Very little is known about Madame Mathiesen, including her first name. She is only referred to in known historical documents as Madame Mathiesen. However, because of her unique language skills, she was key to assisting the missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day in Denmark in Denmark in the early 1850s. The first Latter-day Saint missionaries, Erastus Snow and Peter O. Hansen, arrived in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1850. There were many steps they had to take to establish the Church in Denmark. One of the important things on their agenda was to translate the Book of Mormon into Danish.
Erastus Snow could not speak, read or write Danish, although he was a quick learner. Peter O. Hansen, who had joined the Church in the United States, was originally from Denmark but had little experience translating. Erastus Snow wrote, “Brother Hanson had been so long in America, that he had become very dull in his native tongue; and having no Bible or any other Danish book with him in America… his translation of the Book of Mormon was very imperfect.” Erastus Snow felt they needed a third person to compensate for his and Peter’s lack of skills in translating. He thought about asking professors for help but felt they wouldn’t understand the “spirit of the work”. The third person became Madame Mathiasen. Erastus Snow described her in a letter as “a Danish lady, a teacher of French, German, and English, [who] embraced the faith.”
Madame Mathiasen wrote her own translation of the Book of Mormon from English to Danish independent of Peter Hansen’s version. Then the two translations were compared side-by-side with the English translation to create the most accurate version. The Danish Book of Mormon was published in 1851, the first non-English edition of the book.
Because of her incredible language skills and her exceptional work on the Book of Mormon, Madame Mathiasen was asked to help again when they began translating the Doctrine & Covenants into Danish. She translated the Doctrine & Covenants into Danish from her new home in the town of Slesvig and sent her manuscript to Erastus Snow in Copenhagen where it was edited and revised prior to publication in February 1852.
While so little is known about Madame Mathiasen, her unique abilities and dedication played a crucial role in translating Latter-day Saint scripture into Danish in the early 1850s.
Research: Michelle Graabek
Writing: Michelle Graabek
Editing: Amy Epps & Louise Paulsen
Jensen, Andrew. Erindringer fra Missionen i Skandinavien, “Mormons Bog”, p.37.
—. Erindringer fra Missionen i Skandinavien, , “Pagtens Bog osv.”, p.131.
Snow, Erastus. One year in Scandinavia, “Letter from Erastus Snow to Brigham Young”, pg. 12, 1851.
—. One year in Scandinavia, “Letter from Erastus Snow to the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”, p.7, 1850.