An update from the Mapping Lived Religion project: Work on the public interface and a project retreat

29 November, 2023

Our latest project retreat was held at Korrö – once the property of the Växjö diocese – in the deepest woods of Småland, Sweden, in October. There, we discussed the updates to the upcoming public interface’s Explore function, as well as made decisions regarding the Advanced Search function. We also discussed quality control connected to our research question of lived religion. This post briefly highlights our work during that workshop as well as over the past year. All of our core project members were there, as well as our postdoc and current research assistant.

In terms of the Explore interface, we considered aspects related to its visual appearance, and the terms to be used in the headings and other fields. We also tested the implementation of the “functional period” on the timeline. It was deemed necessary to enable searching in our quotes and transcriptions, as well as see more options to search in “type of place”. Many questions for the advisory board were noted, for when they test the interface, and this aspect of the database is nearing completion.

Seven people standing on the deck of a red building beside a river and with a stone and red wooden building on the other shore

The project members taking a well-deserved break from their intense workshopping in lovely Korrö (Sweden).

Regarding the development and implementation of the Advanced Search function, a suggested placement was proposed that we decided works fine: a user gains access to this via the Explore interface. In this respect, we had to decide what properties should be searchable and how many different fields that we wanted to search in. For instance, we discussed that we needed to be able to search for whether or not an object is extant and more clearly search for the names of different people (other than saints). Of course, it will be possible to search for multiple saints via this function too, as well as in the transcriptions and quotes that have been input into the database.

When updates have been made to both of these functions, the public interface will be sent to our advisory board for feedback.

In addition to questions regarding the Swedish mirror site, and the possibility of a Finnish page, our discussions, as is usual, centred around quality control and how to make sure our data is reliable. As envisioned at the start of the project, it would be impossible to be as comprehensive as we would like given the relatively short period of time allotted to the project. Our focus on lived religion has necessitated excluding some data, such as church floor plans, that we do find interesting and potentially useful in other respects. In other cases, the short articles that we have written and included in the “Comment” field for cult manifestations and quotes/transcriptions might be more to the point than we had first envisioned. However, we have accomplished a great deal in the past (nearly) five years, and the resource will give access to diverse data about the cults of saints in medieval Sweden and Finland – mapped and visualized in a new way – providing new insights into lived religion via the lens of the cults of saints in the former church province.

Our aim is to be able to launch the resource Mapping Saints for public use in June 2024, while the autumn of 2024 will be spent on adding comments or short passages illuminating and explaining the data further. Next year will also be spent writing articles about the development of the digital resource, and finishing our forthcoming anthology, written together with our sister project.

Wall-paintings in Finnish Churches in the ‘Mapping Saints’ Database, part 2

21 April, 2023

Vilma Mättö, Linnaeus University and University of Turku

In my previous blog-post, I introduced the major painting series that are preserved in Finnish medieval churches and listed some of their key features, namely the overlays and fragmentation caused by various factors. In this blog-post, I will discuss a few specific cases to exemplify how these features should be taken into account when analyzing the depictions of saints.

The fragmented nature of the material poses challenges. Each wall painting exists in relation to other images, formulating chronological or thematic entities, and associations with one another. The interpretation of the whole iconographical program gets more complicated when the material has been somehow altered or damaged (Aho 2023, 20). This can also hinder us from identifying individual motifs. For instance, in many cases it is hard to determine what saint a figure represents or even to recognize if a depicted person is a saint in the first place.

Sometimes, even though the actual image is mainly intact, but the identity of the portrayed person is still uncertain. The identification of a saint is made firstly with the help of related attributes. However, the attributes connected to each saint have varied depending on the area where the saint was venerated (Nygren 1945, 15–18). It is also evident that painters visualized saints in their own creative way and sometimes they might have confused saints with each other or simply made a mistake and connected a saint with the wrong symbols.


Painting of St Christina in the church of Hattula. Photo by Janika Aho.

Fig 4. Painting of St Christina in the church of Hattula. Photo by Janika Aho.


Because we lack contemporary written sources that describe and explain the content of the church murals – let alone the intentions of their makers – other pictorial reference material is a crucial aid in identifying the saints featured. For example, in Hattula church, St Christina of Bolsena is depicted with a knife, which is not her usual attribute (Fig. 4). Even so, the identity of this female saint is easily unraveled, since the closest comparable example in Lohja church shows Christina with another edged weapon, a small sword, and a more common attribute of hers, the millstone.


A pelican feeding its young with blood, symbolizing the sacrifice of Jesus, and depiction of St Christina of Bolsena at the lower right corner. Photo by Janika Aho.

Fig 5. A pelican feeding its young with blood, symbolizing the sacrifice of Jesus, and depiction of St Christina of Bolsena at the lower right corner. Photo by Janika Aho.


Some other good examples of the importance of comparative material are the paintings representing St Botolph of Thorney in the churches of Lohja (Fig. 6) and Hattula (Fig. 7). In Lohja, the east wall of the chancel shows a depiction of a bishop with a crozier and a mitre in his right hand. In earlier research, this saint has been interpreted as St Dionysius based on the assumption that the painting had later been restored incorrectly, and that the mitre in his hand was in fact an erroneous version of the Dionysius’ decapitated head (Nygren 1945, 102–105). In Hattula, the depiction of this saint is quite similar to the painting in Lohja, showing the saint in a bishop’s cope and with a mitre and crozier in his hands.


An unknown bishop, possibly St Botolph, depicted in the church of Lohja. Photo by Janika Aho.

Fig 6. An unknown bishop, possibly St Botolph, depicted in the church of Lohja. Photo by Janika Aho.


Later, art historian Anna Nilsén compared the paintings in Lohja and Hattula with the pictorial program of the Täby church in Sweden and noticed a resemblance between some of the motifs. In Täby church, St Botolph is correctly depicted wearing an abbot’s attire, but like in Lohja and Hattula, the mitre is with him next to his left shoulder. St Botolph of Thorney was indeed a well-known English abbot and a missionary in the seventh century ( But because the saint was occasionally informally referred to as a missionary bishop, he was sometimes depicted with a mitre and a crozier. As Nilsén has proposed, it is feasible that the painter was unfamiliar with the legend of St Botolph and therefore concluded that a saint portrayed with a mitre must have worn the cope as well (Nilsén 1986, 196, 203).


A painting in the church of Hattula that might be of St Botolph. Photo by Janika Aho.

Fig 7. St Botolph? A painting in the church of Hattula. Photo by Janika Aho.


Images of saints whose identity is uncertain or unknown are included in the Mapping Saints database along with all possible alternatives that the saint in question could represent. As noted above, the identity of a saint is sometimes possible to trace by finding parallel images, such as plausible models that the painter might have used. In fact, a common method is to examine the depicted figure’s posture, gestures, accessories, and other objects connected to the person, as well as observe the style and colour of the garment that the person is wearing. In addition, a pivotal step is to contextualize the image to determine how it relates to contemporary events and actions connected to the painting’s place of origin (Vuola et al. 2018, 59–64).

The Mapping Saints database facilitates this contextualization (about the context of the artwork see, for example, Räsänen 2009, 23–24). The user can quickly form an overall picture of how the chosen images could be connected to other objects, places, people, oral traditions, texts, feast days, etc. and for example, limit the search results to a selected time-period or region. Images like wall-paintings can be treated as objects that echo the phenomena of the past. But they can also be considered as subjects in themselves, in which case the context is rather built up around the image. Nonetheless, church paintings are not only products of their own time, but they also have their own autonomous rhetoric that is continually constructing our current culture (Liepe 2003, 415–417, 424–425).


