Hans Egede

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Hans Egede
Born(1686-01-31)January 31, 1686
DiedNovember 5, 1758(1758-11-05) (aged 72)
SpouseGertrud Egede nee Rasch
ChurchChurch of Norway (evangelical Lutheran)
WritingsPublished the journal of his journey to Greenland
Offices held
  • Ordained pastor
  • Missionary to Greenland
  • Bishop of Greenland
  • Principal of missionary seminary
TitleNational Saint of Greenland
Statue of Hans Egede by August Saabye, outside Frederik's Church (Marmorkirken) in Copenhagen

Hans Poulsen Egede (31 January 1686 – 5 November 1758) was a Dano-Norwegian Lutheran missionary who launched mission efforts to Greenland, which led him to be styled the Apostle of Greenland.[1][2] He established a successful mission among the Inuit and is credited with revitalizing Dano-Norwegian interest in the island after contact had been broken for about 300 years. He founded Greenland's capital Godthåb, now known as Nuuk.


Hans Egede was born into the home of a Danish-born civil servant, the priest son Povel Hansen Egede, and the Norwegian-born Kirsten Jensdatter Hind, daughter of a local merchant, in Harstad, Norway, nearly 150 miles (240 km) north of the Arctic Circle. His paternal grandfather had been a vicar in Vester Egede on southern Zealand, Denmark. Hans was schooled by an uncle, a clergyman in a local Lutheran Church. In 1704 he travelled to Copenhagen to enter the University of Copenhagen, where he earned a Bachelor's degree in Theology. He returned to Hinnøya Island after graduation, and on 15 April 1707 he was ordained and assigned to a parish on the equally remote archipelago of Lofoten. Also in 1707 he married Gertrud Rasch (or Rask), who was 13 years his senior. Four children were born to the marriage – two boys and two girls.[3]


At Lofoten, Egede heard stories about the old Norse settlements on Greenland, with which contact had been lost centuries before. Beginning in 1711,[4] he sought permission from Frederick IV of Denmark-Norway to search for the colony and establish a mission there, presuming that it had either remained Catholic after the Danish–Norwegian Reformation or been lost to the Christian faith altogether. Frederick gave consent at least partially to re-establish a colonial claim to the island.[3]

Egede established the Bergen Greenland Company[5] (Det Bergen Grønlandske Compagnie) with $9,000 in capital from Bergen merchants, $200 from Frederick IV of Denmark and Norway, and a $300 annual grant from the Royal Mission College.[6] The company was granted broad powers to govern the peninsula (as it was then considered to be), to raise its own army and navy, to collect taxes and to administer justice; the king and his council, however, refused to grant it monopoly rights to whaling and trade in Greenland out of a fear of antagonizing the Dutch.[7]

Haabet ("The Hope") and two smaller ships[5] departed Bergen on 2 May 1721 bearing Egede, his wife and four children, and forty other colonists.[8] On 3 July[5] they reached Nuup Kangerlua and established Hope Colony (Haabets Colonie) with the erection of a portable house on Kangeq Island, which Egede christened the Island of Hope (Haabets Ø). Searching for months for descendants of the old Norse colonists, he found only the local Kalaallit people and began studying their language.

A common myth states that, as the Inuit had no bread nor any idea of it, Egede adapted the Lord's Prayer as "Give us this day our daily seal". Egede at first tried the word "mamaq" but it does not mean "food", as Hans Egede thought, but "how delicious!" This first attempt stems from 1724, when he had only been in the country for three years and he has probably often heard someone say "mamaq!" It was not long before he came up with the word "neqissat", "food". When Egede's son Poul published the four Gospels in print in 1744, he used the word "timiusaq". This word was already written down by Hans in 1725 and is used by Greenlanders as an explanation of how bread looks. The old dictionaries suggest that at that time one could use the word “timia” in the sense of “bone marrow” or, as Samuel Kleinschmidt wrote in his dictionary in 1871, “the inner, porous part of the leg or Horn". “Timiusaq” therefore originally means “it which resembles bone marrow ”. Today, this word is used in it ecclesiastical languages in the sense of "wafer" and in North Greenland in the sense of "ship's custom".[9]

By the end of the first winter, many of the colonists had been stricken with scurvy and most returned home as soon as they could. Egede and his family remained with a few others and in 1722 welcomed two supply ships the king had funded with the imposition of a new tax. His (now ship-borne) explorations found no Norse survivors along the western shore and future work was misled by the two mistaken beliefs – both prevalent at the time – that the Eastern Settlement would be located on Greenland's east coast (it was later established it had been among the fjords of the island's extreme southwest) and that a strait existed nearby communicating with the western half of the island. In fact, his 1723 expedition found the churches and ruins of the Eastern Settlement, but he considered them to be those of the Western.[8] At the end of the year, he turned north and helped establish a whaling station on Nipisat Island. In 1724 he baptized his first child converts, two of whom would travel to Denmark and there inspire Count Zinzendorf to begin the Moravian missions.

In 1728, a royal expedition under Major Claus Paarss arrived with four supply ships and moved the Kangeq colony to the mainland opposite, establishing a fort named Godt-Haab ("Good Hope"), the future Godthåb. The extra supplies also allowed Egede to build a proper chapel within the main house.[4] More scurvy led to forty deaths and abandonment of the site not only by the Danes but by the Inuit as well.[8] Egede's book The Old Greenland's New Perlustration (Norwegian: Det gamle Grønlands nye Perlustration) appeared in 1729 and was translated into several languages,[3] but King Frederick[7] had lost patience and recalled Paarss's military garrison from Greenland the next year. Egede, encouraged by his wife Gertrud, remained with his family and ten sailors.

