September 18 – Dag Hammarsjkold

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.

Dag Hammarsjkold, faithful servant

Dag Hjalmar Agne Carl Hammarskjöld, 1905 – 1961, was a Swedish economist and diplomat. He was appointed to the position of Secretary-General of the United Nations replacing the Norwegian Trygve Lie, after his sudden resignation on 10 November 1952. Hammarskjöld was a compromise candidate from unaligned Sweden. He was considered of impeccable diplomatic stock, in fact an aristo-bureaucrat. His father was Hjalmar Hammarskjöld, Prime Minister of Sweden, from 1914 to 1917, and mother Agnes Hammarskjöld (née Almquist). Hjalmar Hammarskjöld was a polyglot intellectual, a full professor at Uppsala University, a scientist and a renowned expert in international law.

The young Dag grew up in the rarefied environs of Uppsala Castle, the residence of the Governor of Uppland, another high position his father held for a while. By 1930, Dag had obtained Licentiate of Philosophy and Master of Laws degrees. Before he finished his law degree he had already been appointed Assistant Secretary of the Swedish Government Unemployment Committee. He wrote his economics thesis, and received a doctorate from Stockholm University.

He developed a successful career, becoming the youngest secretary in the history of the Sveriges Riksbank (the Central Bank of Sweden) in 1936 and was soon promoted to serve as the Chairman of the Central Bank. He was the Governor of the Central Bank 1941–1948. Hammarskjöld appears on the new 1000 Kronor denomination note that the Swedish Central Bank recently printed and released.

Although Hammarskjöld served in a Government Cabinet dominated by the Social Democrats from 1949 to 1953, he never officially joined any political party remaining politically unaligned.

He became the Chairman of the Swedish delegation to the UN General Assembly in New York in 1952. The negotiations between the Western powers and the Soviet Union for a replacement as Secretary-General that ensued after Trygve Lies abrupt resignation in late 1952 were unfruitful at first. It was not until March 1953 after further deliberations the French Government put forward four candidates, including Hammarskjöld.

Then the Soviet Union, United Kingdom, and the United States all declared for Hammarskjöld. The U.S. State Department authorized the vote for Hammarskjöld after assurances that he ‘may be as good as we can get’. First the Security Council, followed suit by the UN General Assembly, voted to appoint Hammarskjöld as Secretary-General in April 1953. Dag Hammarskjöld was sworn in as Secretary-General on 10 April 1953 and voted in for a second period unanimously in 1957.

Under Hammarskjöld the UN became more actively involved in maintaining World Peace even if that meant sending out UN troops to areas of civil unrest. Hammarskjöld’s second term was cut short when he was killed in an airplane crash while en route to cease-fire negotiations during the Congo crisis in 1961. He is one of only four people to be awarded a posthumous Nobel Prize. President John F Kennedy named him one of the finest of statesmen that dedicated his life to serve the peace and the people around the globe. President Kennedy also proclaimed that in Honour and Tribute of Hammarskjöld after his death the National flag should be flown at half-staff on all Government buildings of the United States.

After his passing among his personal effects poems and Haikus were found. They showed another side of the aristocratic diplomat, namely of a deeply spiritual soul on a constant quest for personal enlightenment. The poems were later translated to English by W.H. Auden and appears as Markings by Dag Hammarskjöld in the Vintage Spiritual Classics series.

Like many Swedes today Dag charged his batteries, and took solace from his demanding position, in the natural landscapes of arctic northern Sweden also known as Lappland. This landscape also captured the imagination of Hammarskjöld. Many of his short poems in Japanese Haiku format are based on his brush strokes of poetic language that derive from the innermost depths of his soul and in equal part from observations of the surrounding landscape. Another space where his spirituality took concrete form is in the creation of ‘A Room of Quiet’ at the UN Headquarters. It was personally planned and supervised in every detail by Hammarskjöld and opened in 1957.

The Dag Hammarskjöld pilgrim trail meanders its way from the start at Abisko National Park 100 kilometers west of Kiruna to the Sami village of Nikkaluokta some 105 kilometers to the south. The trail runs through miles upon miles of sweeping high alpine terrain and wideopen spaces under a towering sky. The creation of the pilgrim trail in 2004, complete with seven meditation places inspired by ‘A Room of Quiet’, was a joint project between the northernmost Swedish Lutheran Diocese of Luleå, the Regional Government of North Bothnia and the Swedish Alpine Association. The indigenous Sami people and their organisations were consulted during all phases of the construction of this trail that goes through the heartland of their country.

‘A landscape can sing about God, a body about Spirit’, Markings. D Hammarskjöld translated by W.H. Auden

It is both a treat for the weary and retreat for the mind and soul to do your personal pilgrimage along the Dag Hammarskjöld trail in winter and spring on skis, and in summer and autumn by foot. I believe Dag thought so and this author concurs.

‘A sky as blue
As that above the snow-crest
Before the last ski-run’  

Poem by Dag Hammarskjöld
Translated into English by W.H. Auden

Dr Roger Kalla, Chair of the Swedish Church