Om att praktisera i projektet


Blogginlägget är skrivet av projektets praktikant Anton Andersson, student vid Göteborgs universitet.

Som studerande på Liberal arts-programmets femte termin ingår ett halvår av praktik. Min praktik blev i forskningsprojektet Mapping Lived Religion. Jag har nu under en hel termin spenderat min tid med att arbeta i projektet. Det har varit en spännande och väldigt lärorik period, där jag har fått använda mig av mina tidigare erfarenheter från mitt program Liberal arts och även fått lära mig nya saker inom projektet.

När jag började med databasen fick jag i framför allt i uppgift att mata in data från medeltida brev från Diplomatarium Fennicum. Detta är något som jag aldrig hade gjort tidigare, och jag hade definitivt inte jobbat med någon liknande databas. Jag hade ett möte med min handledare Terese Zachrisson och Johan Åhlfeldt som programmerar databasen. Jag fick en lärorik genomgång om hur den fungerade och hur allting hängde ihop när olika brev och texter läggs in. I början kändes det som väldigt komplicerat, med många saker att hålla koll på. Men efter att ha jobbat med det mycket i början så kom det ganska naturligt hur det gick till. Jag började lära mig och kunde ta mig an fler brev, och brev som blev mer komplicerade. Jag fick även utanför det försöka mig på att översätta vissa latinska texter till engelska eftersom jag läst flera kurser i latin under mitt program.

Arbetet som jag har fått ta störst del av är att lägga in dessa medeltida brev i databasen. Jag har fått gå in på Diplomatarium Fennicums hemsida för att sedan hitta ett brev som jag fått identifieringsnumret för av min handledare och sedan har jag läst igenom brevet för att lägga in det i databasen och kategorisera de kultmanifestationer brevet innehåller. Jag har också fått försöka hitta vilka personer som finns i breven, vem som har gjort vad, och om det är en t.ex. en donation. Jag har även fått försöka att ta reda på vilken plats brevet är skrivet ifrån osv. I vissa fall fanns det mesta redan inlagt i databasen, så jag bara kunde mata in dem. Men i andra fall kanske inte personen var inlagd och då har jag fått försöka söka mig fram för att hitta till exempel om det var en adlig person i någon känd släkt och vilka föräldrar och barn personen kan ha haft i det fall de förekommit i brevet. Detta gällde även för platser. De vanligaste platserna, som Åbo i Finland, där många brev utfärdats, har redan varit inlagda och jag kunde enkelt mata in dem. Men ibland kunde det gälla mindre sockenkyrkor och då har jag fått ta reda på information kring den här kyrkan, om den finns kvar eller om den har förstörts på något sätt, för att sedan lägga in den informationen i databasen så att kultmanifestationerna kan kopplas till den platsen i databasen.

Jag har även fått ge mig på lite latinska texter som jag fick översätta i början. Jag gjorde några stycken och blev ganska stolt över mina översättningar, men ju fler jag gjorde desto större och mer komplicerade blev de och jag kände att min kompetens från programmet inte riktigt sträckte mig så långt som att översätta källtexter på medeltida latin. Detta eftersom vi till stor del bara har studerat antikt latin från Rom, vilket skiljer sig en del i från det latin som jag skulle översätta från breven. Men det var en rolig utmaning och jag lyckades bra med de kortare texterna. Efter ett tag fann jag dock donationsbreven mer intressanta och jag började bygga upp en mycket större förståelse för de olika viktiga familjerna i framförallt Egentliga Finland och Åland, där jag kunde hitta spännande kopplingar och se deras inflytandet i dessa områden. Jag fick se en vardag inom medeltidens helgonkult som jag aldrig hade fått möjligheten att ta del av om jag inte hade börjat praktisera i detta projektet eller valt att jobba mer med just de här breven.

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.

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


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 was 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 are 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. 

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


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.

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.



Saints and Holy Wells – A Medieval Tradition?


Terese Zachrisson, University of Gothenburg

St. Olaf’s Spring and ”St. Olaf’s Cauldron” in Borgsjö, Medelpad.

