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


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


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


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.

A Short Reflection on Mapping Saints in 2021


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


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


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


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

Inputting Saints’ Feasts found in Calendar Fragments into the ‘Mapping Saints’ Database


Sara Ellis-Nilsson, Linnaeus University

In this blog post, I discuss how we classify information from the calendars for input into the database. An important part of this work involves figuring out how to deal with different systems of dating and how to visualize change over time. Lastly, I conclude with a reflection on my planned analyses of the development of saints’ feasts in medieval Sweden and Finland.


Classification and Input into the Mapping Saints Database

In the Mapping Lived Religion project, we are building a database of both objects and texts that provide evidence of the cults of saints; the research resource, including a mapping component, has been named Mapping Saints. In order to identify, trace, and analyze, the main analytical component in the project is the concept of Cult Manifestation, which indicates when evidence – for example, artefactual, archaeological, or textual – for a saint’s cult is “manifest” in a particular location and at a specific point in time (or over a period of time). The evidence for a Cult Manifestation can be an object, a painting, a narrative text, a feature in the landscape, or a feast day. In the Mapping Saints database, the basis for a Cult Manifestation is organized into Type of Evidence > Type of Evidence, subcategory.

The calendars contain Cult Manifestations for feast days (Type of Evidence), while the more specific (sub)category depends on whether the feast was celebrated or observed only by the clergy (called festum chori) or also by laypeople (called a festum fori/terrae in the database; see my previous blog-post for definitions of these Latin terms). The basis for a saint’s Cult Manifestation in the case of the calendars is thus either:

Type of Evidence = Feast Day
Type of Evidence, subcategory = Festum fori/terrae


Type of Evidence = Feast Day
Type of Evidence, subcategory = Festum chori

As an example, I have chosen a 13th-century century calendar fragment from the Skara Diocese (Figure 1). The feast days in red ink have been input into the database as a Cult Manifestation for a Feast Day > Festum fori/terrae for the month of March (given numerically as “03”). The feast days in black ink have been input as a separate Cult Manifestation for a Feast Day > Festum chori. As Cult Manifestations are also connected to time in the Mapping Saints research resource, I will discuss further details as to how these feast days are inputted below.


The image is a visual aid to the text.

Figure 1. Calendar fragment Fr 25594 (Kal 2, 1r) contains the month of March. It indicates the liturgical rank in the right column. The feast days in black are interpreted as festum chori, while the feast days in red as festum fori. Photo by Sara Ellis Nilsson.


Challenges with Time

In order to get to grips with what we have termed our “time-scape”, as well as landscape, including dates is an important component in the project. Currently, we are discussing and working on ways to implement the myriad dates and ways of dealing with time associated with our rich and varied source material. One of the ways that we have approached the issue of visualizing when – in terms of which centuries – a feast day was probably celebrated is by providing a date or interval for when an object was produced (called Production date). However, in the case of the calendars, this date may obscure when in fact certain saints were venerated in the landscape in question. This is because many of the early calendars (now fragments) were produced in other locations – France, England or elsewhere – although they were later used in dioceses in the Ecclesiastical Province of Uppsala. Some of these saints were venerated liturgically and their feasts observed, while others were known by name only (due to their inclusion in calendars). In the project, all saints’ feast days in the calendar fragments are included in the database, as even knowledge about the saints could have had an influence on lived religion.

Currently, the solution that we have implemented to show when a Cult Manifestation was active – and which can later be visualized using a timeline connected to the map tool – is by providing a Function time-period for each manifestation. In the case of the calendars, this interval begins either when the calendar was produced or when a feast day was added to the calendar later. The estimated end date in the interval for Cult Manifestations for feast days based on those found in calendar fragments is 1571 (unless other evidence or information is available), which is the year that the Swedish government and church officials decided on formal new regulations for the church (Kyrkoordningen). These regulations were a precursor to the Church Law (Kyrkolagen) that was ratified over a century later (Malmstedt 1994: 59, 67; Zachrisson 2017: 42). It is important to note, however, that many feasts continued to be celebrated after 1571, and red ink was also used for major feasts after the Reformation. In these cases, another end date will be input. In the above example, the Function time-period for the feasts in the original calendar starts in the 13th century, based on when the calendar was made (the Production date), and ends in 1571. Any additions to the calendar, such as Saint Thomas Aquinas on March 7, are input as separate Cult Manifestations with a new start date in the Function time-period interval. This will allow us to analyze and visualize changes in Cult Manifestations over time. In Thomas’ case, the start of this Cult Manifestation is based on the addition in the early 1300s, and the interval is given as 1301—1571.

It is important to note that, as the project is ongoing, this system is under development and might be modified.