Painting of St Botolph in the church of Täby. Photo from the Iconographic Index card.

Fig 8. Painting of St Botolph in the church of Täby, Sweden. Photo from the Iconographic Index card, courtesy of the Swedish National Heritage Board (Riksantikvarieämbetet).


By linking the digitized cards of the Swedish Iconographic Index (Sw. Ikonografiska registret) and re-digitized photographs of the World of Medieval Images project (Sw. Medeltidens bildvärld), the database provides a vast collection of visual data, and together with other material content and textual sources they constitute a good base for elaborating on medieval church art (see more Liepe & Ellis Nilsson 2021, 55–60). The Iconographic Index of Finland housed by the Finnish Heritage Agency has also been newly digitized and after its publication in the Finna portal will soon be complementing the database. Additionally, more photographs of the Finnish medieval wall-paintings will be published on another platform and, in time, also be made accessible via the Mapping Saints interface. The existing church murals being a fractured material overall brings its own challenges, yet they have a lot of research potential. Indeed, the Mapping Saints research resource compiles several kinds of scattered information that can bolster iconographical surveys and give support in interpretative problems, offering new possibilities and perspectives for the further study of church murals.



Aho, Janika. “Fragmentaarisuus Suomen keskiaikaisissa kirkkomaalauksissa: kolme esimerkkitapausta”, Suomen Museo – Finskt Museum, (2023), 19–40.

Liepe, Lena, & Ellis Nilsson, Sara. “Medieval Iconography in the Digital Age: Creating a Database of the Cult of Saints in Medieval Sweden and Finland”. ICO Iconographisk Post. Nordisk tidskrift för bildtolkning – Nordic Review of Iconography, (2021), 45–63.

Liepe, Lena. ”On the Epistemology of Images” ‒ in History and Images. Towards a New Iconology, Axel Bolvig & Phillip Lindley (eds.). Turnhout: Brepols, 2003.

Nilsén, Anna. Program och funktion i senmedeltida kalkmåleri. Kyrkmålningar i Mälarlandskapen och Finland 1400‒1534. [Stockholm]: Kungl. Vitterhets historie och antikvitets akademien, 1986.

Nygren, Olga Alice. Helgonen i Finlands medeltidskonst. En ikonografisk studie. Diss. SMYA, FFT XLVI:1. Helsingfors: SMY, FF, 1945.

Räsänen, Elina. Ruumiillinen esine, materiaalinen suku : tutkimus Pyhä Anna itse kolmantena -aiheisista keskiajan puuveistoksista Suomessa. Helsinki: Suomen Muinaismuistoyhdistys, 2009.

Vuola, K., Reijonen, H., Kaasalainen, T., & Saat, R. “Medieval Wood Sculpture of an Unknown Saint from Nousiainen: from Materials to Meaning”, Mirator, 19 (2018), 43–66.

Wall-paintings in Finnish Churches in the ‘Mapping Saints’ Database, part 1

13 April, 2023

Vilma Mättö, Linnaeus University and University of Turku

Medieval church paintings combine a wide range of material that can broaden our perception of how different saints were venerated – which saints were chosen to be immortalized on the church walls and how their legends were visually retold. In the former medieval diocese of Turku situated in present-day Finland, the pictorial compositions featuring saints exist in approximately 30 medieval churches. Throughout 2022, the Mapping Saints database was supplemented with saints’ cult manifestations that occur within this material. In this first blog-post, I will outline some major characteristics that the Finnish medieval church paintings have and continue in the next post by mentioning a couple of examples that demonstrate how these special features should be considered especially when studying the images of saints.

Out of over 80 preserved stone churches in Finland there are around 47 in total that have murals from the medieval period. Extant paintings range from single fragments or consecration crosses to extensive and detailed schemes recounting episodes from the Bible and other religious texts. The Finnish medieval paintings can roughly be divided into two main categories: the paintings made by painting workshops or individual painters who apparently have had some level of professional education, and the paintings that are plainer in their execution and have presumably been created by the construction workers of the church (Fält 2012, 11). The oldest wall painting series located in Finland are found in the churches of Jomala and Lemland, Åland, both dated to around 1300 (Hiekkanen 2020, 48–49). The majority of the Finnish medieval church painting series were executed in the latter part of the 15th century and in the early 16th century though and are situated mostly in Southwest Finland and Uusimaa.

Three major groups of professional workshops can be identified within the best-preserved painting compositions. The earliest works of these are attributed to the so-called Taivassalo Group, which was active in Southwest Finland from 1467-1490 and has painting series in, for example, the churches of Taivassalo/Tövsala, Kalanti/Kaland (Fig. 2), Laitila/Letala, and Parainen/Pargas (Aaltonen 1999, 14, 16). Characteristic of the Taivassalo Group’s paintings is the emphases on the Passion history and martyrdom legends, as well as a notable influence from mystery plays and theological literature like Speculum Humanae Salvationis. In addition, series showing the Apostles creed and various depictions of saints with adjoining coats of arms or portrayals of the donors are common in their work.


Image of St Erasmus wall-painting in Kalanti church. Photo by Janika Aho

Figure 1. The martyrdom of St Erasmus in the church of Kalanti. Photo by Janika Aho.


Another group of painting programs that show strong similarity with each other are found in the churches of Inkoo/Ingå, Espoo/Esbo and Siuntio/Sjundeå, all located in Uusimaa. The date of the murals in these churches is estimated to somewhere between the years 1510 and 1520. One distinctive feature of the paintings in the abovementioned churches is that the figures are depicted with their eyes closed, although otherwise the subjects differ among these three compositions. Typological scenes from the Old Testament are noticeable in Espoo and Siuntio, whereas the focus in Inkoo is on the New Testament with the addition of exceptional memento mori themed motifs. (Aho 2020, 37; Riska 1987, 161–167).

The painting series in the churches of Hattula and Lohja/Lojo were most likely produced by the same group of professionals in the 1510s. The church of Hattula is not only famous for its unique brick structure and having the status as a pilgrimage destination in the Middle Ages, but also for its eye-catching painting program that covers almost all surfaces of the interior and having survived time relatively well (Fig. 1). The pictorial compilation is rich with representations of over 50 different saints, including, for example, majestic sequences showing the miracles of the Virgin (Edgren 1993, 66–67). In Lohja church the painting series is also extensive with large-scale depictions of biblical themes and legends.


Image of Hattula wall paintings. Photo by Janika Aho

Figure 2. Murals from the first decade of the 16th century in the church of Hattula. Photo by Janika Aho.


Other painting series worth mentioning are those in the church of Kumlinge in Åland, made by an unknown painter, and in the church of Rymättylä/Rimito in Southwest Finland, attributed to the Swedish master Lars Snickare. Both of these mural series were most probably completed in the 1510s (Hiekkanen 2020, 182, Nilsén 1982, 20–41).

In one way or another, medieval art is always fragmentary. Wall paintings have been subject to many changes throughout the centuries. For instance, they have faced damage caused by the weather, being covered with plaster, white-wash, or new layers of paintings, being re-covered, or disturbed by enlargements of windows and other architectural constructions. The way medieval church paintings were treated after the Reformation has varied among countries. In Finland, the majority of wall paintings were left untouched in the early modern period but were eventually covered over at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries (Valkeapää 2000, 34–46).

