A Short Note on Kata Farm – a Christian Viking Church

12:31 by Karin Strinnholm Lagergren

In 2005, excavations in Varnhem revealed the ruin one of the earliest churches in Sweden. It was constructed towards the middle of the 11th century and had replaced a wooden church from the end of the 10th century. This church was a private church for a wealthy and Christian family, and is one of the earliest testimonies to an organized Christian cult in medieval Sweden. This is the time before parishes or even dioceses existed and we know next to nothing about which liturgy was used, which books the read and sang from, or from where the priests came.

The site has been given the name Kata Farm since a woman with that name is was buried just outside the church a little before the middle of the 11th century. We know her name from a slab on her grave with a runic inscription.

In 1150, construction started on Varnhem Cistercian monastery, only a hundred meters away from the Kata’s church. The land was donated by the family with the private church and this church continued to be used for this purpose until the latest in the 14th century when it had then been overtaken by the monastery and used as a dwelling house, maybe for guests of the monastery.

On 7 May 2017 the ruin was inaugurated as a kind of open air museum with a wooden roof protecting it with a permanent exhibition about the site. Ensemble Gemma (www.ensemblegemma.se) was given the honor to sing at this occasion – the first singers for a thousand years to perform in this room! Given the circumstances with a church built in a time from which we have no musical sources (meaning from medieval Scandinavia), the choice of repertoire was difficult. After some investigation three good choices emerged: 1. Music from the Office of St Erik (king Erik Jedvardsson ca 1125-1160). Erik was through his wife Kristina Björnsdotter affiliated with Kata Farm had most probably visited the church. 2. Music from the Skara Missal. We know little about where and by whom this missal from the late 12th century was written and/or commissioned but it undoubtedly has a link to Skara diocese. 3. Chants from the Birgittine  Office Cantus sororum because St Birgitta’s sister is buried in Varnhem.

More about this fascinating place and its history now and then is found here: http://vastergotlandsmuseum.se/kata-gard-varnhem/


Karin Strinnholm Lagergren
Senior Lecturer at Linnaeus University
Senior lecturer in musicology and singer of medieval music. Research interest monastic chant, in particular Birgittines and Dominicans. In this blog I write, comment and reflect on my research project 'The Musical World of the Birgittine Order'. Expect loads of manuscript images, tricky chant problems and square notation!

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