Copenhagen team


Research personnel:


Senior researcher: TRACEY R. SANDS

Postdoctoral researcher: MARTIN W. JÜRGENSEN


Institution: Centre for the Study of the Cultural Heritage of Medieval Rituals, University of Copenhagen



The Centre for the Study of the Cultural Heritage of Medieval Rituals, Faculty of Theology, University of Copenhagen was established in February 2002, as a successor to an international network started in 1998. This network of 50 scholars from many countries was funded by the Danish Research Council of the Humanities. Prior to that, in 1994 to 1999, the Copenhagen group was at the heart of a Nordic network concerning medieval liturgy and the arts. It has extensive collaborative experience and currently participates in a triangular three-year collaboration with Durham and Groningen on rhetoric and aesthetics, and with the Theology Faculty at the University of Oslo on religious aesthetics and issues of authority.



The Copenhagen team studies the reception of saints’ cults during early modern and modern times, on the basis of a mapping of medieval saints – in all media – in the region(s) around the Øresund sound, which in modern times separates Sweden and Denmark. The areas examined are thus Zealand and Scania, but also, to some extent, the Swedish diocese of Linköping including the Baltic island Gotland. In the present day, Scania is the southernmost province of Sweden, though only a narrow sound separates it from the Danish island of Zealand. However, until the 1650s, Scania was Danish territory. Likewise, rulers of both Sweden and Denmark claimed the island of Gotland at different times during and following the Middle Ages, though it too has now been part of Sweden since the seventeenth century. Among the media examined for this project, the main visual sources are wall paintings, sculptures, and places of pilgrimage, while textual and musical sources are also important.
Saints of widely varying origins, whether mainly regional, national, or venerated throughout the Christian world, take on specifically regional meanings through later appropriations, even in modern times when saints are no longer officially venerated in this region. Practices pertaining to saints are examples of religiously constituted signs, transmitted and re-appropriated over time, contributing to features of identity in a variety of contexts. Examination of these cults and their later appropriations in specific regional contexts allows us to learn not only of cultural contact and exchange, but also, more importantly, of the processes by which distinct regional identities arise and develop. The investigations of the Copenhagen subproject will be shaped by the notion of cultural memory. This concept, recently developed by Jan and Aleida Assmann, is based on theories of the social dependence of individual memories. It constitutes a highly relevant historiographical and methodological perspective in which the functions of ritual, writing and other media are central.
As a point of departure, the project will attempt to establish a profile of the medieval veneration of saints in urban areas of Scania and Zealand. The main focus in this respect will be on the cities of Lund and Malmö (Scania), as well as Roskilde and Copenhagen (Zealand), with some attention also paid to Visby (Gotland). The profile of veneration and representation of saints can be traced by looking at, among other phenomena, church dedications, records of the foundation of or donations to altars, chapels, benefices, etc. In addition, it is useful to look at works of art in or from these churches. The placement of saints in murals in medieval churches will occupy a special place in the project. Further, calendars, offices, guild charters and other records connected to the guilds are important sources, as are prayer books, masses, and references to saints in letters.
It is clear that different kinds of cities (centers of trade or metropolitan centers, for example) formed different kinds of relationships to their saints both during the Middle Ages and later. For example, while Lund, the seat of the oldest archdiocese in the Nordic region, had over twenty parish churches, most dedicated to saints, in addition to its cathedral, Malmö had only one large parish church, which was dedicated to St. Peter. It seems that in Malmö, the Guild of St Knud (probably referring to St Knud, King of Denmark, martyred in 1086) would become the main link between saints and identity. This is a strong expression of Malmö’s identity as a center of trade. In the present, it appears that Malmö's special relationship to this saint may have contributed to his importance outside of the city. Not only in Malmö, but also in Lund and perhaps in parts of rural Scania, St Knud the King appears to have become associated with a specifically Scanian identity, distinct from that of the rest of Sweden, reflecting Scania’s long existence as part of Denmark and its distinctiveness from the rest of Sweden.
With the introduction of the Reformation, obvious changes in the relationship to the saints occurred. Most notably, the active veneration of the saints ceased, although saints could still be regarded as examples of worthy Christian behavior. However, they were no longer to be called on for intercession or other help. This did not mean, however, that images, names, or narratives of saints disappeared in a protestant milieu. On the contrary, certain aspects of the saints are present in sources of apparent protestant origin. For example, the first post-Reformation altarpiece commissioned for Lund Cathedral features, among many other images, figures of the Virgin Mary and St Laurence. In addition, the much-studied so-called “Finn” narratives, in versions dated from as early as 1654 to well into the 20th century, identify the builder of the cathedral as St Laurence. Reference to saints in names of streets, city blocks, business names or areas of towns may derive either from knowledge of or speculation about the location of churches dedicated to those saints during the Middle Ages. In any case, it is witness to the continued cultural memory of saints.
One part of the project will make a case study of a particular saint martyred in mid-Zealand, St Knud Lavard (St Knud the Duke) and his reception in the arts up to modern times. The medieval saint’s office for Saint Knud Lavard has survived from the 13th century as one of very few Danish medieval liturgical manuscripts. The legend of St Knud, as preserved in this office, also gave rise to a saint’s play which has been preserved from the late 16th century, the Ludus de sancto canuto duce (the title given in the unique manuscript preserved in the Royal Library in Copenhagen). The play honors the Danish Duke Knud Lavard, a Danish prince (c. 1090-1131) murdered by a rival and canonized at Ringsted church in 1170 at the initiative of his son, King Valdemar the Great (who was born a week after the murder of his father). The play—written in Danish with Latin rubrics—may very likely be a copy or redaction of a saint’s play from before the Reformation. The content of the play is clearly Catholic despite the staunchly Lutheran nature of Danish society toward the end of the 16th century. Thus, this text provides good opportunities to raise, discuss and approach questions of identity and cultural memory at the time. Interestingly, during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the figure of Knud Lavard continued to be remembered and appropriated in a range of different ways in Danish art, music, and literature.