The Birth of a Nation

Blog 4 - Fce of Harald Bluetooth's runestoneIn the town of Jelling in Denmark, outside of the ancient church, there is a pair of massive 10th century runestones. The church itself stands between two impressive burial mounds.

The older of the two stones was raised by King Gorm the Old. Carved in runes, the memorial states ““King Gormr made this monument in memory of, his wife, Thyrvé Denmark’s adornment.”

The larger of the two stones was erected around 965 AD by King Gorm’s son, Harald Bluetooth. On this one the runes state: “King Haraldr ordered this monument made in memory of Gormr, his father, and in memory of Thyrvé, his mother; that Haraldr who won for himself all of Denmark and Norway and made the Danes Christian.”

The significance of the two statements is that these are the first times that a nation called “Denmark” is recorded. The two stones also mark the transition of the Danish people from Paganism to Christianity, this is emphasised by the fact that there is a figure of Christ on the larger stone.

Reproduction of the Jelling rune stone

Reproduction of the Jelling rune stone

Originally, the runes were coloured, but through the ages the paint has disappeared. However, archaeologists have been able to recover enough specks of paint to know what colours were originally used. Several plaster cast copies of the runestones have been made which have been painted in the original colours. One of these copies stands outside of Jelling Museum and another in the grounds of the Danish Church in London.

Bones found under rune stone in Jelling, Denmark

Bones found under rune stone in Jelling, Denmark

Through the hundreds of years that the original runestones have stood in Jelling, they have suffered from the ravages of the weather, so much so, that UNESCO recommended that the stones should be moved under cover. When I visited Jelling, Harald Bluetooth’s runestone had been lifted aside so that a huge glass cabinet could be built to contain it and protect the stone from the weather. However, I was lucky enough to witness the stone of King Gorm being lifted and more remarkably to see a body which had been placed under the stone when it was erected over a thousand years ago.

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