to me, though. It also made me realize that I have never paid attention to how other ships I've seen in churches were suspended or supported.

      The idea of the rope being sensitive to air humidity made me think of "joke barometers" that I've seen before, though... Just consisting of a bit of rope hanging outside, with a sign next to it saying "If the rope is dry, the weather is fine. If the rope is wet, it's raining. If the rope is moving, it's windy!" ...


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