We go to the small town of Jelling – for most of the town’s existence it has been a small town of very little significance dominated by bigger cities in the area. But for about 50 years during the middle to later part of the 10th century this little town took center stage when modern day Denmark was formed.
The town of Jelling was the home of Gorm – who is considered to be the first king of Denmark and the ancestor of the current day Danish royal family. He resided right in the town of Jelling when Denmark was united as one country. After his death his son took over and he too resided in Jelling during the time when Denmark transited from traditional religion to modern Middle Eastern religion.
Here in Jelling are the remains from this time in the form of two giant earth mounds which used to be the graves of Gorm and his wife Thyra. The mound was traditional Danish burial mounds and Gorm was the last king to be buried in such a mound since his son converted to Christianity. His son built a church between the mounds in wood which has later been replaced by a stone church which is still there.
Years ago there was an excavation done in the mounds and the basement of the church – it turned out there was no king in the burial mound but instead there were the remains of a man under the church. The bones had clearly been buried somewhere else since the skeleton was disturbed and the bones were put in the new grave a bit randomly. Carbon dating of the bones indicate it was from about the middle of the 10th century which would means they most likely belonged to King Gorm and were reburied when his son moved away from the traditional religion to the new Christian religion.
There are no buildings remaining from this era – what remains is two big stones which were put up by the king Harald Bluetooth and his father Gorm. The stones are possibly the most significant historical monuments in Denmark and Scandinavia. The biggest of the stones is the newest and it was raised by King Harald. The stone has the oldest picture of Jesus anywhere in Scandinavia. The picture has been reproduced in millions of copies since it is printed in every Danish passport. Even more significant is the smaller and older of the stones which contain the first mention of the country of Denmark – never before had the area north of the Saxons and at the end of the Baltic Sea been mentioned by a united name.
The biggest of the stones was officially put up by King Harald to commemorate his parents but when you read the text it is more about his major achievement as a king and not about his parents and their life. The text on the big stone translates into:
“King Harald commissioned to do these kumler (runes) after his father Gorm and his mother Thyra – the Harald who won all of Denmark and Norway and Christened the Danes.”
The older and smaller of the stones has a shorter text which translates into:
“King Gorm did these kumler (runes) after Thyra his wife Denmark’s bod (which translate into something like pride)”
There are some doubts about the origin of the oldest of the stones – some claim it isn’t actually put up by Gorm – but in fact is put up by Harald so he could claim to be of royal decent and not just be another great chief who became the most powerful in the area.
The stones were left outside for about a thousand years – which wasn’t the best way to preserve carvings on a stone when there is lots of rain and freezing during the winter. So today you can no longer get up to the stones since they are put under glass cover to protect them from the weather.
Today the area has been recognized not just as an important place in Danish history but also for the entire world. It was one of the first three places in Denmark to be included on the UNESCO world heritage list.