Guest Post: Holy Envy

BCC is pleased to feature this guest post from Peter H. Bendtsen of Fredericia, Denmark, where he works as a Key Account Manager in the chemical business. In the Church he served as a missionary in Manchester, UK from 1993-95; since then he’s been a Bishop’s counselor, Bishop, and High Councilor. He and his wife Lisette Krogstrup Bendtsen have two children.

We like to quote Krister Stendahl, the Swedish Bishop of Stockholm, who mentioned that he has holy envy of us Mormons for our temple worship.

What then could we as Mormons have of holy envy with regard to other Christian religions?

Last summer my family and I visited Rome, Italy for our family vacation and of course we had to go and see St. Peter’s Basilica since we were there.

It is a splendid and truly magnificent church, with one papal monument after another featuring emperors and kings worthy of commemoration, which they often were at that time in history.

Coming from Denmark we were naturally interested in the one monument of them all made by a Danish artist—the only Protestant artist that ever was allowed to make decorations in this Catholic Church.

Danes say that the monument looks like Hans Christian Andersen the Danish poet, but that must be a coincidence.


Some years before this visit in Rome we as a family also went to see another beautiful and grand church. This time it was in England and while there we had the chance to see the Church of England’s most renowned Cathedral in Canterbury.This church has a magnificent stained glass decoration. Both churches are unique in their own special ways and have their individual room for their special differences. One thing in common in both is their individual beauty and the unique sound and acoustics produced by their stone walls and special construction.


Sometimes when I’m out driving in Denmark and find a special looking church I will then go and have a look at the church. If I find myself alone in the church, which you most likely will be if you are not there on a Sunday morning, I will take one of their hymnbooks and sing one of their hymns. I do this not so much to enjoy my singing, but more the ring and special sound there is to it in those beautiful churches. (It is way better than singing in the shower). If you are really lucky you also might find the organist practicing playing on the organ. (A real organ with real pipes and not just an electronically modified keyboard.) Then I have Holy Envy.

Another thing for Denmark is the special Danish hymns that we do not have the chance to sing in our church. Each country is only allowed a very few hymns that are unique to their languages in the church. The English LDS Hymnbook has 341 hymns and songs whereas the Danish LDS hymnbook only has 207 hymns and most of them are taken from the English hymnbook.

There can also be holy envy within our church regarding the Latter-day Saints whose native language is English, compared to those of us whose native tongue is Danish. Beside the hymnbook there are words that we do not have proper and useful translations for in Danish, like the words for Invocation and Benediction. You can translate them into Danish, but they do not make for useful meanings to use in connection with the opening and closing prayers in meetings. Generally church language in the scriptures in Denmark has been newly translated into a more up to date Danish language, and that may also be the reason that when praying in Denmark the wording is almost normal spoken language as it is spoken today, rather than more formal usage. The old, formal Thee and Thou is not in use any more in Denmark.

Having mentioned all those fine churches I must of course not forget to mention the Danish sculptor that was allowed to decorate the St. Peter’s Church in Rome. His name is Bertel Thorvaldsen for those that have not already guessed it.

Vor Frue Kirke, Copenhagen

His masterpiece is, in my opinion, not the grave monument for Pope Pius VII in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, but rather the marble Christ figure in Copenhagen together with the figures of the Twelve Apostles. The church where they stand is called the “Church of our Lady.” Compared to the two other churches mentioned above this is the smallest of them all.Bertel Thorvaldsen - ThomasBertel Thorvaldsen, "Peter" Here less is more, and the only decoration that is shown in this church with its light brown and white walls and white ceiling with its gold square decoration is the famous Christ figure in the center behind the altar of the church. On each side of the church are the Twelve Apostles shown with their individual characters. For example Peter is standing with the keys of the kingdom in his hands looking towards Jesus, while Thomas has a mason’s square draped over his shoulder. Here you will find peace and tranquility and closeness to Christ and our Heavenly Father regardless of what denomination you belong to. You will also find a natural reverence for those people that walked and talked with Christ. It is almost like their stories are coming out of the marble spoken directly to you.

Unfortunately I have not had the chance to sing by myself in this church for the time being, but when I go there once again I will find Holy Envy.


  1. Jason K. says:

    So glad to have these pictures of my favorite Danish church on BCC! (Although Marmorkirken is also fantastic…) And as you well know, holy envy is a topic dear to many of our hearts here.

    Velkommen til!

  2. Nine years ago in Chicago, we had our Stake Conference in Rockefeller Chapel, a large cathedral-like Church on the University of Chicago camps. I joked we should have sung a Latin translation of “If you could hie to Kolob.” (Pictures don’t work anymore.)

