Viking Crucifix

Viking Period crucifix found at Aunslev on Funen in March 2016. 10th century.

Metal detectorist Dennis Fabricius Holm made a pretty sweet find yesterday: the third known Birka crucifix.

These little wonders of 10th century goldsmith work are named for the first find, made in 1879 when Hjalmar Stolpe excavated in the cemeteries of Birka near Stockholm. In addition to the crucifix grave 660 contained, among other things, two other fine silver filigree pendants and a bronze-capped iron wand that may have served pagan religious purposes.

Crucifix from grave 660 at Birka, Uppland, Sweden.
Crucifix from grave 660 at Birka, Uppland, Sweden.

In 2012 Silke Eisenschmidt identified fragments of a second Birka crucifix among the finds from a wagon burial at Ketting, excavated by Jens Raben in 1927. This is on the island of Als on the south-east coast of Jutland, just across the sound from Funen, and the new find is from Nyborg municipality on the east coast of that island. (I was there for a castle conference last August.) The two Danish sites are less than a day’s sailing and rowing from the town of Hedeby, which suggests to me that this is where all three crucifixes were made. They’re too similar for more than one or two people to have been making them. Birka and Hedeby seems to have shared an itinerant population of craftspeople and traders.

Fragmentary crucifix from a wagon burial at Ketting on Als, Denmark.
Fragmentary crucifix from a wagon burial at Ketting on Als, Denmark.

Many thanks to Dennis for letting me publish his photographs! Note that by not cleaning the find thoroughly, Dennis is doing the right thing: this is a job for the finds conservator.

The reverse of the newly found crucifix.
The reverse of the newly found Aunslev crucifix.

Update 13 March: My friend and collaborator Tobias Bondesson alerted me to a piece of filigreed hack silver from the Omø hoard that looks a lot like the right hand of a fourth Birka crucifix. It’s different from its siblings in being decorated on the reverse and having no thumb, but to my eye there’s little else this fragment could be from. The hoard was buried during the reign of Sweyn Forkbeard, 986–1014. It was found by detectorist Robert Hemming Poulsen in September of 2015. Omø is a small island between Funen and Zealand, not far across the water from Nyborg, which neatly reinforces the distribution we have begun to discern for the type.

Fragment of a Birka-type crucifix from the Omø hoard.
Fragment of a Birka-type crucifix from the Omø hoard.

Two Stockholm Dissenter Churches De-Sanctified

I follow the decommissioning of Sweden’s churches keenly for several reasons. I like churches, the older the better, but I don’t like the Church much. And I take great interest in the West’s ongoing secularisation process. Before, I’ve blogged about how Maglarp Church was torn down, about how Örja church was sold as housing and about the National Heritage Board’s advice to congregations that decide to stop heating their churches.

Two upscale 1890s dissenter churches in the posh Östermalm precinct of Stockholm have been similarly de-sanctified in the past year.

A year ago, a real estate company co-owned by footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic bough the 1898 Elim Church next to the Swedish History Museum, where I spend a lot of time. Elim was a Baptist church and is now being converted into luxury housing.

Now I hear that the Trinity Church near Östermalmstorg Square, a beautiful neo-Gothic brick structure inaugurated in 1894, has been sold. It’s been a Methodist church, and that particular sect isn’t doing so well in Sweden. The buyer is internationally famous Grammy-winning music video director Jonas Åkerlund, who intends to use the building for unspecified cultural purposes.

The latter case is kind of funny. 30 years ago, Jonas Åkerlund played drums with the seminal Satanist black metal band Bathory. His most recent music videos, however, have been for Coldplay, Beyoncé and Jay-Z.

Thanks to Johan Lundström för the tipoff.

Update same day: Aard regular Thomas Ivarsson points out that the 1880 Caroli Church in urban Malmö, not far from Maglarp and Örja, was de-sanctified by the Church of Sweden in 2010 and is now part of a shopping mall.