A supply ship in 1733 brought three missionaries and news that the king had granted 2,000 rixdollars a year to establish a new company for the colony under Jacob Severin.[10] The Moravians (their leader was Christian David) were allowed to establish a station at Neu-Herrnhut (which became the nucleus of modern Nuuk, Greenland's capital) and in time a string of missions along the island's west coast.[11] The ship also returned one of Egede's convert children with a case of smallpox.[8] By the next year, the epidemic was raging among the Inuit and in 1735 it claimed Gertrud Egede. Hans carried her body back to Denmark for burial the next year, leaving his son Poul to carry on his work. In Copenhagen, he was named Superintendent of the Greenland Mission Seminary (Seminarium Groenlandicum) and in 1741 the Lutheran Bishop of Greenland. A catechism for use in Greenland was completed by 1747. He died on 5 November 1758 at the age of 72 in Stubbekøbing at Falster, Denmark.[12]


Egede became something of a national "saint" of Greenland. The town of Egedesminde (lit. "Memory of Egede") commemorates him. It was established by Hans's second son, Niels, in 1759 on the Eqalussuit peninsula. It was moved to the island of Aasiaat in 1763, which had been the site of a pre-Viking Inuit settlement. His grandson and namesake Hans Egede Saabye also became a missionary to Greenland and published a celebrated diary of his time there.

The Royal Danish Geographical Society established the Egede Medal in his honour in 1916. The medal is in silver and awarded 'preferably for geographical studies and researches in the Arctic countries'.

A crater on the Moon is named after him: the Egede crater on the south edge of the Mare Frigoris (the Sea of Cold). The historical fiction novel "The Prophets of Eternal Fjord" narrates a tale of a missionary priest under Egede's instruction embarking upon Greenland to convert its indigenous peoples to Christianity.

Statues of Hans Egede stand watch over Greenland's capital in Nuuk, outside of Vågan Church (Lofotkatedralen) in Kabelvåg and outside of Frederik's Church (Marmorkirken) in Copenhagen.[2] Egede's statue at Frederick's Church in Copenhagen was vandalized with the word "decolonize" spray-painted on its base on June 20, 2020, during worldwide protests against memorials of colonial figures. Another Egede statue in Nuuk, Greenland was likewise vandalized ten days later. [13] In a subsequent vote, 921 voted to keep the statue while 600 wanted it removed.[14]

Hans Egede gave one of the oldest descriptions of a sea serpent, now believed to have been a giant squid. On 6 July 1734 he wrote that his ship was off the Greenland coast when those on board "saw a most terrible creature, resembling nothing they saw before. The monster lifted its head so high that it seemed to be higher than the crow's nest on the mainmast. The head was small and the body short and wrinkled. The unknown creature was using giant fins which propelled it through the water. Later the sailors saw its tail as well. The monster was longer than our whole ship".[15]



  1. ^ Hans Egede (Dansk biografisk Lexikon,) https://runeberg.org/dbl/4/0425.html
  2. ^ a b Sara Shannon. "Hans Egede, The Apostle of Greenland". James Ford Bell Library at University of Minnesota. Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 19 June 2013.
  3. ^ a b c Hans Egede. Explorer, Colonizer (Missionary Gospel Fellowship Association Missions. Greenville, SC) "Egede, Hans (1686-1758) - Gospel Fellowship Association". Archived from the original on 20 August 2008. Retrieved 31 May 2009.
  4. ^ a b Del, Anden. "Grønland som del af den bibelske fortælling – en 1700-tals studie Archived 2012-07-15 at the Wayback Machine" ["Greenland as Part of the Biblical Narrative – a Study of the 18th Century"]. (in Danish)
  5. ^ a b c Oswalt, Wendell H. Eskimos and Explorers. Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1999.
  6. ^ Doody, Richard. The World at War: "Greenland 1721–1953".
  7. ^ a b Marquardt, Ole. "Change and Continuity in Denmark's Greenland Policy" in The Oldenburg Monarchy: An Underestimated Empire?. Verlag Ludwig (Kiel), 2006.
  8. ^ a b c d Mirsky, Jeannette. To the Arctic!: The Story of Northern Exploration from Earliest Times. Univ. of Chicago Press, 1998.
  9. ^ Nielsen, Flemming A. J. (2019). "Giv os i dag vor daglige sæl – om den grønlandske version af Fader Vor" (PDF). ILISIMATUSARFIK. p. 12. Retrieved 15 January 2021.
  10. ^ Grove, G.L. "Sewerin Sewerin, Jacob, 1691–1753, Handelsmand". (in Danish)
  11. ^ Štěříková, Edita (2009). Jak potůček v jezeře : Moravané v obnovené Jednotě bratrské v 18. století. Praha: Kalich. ISBN 978-80-7017-112-7. OCLC 528755280.
  12. ^ "Hans Poulsen Egede Archived 2011-07-20 at the Wayback Machine". The Mineralogical Record.
  13. ^ BBC (16 July 2020). "Hans Egede: Greenland votes on colonial Danish statue". BBC.
  14. ^ "The Copenhagen Post". 22 July 2020.
  15. ^ J. Mareš, Svět tajemných zvířat, Prague, 1997


  • Bobé, Louis Hans Egede: Colonizer and Missionary of Greenland (Copenhagen: Rosenkilde and Bagger, 1952)
  • Ingstad, Helge. Land under the pole star: a voyage to the Norse settlements of Greenland and the saga of the people that vanished (translated by Naomi Walford, Jonathan Cape, London: 1982)
  • Garnett, Eve To Greenland's icy mountains; the story of Hans Egede, explorer, coloniser missionary (London: Heinemann. 1968)
  • Barüske, Heinz Hans Egede und die Kolonisation Grönlands (Zeitschrift für Kulturaustausch, vol. 22 (1972) Nr.1)
  • Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Egede, Hans" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 9 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.

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