Bodies of water believed to be gateways to the supernatural are a common aspect in many cultures, and they are still a feature of modern Christianity. The veneration of springs is an adaptable tradition that can be tied to deities, saints and other supernatural forces, all according to the particular cultural context in which they are found. In medieval Europe, many wells and springs were associated with the saints. Healing miracles frequently occurred at these wells, and pilgrims left votive offerings at the sites. At times, the crutches and canes left behind would pile up by the wells, as a testament to the intervention of the saints.

In the Swedish source material, holy wells and springs are frequently mentioned in 17th-century antiquarian reports, where they are usually described as remnants of a ‘superstitious’ Catholic past. Some of the springs were dedicated to universal saints, such as the Virgin Mary, St. Lawrence or St. Nicholas, but a large portion of them were connected to regional and local saints that were believed to actually have been present at the sites during their lifetimes. St. Olaf and St. Sigfrid, who according to tradition travelled extensively during their lives, have both left a particular abundance of footprints in the form of natural objects bearing their names. But holy wells also give us glimpses of saints’ cults that are otherwise largely unknown — for instance St. Ingemo in Dala, St. Torsten in Bjurum, and St. Björn in Klockrike.

But can we really know that holy wells and the religious traditions associated with them were part of medieval lived religion, when the majority of the sources are from the early modern period? The answer is that we simply cannot know for sure, but that there is a high probability that they were. Holy wells have been strangely neglected in modern Scandinavian research. When mentioned at all, they are often, especially in popular publications, sweepingly referred to as ‘pagan survivals’. There has been some scholarly debate in Denmark as to their status in the medieval tradition. Jens Christian Johansen (1997) and Susanne Andersen (1985) both state that holy wells are to be viewed as a primarily Post-Reformation phenomenon, and that evidence of the cult is almost entirely lacking from the medieval period. According to this view, the cult of holy wells developed in the early modern era in part as a way of compensating for the loss of the saints in institutionalized religion, and in part due to the growing fashion among the upper classes of attending spas and mineral wells.

That the Reformation and the sudden disappearance of several previously important channels to the divine led to a surge in visits to holy wells and other sites that were outside of ecclesiastical control is not in doubt here. But does that mean the cult of holy wells was non-existent in the Middle Ages? I would argue not. While evidence of the medieval cult of holy wells in Sweden is unusual, it is not entirely lacking.

Letter of indulgence for the chapel above St. Elin’s Spring in Skövde, Västergötland.
Photograph by the Swedish National Archives.

The most prominent examples are the two springs dedicated to St. Elin of Skövde in Skövde and Götene in the Skara Diocese. Already in the officium to St. Elin composed by Bishop Brynolf Algotsson (in office from 1278–1317), it is mentioned that a spring miraculously appeared at the site of Elin’s martyrdom. In addition to this, we have three preserved letters of indulgence that mention the sacred springs. In a letter from 1373 (SDHK 10386), Bishop Nils of Skara grants 40 days of indulgence to pious visitors to the oratorium jn honorem gloriose martiris Elene super fontem suum prope Skødw, that is, “the shrine in honour of the glorious martyr Elin, above her spring near Skövde”. Though the indulgence primarily concerns the shrine or chapel  built above the spring, the spring itself seems central: on the back of the letter, a later scribe in a 15th-century hand, has added the words: indulgencie ad fontem — indulgence for the spring. The indulgences granted at the Skövde spring were reaffirmed in another letter in 1425 by Bishop Sigge (SDHK 20587). The other St. Elin’s Spring, at the site of her murder in Götene, is also mentioned in a letter of indulgence, issued in 1462 by Bishop Lars of Växjö (SDHK 40914). In this letter, indulgence is granted to those that under certain conditions visit Götene Parish Church, but also to those that with good intentions visit the Fontem Sancte Helene. 

