Gabriel Nivera

Pictures & Conversations

A collection of images and the stories behind their creation.

Theodor Eli Dam Olsen

Kaldbak, Stremoy - Faroe Islands


Driving around the Faroe Islands I could not help but notice the abundance of churches.   It seemed every little town had one.  Some were large and modern like the one in Toftir while others are small and quite old like the in Hlavik with its black wood siding and green turf roof.  Most of these churches, especially the older ones are open to the public and their hours are posted outside or available from the local tourist board.  In my many travels I have been to many religious sites,  Notre Dame, Westminster Abbey, Sagrada Familia, Angkor Watt, Wat Phra Kaew, Borobudur, Mont-St-Michel.  I have to thank my parents for this - as they always thought a trip was not complete without a visit to one of these places.

The churches of the Faroe Islands are nothing like these other sites.  They are quite small in comparison the design and decorations are simple.  But they are beautiful in their simplicity.  With the help of our local fixer I was able to get access to one of these churches, specifically in Kaldbak which was founded in 1835.  The caretaker of the church met us and opened it up for us as we were outside opening hours.   It boasts a wonderful location right next to the sea, unfortunately for me it was storming outside and exteriors were not possible.  But I was determined to make the best of the access granted.  With no electricity in this church, I decided to light all the candles inside.  This gave the church a warm glow, perfect in which to do a portrait of Thedor Eli Dam Olsen, the Priest in charge of this parish.

Theodor has been a member of the clergy for about 8 years and at Kaldbak since 2014.  Although he studied theology at the University of Copenhagen he did not join the church right away.  He worked as a freelance journalist - in print, radio, and television.   This background in journalism still serves him well today in his role as the editor of the newsletter of the Church.  Despite finding professional success in his chosen field, Theodor found himself drawn to working with people and helping them.  He says that the idea of being a priest was always in the back of his head and the broad educational opportunities that the Church continues to provide and the ability to work closely with people was very interesting to him.  On top of being a priest to two churches, editing the newspaper, he also teaches religion to local high school students.

Theodor is a father to 4 children, Elisa (12), Guitt (8), Alith (5), and one more who at the time we met was just a month old, and without a name.  It is tradition to name the child at the baptism ceremony which takes places 2-3 months after the birth.  Despite all his responsibilities and juggling a new born, Theodor was kind enough to join us for the morning and allow me to take his photograph.  He even brought along his uniform which was originally based on 15th-century German traditional menswear, but was adopted by the Danish clergy and in use to this day.  Sharing his story with us, Theodor made visiting the church in Kaldbak a vastly more memorable experience.  The humble design and simple decorations may not compare to the stained glass of Sainte Chapelle of Paris, but the feeling of peace and serenity was all the same. We packed up our equipment, made sure to blow out the candles and locked up.  But before saying good bye our last order of business was to find the hiding spot for the key to the Church.