Sunday-Monday, December 3-4, 2017
After our Sunday morning in Odense walking in Hans Christian Andersen’s footsteps we drove off the Island of Funen and back onto the mainland, or Jutland. Our next destination promised immersion into Denmark’s first official rulers in Jelling. This town gained prominence in the 10th century during the Vikings’ hey day. Here, Kings Gorm of Old (ruled 936?-958/9) and his son, Harald Bluetooth (ruled 958/9-985/6/7) established Denmark’s monarchy. The current monarch, Queen Margrete II, can trace her lineage back to Gorm, which is why some people consider this country’s monarchy the oldest in Europe.
FYI: Harald’s son, Sweyn Forkbeard (960-1014), and his grandson, Canute the Great, (985/95-1035) expanded Harald’s kingdom as both of them became kings of England.
Back to Jelling… Christianity also ‘started’ here in Denmark according to a rune Harold Bluetooth raised around 965 C.E. And, to see this stone as well as one by his father, Gorm, was the primary reason we found ourselves standing in front of these magnificent proclamations. These two, large runic stones sit in front of a church possibly constructed on Harold’s King’s Hall.
Gorm’s stone is a tribute to his wife Thyra. (Hmmm, maybe I should be getting a chisel and a big stone to write something for Max? :) ). Gorm’s inscription eulogizes Thyra shortly after her death in 950: “Gorm King made these monuments in memory of Thyra, wife his, Denmark’s adornment.”
This runic stone is the first time “Danmark” (Denmark) is named as such.
Hewn in 985, Harald’s stone states: “King Harald bade this monument be made in memory of Gorm his father and Thyra his mother, that Harald who won himself all Denmark, Norway and made the Danes Christians.”
The third side of Harald’s stone (above) features a male figure. Jim Karachi, the founder of Bluetooth technology, thought this was Harald, and being a fan of Denmark’s first king, used this figure (adding a mobile fan and a laptop to the illustration)
and the runes for “H” and “B” for his logo.
Later he discovered it was actually Christ, not Harald, on the rune. No matter, Christ would be just as apt to use a cell phone to text his disciples and a computer to pen his sermons as Harald could have used it to call on his Viking bros.
Speaking of Jesus, Christianity had been moving north for awhile. Two bishops, most likely under orders from the big guy sitting in Rome, brought Christianity to the Baltic Coast. One, Willebrord (658-739) came from Ireland and later served as the Bishop of Utrecht. Evidently he didn’t have a lasting affect, at least not on the Danes. One hundred years later, Ansgar (801-865) actually established churches in Hedeby, Birka, and Ribe. He became the Archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen. But, Harald is taking credit for making Christianity his country’s religion.
What I really enjoy is seeing how these pre-Christian beliefs of Teutonic mythology populate our daily lives: Tuesday comes from TYR (god of war); Wednesday, ODIN or WODEN (Supreme god); Thursday, TOR (god of thunder); and, Friday, FRIGGA (wife of ODIN and representing love and beauty).
The runic stones sit in front of a church which dates from about 1100 C.E. It’s uncertain where they first stood, but Gorm’s, after being used for a bench in front of the church, was placed in its current location around 1632. Glass displays encase both of these fascinating pieces of rock. You can just make them out to the right of the people figures below. (Photo taken atop the South Mound.)
The church is situated between two man-made hills as illustrated by this 1591 drawing.
The North mound held a burial, possibly Gorm, whose body was later re-interred under the church (where the white zig or zag is marked in stone below).
We climbed the South Mound, which is the larger of the two, yet didn’t serve as a grave, whereas the North one (below) did.
Surrounding the area is a wooden palisade erected by Harald in the late 960s. With a height of about 14 feet and a circular length of almost a mile, this wooden barrier protected a Viking settlement where remnants of three longhouses have been found. Today white concrete pillars represent the original site of this 1,000-year-old wall.
Within the palisades two rows of granite stones were discovered. When pieced together they formed an outline of a ship; yet, no reason has been sufficiently explained for its existence.
A new museum provides information on this historical birthplace of Denmark. In spite of feeling a lot of display space was wasted, the exhibits were helpful in our understanding what we’d be seeing once outside.
We finished touring and stopped in for a–yes, Carol M.W.–a coffee :). The friendly owners welcomed us and explained the increasing crowd outside was awaiting the arrival of the Jule Man (Santa Claus). Interestingly, Jule comes from the winter Viking celebration, Jól, when they toasted to the gods for the start of lengthening daylight.
With his arrival it was our departure (you can see people standing on the South Mound in the background), and we left for another church, this time Ribe Cathedral, standing in the oldest town in Denmark. We ended up spending the night here, and for $65 managed not only to get the typical room & breakfast, but a room with a private bathroom (he upgraded us) as we were the only ones staying there. An advantage traveling in the off season.
The next morning we walked down the truly quaint cobble-stoned lane surrounded by water
to this extremely imposing religious building.
St. Ansgar (the guy mentioned above, but now he’s a ‘saint’?) asked for and received permission to build a church on this site in 850 or so. Two hundred years later the core of the current Romanesque-style building was constructed following those found in the Rhineland. Subsequent years other structures were added and parts renovated resulting in what we saw: another cathedral filled with tons of important architecture and relics.
And, once again, I could inundate you with the 60 items to see (check out the self-guiding brochure). But, I’ll spare you except for some of the highlights:
A ‘sanctuary’ door knocker from about 1225 – if you touched this you were afforded asylum by the church according to medieval law. Looks like Max is safe.
Oops, wrong door. Thankfully Max found the right one before the authorities tracked him down.
The gravestone of Iver Munk (1470-1539), Bishop of Ribe – Quite a colorful figure as (a) he and his brother led a revolt against King Christian II (1276-1332) and (b) in spite of a vow of celibacy he flaunted two wives and several children.
Outfits – pre-reformation: Munk’s clothes recreated from his gravestone;
post-reformation. I think Munk’s cost a wee bit more…
A relic – One of the items in the small museum on the second floor was a reliquary cross that ‘probably held a piece of the real cross’… yeah, right, and I’m a Martian.
A little man (painted above the cruxifix) – in the museum they said this was a puzzling figure yet the church brochure described him as ‘Atlas supporting the arch’.
Fresco – painted around 1537, Mary & Jesus on a pillar in the Nave.
The Apse fresco and stained glass – Artwork by Carl -Henning Pedersen created 1982-87, a Matisse-style artwork that brings an exuberance and freshness to an 800-year-old building.
We also walked up the tower: added as a “commoner’s Tower or civic tower fashioned after Netherlands and Belgium towers after the collapse of the northern turret 1283. My fear of heights kicked in; and, by looking at my white-knuckled hand I think you get the picture…
The view however was lovely…
but, my dainty size-nine feet couldn’t pitter-thump down those stairs fast enough!
This was our last site in Denmark. Our Hygge tour had come to an end, but not our admiration and interest in this lovely country.
Just a few more stops and we’ll be home…