Christian Vikings

Christian burials in Ribe in Denmark have been dated to mid 9th century

Danish Archaeologists have been busy digging around the old Cathedral in Ribe for several years. Here lies a cemetery, which was abandoned about 1050. The sensational character of the find has however more to do with the fact, that the earliest graves have been dated to around 850 – more than a 100 years before Denmark was officially Christianised according to the famous rune-stone of Harold Bluetooth in Jellinge.

All in all the archaeologists believe there were between 1500 -2000 graves in the cemetery of which at least 60 (and probably 75) belong to the earliest phase. The dead persons have been buried in a number of different types of caskets made of wood, one of which may even have been a small boat. However, the graves are all pointing towards East and no grave-goods have been found. Strontium analysis has shown that the buried persons grew up locally.

Ribe was the earliest city in Denmark. Around 700 it was no more than a seasonal market, but very early on excavations have shown how a walled city grew up at the shores of the Ribe river flowing through the flat marshes and into the sea. In 864 the Vitae of St. Ansgar tells how he negotiated with the Danish king Horik II and was presented with a piece of land in that city, where a church was built and to which church a priest was called.


Dani antiquitus errant Christiani…
For archaeologists it has been a long–time dream to find this church in order to vindicate this story. Not least because the written evidence is so ambiguous. On one hand the German chronicler Widukind, who writes mid 10th century about the baptism of Harold Bluetooth in 963, claims that the Danes were Christians “since ancient times”. On the other hand Harold, himself, claimed on the large Jelling-Stone in a Runic inscription that he was “that Harold who won all Denmark and Norway and made the Danes Christians”. Although much ink has been spilt in order to understand the exact translation and understanding of this enigmatic inscription, it is generally believed to refer to the fact that the king and his retinue were baptised, thus leading the way for the general populace. However, another understanding has also been proffered whereby the decisive act had more to do with the acknowledgement of the Christian church as an official institution in the realm and less to do with the Christianisation of the Danes per se. As is also evidenced in the iconic programme of the Rune-stone, which presents the inscription as if it was written in a Christian Codex (horizontally and from left to right) and not – as was more usual – vertically. This interpretation generally fits with Widukind and thus the contemporary source par excellence.

The Excavations:

Read about the excavations

Visit the Vikings in Ribe:

The Vinkingcentre: Ribe VikingeCenter

The Museum: Ribes Vikinger 

New research about the Christianisation of Harold Bluetooth:

Gelting, Michael H.: Poppo’s Ordeal: Courtier Bishops and the Success of Christianization at the Turn of the First Millennium. In: Viking and Medieval Scandinavia Vol 6. p.101 -33,  Brepols 2010. 




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