If you understand Danish you should watch the YouTube clip below where museum director Inge Adriansen tells the story and read more here. If not read on for the English version.
When the first wife of Duke John II (Hertug Hans den Yngre) died in 1586 he created a tomb by the chapel in Sønderborg Castle. The tomb was protected by a beautifully decorated portal that depicts the 14 children he had with his first wife – he had 23 children in all. Behind the door stands the coffins of 46 descendants of the dukes of Sonderborg, Augustenborg and Glücksborg, the last is the line of the current Danish Royal family. The last to go in was duchess Louise Augusta of Augustenborg in 1843.
The tomb is not open to the public so the video above gives you a rare peak inside. The bodies in the coffins are embalmed and last time they had the tomb of John II open was in 1969 where the coffins were restored. “They are in more or less good condition. As you would after lying around in dry air for 400 years” says Inge Adriansen.
For many years they thought John II was haunting the castle. The coffins did not stay put – they moved around! Once a year the tomb is opened up to get a spring clean and whenever that happened they could see in the dust that the coffins had moved from where they were the year before. Sometimes it had moved 10 cm, sometimes more. The cleaning people were afraid of working in the tomb alone so Inge Adriansen always had to go with them. When they asked her why the coffins had moved she said it was because the dead had hurried to jump back in the coffin when the sun rose. The cleaning personnel didn’t see the joke in that story. Since the castle did not have an explanation they chose to keep quiet about the moving coffins.
They finally figured out what was causing the moving coffins the year they had not moved. Suddenly one year in the 90s the coffins stood exactly were they had stood one year earlier. As Inga Adriansen cycled home from work that day she saw a Booze Ferry (Spritbåd) turn in the harbour and it dawned on her. In the 70s and 80s loads of ferries were stopping in Sønderborg and they docked by the pier right next to the castle. Up to 15 boats would dock every day and they bumped into the pier as they moored so the vibrations carried on into the tomb of the castle causing the coffins to move up to more than 10 cm in a year.
So there you have it. No ghosts were moving the coffins around. But I wonder what other stories the good people of the castle haven’t told us…