Heading towards Stockholm from the North-East, we entered a region rich in historical sites that demanded our attention…..
Our first stop was Anundshög, the biggest burial mound in Sweden. It’s 9 metres tall and has a diameter of 64-68 metres:
There are five stone ship settings around the burial mound, similar to the ship setting we saw at Jelling in Denmark but much smaller (the largest of the five being 53 metres long and 16 metres wide):
Back in the Middle Ages, when Swedish kings were elected (it was Gustav I Vasa who introduced the great wheeze that is hereditary monarchy in the 1520s; he’s the king we came across at Gammelstad who was behind the Swedish Reformation), it was customary for new kings to go on an “Eriksgata” (a sort of a royal progress) around Sweden, to show their faces and gain approval in the regions. The Eriksgata followed a fixed route that goes right past the burial mound:
The row of standing stones is the longest in Sweden and was erected by a chap called Folkvid, who helpfully included a big runestone in the middle of the line to tell the story:
Folkvid raised all these stones for his son Heden, brother of Anund, Vred carved the runes
The next day, we arrived at Gamla Uppsala. The main things to see here are three huge burial mounds (plus some smaller ones), a church and a museum.
Uppsala (as it was then called) was a major pagan cult centre from the 3rd / 4th centuries AD and the seat of the Yngling dynasty of kings. According to a 10th century poem, the three large burial mounds contain the remains of three Yngling kings, buried between 375 and 550AD.
Helpfully, the 13th century Icelandic poet Snorri Sturlesen visited Sweden and wrote an account of the Yngling dynasty including the circumstances surrounding the deaths of each king. The kings in the three mounds are supposedly Aun, Egil and Adils (though modern scholars seem unconvinced). Aun died “at a great age” in Uppsala “after entering a second childhood”, Egil was gored to death by a bull, and Adils fell from his horse at Uppsala whilst performing pagan rituals. Never a dull moment…..
A stone cathedral was built here in the early 12th century and when Sweden was granted its first archbishop in 1164, Uppsala was chosen as his seat. Unfortunately, a great deal of damage was done by a fire in the early 13th century. The Pope was asked for permission to rebuilt in the nearest town, which is 5km away, and this was granted on the condition that the name Uppsala went too. So Uppsala became Gamla Uppsala (Old Uppsala) and the cathedral stands 5km away in the centre of modern-day Uppsala.
The nave and transept of the original cathedral at Gamla Uppsala were demolished and alterations made to the remaining part of the building to turn it into a parish church (waste not, want not….):
We particularly liked a rune stone incorporated into the wall of the church:
Unfortunately, part of the text around the edge is missing, but apparently the remaining text reads
Sigvid the England traveller raised this stone after Vidjärv his father …
We’d love to know what mischief Sigvid got up to on his trip(s) to England…….
The next day we cycled into Uppsala itself. The cathedral is the biggest in Scandinavia, though to be fair to the Norwegians, the exterior isn’t as lavishly decorated as that of Trondheim Cathedral.
It was free, though, so unlike at Trondheim, we got to go inside.
A lot of remodelling has taken place here over the years: the pointy spires were added and all the stained glass was replaced in the late 19th century, for example. There is some older stuff to be found inside, though. Here is Mark with St Eric’s shrine, made in Stockholm in 1579 from 34kg of gold-plated silver:
The surprising thing here was just how big the casket is, given that apparently there was very little of St Eric left once the relic-gatherers had got at him….
St Eric is Sweden’s king-saint, the equivalent of St Olaf in Norway. The story is that on 18 May in 1159 or 1160, King Eric attended mass at (what is now) Gamla Uppsala. Whilst he was there, the church was attacked by Danes and Eric was murdered (decapitated). He was initially buried at Gamla Uppsala but was later moved to the new cathedral in Uppsala. Right up to the 16th century, a procession was held on 18 May each year to bring Eric’s shrine containing his remains (or what was left of them) back to Gamla Uppsala. The route now provides a handy cycle path….
The cathedral also contained a memorial to Gustav I Vasa:
Ooh hang on, he’s got a Queen on either side of him!