Future Analyses

After the feast days and their observance have been input into the calendars, I will use digital methods to analyze Cult Manifestations based on calendar entries, i.e. Feast Day > festum chori OR festum fori/terrae. These results will be mapped over time, from the evidence in the liturgical calendar fragments to the final version of the liturgical year that was established in the Calendars printed before the Reformation. The results will give a glimpse into the way medieval people lived religion through feast days. Combined with Cult Manifestations based on other forms of evidence, such as sculptures, I will then be able to determine which saints were celebrated where and which cults had the most impact on the way religion was lived in Swedish and Finnish dioceses during the medieval period.



Göran Malmstedt 1994. Helgdagsreduktionen. Övergången från ett medeltida till ett modernt år i Sverige, 1500–1800. Göteborg: Avhandlingar från Historiska institutionen i Göteborg.

Terese Zachrisson 2017, Mellan fromhet och vidskepelse: Materialitet och religiositet i det efterreformatoriska Sverige. Göteborg: Avhandling från Institutionen för historiska studier.

Fragments of a Year: Saints’ Feasts in Swedish and Finnish Medieval Calendars (Part II)


Sara Ellis-Nilsson, Linnaeus University

This second part of my discussion of Swedish and Finnish medieval Calendars and their place in the project Mapping Lived Religion (or, as we have started to affectionately call it, Mapping Saints) has been delayed in part due to the current pandemic. When I posted the first installment, I thought that I was just at the start of a year of regular trips to Stockholm to transcribe the calendar fragments that do not have photos in the Swedish National Archives Database of Medieval Parchment Cover Fragments (Riksarkivets databas över medeltida pergamentomslag, MPO). Studying these fragments will provide a clearer picture of what is actually extant and what these fragmented calendars can tell us about the medieval veneration of saints. However, the past year has put my plans to travel to the archives on hold. I am not more mobile now, nor have I had the chance to travel to Stockholm. However, our continuing project-work developing the database’s model, as well as re-checking my transcriptions and inputting them into the database has provided me with an opportunity to reflect on what calendars can tell us about the veneration of saints in terms of lived religion, as well as the use of digital methods in studying feast days.

In my previous post, I presented a short historiography of the research on parchment fragments in Scandinavia – without which ground-breaking work my current research would not have been possible. The subject of this blog-post focuses on the parchment fragments that the Mapping Lived Religion project is including in its database for medieval Sweden and Finland: the liturgical calendars. Specifically, the post explores what these calendars can tell us about the veneration of saints.


What can the calendars tell us about the veneration of saints?

Simply put, the perpetual, ecclesiastical calendars found in medieval liturgical books, for example breviaries, indicate the date and rank of established feasts throughout the year and are organized into two overlapping but separate annual cycles. The feasts that were part of the Sanctorale were fixed to specific dates each month and included saints’ feast days, while the annual cycle celebrating Jesus’ life was found in the Temporale (Harper 2001: 49, 290). In the case of feast days, the date and liturgical rank, as well as the observation of the feast can give us clues as to when and how the feast was to be celebrated and by whom, just the clergy or also the laity. In addition, saints’ feasts were sometimes celebrated on different days depending on the diocese. Of course, these calendars are normative sources, indicating a rule rather than a practice. However, it is possible to deduce/postulate what the consequences of these regulations would have been on a particular congregation. There are, however, some further indications which provide concrete clues more closely related to the actual practices associated with feast days: that is, 1) observation, 2) liturgical rank, and 3) the additions and removals of feast-days.

Observation indicates how a feast was required to be celebrated by a community, both the clergy and laypeople. In the later calendars, how or by whom the feast was to be observed was often included (or added in the case of older calendars) to the right of the saint’s name, sometimes in conjunction with the liturgical rank or number of lessons. Observation of the feast was indicated by the following terms: festum fori (“feast of obligation for all”) or festum terrae (“feast of obligation for the entire country”) and festum chori (“feast of obligation for the clergy”). In the calendar material from the Nordic countries, festum fori/terrae indicates the most important feasts that are to be observed or celebrated by the entire ecclesiastical province (in medieval Swedish, landsheligt, literally “holy throughout the land”). This included of course laypeople, who were expected to attend church and the liturgical celebrations that day. The other term, festum chori, specifies that the feast need only be celebrated liturgically by the clergy. The liturgical historian Sven Helander suggests that a cross can have the same function as festum terrae in the older calendars (1959b; 1959c). However, these terms were not connected to the liturgical rank, although feasts designated as festum terrae often enjoyed a higher liturgical rank which is to be expected. The use of colour in the calendars seems to be connected to the observation of a feast, not its liturgical rank: red indicating festum fori/terrae, and black festum chori. It is also important to note that the use of festum terrae continued even after the Reformation to indicate important feast days (Helander 1959c). Indeed, even today, “red days” indicate public holidays.

