Churching, the Sacristy in Tanum Church

Harriet Backer
Harriet Backer, "Churching, the Sacristy in Tanum Church", 1892


Before the 20th century, the ritual of churching was customary in some areas of Norway. After giving birth, a woman could not enter the church without first being blessed and cleansed by the priest. Five or six weeks after becoming a mother, she would wait outside for the priest to meet her, and either before the service or the sermon, the blessing would take place. This was a kind of re-introduction to the church. 

The custom died out early in the 20th century, but here, in Churching, Harriet Backer captures this very moment where two women are about to receive their blessing. 

The work is a sketch from Tanum church and gives us a good insight into Backer's working method.  

Here, we can partially see the perspective drawing shining through the thinly applied colours, almost watercolor-like. Working from the central perspective was a process she always undertook.  

The broad and fast strokes give the painting a more immediate impression than what we see in her finished painting. 

Although the artwork was abandoned at the sketch stage, in 1914, she herself could recognize the unfinished painting as ready for the big anniversary exhibition at Frogner. But she still ensured herself, by signing it: 

Actor portraying Harriet Backer:
Churching. The sacristy in Tanum church. Unfinished.