A taste of medieval life
TEXT: LOUISE OLDER STEFFENSEN | PHOTOS: ESRUM KLOSTER
An hour’s drive north from Copenhagen, you will find Esrum Abbey, one of the oldest monasteries in Denmark. Completed in 1151 by the Cistercian order, it became a powerful northern centre for the spread and reinforcement of Catholicism. Though its religious inhabitants are now long gone, the abbey continues their legacy today, giving modern visitors of all ages a chance to get a taste of their medieval lives – sometimes quite literally.
At the height of its power, Esrum Abbey owned two-thirds of Northern Zealand, overseeing monasteries as far away as Poland and Germany. Though the religious complex was turned over to the king at Denmark’s turn to Lutheranism, the impressive abbey still to this day holds its own at the shore of Denmark’s second-largest lake, surrounded by the endless, blossoming nature that now makes up the Royal Retreat national park.
“Esrum’s monks had a very close relationship to their natural surroundings,” says head of communications, Kristina Bille Nielsen. “They had to be self-sufficient and made farming into an art form, from propagating fruit trees to making cheese – Esrom cheese is still around today. It’s become a huge part of our story here – experiencing the Middle Ages hands-on through food, activities and storytelling really brings these people’s history to life. We provide those experiences for everyone, from fairly grown-up adults learning far too much about the monks’ beer brewing at company outings to school children experiencing the lives of medieval children.”
On 15 and 16 June, Esrum Abbey hosts its annual medieval festival, when medieval merchants, tradesmen, knights and fools turn up to make the Middle Ages interactive for families as well as experienced history nerds – a trend continued throughout the summer holidays, which will culminate in August’s harvest festival. The large playground and guided tours are available throughout the year, while October sees the reopening of the abbey’s interactive interior exhibitions. Themed medieval feasts take place throughout the rest of the year, and you would be an honoured guest.