Liturgical rank indicates how important a feast was in terms of its liturgical celebration, that is the celebration conducted in church which included the number of readings and songs: in general, the higher the rank, the longer the service. This can be indicated in a number of ways. From the 12th–13th centuries, the following terminology was commonly used, and the liturgical rank was often included beside the entry for a saint’s feast. This could be indicated by the number of lessons or a number of other terms in the case of a feast with nine lessons (Harper 2001: 49, 53–54; Helander 1959a). The number of lessons indicate readings from the Bible or a saint’s life that were read aloud during Matins (one of the times of prayer that organized the day) and two Vespers (one the evening before, and one the evening on the actual feast day). These extra terms are: totum duplex or festum duplex (a “total double” or “double feast”, that is a major feast and both indicate the highest rank), semiduplex (literally “half double” and indicates a feast between a simple and double), and simplex (a simple feast, that is a lesser feast with three lessons read at Matins in parish churches or nine lessons in monasteries). Of course, there are a number of hypotheses regarding what these terms actually indicated (Helander 1959a). The celebration of an office with three lessons does not seem to have required additional terms. A saint’s feast day could also be celebrated as a memoria (“memorial”, that is a day of remembrance to commemorate a minor saint which does not affect the regular daily liturgy). All of the other terms indicate a disruption to regular liturgical patterns.


Illustrates the discussion in the text

Figure 1. A calendar fragment, Fr 25594 (Kal 2, 2r) from Skara Diocese, which contains the month of September and shows the liturgical rank in the right column. For example, at the end of the first row in black, “ix l’c” indicates 9 lessons, while mem[oria] indicates a day of remembrance. The feast days written in red ink are probably festum fori/terrae. Photo: Sara Ellis Nilsson.

Moreover, additions and, if identifiable, removals (crossing or rubbing out) of feast days provide evidence for new saints, as well as changes to how saints were venerated and whose feast days were observed. Additions of the type of observation beside feast days also give an indication as to the importance of a saint’s feast at a later date. Additions of liturgical rank beside feast days provide additional evidence that a cult received renewed attention and the feasts were not just passive names in a calendar. However, these additions do not necessarily indicate a new manifestation of the cult. Adding a liturgical rank could also be a top-down activity and these saints were not necessarily celebrated.

Thus, observation and liturgical rank are key to understanding two different aspects of feasts. The current project’s focus is on lived religion; as a result, the observation of a feast – whether only by the clergy or by the entire community, including laypeople – is regarded as significant evidence for a saint’s feast day being a part of the lives of both clergy and laypeople. It provides clues as to which days would have affected the everyday lives of laypeople: when they were required to attend church or when they would have at least half a day off manual labour.

In my next post, I will discuss my work in classifying and organizing evidence from the calendars to include in our database. This work includes how to interpret the dating of source material – an important part when studying history – as well as a look ahead to my planned analyses of the development of saints’ feasts in medieval Sweden and Finland.



John Harper 2001. The Forms and Order of Western Liturgy from the Tenth to the Eighteenth Century. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Sven Helander 1959a. “Festgrader”. In John Granlund (ed.). Kulturhistoriskt lexikon för nordisk medeltid (KLNM). Malmö: Allhems förlag, pp. 241–243.

Sven Helander 1959b. ”Festum chori o. festum fori”. In John Granlund (ed.). Kulturhistoriskt lexikon för nordisk medeltid (KLNM). Malmö: Allhems förlag, pp. 243–244.

Sven Helander 1959c. ”Festum terrae”. In John Granlund (ed.). Kulturhistoriskt lexikon för nordisk medeltid (KLNM). Malmö: Allhems förlag, pp. 244–245.



A Short Reflection on Mapping Saints in 2020


Sara Ellis-Nilsson, Linnaeus University

The following was originally published as a thread on Twitter @MappingSaints (Dec. 18, 2020). It has been edited for clarity.

The year [2020] is drawing to a close. Time to reflect! The project has taken clear steps forward: developed an input interface and a data model for our cultural heritage data, created a holy place register, implemented vocabularies and linked data where possible, and digitized analogue material, etc.

Our collaborators at the Swedish Historical Museum and the Swedish Heritage Board archives have finished their digitizing components. Some metadata enrichment is still ongoing. These collections are being integrated into our platform, but will also later be linked to via SOCH (Swedish Open Cultural Heritage).

We held a (digital!) workshop for our advisory board and managed to have a two-day project meeting [in the autumn] to discuss challenges and solutions. We welcomed two work-experience students to our team for a month. All invaluable collaborative efforts! Work is of course ongoing and there is still much to do, especially in terms of entering data and digitizing our analogue source texts.

We continue to collect and input data, and develop/fine-tune our model. More tools/solutions will be implemented. But we have come a long way in a year, and especially this one, despite the setbacks, for example, of not being able to travel to archives to collect material. Thank you to everyone! (And to digital meetings and tools!)

Next year [2021] will be even more exciting with ongoing work on our research resource, as well as new developments! First, we have received financing for a postdoc researcher from Finland who will be starting in the summer (more on that later in 2021). In addition, we will start collaborating with the newly funded Society of Swedish Literature in Finland project, Lived Religion in medieval Finland. There is a lot to look forward to with these collaborations!

Finally, we have of course presented the project numerous times in different fora.

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!