Starting in the 1880s, all paintings were documented and restored. In those churches where paintings had been covered the century previously, they were first revealed under the whitewash, naturally exposing the fragile coat of paint to sunlight and interior heating. The restoration work in most churches followed conventions of the period, which included heavily overpainting and sometimes even changing the location of individual images by using copies of the original ones (Fig. 3). In many churches, it was decided to completely or partially re-whitewash some of the paintings after they had been documented, and it is difficult to estimate how many paintings still remain under plaster (Valkeapää 2015, 105–106; Fält 2012, 12).


Image of heavily restored wall-paintings in Taivassalo church. Photo by Janika Aho

Figure 3. Paintings on the east wall in the church of Taivassalo exemplify how heavy-handedly medieval church art was sometimes restored in the 19th century. This wall-painting composition shows representations of St Catherine and St Matthias at the upper section, both restored by densely overpainting, and at the lower part a scene depicting the martyrdom of St Barbara. This scene from St Barbara’s legend is a full copy made after the original painting which was initially located on the south wall but had to be demolished due to new window openings. Photo by Janika Aho.


Another important aspect in analyzing the paintings is that many churches have had more than one pictorial scheme overlaying each other. Even during the Middle Ages one church might have been decorated with two or more temporally separated image series executed by different makers, either by the new layer covering the earlier paintings or by placing the new ones beside the older paintings.



Aaltonen, Susanna. “Kalannin ryhmän kuusi maalaria”, SKAS 1 (1999), 14 –21.

Aho, Janika. ”Memento Mori Inkoon Keskiaikaisessa Kirkossa”. Tahiti 10 (2020), 32–55.

Edgren, Helena. Mercy and Justice. Miracles of the Virgin Mary in Finnish Medieval Wall-Paintings. Diss. SMYA, FFT 100. Helsinki: SMY, FF, 1993.

Fält, Katja. Wall Paintings, Workshops, and Visual Production in the Medieval Diocese of Turku from 1430 to 1540. Helsinki: Finnish Antiquarian Society, 2012.

Hiekkanen, Markus. Finlands medeltida stenkyrkor, transl. Camilla Ahlström-Taavitsainen. Stockholm: Kungl. Vitterhets historie och antikvitets akademien, 2020.

Nilsén, Anna. “Kalkmålningarna i Rimito kyrka och deras upphovsman”. Finskt Museum (1982), 5–43.

Riska, Tove, “Keskiajan maalaustaide”, in Salme Sarajas-Korte (ed.), Ars: Suomen taide. 1. Espoo: Weilin + Göös, 1987.

Valkeapää, Leena. Pitäjänkirkosta kansallismonumentiksi: Suomen keskiaikaisten kivikirkkojen restaurointi ja sen tausta vuosina 1870-1920. Helsinki: Suomen muinaismuistoyhdistys, 2000.

Valkeapää, Leena. Vapaa kuin lintu: Emil Nervanderin elämä. Taidehistoriallisia tutkimuksia 47. Helsinki: Taidehistorian seura, 2015.

Wayside Shrines, Crosses, and Saints’ Images in the Nordic Landscape

13 February, 2023

Terese Zachrisson, University of Gothenburg

Figure 1. A wayside shrine points out ’the narrow path’ towards Heaven to a fool stuck in a swamp in Sebastian Brant’s 1494 Ship of Fools. Image by Project Gutenberg (CC0 1.0 Universal).

A phenomenon that usually catches the eye of modern Scandinavians travelling through the Alps or the Southern European countryside, is the multitude of small wayside shrines scattered throughout the landscape. To secularised Scandinavians, this is often a rather exotic view. Few are aware that this aspect of sacred topography was once as common a sight in the North.

Christian wayside shrines come in a variety of shapes and sizes. A type of shrine evident from late medieval illustrations — that is still common today — is that of a crucifix or a saints’ image with a gabled ‘roof’ or enclosed in a small open ‘house’ (see figures 1 and 2). Shrines can also consist of a larger free-standing cross or crucifix, made of either stone or wood (see figure 3), or a large saints’ sculpture, for instance placed in a grotto or small oratory. Another variant is a painted image on a board or tablet, that according to some 17th-century descriptions seems to have been relatively common in Sweden. 

Wayside shrines were the focal points of ‘devotion on the go’. People working the fields, herding livestock in the woods, travelling along roads or visiting markets would kneel, make the sign of the cross and offer a prayer at such sites. Visiting shrines and crosses could also be a substitute for church attendance, when circumstances made it difficult to travel far. Shrines could also fill other functions. They could function as boundary markers and they could indicate sites where something remarkable had taken place, like a battle, or where someone had met a tragic and untimely end. People dying in riding accidents are especially common in the folklore surrounding many memorial crosses, and this tradition has much in common with offerkast* and the modern-day tradition of marking the sites of fatal car accidents with candles and flowers (Petersson 2009, 87). Even when a shrine mainly had a memorial function, it still called out for interaction with passers-by. Some of the surviving inscriptions on stone crosses request prayers for the victim’s soul, like the 13th-century runic inscription on a cross in Guldrupe parish on Gotland that says: Pray for Jakob in Annuganänge’s [?] soul, whom Nikulas slaughtered. 

Wayside shrines could also mark processional routes, as evidenced from medieval Central Europe, where religious processions ended in the open-air celebration of mass (Timmermann 2012, 393). According to Bishop Jöran Wallin the Younger (1668–1760), the stone cross in Kräklingbo had once had an altar at its base, for this very reason (Säve 1873, 18–19). Other shrines functioned as stations along pilgrimage routes, showing the way to pilgrims both physically and spiritually. 

Figure 2. Pilgrims at a wayside shrine. Colourised woodcut from a prayer book by Johann Geiler von Kaisersberg (Augsburg 1510). Image by the British Museum (CC BY-NC- SA 4.0).

As with so many other aspects of medieval Christianity in the Swedish realm, the contemporary sources rarely contain references to wayside shrines and we often have to rely on early modern narratives in order to identify sites that had these types of shrines. While shrines were likely an important part of the lived religion of the laity, as long as they weren’t part of saints’ legends or renowned enough to be objects of substantial donations, there was probably little motivation to mention them in writing. Many small shrines were likely also initiated and maintained by the laity, and as such not part of the formal ecclesiastical framework of buildings and other official structures. 

But there is little reason to doubt that wayside shrines were indeed a part of the religious repertoire of the Nordic region in the Middle Ages. From Norway and Iceland there are some early examples of wayside crosses in the sagas. St Olaf himself is said to have erected a cross in Sunnmøre in 1029 and Bishop Gudðmundr the Good (1161–1237) is said to have had several crosses consecrated along the Icelandic coast (Gardell 1930, 2–3).

In the last will and testament of Queen Margaret, the architect of the Kalmar Union, five different crosses in her vast realm were mentioned (DD 1405. Sorø 12. April.). For the sake of the queen’s soul, pilgrims were to be dispatched to the holy crosses in Solna in Sweden, in Borre in Norway, in Hattula in Finland and Randers and Kliplev in Denmark. Margaret’s will doesn’t clarify whether these crosses were free-standing shrines or part of the churches’ furnishings.  In the case of Hattula, the cross in question has been identified with the 14th-Century crucifix still in place in the parish church (Hagen 2021, 113–114), but no crucifix has been preserved from Solna, and it is possible that it was indeed a free-standing object.

The terminology used in the sources presents a challenge to its categorisation and analysis. For example, the Swedish word for cross — kors — had a much wider application in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period than it has today. It could refer to both  the ‘naked’ cross and the crucifix, and it was used for both smaller objects and large, free standing ones. Sometimes it seems to have been used to refer to a shrine or holy object in general — that in itself could have had any iconographic content.