Some legal sources also mention holy wells. In the court records from the town of Arboga in 1459, Hælge Swens kællo — a holy well dedicated to the elusive local saint Sven of Arboga — is mentioned briefly. The most famous holy well in Sweden was likely Helga Kors källa (‘Holy Cross Spring’) in Svinnegarn parish in the archdiocese of Uppsala. Accounts of the cult of this spring are abundant from the early modern period, but the cult is alluded to in sources that strengthen its ties back to the Middle Ages. In 1487, a man in Stockholm convicted of manslaughter was required to make several pilgrimages in order to atone for his crime, with one of the locations being Svinnegarn. In his 1566 writing on church ordinances and ceremonies, Reformer and first Lutheran Archbishop Laurentius Petri stated his disapproval of how the ‘popish’ clergy had consecrated wells and springs. In the same work, he also criticized the previously abundant pilgrimages to famous sites like Rome, Santiago de Compostela – and Svinnegarn. To be fair, we do not know whether these sources refer to the church of Svinnegarn, the spring, or indeed both. That the spring itself had been the object of pilgrimage is indicated by the writings of Johannes Messenius (1579–1636). According to his Scondia Illustrata, a holy crucifix had been placed at the renowned Svinnegarn spring, and it had been removed by Laurentius Petri. Messenius lived in close proximity in time to the later part of the Swedish Reformation, and many in his audience could easily have falsified his claims were they not common knowledge at the time. Several coins have also been located in the spring, though the oldest one is dated to the 1590s — but the offertory log that according to oral tradition used to be placed by the spring, contained several coins from the period 1275–1520. 

Medieval comb found in one of Barnabrunnarna in Tolg, Småland.
Photograph by the Swedish National Heritage Board.

Speaking of archaeological finds, in 1901, when clearing one of the Barnabrunnarna (literally ”Children’s Wells”) in Tolg parish in Växjö Diocese, nearly 6000 coins, tokens, and other small objects were found. The majority of these offerings could be dated to the period between the late 16th century and the mid-19th century, but among them were also a medieval comb and a coin issued in the reign of King Magnus Eriksson (1319–1354). That so few medieval objects have been found in holy wells could either indicate that the cult was only a minor feature of medieval lived religion, or that many of the springs were cleared at some point following the Reformation. But whether the cult was a major or minor aspect of the medieval repertoire of piety, it certainly did occur. 

There is also the aspect of the place of Scandinavian religious culture in the context of a wider medieval Christendom. Recent research has demonstrated that Scandinavian Christianity was firmly in line with the church in Rome, with a vast and active network of ecclesiastical communication, and by no means as ‘peripheral’ as previously believed. The cult of holy wells was an integrated part of everyday piety throughout Christian Europe – why would Scandinavia differ from the rest in this particular aspect? Concluding that since records of the Scandinavian cult of holy wells in the Middle Ages are scarce, it did not exist, is an argumentum ex silentio. But at the end of the day, every scholar using our database will have to make their own assessment of the evidence available. 


Further reading:

Celeste Ray (ed.), Sacred Waters: A Cross-Cultural Compendium of Hallowed Springs and Holy Wells, Abington 2020.

Alexandra Walsham, The Reformation of the Landscape: Religion, Identity, and Memory in Early Modern Britain and Ireland, Oxford 2011.

Terese Zachrisson, Mellan fromhet och vidskepelse: Materialitet och religiositet i det efterreformatoriska Sverige, Göteborg 2017.




What is “lived religion”?


Lena Liepe, Linnaeus University

Our project is called Mapping Lived Religion. The meaning of the “mapping” part of the title should be fairly clear since the entire project is premised on the creation of an interactive map to places connected to saints’ cults in medieval Sweden and Finland. But what about “lived religion”? In the following, I will outline the concept of lived religion, or LR, in brief and give some examples of how it has been applied in previous scholarship on religious experiences historically and today.

The choice of lived religion, as the theoretical platform of the project implies a conception of saints’ cults not merely, or even primarily, as a manifestation of an institutionalized framework for religious observance managed by the Church in compliance with a predetermined set of creeds and rituals. Instead, the focus of the LR approach lies on religion as a practice that unfolds in the everyday life of the individual. Religion is seen as something that people do, not just something they believe in. The interest is directed towards the individual practitioners and the way they “make” religion by embracing various customs and practices and putting them to use according to their own needs and priorities. LR takes little interest in “belief” as an articulated internalisation of tenets of faith according to the teachings of the Church. The religious usages of common people in the Middle Ages are better described as an adherence to local practices, resulting in highly varied strategies to establish contact with the sacred in order to secure the welfare of people, cattle and crops.

