The votive ship “Susan” from 1725

Many Norwegian churches have votive ship models suspended from the ceiling, the majority of them made in the 1800s. The votive ship “Susan” from 1725 is one of the objects which will be displayed in the forthcoming exhibition “Timescape 1600-1914”.

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    Stian Nybru/Norsk Folkemuseum

When the boatmaster Halvor Aasuldsen died in 1725, his wife, Susanna Ellingsdatter Eidbo, had this votive ship model built in his memory. This is unusual, and we do not know why. Maybe her husband died at sea and was never buried. The ship was suspended in Flosta church in the county of Aust-Agder, a church built with charitable funds donated by sailors and their families. The stern has a painting of a woman waving goodbye with a scarf. Could it be Susanna saying farewell? 

The votive ship resembles a large warship of around 40 metres from the end of the 1700s with room for a crew of 400 men. The men, women and children of the congregation that would have seen the ship model during the years after 1725 would have been familiar with seafaring. The Great Northern War (1700-1721) had ended four years previously, leaving a deep impact. Most of them had seen many warships. With its 40 cannons the votive ship model resembled ships from the recently ended war.

The Danish-Norwegian fleet played a considerable military and political role in Northern Europe; however the conscription of able seamen was a great burden for the sailors themselves and their households. The votive ship “Susan” reflects the ever-increasing importance of shipping for the prosperity of Norway, but also the tragedies that followed in its wake.