In the Mapping Saints database we have currently collected around thirty such sites. Crosses and sculptures placed by holy wells aren’t included among these, since we view them as part of the wells rather than their own separate sites. Neither are the crosses mentioned in the will of Queen Margaret categorised as wayside shrines. Due to the uncertainty mentioned above, we haven chosen to categorise them as connected to the parish churches of Solna and Hattula.

Several wayside crosses were associated with the saints. At St Olaf’s Harbour in Medelpad, the staring point of the northern pilgrims’ way to Nidaros, a large copper-clad cross was in place up to the middle of the 17th century. In Ålem in Småland, St Birgitta’s Cross marked the site where the ship carrying St Birgitta’s relics back to Sweden from Rome is said to have docked in 1374. In Nousiainen, Finland, a cross in remembrance of St Henrik was still standing in a field by 1674. 

Figure 3. 13th-Century stone cross on Kapelludden, Öland, later associated with St. Birgitta. Photograph by the author (CC0 1.0 Universal).

The saints could also be present at wayside shrines through their images. For example, a highly unusual object has been preserved in Liden Church in Medelpad: a simple wooden cross with a painting of St Martin on one side, and St Margaret on the other, dated to the first quarter of the 16th century (Figure 4). According to local tradition, as mediated by the parish’s pastor in 1776, the cross had been placed at a site in the woods “during the papacy” (HLA Härnösands domkapitel EIII:69). This shrine was visited by those who were unable to travel to the church, and who left offerings at the site. The cross itself is covered in grafitti, initials, and house-marks, which lends additional credence to the story. 

One aspect that likely contributed to the popularity of wayside shrines were their accessibility. As indicated above, such sites were accessible to people who due to age, ill health or remote living conditions had a difficult time attending church on a regular basis. Not only could these sites be found close at hand, they were also always open. Even when crosses and saints’ images were enclosed in some kind of small structure, there were no ‘opening hours’ to take into account. A clear example of the importance of availability is seen in the instructions by Bishop Eystein of Oslo (c. 1337–1407) regarding a wayside cross raised in honour of St Olaf in Eidskog:

Thus, we let it be so, that this cross is maintained and that there be made a small prayer-house in honour of St Olaf, with an altar and a door without a lock, so that it is always open and ready for the pilgrims to have mass there, as we have promised, when they cannot enter the church (DN I:545, Vinger, February 18, 1394).

He further specifies that half the income from offerings left at the site is to belong to the church, and the other half to the shrine itself, which is probably one of the reasons that his stipulations for the small shrine were put into writing. 

The 17th-century antiquarian reports, written by local clergy and magistrates and sent to the Swedish College of Antiquities, speak of several wayside shrines which still existed in living memory, and some that were still in use. One example is from Funäsdalen, located in the mountainous border region between present-day Sweden and Norway, where remnants of an “offering cross” [sv. offerkors] were still visible, as well as the evidence of an offering practice in the form of scattered coins on the ground (Ranns. I, 245). Another cross is mentioned from Södra Åsarp in Västergötland. It stood in a field, and according to two different reports from 1668, people would visit the cross to pray with their rosaries (Ranns. I, 195 & 202). Crosses from the Finnish part of the realm are also mentioned in the early modern sources. When Dutch diplomat Andries van Wouw visited Finland in 1616 he commented on the tall crosses with an altar-like foundation he encountered in Savonia (Wikman 1947, 114) and the same tradition was reported from Karelia (Arffman 2016, 259). 

Figure 4. A cross with saints’ images and grafitti from Indals-Liden, 1500–1525. Photograph by the Swedish National Heritage Board (CC0 1.0 Universal).

A particularly interesting case is found in a rather unlikely source — a scientific treatise from 1698 on the midnight sun by Mathematician Johan Bilberg. When travelling through Västerbotten in 1694, he visited Bygdeå Parish Church, where he was shown a saint’s sculpture that had functioned as a woodland shrine where parishioners living far from the church had met together for worship. After “the most happy Times of Religion being purged from the Heresies of Papists”, the image had been brought back to the church and laid aside “in detestation of the Memory of that Matter” (Bilberg 1698, 86). A very similar case is found in Lövånger, about 45 kilometres to the north of Bygdeå, where parishioners born in the late 19th century still remembered a sculpture (CM #73) by the name of ’God in Vebomark‘ (figure 6), that had previously been placed in the Vebomark forest (SND LUKA 1, 1 *113302). 

Tablets with painted images of Christ, the saints, or the Cross is also hinted at in several early modern sources that describe shrines as “votive boards” or “offering tablets” [sv. offertavla]. According to Fale A. Burman, who travelled through Jämtland in the late 18th century, many place-names containing the word tavel, such as Tavellokan and Tavelbacken, reflect the memory of such shrines (Burman 1898, 104). Another indication of the past importance of wayside shrines, and how they were preserved in memory, are the sayings that were common in Sweden in the Early Modern period. When describing someone lacking in piety, it was said that that he or she “went to neither cross nor church” [sv. gick varken till kors eller kyrka], and someone admitting their wrongdoings were often said to “crawl to the cross” [sv. krypa till korset]. While the former expression is extinct, the latter is still widely used in Swedish. 

* An offerkast [“offering throw”] is a heap of pebbles, twigs and branches marking the site of an untimely death. Passers-by would throw a pebble or twig onto the heap while passing.



Arffman, Kaarlo, ”Resistance to the Reformation in 16th-Century Finland”, in Sari Katajala-Peltomaa & Raisa Maria Toivo (eds.), Lived Religion and the Long Reformation in Northern Europe c. 1300-1700, Boston 2016. 

Burman, Fale A., Fale A. Burmans koncept-dagböcker förda under resor i Jämtland åren 1793–1802. I utdrag utgifna af Johan Nordlander, Stockholm 1894.

Diplomatarium Danicum (DD), Sorø 12. April, 1405.

Diplomatarium Norvegicum (DN) I:545, Vinger 18 February, 1394.

Gardell, Sölve, ”Om kors och korshus i medeltidens Bohuslän”, i Göteborgs och Bohusläns fornminnesförenings tidskrift, Göteborg 1930.

Hagen, Kaja M. H., “O holy cross, you are all our help and comfort”: Wonderworking Crosses and Crucifixes in Late Medieval and Early Modern Norway, Oslo 2021.

Lund University, Lund University Church History Archive (2014). Questions concerning religious conceptions and church customs, *113302. Swedish National Data Service. Version 1.0.

National Archives of Sweden in Härnösand (HLA), Domkapitlets i Härnösand arkiv, EIII:69. 

Petersson, Anna, ”Swedish Offerkast and Recent Roadside Memorials”, in Folklore, vol. 120:1, 2009.

Rannsakningar efter antikviteter, Vol. 1. Stockholm 1969. 

Säve, Per-Arvid, ”Kors på Gotland”, in Svenska fornminnesföreningens tidskrift, Vol. 2:1, Stockholm 1873. 

Timmermann, Achim, ”Highways to Heaven (and Hell): Wayside Crosses and the Making of Late Medieval Landscape”, in Celeste Brusati, Karl A. E. Enenkel & Walter Melion (eds), The Authority of the Word: Reflecting on Image and Text in Northern Europe, 1400–1700, Leiden 2012.

Wikman, K. Rob. V., ”Gårdskors och bönkors”, in Fataburen: Nordiska museet och Skansens årsbok, Stockholm 1947. 

