The best known bishop in Denmark through all times is Bishop Absalon and he is the best known none-royal Dane from the middle ages. He was born into the very rich and influential Hvide family – the family was the second richest and second most powerful family in Denmark during the 12th and 13th century only second to the royal family.
He grew up at his parent’s castle on the middle of Zealand with his older brother Esben Snarre who is also a famous person from the Danish middle ages. The two brothers grew up with another boy Valdemar and they became like brothers. Valdemar was the son of a murdered prince and after a civil war in which Esben fought along his side Valdemar became king of Denmark. Later Valdemar was known as Valdemar the Great because of his large conquest along the Baltic Sea and northern Germany.
The friendship between Absalon and Valdemar would last for the rest of their life and Valdemar helped Absalon to become the bishop of Roskilde. Absalon did help found several churches – but he didn’t devote all his time to religious duties in Denmark. He went on a crusade along with Valdemar to the north of Germany where the Wendish tribe ruled along large parts of the northern coast especially the small island Rügen. The people of Rügen were not Christians instead they worshiped the god Svantevit. So the official purpose was to Christian the Wendish people – but in reality it was to grab lands ahead of the Germans.
The story of the conquest of Rügen is very well known in Danish history along with the rest of the life of Absalon thanks to Saxo. Saxo was the scribe of Absalon and he wrote the first history of the Denmark and the Danish kings – though the most prominent person featured in the chronicle is not any of the kings of Denmark but Absalon himself.
As a thank for his service to the king Absalon was granted land around the islands between Zealand and Amager in 1167. The area had a small village called Hafn or Havn – meaning harbor. The village was benefitting on the rich fishing grounds just outside which ensured a herring boom during these years making the small village grow. Absalon put the first castle at the village which changed its name to København – Copenhagen. The name can be translated to something like the merchant harbor probably as a tribute to the wealthy merchant which took advantage of the herring boom.
The castle Absalon founded was located on a small island called Slotsholmen – or castle island. There has been a castle on this location ever since – except for short periods where the castle has been burned down to be rebuilt. Today the castle is the home of the Danish parliament and Slotsholmen is home to the Supreme Court and most of the Danish ministries. Hence Absalon’s small castle grew to become the center of power of Denmark till this day.
Close to the castle you can find a statue of Absalon on his horse. He sits on his horse facing the Danish parliament to have a look at what his old possession has become.