In a useful survey of late medieval religious attitudes and the changes they underwent in the course of the Reformation, Meredith McGuire underscores lay religiosity in the late Middle Ages as a matter of practice rather than belief in a confessional sense. The conventional privileging of belief (as opposed to praxis) as the principal form of religiosity conforms to a Western, Protestant, historically situated and fairly narrow conception of religion (McGuire 2008: 39–41; see also Bowman & Valk 2012: 5; Meyer, Houtman 2012: 2). Following an LR perspective of the Middle Ages, religion can instead be seen as something that transpired in the day-to-day life of individuals that choose their own devotional options from a large repertoire of acceptable practices. In this process, the sacred intermingles with what would today be seen as belonging to the profane spheres of life: a distinction that was largely irrelevant then. For instance, the saints’ feasts listed in the calendars of the Church year – an important source material for the Mapping Lived Religion project – served to structure sacred time in a way that flowed into daily life, providing a temporal framework for the routines of mundane activities and creating a communal sense of shared temporal regularity. “Rather than diminishing the quality of experience of the sacred, such diffusedness in everyday life made the sacred more useful.” (McGuire 2008: 31).

The roots of the LR approach can be traced back to the 1920s when sociologist Gabriel Le Bras joined the Annales school and argued that the study of canon law needed to take in la religion vécue as an integral facet of the development of the church law in order to chart why, for whom, and under which conditions the laws were created and how they were received and applied in the society for which they were made (Arnold 2014: 31; Desroche & Le Bras 1970: 16). Despite these early efforts, LR was slow to catch on in theology and church history, whereas it has played an important role as a conceptual tool in contemporary religious education and for empirical research in the branch of theology that deals with the religious life of today’s multicultural, multireligious and secularized society. A central name here is practical theologian Hans-Günter Heimbrock who picks up on the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl in a recognition of the religious experience as something that springs from the life world that exists as a subjectively perceived present for each and every one of us individually (Heimbrock 2005, 2007).

In the conclusion to her chapter on lay religiosity in the late Middle Ages and the early modern period, Meredith McGuire calls for an increased awareness of religion as a historically and culturally changeable phenomenon. Religion is not a given, institutionally defined entity with more or less fixed distinguishing features, but a lived experience that can take multiple forms depending on the individual’s needs. It extends beyond the adherence to formalized creeds and normative patterns of behaviour prescribed by religious institutions (McGuire 2008: 43–44). As the database of the Mapping Lived Religion project grows and more and more cult manifestations appear on the map, McGuire’s wish will be rewarded. A broad spectrum of devotional practices and ways of addressing the saints will emerge on the map and in its connected entries, in a testimony to the multitude of forms that the appeal to the saints could take in the Middle Ages.



Arnold, John H.: “Histories and historiographies of medieval Christianity”. Oxford Handbook of Medieval Christianity. Oxford: Oxford University Press 2014: 23–41.

Bowman, Marion, Ülo Valk: “Introduction: Vernacular religion, generic expressions and the dynamics of belief”. Marion Bowman, Ülo Valk (eds.): Vernacular Religion in Everyday Life: Expressions of Belief. Sheffield: Equinox 2012: 1–19.

Desroche, Henri & Gabriel Le Bras: “Religion légale et religion vécue. Entretien avec Gabriel Le Bras”. Archives sociologie des religions 29 (1970): 15–20.

Heimbrock, Hans-Günter: Livsfrågor–religion–livsvärld. Bidrag till en kontextuell religionsdidaktik ur ett tyskt perspektiv. Rune Larsson (övers.). Uppsala–Lomma: RPI Arbetsgemenskapen för religionspedagogik 2005.

—: “Reconstructing lived religion”. Hans-Günter Heimbrock, Christopher P. Scholtz (eds.): Religion: Immediate Experience and the Mediacy of Research. Interdisciplinary Studies in the Objectives, Concepts and Methodology of Empirical Research in Religion. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2007: 133–157.

McGuire, Meredith: Lived Religion: Faith and Practice in Everyday Life. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press 2008.

Meyer, Birgit, Dick Houtman: “Introduction: Material religion—how things matter”. Things: Religion and the Question of Materiality. Dick Houtman, Birgit Meyer (eds.). New York: Fordham University Press 2012: 1–23.