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Friday, December 24th, 2004, 07:12 PM

The Pagan Temple of Sweden


Adam of Bremen lived between the years c. 1025 and c. 1085, and became a canon of the cathedral at Bremen, in northern Germany, under the Archbishop Adalbart. The German Emperor Heinrich II gave ample lands, buildings and money to strongly encourage scholarly developments, especially historical recordings, and Adalbart saw to it that this was done. Adam was a good scribe and chronicler of events, and wrote four books on the history of the archbishops of Bremen and the other major center of Hamburg. In the fourth book, called DESCRIPTION OF THE NORTHERN ISLANDS Adam included descriptions he had received from others, including the King of Denmark, about the Scandinavian lands. His strong Christianity often caused him to feel unmovable bias against peoples and practices which were still pagan, but Adam nevertheless achieved a remarkable bit of scholarship for his day.


"Let us now give a brief description of Sviaria or Sweden. On the west are the Goths and the town of Skara. On the north theWaermilans with the Skritefings whose main town is Haelsingland. On the south is the length of the Baltic Sea of which we have spoken before. There is the great town of Sigtuna. On the east it touches the Rhiphaean Mountains where there is an immense wasteland, the deepest snows and where hoards of monstrous humans prevent access to what lies beyond (the area around modern Uppsala in east central Sweden where the Swedish kingdom was based. The mountains are the far Urals which are confused here with the Kjolen mountain range extending onto arctic Lapland).

The King of the Danes, often to be remembered, told me that a certain people descended from the highlands into the plains (King Sveinn Ulfsson, 1047-74, about the Lapps and their seasonal migrations from the north). They are small in stature but hardly matched by the Swedes in strength and agility. "From where they come is not known. They come unexpectedly", he said, "sometimes once in a year or after a three year period. If they are not resisted with all one's might, they lay waste to the entire region and then withdraw." Many other things are usually mentioned, but in my effort to be brief I have not mentioned them, to let those who themselves have seen them speak of them.

Now a few words about the superstitions of the Swedes. Those people have a famous temple called Uppsala. Near this temple is a large tree with wide extending branches, always green in winter and in summer (archaeologists have found traces of an immense yew at the temple site). There is also a spring at which the pagansmake their sacrifices, and into it immerse a live man. And if he is not found, the peoples' wish will be granted. It is not far from the towns of Sigtuna and Björkö (Birka, an ancient tradingpost).

Around the temple is a golden chain. It hangs over the gables of the building and sends its glitter far off to those who approach because the shrine stands on level ground with mounds all about it like a theater. In this temple, covered entirely with gold, the people worship the statues of three gods in such a way that the most powerful of them, Thor, occupies a throne in the middle of the chamber. Wotan and Frikko (Frey) have places on either side.

The significance of these gods is as follows: "Thor", they say, "presides over the air which governs the thunder and lightning, the winds and rains, good weather and crops. The other, Wotan, that is, 'The Furious', brings on war and gives to man strength against his enemies. The third is Frikko who gives peace and pleasure to mortals." His likeness, too, they fashion with an immense phallus. But Wotan they sculpture armed, as our people represent Mars. Thos, with his scepter, apparently represents Jove (Jupiter, the Roman ruler of the heavens). The people also worship heroes made gods, whom they endow with immortality because of their remarkable deeds, as one reads in the Vita Sancti Anscari they did in the case of King Erik (Henricus).

For all of their gods there are appointed priests to offer sacrifices for the people. If plague and famine threaten, a libation is poured to the idol of Thor. If war, to Wotan. If marriages are to be celebrated, to Frikko.

It is also the custom to hold in Uppsala, at nine years intervals, a feast of all the provinces of Sweden. No one is exempted from attendance at this festival. When not long ago the.most Christian King of the Swedes, Anunder, would not offer the demons the prescribed sacrifice of the people, he is said, on being deposed, to have 'departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing' that he had been 'accounted worthy to suffer reproach for the name of Jesus Christ'. (in the Hervara Saga there is a story of King Ingi being deposed between 1076 - 80, in the same place and time period as this account).