Ex-voto images: lived religion in visual form

5 October, 2022

Lena Liepe, Linnaeus University

“In the year 1454 it so happened that Ingrid, servant of master Anders, priest in Värend, had a swollen hand, covered with wounds, that caused her a lot of pain. She was unable to use the hand for any sort of household work. She tried several remedies, but nothing worked. One day she came to the abbey [i.e. the Vadstena abbey]. In the morning mass, she said her usual prayers, and while she was praying, she remembered Lady Catherine, the daughter of Saint Birgitta, and she decided to go to her grave in the hope of being cured. She did this and promised to make an offer of a hand made from wax if she was healed. And when the promise had been made the swelling disappeared before noon and the hand was completely healed. In memory of this she hung a wax hand in honour of God and the blessed Catherine, on account of whose merits she believed herself having been cured (Lundén (ed.) 1981, [48], 67).”

The above episode appears in the collection of miracles, attributed to Catherine of Vadstena and chronicled by the clergymen of the abbey, compiled as part of the process to have her canonized (see Fröjmark 1992, 50–66). The wax hand donated by Ingrid of Värend was not the only such gift Catherine received. A total of 33 offerings, shaped in the likeness of humans, beasts, or objects, are recorded in the miracle collection: twenty whole figures made from silver or wax, including a wax nun; four wax children and one silver child; two wax heads and one silver head; one wax eye; one wax jaw; one wax hand; one wax arm; one wax leg; one wax breast and one silver breast; two wax horses; and one wax spoon.

The 33 wax and silver items are all examples of ex-votos: material artefacts made for offering to a saint or deity as an act of faith, to make a pledge, or fulfill a vow (Weinryb 2018, xi). Ex-votos (from the Latin phrase ex voto suscepto,‘from the vow made’), or votive offerings, could take all kinds of shapes, and also consist of mere lumps of matter; unspecified pieces of wax are frequently mentioned as offerings in the miracle collections (cf. below). A figurative ex-voto image is made in the likeness of the object for which a remedy is being sought: e.g. an aching limb, a sick child, an afflicted horse, or a silver spoon that has gone missing. It is a universal phenomenon: the catalogue of the exhibition Agents of Faith. Votive Objects in Time and Place, held at the Bard Graduate Center Gallery in New York from 2018–2019, documents ex-voto images coming from five continents and dating from prehistory to the present day (Weinryb (ed.) 2018).

Seen from a lived religion perspective, the miracle collections’ mentions of ex-voto images provide rare evidence for a lay visual culture in the Middle Ages of which otherwise practically no evidence has survived. A world of images made by and for common people may have existed, but if so, no physical traces thereof remain today. Admittedly, we cannot be certain that the ex-voto images as a rule were made by the devotees themselves; in particular the silver objects can be assumed to have been made by professional goldsmiths. Thus, the widow of a once blind man recounted how she, upon her husband having been instructed in a dream to make an offer of two silver eyes to St. Brynolf of Skara, went to a goldsmith to have the eyes made. As soon as they were offered at the shrine, the husband’s eyesight was restored (SRS 1871–1876, 171). Wax images, on the other hand, might have been within the capability of the devotees themselves to produce. A Gunnar from Mellby suffered from insanity, but was cured by St. Brynolf after the parish priest had made a vow in his name. According to the testimony given by Gunnar to the commission that investigated the miracle, after he had recovered he made an image in wax (“fecit sibi ymaginem de cera”) as an offer to St. Brynolf (SRS 1871–1876, 168). Whether the ex-voto images were manufactured by the individuals who had experienced the miracles or not, their status as expressions in visual form of lay agency in a devotional context is unquestionable, and unique.

St. Catherine leads the field among Nordic saints whose miracle stories include mention of offerings and votive images made from wax or silver. Next comes Nicolaus of Linköping with 23 recorded ex-votos, whereas the “Helga lösen” group – a gilded-silver sculpture of the Deposition from the Cross, in the Dominican convent church in Stockholm – comes third with eight documented ex-voto offerings. The miracle collection of St. Eric of Sweden mentions four offerings; the collections of St. Birgitta and of Niels of Århus three each; the collection of Brynolf of Skara two offerings; and the miracle collection of St. Henry of Finland one. These numbers do not include the more or less unformed lumps of wax that were frequently presented to the shrines, nor the wax candles that are mentioned in the miracle collections of St. Eric (two), Nicolaus of Linköping (one) and Helga lösen (three) (Lundén 1950, 54–54). A special category of votive offerings are fish and cereal ears made from silver, offered, it may be presumed, in the hope of or as thanksgiving for plentiful hauls and harvests. In his survey of Reformation confiscation protocols Olle Källström records the impounding of eight silver fish and 27 silver cereal ears from churches in Sweden and Finland (Källström 1936; Källström 1943, 136–137; see also Lundén 1950, 55–56).

It should be borne in mind that the records in the miracle collections need not reflect the actual number of ex-votos offered to the shrines. They are the result of the documentation carried out by clerics who had gotten hold of and interviewed pilgrims visiting the shrines. Hence, the ex-votos mentioned were connected to an experienced miraculous healing recounted by the pilgrim, and/or by witnesses able to confirm the authenticity of the account, as recorded by the commission that investigated the application for canonization. Many more ex-votos may have been presented by pilgrims seeking healing or help. If their appeals were unsuccessful, or they simply escaped the clergy’s notice, their offerings were not registered in the miracle collections.

The votives are long gone, but a few visual sources remain that give an idea of what it looked like in those churches where ex-voto¬s accumulated. A painted scene on the exterior of one of the wings of an altarpiece in Västerås Cathedral shows a priest holding up a reliquary before an audience of beggars and cripples (cult manifestation # 3535; Bedoire 2019, 143, 147). In the upper right corner of the panel, crutches and was limbs hang suspended from a rope right above what appears to be a saint’s shrine, standing on or behind the altar. It should be kept in mind, though, that the altarpiece was made in Antwerp and that the painting is generic in character, i.e. it is not an historically accurate rendering of the interior of Västerås Cathedral (cf. Liepe 2020, 56, on the apparent lack of a saint’s shrine in Västerås). Somewhat more reliable as a historical source is an engraving from around 1700 of the late medieval so-called Erik altarpiece in Uppsala Cathedral (cult manifestation # 3505; Bengtsson 2010, 57–58). The altarpiece disappeared in the great fire that ravaged the cathedral in 1702, but engravings made of it not long before on the initiative of Johan Peringskiöld, inform us of its appearance. One of the altarpiece’s painted panels depicted two pilgrims kneeling in front of the shrine of St. Erik. Included in the composition were votive offerings: to the right in the picture, a leg and a hand made from wax (or perhaps silver), and the upper part of a suit of armour, can be seen suspended from the vaults or piers in the chancel where the shrine had its place in the late fifteenth century, when the panel that the engraving reproduces was painted.

Votive gifts in wax or silver had monetary value, and were likely often given with the intention that the receiving institution could convert them into material or pecuniary assets Thus, one of the reasons for the complete loss of medieval ex-voto images is probably that the waxen ones were used for candles, whereas the silver ones were perhaps melted down and reused for making other objects, or were simply turned into an economic resource. The material value also attracted thieves. The miracle collection of the local Danish saint Niels of Aarhus tells of how thieves twice tried to steal silver – in one case a pair of silver eyes – from the shrine, but how the relics emitted a fragrance that alerted the clerics so that the thieves could be caught. The Stockholm legal protocols for 1482 recount how a woman confessed to stealing wax from the altar of “Helga Lösen” in the Dominican church. For this, she was first placed on the pillory and then banished from the city (Krötzl 2014, 215).