    I certainly have holy envy both for architectural and musical traditions elsewhere. When we lived in London last year, I went to Evensong at Westminster Abbey nearly every week, and then sometimes I’d go take in a second one at St. Martin in the Fields or St. Paul’s. Perhaps familiarity breeds contempt, but LDS architecture and music just feels so… new. Religious music/architecture should evoke feelings of antiquity, awe, and mystery, not a hotel lobby and its elevator. But again, we’re new on the scene, and it would be weird to build a pseudo-ancient building, or have MoTab do Allegri.

    Holy envy also for the intellectual tradition elsewhere. I grant that Judaism and Catholicism have both had a much longer period to develop this tradition, but still. I attended the weekly Torah study at a synagogue for nearly 18 months, during which time we covered maybe 20 chapters of Deuteronomy. We rarely get that kind of depth.

    There can also be holy envy within our church regarding the Latter-day Saints whose native language is English, compared to those of us whose native tongue is Danish.

    This can go the other way. You realize that most English-speaking Mormons are condemned to eternal confusion by reading the KJV, which was already archaic when published in 1611, but most non-English speakers get much more recent Bible translations? Alas for us English speakers!

  3. My holy envy is for
    1. updated translation of the Bible in English.
    2.The energy in black churches. Can I get an amen?!, can we be anymore boring? Spiritual doesn’t have to be a funeral dirge
    4. songs in other languages translated into English. I’d like to learn more than what we have in our English version
    5. Shorter Sunday schedule
    6. Can we use the name Holy Spirit instead of Holy Ghost?
    7. Visiting time after Sacrament meeting with hot chocolate of course.

  4. Mormons should know more about Bertel Thorvaldsen and the Church of Our Lady, seeing that we’ve adopted and copied his Christ sculpture many times, and placed it in many visitor centers.

  5. I served my mission in Denmark (but never served in Fredericia or Vejle). Even as a presumpuious and somewhat smug missionary, I felt a reverent, holy envy in Vor Frue’s Kirke. I might have missed it if not for the examples of my leaders, though. Holy envy is a form of humility, I think.

  6. I love this and the principle of holy envy. Thanks for this guest post. We have a lot to learn as a people from Bishop Stendahl. His efforts on behalf of the Church in building the Stockholm temple are where this concept of holy envy arose.

  7. I love the photo of the church in Denmark, with the apostles flanking the central Christus. Such a lovely image. I hope you get the chance to sing there some quiet afternoon.

  8. Peter Bendtsen says:

    Yes the Marmorkirken is also a nice round church.
    I vote for hot chokolate after church.

  9. Jack Hughes says:

    I miss the sound of a pipe organ in Sunday meetings. The ward in which I grew up met in a legacy building, and thus had a grand instrument that was as beautiful to look at as it was to listen to, and I took it for granted. My current ward meetinghouse has a decent electronic organ, but it just isn’t the same, even at the hands of a capable organist. As I understand, the church doesn’t install pipe organs in the newer buildings now. It’s a shame that a new generation of members will grow up without it. I envy churches that still keep this tradition alive.

  10. Amen, Jack Hughes

  11. Our current ward has both a real pipe organ and an exceptionally talented organist. Not that I’m trying to make anyone envious or anything…

  12. I’ve been to the Stockholm temple! It’s beautiful, it lets in so much light to the waiting area, and though there are buildings nearby, it feels secluded and surrounded by nature.

    I’m so grateful for the Mormon Lectionary Project here on BCC, I have some serious Holy Envy – like Ben S, mostly for music and architecture as well as intellectual traditions. And I’ve been in London for almost a year, and I haven’t visited Westminster Abbey once. (St Martins and St Paul’s, though, I loved). Perhaps, during Lent, I’ll give up my shameful ways.

  13. missolea: Thanks for your kind words about the Lectionary Project. And you *must* go to Westminster. There are often free concerts on Sunday afternoons, after which you can stick around for Evensong. Positively sublime.

  14. Balwearie's Duke says:

    I had the wonderful experience of sharing a Christmas Eve service with all Danish Lutherans who chose to attend in the Church of our Lady in Kobenhavn. I was fortunate to have been seated in the pews on the dais where the marble angel holds the baptismal basin. Sadly, even on Christmas Eve the beautiful church was no where close to being filled. But the organ was magnificent and the music moving. The grand barrel vault of the sanctuary (chapel) seemed to enhance the voices of those singing the Christmas hymns in Danish. I was with a Danish friend, who unfortunately is a lapsed Latter-day Saint, and was happy to share the experience with him.
    He, however, was a bit embarrassed that Danmark’s capital could summon so few believers for a
    Christmas Eve service. Whenever I am in Kobenhavn I visit the Church of our Lady. But then I do love all of dear old Danmark, birthplace of my great-grandfather!

  15. Jeg elsker Danmark også.

  16. great post, thank you. my thoughts mostly echo dc’s

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