From Pagan to Christian
Every generation brings new ideologies, philosophies, and movements, and many of them can feel like they arrived overnight. This has happened since the beginning of time. Still, one of the most extreme examples of a generational clash can be found in Jutland, Denmark, at the Jelling Mounds. One king made a visual pledge to paganism, and a few years later, his heir made a similar one to Christianity in the same spot. Few places left on Earth demonstrate the transition of philosophies, let alone the transition into Christianity like Jelling. Not only does Jelling represent Denmark’s relationship with paganism, but it also represents the birthplace of Christianity in the country. Even if you’re not religious, Jelling has extraordinary historical significance. It’s kind of like a smaller version of the point in Jerusalem where the three Abrahamic faiths all come together.
The Reign Of King Gorm
In memory of his wife Thyra, King Gorm the Old erected a runestone on a royal monument in the 10th century A.D. The inscription on the stone reads, “King Gorm made this monument in memory of Thyrvé, his wife, Denmark’s adornment.” This is the oldest reference to the name Denmark, and it is commonly considered Denmark’s “name certificate.”
Along with the runestone, two identical flat-topped mounds were also erected, 70 meters in diameter and 11 meters high. They are built of carefully stacked, even layers of turf, with the grass side facing down. Many believe that the northern barrow, which encases a wooden tomb, was constructed for Gorm by his son Harald. Everything that Gorm erected on the site represents Nordic life in Denmark.
The Reign Of King Harald
In 965, King Harald Bluetooth (!) got rid of the Norse paganism that his father supported and converted to Christianity. He erected a larger runestone next to his father’s pagan one to commemorate this transition of religious beliefs.
In his inscription, he dedicates the monument to his parents, explains that he has won Denmark and Norway, and has brought Christianity to the kingdom. This is the second time “Danmark” is referenced.
Fun fact- the Bluetooth technology we use today was named after King Harald because of his expertise in communicating with warring tribes and bringing them together. Thank the Phoenicians for your ABCs, but thank the Danes for your shower radio!
The full inscription, which sits under a depiction of a Nordic dragon, reads, “King Harald ordered this monument made in memory of Gorm, his father, and in memory of Thyrvé, his mother; that Harald who won for himself all of Denmark and Norway and made the Danes Christian.”
On the other southwest face of the stone is the earliest depiction of Christ in Scandinavia; it is featured in all Danish passports. The runestone itself is considered Denmark’s “baptism certificate.”
Along with his runestone, Harald also erected two barrows and a wooden church that was later replaced by a simple whitewashed stone church on the same site. Three wooden churches existed before it but were destroyed by fire. In 2006, excavations found evidence of a palisade around the monument and parts of a ship setting.
So not only is Jelling the site where Denmark was named, but it is also the site where the country was baptized into Christianity. You can see why this would have some historical and cultural significance to the Danes and the world.
Even if you aren’t Danish or Christian, the site holds significant meaning to our history as humans.
Visiting in July is a good time because the visitor center holds a Viking market near the monuments that now sit in glass cases. The Kongernes Jelling experience center houses interactive exhibits with digital binoculars that allow you to see the site as it was a thousand years ago.
Have you been to Denmark and visited the Jelling Mounds?