Another cause for their disappearance is that they were purged as part of the Reformation’s crackdown on the Catholic cult of saints. The saints were not banned in the strict sense; they were, and still are, accepted as pious models to be venerated and remembered as worthy examples of faith, piety, patience and obedience. They may not, however, be worshipped or invoked. The Danish reformer Peter Palladius writes in his Visitatsbog (Visitation book) from just after the mid-16th century, that “billeder som mand haffuer giort søgning til, och hengde voxbørn och krycker for, de schule borttagis och brendis op” (“images that people seek out, and hang wax children and crutches before, should be taken away and burned.”) (Jacobsen (ed.) 1926, 36). In Fana parish in Norway after the Reformation, the priest burned several wagonloads of crutches and staffs that pilgrims had donated to the church’s reputedly miracle-working cross or crucifix that had a reputation for miracle working (Hagen 2021, 386).

At the time of writing (September, 2022), 35 votive offerings in total are registered in the database, the majority of which are silver cereal ears and silver fish. As more miracle collections and other sources are harvested for cult manifestations, the number of entries belonging to this category will grow, and yet another dimension of the material forms that the cult of saints could take will be made visible and accessible for further study. By mean of these objects, another piece is added to the jigsaw puzzle of lived religion as it unfolded in medieval Sweden and Finland.


Bedoire, Fredric. Andligt och världsligt. Katedralen i Västerås under åtta sekel. Stockholm: Bokförlaget Langenskiöld, 2019.

Bengtsson, Herman. “Bevarade och försvunna inventarier”. In Herman Bengtsson, Inger Estham, Axel R. Unnerbäck. Uppsala domkyrka V. Inredning och inventarier. Sveriges kyrkor. Konsthistoriskt inventarium 231. Riksantikvarieämbetet & Kungl. Vitterhets Historie och Antikvitets Akademien. Uppsala, 2010: 27–201.

Fröjmark, Anders. Mirakler och helgonkult. Linköpings biskopsdöme under senmedeltiden. Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis. Studia Historica Upsaliensia 171. Uppsala: Uppsala universitet, 1992 (Diss.).

Hagen, Kaja Haug. “O Holy Cross, You are All Our Help and Comfort”. Wonderworking Crosses and Crucifixes in Late Medieval and Early Modern Norway. Series of dissertations submitted to the Faculty of Theology, University of Oslo Acta Theologica no. 82. Oslo: University of Oslo, 2021 (Diss.).

Jacobsen, Lis (ed.). Peder Palladius danske skrifter V. Copenhagen: H. H.Thiele, 1926.

Krötzl, Christian. Pilger, Mirakel und Alltag: Formen des Verhaltens im skandinavischen Mittelalter (12.–15. Jahrhundert). Helsinki: SHS, 1994.

Källström, Olle. Medeltida silverax från svenska och finska kyrkor. Kgl. Vitterhets Historie och Antikvitets Akademiens handlingar 42: 2. Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstam, 1936.

Källström, Olle. Medeltida kyrksilver från Sverige och Finland förlorat genom Gustav Vasas konfiskationer. Uppsala: Almqvist & Wiksells Boktryckeri-aktiebolag, 1936.

Liepe, Lena. Reliker och relikbruk i det medeltida Norden. Scripta Maiora 11. Stockholm: Runica et Mediaevalia, 2020.

Lundén, Tryggve. “Om de medeltida svenska mirakelsamlingarna”. Kyrkohistorisk årsskrift 50 (1950): 33–60.

Lundén, Tryggve (ed.). Vita Katherine. Facsimile tryck av Bartholomeus Ghotans i Stockholm 1487 tryckta bok. Uppsala: Pro veritate, 1981.

SRS = Annerstedt, Claudius (ed.). Scriptores rerum Svecicarum medii aevi 3:2. Uppsala: Edvard Berlings Akademitryckeri, 1871–1876.

Weinryb, Ittai. “Of votive things”. In Ittai Weinryb (ed.). Agents of Faith. Votive Objects in Time and Place. Bard Graduate Center Gallery. New Haven, London: Yale University Press, 2018.

Weinryb, Ittai (ed.). Agents of Faith. Votive Objects in Time and Place. Bard Graduate Center Gallery. New Haven, London: Yale University Press, 2018.

Disinheriting the Saints: Confiscations and the Redistribution of Church Assets in Reformation Sweden

15 June, 2022

Terese Zachrisson, University of Gothenburg

The ‘Linköping Treasure’. Photo: Lennart Karlsson, Historiska museet/SHM (CC BY).

The cult of the saints was largely maintained — and initiated — by means from the laity. The amount of preserved wills and letters of donations benefitting saints’ altars, chapels, prebends and guilds attest to the enormous popularity of the cult of the saints in late medieval Sweden and Finland. By making a donation in honour of a saint, an individual could not only form a deeper personal connection to a particular saint, but also hope to shorten their own or their loved ones’ time in purgatory. But the wealth and abundance of guilds, prebends and altar foundations also attracted criticism, and the cult of the saints was to be one of the major sources of discord in sixteenth-century theological debate. 

While the great Humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466–1536) never left the fold of the Church, he was a staunch critic of what he believed to be the ignorant excesses of ‘popular’ religious expression. Using satire, he criticised many aspects of the cult of the saints, such as pilgrimage and relics. Martin Luther (1483–1546) maintained that the saints were to be respected and that their virtues and deeds should inspire Christians to piety and obedience to God. But praying for the saints’ intercession was useless according to Luther – the Blessed Virgin had no more power to aid an individual than anyone else (Kreitzer 2019, 445–449). Other reformers, like Huldrych Zwingli (1484–1531) and John Calvin (1509–1564) went even further, stating that turning to the saints was not only useless, but also idolatrous. Their renunciation of the saints led to the widespread destruction of shrines, altars and images in the parts of Europe where this more radical view became influential (Heal 2016, 601).

The Swedish Reformers followed the path taken by Luther. They never encouraged iconoclasm or outright banned all aspects of saints’ cults. Nevertheless, they efficiently disrupted the economic foundation of the cults and cut the cords to their cultural and ideological engine at an early stage. At the Riksdag held in Västerås from June 16–18, 1527, an event that has traditionally marked the launch of the Reformation in Sweden, the nobility were granted the right to reclaim all estates donated to the Church since 1454 (Gustaf I:s reg. 4, 226–240). A few months later, King Gustavus I in part revoked this right, when he claimed the rights to the revenues from land donated to the Church for the Crown itself. All in all, this led to a major redistribution of church assets, and greatly impacted the Church’s ability to maintain chapels and altars dedicated to the saints (Bjarne Larsson 2012, 20f). In 1544 the Riksdag, once again assembling in Västerås, took further steps towards disrupting the cult of the saints: all guilds, pilgrimages and prayers to the saints were now outlawed (Sv. riksdagsakter 1, 390).

The assets once belonging to the saints were frequently redistributed among those loyal to the king.  In a letter from 1530, the king granted the income from St. Gertrude’s Prebend  in Skara Cathedral to his own scribe, Måns Månsson (Gustaf I:s reg. 7, 100). In 1546, he gave a plot of land in Nyköping previously owned by St Barbara’s guild to Birgitta, the royal nurserymaid and the Queen’s confidante (Gustaf I:s reg. 18, 25).