Here’s Gustav’s son John III enjoying his eternal snooze:
There was another king of Sweden between Gustav I Vasa and John III: John’s elder brother Eric XIV. Now, Eric was a chap with well-known mental issues. As an example, he was apparently convinced that he was going to marry Elizabeth I of England. Gustav I Vasa had to put his foot down at one point and expressly forbid young prince Eric from going to England to propose. Oh dear… It doesn’t say much for young Eric that even his own dad realised he was only going to make a prat of himself (and, presumably, Sweden).
Eric doesn’t seem to have improved at all after his father’s death. The UK’s National Archives hold a brilliant letter from Elizabeth I to King Eric (below is the National Archives’ translation from the original Latin):
Most Serene Prince, our very dear Cousin,
A letter truly yours both in the writing and sentiment, was given us on 30 December by your very dear brother, the Duke of Finland. And while we perceive therefrom that the zeal and love of your mind towards us is not diminished, yet in part we are grieved that we cannot gratify your Serene Highness with the same kind of affection. And that indeed does not happen because we doubt in any way of your love and honour, but, as often we have testified both in words and in writing, that we have never yet conceived a feeling of that kind of affection towards any one. We therefore beg your Serene Highness again and again that you be pleased to set a limit to your love, that it advance not beyond the laws of friendship for the present nor disregard them in future… I have always given both to your brother, who is certainly a most excellent Prince and deservedly very dear to us, and also to your ambassador likewise, the same answer with scarcely any variation of the words, that we do not conceive in our heart to take a husband but highly commend the single life, and hope that your Serene Highness will not longer spend time in waiting for us.
That’s him told then…. (or more likely not!). According to my Scandinavian history book, though, he did come up with a backup plan, later deciding that Mary Queen of Scots also fancied him….
Back to Uppsala (and the reason for introducing Eric XIV), the Castle is the setting for another of Eric’s finest hours, the infamous murder of six noblemen he accused of treason (the implication being that they were completely innocent and Eric was unhinged).
Eric was eventually deposed in 1569 (having ruled since his father’s death in 1560), and died in 1577, having allegedly been poisoned by pea soup on the orders of his brother and successor John III. Brotherly love, eh…. ❤
Uppsala castle had been built for Eric’s father Gustav I Vasa. The Reformation wasn’t universally popular, so it made sense to have a stronghold to demonstrate your power. He even had a battery of cannons aiming straight at Uppsala Cathedral! Presumably the archbishop got the message….. 😯
Our last planned stop before Stockholm was at Sigtuna. Sigtuna is the oldest town in Sweden, founded in 980. It’s a very touristy little place, with a pretty pedestrianised main street and a tiny town hall that wouldn’t look out of place in Trumpton (the town in the British TV series Mark and I both remember from our childhood – nothing whatsoever to do with Donald 😉).
We came to Sigtuna to see the rune stones. Harald Bluetooth started something when he erected the rune stone commemorating his parents at Jelling in 965 AD. A rune stone craze quickly spread, reaching the area around Sigtuna in the early 1000s. The fashion stuck here for an unusually long time, over 100 years, resulting in a lot of rune stones. These were memorial stones, typically made to commemorate the life of a relative.
We did a rune stone walk around Sigtuna to see twelve of them, some more complete than others. It was a bit like an episode of Treasure Hunt (more very old British TV), with a very small map and slightly cryptic clues like “walled up high in the west gable of the church ruin”:
This one was erected in memory of two sisters (Tora and Rodvi) by their brother (Ofeg):
Here’s the best one! The text reads:
Anund had the stone erected in memory of himself in his lifetime
Apparently it wasn’t unusual for people to commission rune stones to commemorate themselves. One guy is known to have had at least five of them made!
From Sigtuna it was just under an hour’s drive down to our camp site on the outskirts of Stockholm.
We’re planning 4 nights / 3 full days here while we explore the city. Stockholm does seem to have an incredible number of museums, so we’ve had to create a shortlist and prioritise 😎