#3 – JELLING – BURIAL MONTS, RUNIC STONES AND THE KING OF THE NORTH

During our EVS On Arrival Training that took place in March, we were given a chance to visit Europe’s finest Viking Age features and “Denmark’s birth certificate”- the Jelling Monuments.

The little town of Jelling, set in serene countryside of Jutland, is itself a UNESCO World Heritage site that 1000 years ago was the seat of two first Viking kings – Gorm the Old and his son Harald Bluetooth. The legacy they left behind is both, very unique and superb, especially in the Nordic context. The oldest relics in Jelling are the remains of a huge ship-shaped stone setting, the rune stones, the mounds and finally the palisade.

The smaller of the memorial stones, commissioned by Gorm the Old to honor his Queen Thyrvé, bears the inscription: “King Gorm made this monument in memory of Thyrvé, his wife, Denmark’s adornment.” This is the oldest reference to the name ‘Denmark’ and the rune stone is therefore referred to as Denmark’s name certificate.

In year 965 King Harald Bluetooth bade farewell to the Norse pantheon and embraced Christianity. He had this message chiseled into a large stone close to the one erected a few years earlier by his father Gorm. On the rune stone Harald boasts of having conquered Denmark and Norway and brought Christianity to the Danes. The engraving says: “King Harald ordered this monument made in memory of Gorm, his father, and in memory of Thyrvé, his mother; that Harald who won for himself all of Denmark and Norway and made the Danes Christian. It is considered Denmark’s baptism certificate and the end of the polytheistic traditions followed by much of the Danish population. It is worth noticing; the easily distinguished depiction of Christ on the cross, inscribed on the stone, is featured in all Danish passports. On the other side of the stone, there is a serpent wrapped around a lion.

During his reign, King Harald Bluetooth also built a church on the site. Today’s Jelling Church is a Romanesque masonry church, built around 1100 on the site of Harald Bluetooth’s original one from the 900s AD. By contrast, a very recent addition to this historic spot, are the rows of tall white pillars. They mark the boat-shaped outline of what archaeologists now reckon may have been a grand memorial to Gorm and Harald.

The Viking story brought alive by technology.

Step inside Kongernes Jelling – the Royal Jelling Experience Centre and the whole scene comes alive. For your knowledge, this is no ordinary museum as it depicts the history of the Vikings – their origins, lifestyle, battles and legends – in an exceptionally entertaining, educative and intriguing way. Having no artifacts to exhibit, the Viking story is told through interactive displays, cleverly used imaginative sound and light effects, mirrors, pictures and holograms. There are buttons to press, levers to pull and screens to touch.

We were all mesmerized, for instance, by watching the animated Royal family tree projected onto a wall. Accompanied by a commentary, it vividly shows how bloody early Viking history was. Kings are crowned, stabbed and beheaded in quick succession, entertainingly illustrated as they came and went by crowns and axes which jump from one head to another. All the way round, you can glean as many facts and figures as you want. Some of us were also surprised to discover that the Bluetooth logo has not only its name but also its roots in the Viking age. It is a combination of two runes from the younger futhark, which was the runic alphabet that the Vikings used to use.

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Magdalena – 2018 Spring term volunteer