Norway, 1953. Erling Jørgensen, a local journalist, visits the isolated parish of Hernes, accused by many of being a cult.

His unpublished notes and photographs are the only remaining source on this group, and the events that culminated in its destruction.

The small parish was based around a modern church. Though initially unremarkable, starting around 1947 the community would take an isolationist turn.

Parishioners started shunning external contact except for the occasional missionary, sent to recruit people into the group.

In August 1953, journalist Erling Jørgensen was allowed to visit the community, take pictures and interview their members.

Though Erling was given relatively free rein, he was not allowed to enter the church during sermon hours, at which time he was put under watch.

The community was headed by Tore Hagen, often just referred to as the Bishop, and his 3 sons.

The self-proclaimed Bishop and his entourage had essentially broken contact with the Church of Norway, forming their own hierarchy. The priests wore masks as part of their vestments.

Many of the particular rituals of this group were centred around their youngest members. They wore white clothing, and were referred to as “initiates”. The purpose of their initiation was never made clear. In an interview, a 7-year-old claims “One day, I will be one with God”.

According to Erling’s notes, on the day of his departure, he was taken over by curiosity.

Instead of leaving, he sneaked into the church and hid there, waiting for the sermon he had not been allowed to watch.

As it started, he saw an immense creature appear behind the altar.

“The church has been silent for hours, as that thing pulsates on the wall. I need to do something.”

Erling’s unpublished notes end there.

A fire destroyed the church that day. Erling never admitted to having been there. After his death, it was revealed that he had lit the match.

© Eduardo Valdés-Hevia

Sources: Library of Congress, Digitaltmuseum, iNaturalist. Mask modeled by @Saintsart_.

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