Subproject 1

Jerusalem in Medieval Scandinavia (ca 1000-1500)

The objective of this subproject is to map the Jerusalem code in medieval Scandinavian material and literary cultures. We aim to investigate the role of Jerusalem in the shaping of new religious and political identities in Scandinavia during the process of conversion, the introduction of literacy, and the establishment of an ecclesiastical structure (1000-1200). Furthermore, we want to study how the quadriga model was activated within the literary, visual and architectural references to Jerusalem, all of which were used to integrate politics with spirituality in Scandinavian medieval cultures.

Integration in the Christian oikumene. It is significant that the integration of Scandinavia into Latin Christendom (9th-12th cen.) mainly took place during the Crusader period, a time in which the Western claim to the earthly Jerusalem shaped European politics and religious practices. For Scandinavians, who were latecomers to Christianity, the Christian identity became one of warfare and expansion. Consequently, the figure of the saintly king, the war against infidels, and the idea of the fundamental otherness of non-Christians came to play leading ideological roles (Aavitsland 2015).

The conversion of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden was in fact double: not only was new faith gradually introduced, but these northern kingdoms were also transformed into literate societies. Literacy helped the Scandinavians identify with the Judeo-Christian past and with the Biblical landscape, securing for themselves a role in the history of Salvation and a place in the realm of Christendom. Their inclusion in the Christian oikumene comprised a double strategy. First, creating a Christian horizon involved adopting and remembering the vast amount of inherited texts, rituals, images and ideas transmitted through the media of written and painted codices, architectural forms, and liturgical practices. Second, the Scandinavians had to struggle to become part of this heritage. They were to reinterpret their own past within the narrative of salvation history. In this production of a new cultural and religious landscape of the North, Jerusalem proved a particularly potent topos, providing a forceful means for shaping a new religious and political identity. It was a centre to which the periphery, the finis terrae, could be connected. This claim is supported by preliminary research on a group of knight friezes in Danish medieval parish churches (12th-13th cen.); they testify to the ‘Crusader identity’ of the Scandinavian aristocracy in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries (Aavitsland 2014).

Bridget of Sweden (1303-1373). A powerful application of the Jerusalem code is found in the writings of the visionary mystic and European politician Bridget of Sweden. We want to investigate how the interpretation of Jerusalem fundamentally informed her works: as the physical goal of her pilgrimage, as an allegory and metaphor leading to moral teaching, as a vision of the eternal Kingdom of God (the New Jerusalem), and as a key to her theories of church architecture. Within this structure, we want to focus on Bridget´s political theology and her wide-ranging plan of reforms involving the church and society. During the last decades, her life and writings have attracted increasing scholarly interest (Sahlin 2001; Berglund 2003; Zochowska 2010; Falkeid 2014). With this project, we aim at a new contextualization of her theology and work.