Of all the ecclesiastical institutions, the mendicant orders were hit the hardest by the Diet of Västerås. Not only could their donated assets be suddenly revoked, their freedom to preach and collect alms for their upkeep was also greatly restricted by the decrees (Bjarne Larsson 2012, 17). These mendicant orders — most notably the Dominicans and the Franciscans – had up until 1527 been a fairly popular choice for people that wished to honour the saints by making a donation. For instance, in 1520, the noblewoman Anna Eriksdotter (Bielke) made up her will, and for the sake of her soul and the soul of her late husband, she donated a significant part to various religious institutions. Among the recipients was the image of St Anne in the Kalmar Blackfriars’ Church, that was to be given the gilded beads of a rosary (SDHK 38307 & SDHK 38325). 

In 1505, Merchant Ingevald Torstensson and his daughter Birgitta donated the rent revenues from a townhouse to the Stockholm Greyfriars. The condition for this particular donation was that the friars were to celebrate masses in their side chapel dedicated to St Erasmus ‘in perpetuity’ for the benefit of Ingevald’s and Birgitta’s deceased family members (SDHK 35010). The Stockholm Greyfriars had been dissolved already by August 1527, when the Poor Clares moved in to their premises on Gråmunkeholmen (Berntson 2003, 102). The perpetual requiem masses that Ingevald and Birgitta had paid for were thus only celebrated for 22 years. In 1527, Ingevald Torstensson was long dead, but his daughter Birgitta was alive and by then one of the wealthiest and most influential women in Stockholm. She was one of those donors that chose to exercise the new right to reclaim what they had previously donated to the Church. At the same occasion, she also reclaimed a house previously given to St Nicholas’ Guild (Sthlm tb 1524–1529, 153). Whether Birgitta did this because she understood that these institutions were already doomed, or because she had genuinely adopted a new Lutheran understanding of monasticism, purgatory and the intersession of the saints, we may never know.

A donation was a major spiritual investment, not unlike modern-day life insurances. The revenue from donated lands was to cover the upkeep for clerics to perform requiems and vigils for the donor. This  ‘liturgical annuity’ was expected to continue for all eternity, or in some cases for as long as the ecclesiastical institution, for instance a monastery, was in operation. The sudden disruption of this system must have stirred up many emotions among believers. In practice, it must have been as if all of the insurances that you or your parents had paid for, or your retirement savings, were suddenly rendered useless! Not everyone would have been as level-headed as Birgitta Ingevaldsdotter in this scenario. 

As the donation made by Anna Eriksdotter shows, not only land or monetary means were given to the saints, but all manner of goods and votive offerings. Gifts that were made of precious metals were often confiscated by the Crown in the first half of the 16th century. In 1541 for instance, a golden heart on a string was confiscated from Skara Cathedral. The heart had been hanging ‘on the head of St Brynolf’ and was likely a votive offering placed on the sculpture of the saint (Källström 1939, 241).

These confiscations claimed countless objects from the reliquaries, altars and images of the saints. Further examples are the crown belonging to an image of St Olaf, taken from Stora Tuna Church in Dalarna in 1533, and the 76 gilded ornaments from the Virgin’s cloak, taken from Rimito Parish Church in Southwest Finland in 1558 (Källström 1939, 258, 321). That people reacted strongly to these confiscations is evident. The confiscations were explicitly stated to be one of the grievances behind the uprisings the king faced during his reign, though less violent means of protest were likely more common (Berntson 2010, 230–231). A spectacular example of a more peaceful protest is the so-called Linköping Treasure discovered in 1676: a collection of gilded reliquaries, a chalice and a paten that someone had buried in a field, likely in order to save them from being taken by the King’s men (Lahti 2019, 228f). 

While we today may mourn the loss of countless artefacts that undoubtedly would have enhanced our knowledge of medieval religious life, these confiscations and land distributions in themselves actually provide valuable insights, not only into their own time period, but into previous eras as well. Frequently, short notes in inventories and royal correspondence are the only preserved sources in which these prebends, guilds, altars and embellishments of saints’ sculptures are ever mentioned. 



Martin Berntson, Klostren och reformationen: Upplösningen av kloster och konvent i Sverige 1523–1596, Skellefteå 2003.

Martin Berntson, Mässan och armborstet: Uppror och reformation i Sverige 1525–1544, Skellefteå 2010.

Gabriela Bjarne Larsson, “Skärseld, mässor och döda själar 1527”,  in Eva-Marie Letzter (ed.), Auktoritet i förvandling:Omförhandling av fromhet, lojalitet och makt i reformationens Sverige, Uppsala 2012.

Bridget Heal, ”Visual and Material Culture” in Ulinka Rublack (ed.), in Ulinka Rublack (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of the Protestant Reformations, Oxford 2016.

Konung Gustaf den förstes registratur 4:1527, Stockholm 1868.

Konung Gustaf den förstes registratur 7:1530–1531, Stockholm 1877.

Konung Gustaf den förstes registratur. 18:1546–1547, Stockholm 1900.

Olle Källström, Medeltida kyrksilver från Sverige och Finland förlorat genom Gustav Vasas konfiskationer, Uppsala 1939.

Beth Kreitzer, “Mary in Luther and the Lutheran Reformation”, in Chris Maunder (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Mary, Oxford 2019.

SDHK 35010 (RAp 1505)

SDHK 38307 (RAp Kalmar 1520)

SDHK 38325 (RAp Kalmar 1520)

Sofia Lahti, Silver Arms and Silk Heads: Medieval Reliquaries in the Nordic Countries, Åbo 2019.

Stockholms stads tänkebok under Vasatiden I. 1524–1529, Stockholm 1908.

Svenska riksdagsakter jämte andra handlingar som höra till statsförfattningens historia under tidehvarfvet 1521-1718, Band 1 (1521-1544), Stockholm 1887.

A Short Reflection on Mapping Saints in 2021

1 February, 2022

Sara Ellis-Nilsson, Linnaeus University

The following content was originally published as a thread on Twitter @MappingSaints (Jan. 18, 2022). It has been edited for clarity.

At the beginning of a new year, it’s once again time to reflect on the project and, this time, our work in 2021.

The database has continued to grow and develop, with a lot of data being added. The interface now features a short description of the project and the research resource which is still under construction. The input interface, Mapping Saints, can now be viewed online, here:

In 2021, we focused on data input, creating places on the Finnish map, refining our database model, and implementing IIIF.

This update thread from April 2021 highlights that from mid-March to mid-June, Steffen Hope joined us as a research assistant to assist with the transcription and input of those calendar fragments that have images in the Medieval Parchment Cover database (MPO) at the Swedish National Archives.

Our collaborative partner, the Center for Digital Humanities, University of Gothenburg, where our research engineer, Johan Åhlfeldt, is based, has been working hard to implement a IIIF-server so we can utilize this to retrieve and view images directly in our research resource, including letters in the SDHK (Medieval charters/Svenskt diplomatarium) database and fragments in MPO. Johan has also worked with testing the possible implementation of an xml-editor.

While a lot of new material is continuously being input into the database, modelling discussions and implementations are also ongoing. For instance, Terese Zachrisson and Anders Fröjmark have been focusing their efforts on indulgence letters and miracle stories, respectively. Lena Liepe has been matching the digitized Iconographical Index cards to the correct Cult Manifestations in the database.

