The voyage to the Faroes – Catholic priest writes his memoirs year 1857

20.06. 2024 | Historical material

Behind to the left is possibly – we are not sure – Fr. Mussa and behind and uttermost to the right is Fr. Bauer. The other people are the first Faroese Catholics in modern times.

Extract from the letter that Fr. Luigi Mussa, an Italian priest originally from the Diocese of Asti, wrote to Msgr. Giuseppe Ballario a few days after his arrival, together with the German priest Georg Bauer, in the Faroe Islands.


Tórshavn, Faroe Islands, 26 October 1857

[…] Since it had been decided that missions had to be opened in the other parts of the [Arctic] Prefecture not yet served, the Faroe archipelago was assigned to a Bavarian companion of mine [Fr. Georg Bauer] and the part of the prefecture located in America [Greenland] was assigned to me, with the obligation to find at least one companion.

Since it was not possible to find a companion in a short time, and furthermore to reach the regions assigned to me as there is only one opportunity a year in Spring, it was decided that I should go with the Bavarian to the Faroe Islands to help him until the following Spring, each one in the meantime looking to find a companion. We therefore left Lapland in the latter half of July and reached Hamburg before the middle of August.

[…] The next day I packed my trunk and early in the morning I left for Copenhagen to look for a vessel that would take us to the Faroe Islands. I couldn’t find it and had to wait. In the meantime, the Sisters of Charity of Copenhagen, who are all from Savoy, asked me to preach the spiritual exercises to them which they had not received for two years because the local priests do not know French. I accepted. Three sermons a day in French for ten days invigorated me; those spiritual exercises did me some good too.

[…] Two vessels leaving for the Faroe Islands did not want to take us because it became known that we were Catholic priests. While still waiting, I began to write a parable that contained a substantial idea of the difference between Catholicism and Protestantism from their origins up to our day. More new ideas were coming to mind and I was and I was unable to finish it before leaving. A third vessel showed up; we were more cautious and reached an agreement with the captain of the vessel. The captain didn’t notice who we were.


Setting sails towards the Faroes

We left Copenhagen on October 1st [1857], even though the appointed day had already passed by several days. It was not possible to set sail earlier due to the lack of wind. The name of the vessel was “Fortuna”. It was a small single-masted vessel.

Our voyage, which if we had had good winds, should not have lasted more than eight days, lasted twenty-two days and dealt with all the situations connected with navigation in the North Sea and the equinox season.

We had continuous rain almost everyday. Sometimes, we remained completely still because there wasn’t the slightest breath of wind; other times, however, it was necessary to lower the sails and tie the rudder to avoid risks due to some storm.

However, something more serious happened: the captain miscalculated the distances despite always having the hydrographic maps and the compass in hand and his eyes on the compass. […]

[Following is the description of a terrible storm on the night between 12 and 13 October]

The following morning the captain informed us that we had arrived, without realizing it, among the rocks of Grif Skerry, an islet located in the eastern part of Shetland, and that we had miraculously saved ourselves. If you consider the number of ships that shipwreck in these seas every year, it seems like a miracle that we were saved.


Arriving in the Faroes

Finally, after another nine days of travel, sometimes sailing quickly, other times remaining still as had happened before due to lack of wind, we arrived in Tórshavn, the main town or village of the Faroe Islands.

When we handed over our passports, it became known that we were the Catholic missionaries and that we had previously attempted to come. The Governor became very serious and said that, if it were known, he feared a mass uprising of the population. But this scares us less than a sea storm, because we can still talk to furious men; the waves, on the other hand, do not listen to reason […].

Here the population is Lutheran, but they are the least Lutheran Lutherans I have ever seen. In church, they have both the crucifix and candles on the altar; in their homes they have paintings and statuettes of both Madonnas and Saints. Last Sunday the Lutheran priest preached against us in church.

By following the instructions contained in the golden book, “Monita ad Missionarios”, [Warnings for Missionaries], we begin by preparing with a spiritual retreat. Thus, trusting in God and in the prayers of good people, we will proceed with prudence and caution so as not to take steps that are too risky.

We therefore recommend ourselves to your prayers and to those who, informed by you, would like to have the goodness to pray for us and for the conversion of those who are outside the Church. […]

(Kindly translated from old Italian by Fr. Bruno Mollicone, Italy, in April, 2024.
He first visited the Faroe Islands in August, 2023).


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