Runestone in a Park Hermitage

The Vadstena Abbey runestone, Ög 179. Photo by Thuresson 2005, Wikimedia Commons.

I found a pretty sweet piece of monument re-use. English landscape parks of the 18th and 19th centuries were designed a bit like theme parks, where visitors were intended to walk around encountering intriguing surprises here and there. A Chinese pagoda. Some topiary. A fake ruin. An hermit’s hut where on special occasions a false-bearded sage would impart his wisdom to the park-owner’s guests.

In Scandinavia these parks often included pan-Nordic national romantic features, like the Norwegian chalet in the Søndermarken park at Frederiksborg outside Copenhagen that my wife and I visited this summer. And what could be more Nordic and romantic than a runestone? In 2013 I blogged about the Sälna runestone that was broken apart, taken to the park of Skånelaholm manor and given a rather odd new inscription in 1820. Now I’ve found another example of the same behaviour, possibly dating from the same year.

Olof Regnstrand was an energetic man with many business ideas, one of the most long-lived ones being that he and his family ran the hospital kitchens at the former Vadstena Abbey as a concession for several decades. In about 1820 he redesigned part of the former monks’ garden and orchard as a semi-public pleasure park where the bourgeoisie of the little town could be entertained on summer evenings, with a dance hall, a gazebo and other attractions.

Among the other attractions was an hermit’s cave, built roughly of undressed limestone and located next to the gazebo at the abbey church’s south-east corner. Both structures used for their back wall part of what we now know was a 13th century brick building that had in the time of the monastery been the monks’ World Gate, the place where they met with secular visitors. And for the hermitage’s door post, Regnstrand chose a runestone! It had previously stood at the lakeshore nearby, lost its lower half and become eroded by the water and ice. But though the hermitage and the gazebo are long gone, the stone still stands roughly where Regnstrand planted it, and three boreholes show where the hinges of the hermitage were once fastened. It is the oldest piece of Vadstena’s history that can be seen by visitors, originally raised in memory of one Eskil who died in the early 11th century.

I found this lovely historical nugget in Julia Sigurdson and Sune Zachrisson’s fine 2012 book Aplagårdar och klosterliljor (pp. 158-159). For solid information about English park hermitages (but little about the hermits themselves), see Gordon Campbell 2013, The Hermit in the Garden: From Imperial Rome to Ornamental Gnome .

Author: Martin R

Dr. Martin Rundkvist is a Swedish archaeologist, journal editor, skeptic, atheist, lefty liberal, bookworm, boardgamer, geocacher and father of two.

5 thoughts on “Runestone in a Park Hermitage”

  1. In Tom Stoppard’s play ‘Arcadia’, the lady of the house is in need of a hermit for her decorative garden. Someone suggests she place an ad in a newspaper to which she replies, what kind of hermit reads the newspapers? It was pretty touching play.

    Liked by 1 person

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