The Most European Century

Lund Cathedral, twelfth century. Photo: Wikipedia

Contemporary written sources of Romanesque art from Scandinavian countries are a rarity. The artefacts have to speak for themselves. And so they do. The Normans were pagans until the eleventh century. In 1100, Denmark and Norway were largely Christianized, it took Sweden some fifty years longer. They were masters in wood carving, but stone sculpture was introduced after the Christianization. The same applies to architecture. While native craftsmen could build splendid wooden churches, Scandinavia had no tradition of stone architecture. It was therefore necessary for craftsmen to be brought in from abroad. Stone churches of the eleventh and twelfth centuries have much to tell about the links between Scandinavia and other regions of Europe.

The wooden Norwegian stave churches of the eleventh and twelfth centuries were built by native craftsmen, but the stone churches show evidence of other European influences and craftsmen, whereby the fate of military and dynastic developments often decided about the architecture. Churches show eastern-English influences until about 1035. After this date, due to the rising power of the German secular and ecclesiastical rulers, the architecture came under the sway of German Romanesque art and building material, for example the stone imported from the Rhineland. This pan-European architecture in Denmark is shown by the cathedral at Lund (then Danish territory).

Norway’s main foreign links in the twelfth century continued to be with the British Isles, though the links with Iceland, Normandy and southern-Italy and beyond remained present. The foundation of the archbishopric Nidaros, founded in 1153, was a decisive moment in Norse ecclesiastical medieval history. The bishopric’s authority extended to the bishoprics of Kirkwall in Orkney (today’s Hebrides in Scotland) and Peel in the Isle of Man. Anglo-Saxon Romanesque and early Gothic architecture are the dominant features of church architecture, though oriental, Italian or German characteristics were never far away.

Even the most remote areas had stone abbeys, cloisters or other ecclesiastical buildings.  They are there the heritage of perhaps the most European century ever. (Source: J. Haywood, Historical Atlas of the Vikings, London 1995)