The kings and the people together and individually send their gifts to Uppsala and, what is more distressing than any kind of punishment, those who have already adopted Christianity redeem themselves through these ceremonies. Feasts and sacrifices of this kind are held for nine days. On each day they offer a man, along with other living creatures, in such a number that in the course of the nine days they will have made seventy two creatures. This sacrifice takes place about the time of the vernal equinox.

The sacrifice is of this nature: of every living thing that is male, they offer nine heads, with the blood of which it is customary to placate gods of this sort. The bodies they hang in the sacred grove that adjoins the temple. Now this grove is so sacred in the eyes of the heathen that each and every tree in it is believed divine because of the death or putrefaction of the victims. Even dogs and horses hang there with men. A Christian, seventy two years old, told me that he had seen their bodies suspended promiscuously. Furthermore, the incantations customarily chanted in the ritual of a sacrifice of this kind are manifold and unseemly. Therefore it is better to keep silent about them.

The Miracle

In that country there recently occurred an event worth remembering and widely published because it was noteworthy, and it also came to the Archbishop's attention. One of the priests who was to serve the demons at Uppsala became blind and the help of the gods was of no avail. But the man wisely ascribed the calamity of blindness to his worship of idols by which superstitious veneration he had evidently offended the almighty God of the Christians.

Behold! that same night a most beautiful Virgin appeared to him and asked, "Will you believe in my Son, to recover your sight, and put aside the images you have previously worshipped?" Then he, for the sake of this boon, would refuse to undergo nothing that was hard, gladly promised that he would.

To this the Virgin answered, "Be completely assured that this place in which so much innocent blood is now shed is soon to be dedicated to my honor. That there may not remain any trace of doubt in your mind about this, receive the light of your eyes in the name of Christ who is my son."

As soon as the priest recovered his sight he believed and going throughout the country easily persuaded the pagans of the faith so that they believed in Him who made the blind see.

These miracles caused our metropolitan, obedient to the saying 'Look upward, lift up your eyes and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest' (John 4: 35), to consecrate for those regions the younger Adalward. He took him from the choir at Bremen, a man who shone in letters and in moral integrity.

Through emissaries of the illustrious King Stenkil, he established Adalward's See in the city of Sigtuna which is a day's journey from Uppsala (about 20 miles). The way is such that, sailing from Scania (Skaane) of the Danes, one arrives on the fifth day at Sigtuna or Björkö, as they are near together. If instead one goes by land from Scania through the Gothic peoples and the towns of Skara, Södertelge and Björkö, it will require an entire month to reach Sigtuna.

How Sweden was won

Adalward glowed with fervor and entered to preach the Gospels in Sweden. In a short time he led all in Sigtuna and round about to the Christian faith. It is related to us by certain persons in Bishop Adalward' s company that when he first came to Sigtuna, at one celebration of the mass, seventy marks of silver were put into his hands (one mark was about two and a half pounds). Thus so great is the devotion of the people of the Arctic region. During this occasion, when he was on a journey, he diverted to Björkö, which now is turned into such a wilderness that hardly a vestige of the town is apparent. This was when the burial mound of the sainted Archbishop Unni could not be found.

He also agreed in secret with the sainted Bishop of Scania, Egino, that they should go together to the temple of the pagans, to see if they perhaps could offer Christ some fruit of their labors there. For they would willingly endure every kind of torture for the sake of destroying that place which was the center of a barbarous superstition. For if it were torn down, or preferably burned, the conversion of the entire nation might follow.

Observing that the people murmured about this plan of these confessors of God, the pious King Stenkil wisely kept them from doing this. He said that they would immediately be punished with death, and he be driven from the kingdom, for bringing malefactors into the country. And that everyone who now believed would soon relapse into paganism, as they could see had lately happened in Slavia. The bishops deferred to these arguments of the King, and, going through all the towns of the Goths, they broke up idols and thereafter many thousands of pagans were won for Christianity.

When Adalward later died in our midst, the Archbishop appointed in his place a certain Tadico of Ramelsloh. But out of love for his belly he preferred even to starve at home than become an apostle abroad. Let these remarks about Sweden and its rites suffice.

(translated and edited by Jeff R Redmond)