The Helgøy Church
The church of Helgøy has been the church of the Hegelunds for several hundred years and many members of the clan were deeply involved in the administration, upkeeping and workings of the church. Two Hegelunds were especially tied to the musical aspects of this church, working as bell ringers and choir-singers; Morten Hegelund (from 1743 to 1748) and Morten Hegelund (for over 40 years, 1794 to 1836).
The name of the island, Helgøy, comes from Old Norse and means “holy island.” Looking at historical records from the Middle Ages, Helgøy probably became an annex of the Church of Tromsø sometime around the year 1500.
The church that can be seen in Helgøy today was originally built in the middle of the 18th century in Hemnes in Helgeland before being moved to the village of Hamn in Senja. In 1888, the church was moved its final (so far) destination in Helgøy, in order to replace the previous church building from the 17th century.
Helgøy used to be a crucial trading post and central meeting point for the local population of fishermen and other coastal people.
Commerce with the Russians had its peak throughout the 19th century and continued until the Bolshevik Revolution. Stockfish, together with fresh fish, pelts and skins were then exchanged for flour, caviar, cereals and rope from the White Sea.
The heyday of Helgøy was without a shadow of doubt, in the late 19th century under the auspices of Christian Figenschou (1846 – 1939) the famed “King of Helgøy.” Another notable monarch with ties to Helgøy, was the German Kaiser Wilhelm the second, who visited the region several times prior to the First World War. On one occasion, the Kaiser rewarded the local population’s particular sense of hospitality by gifting them a superb emerald, a gem that is now conserved at the Museum of Tromsø.
Helgøy is nowadays mostly uninhabited and mostly used as a vacation area and tourist destination. The local church is still being taken care of and is still used on special occasions. Because no bridges or tunnels were ever built to connect Helgøy with the outside world, such events require the use of a boat to ferry the visitors.
The 125-years Jubileum of the Helgøy Church
In 2014, the 125th church anniversary was occasion for much celebration.
Her majesty, Queen Sonja of Norway, sailed to the island on board the royal yacht, KS Norge, to join the festivities and acknowledge the importance of the local community in the history of Arctic Norway.