Throughout 2021, we were also active in presenting the project at conferences, such as at the (online) International Congress on Medieval Studies in May, in a session entitled ‘Saints Online’ together with other exciting mapping saints projects. In addition to co-writing an article about the spatial research data infrastructure of the project (forthcoming in 2022), we published an article in 2021 focusing on the project’s art historical aspects and the digitization work done in collaboration with our partners the Swedish National Heritage Board and the Swedish National Historical Museums. The article is available here: 

We were joined by three student interns from the Department of History, Lund University, who input miracle stories. Our student research-assistant, Andreas Blixt, continued his work by inputting church bell and runic inscriptions, the latter including linking to relevant posts in the new database, ‘Runor‘.

Over the course of the autumn, we focused on questions of how we model time in the database, resulting in the implementation of a “function time-period” for our Cult Manifestations – enabling visualizations in both time and space.

From 2021-2023, our Wallenberg postdoc Sofia Lahti will be working with the Finnish art historical material. Speaking of Finland, starting in the spring 2022, we are also looking forward to finally beginning the delayed collaboration with our “sister” project, Lived Religion in Medieval Finland!

In addition to our Finnish collaborations and continued data input, our main goal in 2022 is to develop our future user interface. The first steps towards this goal will address appearance and functionality, as well as enabling visualizations and analyses.

Thanks to everyone who has helped us and shown an interest along the way! Keep yourselves posted on further developments via Twitter or here on our blog!

Re-post: News from our collaborative partner, the Swedish National Heritage Board

18 January, 2022

Sara Ellis-Nilsson, Linnaeus University

As part of the Mapping Lived Religion project, we collaborated together with the Swedish National Heritage Board (SNHB, Riksantikvarieämbetet) and our contact there, Johan Nordinge, to digitize and digitally publish the “Iconographic Index” (IR, Ikonografiska registret). The IR, compiled by Meredith Lindgren and Ingalill Pegalow, contains about 35,000 index cards, as well as black and white photographs, detailing medieval iconographic motifs in Swedish churches. It is an invaluable resource for medieval art historical research.

In addition to being accessible via our research portal, Mapping Saints, the digitized IR is now available via the SNHB search interface, ArkivSök. More information can be found in Swedish on the SNHB site:

Registerkort ur Ikonografiska registret

Index card featuring a 15th century mural from the Iconographic Index

Om att praktisera i projektet

4 November, 2021

Blogginlägget är skrivet av projektets praktikant Hedda Skaarud, student på Lunds universitet.

Jag heter Hedda Skaarud och jag har under de senaste två veckorna praktiserat i projektet Mapping Lived Religion. Medieval Cults of Saints in Sweden and Finland. Jag är student vid Lunds universitet och läser min tredje termin på kandidatprogrammet i historia. Det är genom programmet som jag har fått möjlighet att praktisera i projektet. I det här inlägget berättar jag om min upplevelse av praktiken.

Mitt arbete gick ut på att transkribera medeltida mirakelberättelser och föra in dessa i hemsidan. Till att börja med transkriberade jag mirakelberättelser om Erik den helige från Miracula S. Erici regis et martyris i Scriptores rerum Svecicarum medii aevi T. 2: 1. Verket sammanställdes av Erik Gustaf Geijer och Johan Henrik Schröder och publicerades år 1828. Mirakelberättelserna återges på både latin och gammalsvenska så jag förstod de historier jag transkriberade. Verket är digitaliserat i den mån att det är inskannat. Det finns som PDF-fil, från vilken man med relativt goda resultat kan kopiera text. Jag renskrev den kopierade texten och såg till att den “passade in” i databasen, exempelvis genom att ta bort fotnoter. Som den historiestudent jag är föredrar jag att arbeta med fysiskt material, framförallt vid läsning. Av den anledningen letade jag upp den tryckta boken från 1828 i Universitetsbiblioteket i Lund. Jag fortsatte att kopiera texten från PDF-filen, men jämförde med det fysiska källmaterialet.

Image of a workplace at Lund University Library with book open

Scriptores rerum Svecicarum medii aevi T. 2: 1 på Universitetsbiblioteket i Lund. Foto: Hedda Skaarud (CC-BY-SA)

Efter Erik den helige kom Heliga Birgitta. Jag arbetade med mirakelberättelser från ​​Acta et processus canonizacionis Beate Birgitte som sammanställdes av Isak Collijn och publicerades 1924-1931. Jag hittade källmaterialet fysiskt på SOL-biblioteket i Lund och påbörjade arbetet med att skriva av mirakelberättelserna. Dessa var på latin så jag såg till att låna en översättning till modern svenska, Himmelska uppenbarelser/Bd 4 av Tryggve Lundén, publicerad 1959. I arbetet började jag med att läsa berättelsen på svenska, sedan skrev jag av den på latin. Efter att jag hade korrekturläst kunde jag föra in mirakelberättelserna in i databasens tabell ”Quote” (citat) som är knyten till tabellen ”Source” (källan). På så sätt byggde jag sakta men säkert upp källan, så att andra i projektet kan översätta och använda materialet i ett senare stadium.

Det var en större utmaning än vad jag hade föreställt mig att arbeta med källmaterial på latin. Då jag inte har någon kunskap i språket sedan tidigare hade jag svårt att hitta stavfel i de transkriberade texterna och det var tidskrävande att gå igenom berättelserna ord för ord. Under praktikens gång blev det något lättare, då jag blev mer bekväm med latin. Många ord återkom gång på gång då mirakelberättelserna ofta är uppbyggda efter samma mönster. Till och med de ovana böjningsformerna kändes mindre främmande i slutet och stavfelen blev färre. Jag tror också att det hjälpte att läsa på svenska parallellt med latin. En av de största vinsterna för mig med praktiken var att jag förstod berättelserna när jag läste dem på svenska. Som historiestudent har det varit fantastiskt att få läsa så levande om dramatiska händelser som helt vanliga människor på 1300-talet upplevde. Jag har ofta upplevt mirakelberättelserna som underhållande med sina beskrivningar av märkliga sjukdomar och elaka djävular. Precis som i en saga kan man lita på att hjälten, eller i detta fall helgonet, kommer att rädda offret. Jag har definitivt fått mycket inspiration till en framtida C-uppsats.

En förhoppning jag hade inför praktiken var att få en bättre inblick i hur forskningsarbete verkligen går till, vilket jag anser att jag fått. Jag har förstått att det krävs mycket hårt arbete och att det kan vara tidskrävande. Jag uppskattar att jag har blivit betrodd med intressanta och ibland svåra arbetsuppgifter. Mapping Lived Religion. Medieval Cults of Saints in Sweden and Finland är ett enormt projekt och jag imponeras över hur mycket tid och kraft som ligger bakom Mapping Saints. Jag är glad över att ha kunnat bidra till det arbetet. Jag ser stora möjligheter med databasen och uppskattar särskilt att resursen kommer kunna användas så brett. Både yrkesverksamma historiker och historieintresserade amatörer kommer kunna njuta av resultatet.

Till slut vill jag säga tack för att jag fått delta. Det har varit otroligt lärorikt och intressant! Jag ser fram emot att följa projektets utveckling.

Projektmedlemmarna tackar dig också för fint arbete!

Re-post: A blog by our collaborative partner, the Swedish National Historical Museums

6 October, 2021

Sara Ellis-Nilsson, Linnaeus University

As part of the Mapping Lived Religion project, we collaborated together with the Swedish National Historical Museums (SHM) to digitize art historian and photographer Lennart Karlsson’s photographs of medieval ecclesiastical art as high-resolution images. Our contact, Eva Vedin, and the photographer, Ilar Gunilla Persson, have written a blog on the images, the original database (Medeltidens bildvärld), and the work digitizing the 19 000 images with “modern technology” (in Swedish on the SHM site).

Medeltidens bildvärld – nu högupplöst