Jelling Mounds, Runic Stones and Church
Jelling Mounds, Runic Stones And Church
Cultural Denmark Europe And North America Vejle Commune, Region Of Southern Denmark

The Jelling complex, and especially the pagan burial mounds and the two runic stones, are outstanding examples of the pagan Nordic culture.

Many of the early Danish records relating to the Viking King Gorm and Queen Thyre are recognized by scholars not to be based on reliable tradition. There is no direct evidence that the two large grave-mounds at Jelling were those of the two monarchs. The only irrefutable link is that provided by the two runic stones. Nonetheless, certain facts are incontrovertible. Jelling was a royal manor in the 10th century, during the reign of Gorm and his son Harald Bluetooth. Gorm erected a stone here in memory of his wife Thyre, and the royal couple ruled a realm known as Denmark.

The first wooden church built on the site of the present edifice was the largest of its kind anywhere in Scandinavia. Archaeological evidence suggests that it was built in the later 10th century, during the period around 960 when Harald Bluetooth introduced Christianity into Denmark, as he proclaims on the larger of the two runic stones. A large timber-lined tomb of 10th-century type, containing high-status artefacts, was an integral feature of the design of this first church. The larger of the two runic stones bearing Harald's inscription is located symmetrically between the two burial mounds, which has been shown by archaeological excavation to be its original location. The north mound was constructed over an impressive burial chamber of oak, cut into an earlier Bronze Age barrow of much smaller dimensions. This chamber had been opened before the first excavation took place in 1820. The greater part of its original contents had been removed, but the few remaining items showed that it had been a high-status pagan burial of the mid-10th century. It is uncertain whether this was a single or double burial. The south mound contains no burial chamber. Excavation has revealed that it is built over a stone alignment (possibly a ship-setting of Viking type), precisely orientated towards the Bronze Age barrow underlying the north mound.

The hypothetical reconstruction of the sequence at Jelling is as follows. After the death of Queen Thyre, her husband raised a stone in her memory and laid out a joint funerary monument consisting of two very large mounds. On his death he was buried in the chamber of the north mound, which may already have contained Tyre's remains. After bringing Denmark and Norway together and introducing Christianity into Denmark, their son Harald Bluetooth set up a stone proclaiming his achievements between the two mounds and built an impressive wooden church, in which the remains of his father were reinterred. The two flat-topped mounds are almost identical in shape (a truncated cone) and size. The larger runic stone is located exactly midway between the two mounds. Its inscription reads: 'King Harald bade this monument be made in memory of Gorm his father and Thyre his mother, that Harald who won for himself all Denmark and Norway and made the Danes Christians.' Most of the inscription is on the east face of the stone, and is surmounted by a carved depiction of a typical Nordic dragon in interlace ornament. The remainder of the inscription, relating to the Christianization of the Danes between 953 and 965, is on the south-west face, which also bears the earliest depiction of Christ in Scandinavia. Alongside it is the smaller runic stone. This is not in its original position, which is not known;it has been at its present location since about 1630. The inscription reads: 'King Gorm made this monument to his wife Thyre, Denmark's ornament.'

The present church, which archaeological excavation has shown to have been preceded by at least three churches built from wood, all of which were destroyed by fire, is a simple whitewashed structure built from calcareous tufa, an easily quarried local material. Its reconstruction began around 1100, when it consisted of a chancel and nave;the tower at the west end was added in the early 15th century. Mural paintings dating from around 1100 (and thus the earliest in Denmark) came to light on the walls of the chancel in 1874-75.