I was researching into rune stones again today (as a backdrop to my more magickal researches into guys like Raymond Buckland) and was surprised to learn that more than a few were commissioned by Christians, much more than a few.

“It was the arrival of Christianity which eventually caused the cultural transformation which displaced orality and brought a strong literate culture to the Scandinavian people. Yet for some time Christianity had to coexist with paganism, a largely peaceful cohabitation as is attested by archaeological evidence from Svealand where some 650 Christian rune stones exist alongside pagan burials.  That runes were used in Christian monuments demonstrates that they were not viewed as exclusively pagan despite the notion that they were considered a gift from the pagan god Odhinn.  Odhinn has two important attributes which are relevant to his connection to the runes: his association with poetry and his perpetual quest for knowledge.  Runes were seen as a linguistic technology, a form of knowledge and like poetry one that only the wise could manipulate.  In this sense it would seem natural that they become associated with this knowledge seeking God of poets.” 

“…the majority of the 3,000 rune stones found in the region of Uppland in eastern Sweden have Christian references. One may ask why these particular christian rune stones are so prominent in this specific area and they will discover that the region near modern day Stockholm was one of the last pagan strongholds. It may sound strange to hear that Christian rune stones flourished in a predominantly pagan area, but it is important to take a step back and process the thought. The purpose for this abundance of christian reference placed amongst the rune stones was because of standard practice which stated that one must declare ones faith if it is different from the local majority. Since the majority of people in that area still held on to their pagan beginnings, the newly converted Christians made it a point to differentiate from the rest of the population.” 

The majority? Interesting methinks. Now I know these aren’t the most scholarly articles so if anyone can point me to something more authoritative please do.

5 thoughts on “Christian Rune Stones

  1. Matt
    The great expert on the runes is Sven Jansson. One of his texts is Runes in Sweden published in 1987. It is out of print but could be scooped up via abebooks.com etc.
    A general work of history is Birgit Sawyer and Peter sawyer, Medieval Scandinavia: From Conversion to reformation 800-1500 (Uni of Minnesota Press 1993).

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  2. Oh wow, this is super interesting. I’m going to see what I can find out from Swedish websites about this now. I’m a native Swedish speaker and grew up in Täby, one of the Stockholm suburbs with the most rune stones. The shield for the municipality of Täby even has what could be a bind rune on it! Thanks for sharing and getting my mind spinning… on to explore more!

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  3. Just reporting back about my findings. Yes, it is correct that most of the rune stones that were erected around 1000 AD were to honour Christians and often mention the grace of God. I found evidence here (Swedish National Heritage Board): http://www.raa.se/kulturarvet/arkeologi-fornlamningar-och-fynd/runstenar/runskolan/runstenarna/var-vikingarna-som-reste-runstenarna-kristna/
    I’m not even sure why I’m so excited about this. Maybe it has something to do with my middle name, Frideborg. I happen to be born on the saint’s day of the first Viking woman to convert to Christianity 🙂

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