The Jelling Stones

The Jelling Stones

What are the Jelling Stones? (with picture)

The Jelling Stones are enormous carved stones in Denmark. They are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and have been since 1994. The two stones are carved with runes. The Jelling Stones date back to the 10th century, and are located in the town of Jelling, in a churchyard. The first of the stones was raised by King Gorm the Old, and the second was raised by his son, Harald Bluetooth.

Gorm the Old, sometimes referred to as Gorm the Sleepy, was born sometime near the end of the 9th century, and ruled over Denmark for forty years, after succeeding his father, Harthacnut. Exactly how old Gorm was is not known, but it is likely that his name came from the fact that Denmark had the oldest surviving monarchy in Europe at the time.

Gorm was married to Thyra, possibly the daughter of the King of England, Aethelred. When she died, she was put in one of the mighty burial mounds found on either side of the Jelling Stones, and Gorm erected a stone in her honor. Her stone reads, in a tight translation: Gorm king made these memories after Thyra his wife, Denmark’s ornament. A looser translation could read: King Gormr made this monument in memory of Thyrve, his wife, Denmark’s salvation. The title “Denmark’s Salvation” refers to her being ascribed the completion of the wall that separated Denmark from the invasive Saxons in the south.

The first of the Jelling Stones is interesting for a number of reasons. Perhaps most important is simply that these are the oldest recorded words of a Danish king, going back more than a millennium. It is also one of the earliest recorded uses of the name Denmark to refer to the country, rather than simply the region. The first of the Jelling Stones, also sometimes called the small Jelling stone, or King Gorm the Old’s stone, has two sides: on the first side is the inscription, and on the second side is simply the name: Denmark.

When Gorm died, his son, Harald Bluetooth, took over the throne. Harald became a Christian, after being baptized by a monk, Poppo, sometime in the latter-part of the 10th century. He then went on to convert Denmark from its native Norse religion to Christianity. He raised the second of the Jelling Stones, in honor of his parents. They read, roughly: Harald, king, bade these memorials to be made after Gorm, his father, and Thyra, his mother. The Harald who won the whole of Denmark and Norway, and turned the Danes to Christianity.

Harald’s stone has three sides, and is substantially larger than the smaller of the Jelling Stones. In addition to the decorative bands, and the runes themselves, the larger of the Jelling Stones also has a depiction of Christ, with arms spread and a halo over his head.

The Jelling Stones are a beautiful site to spend an hour or two at. Originally there were likely many more stones, acting as a burial stone circle around the grave of Thyrve, but they have since vanished, leaving only these two mighty records of historic Denmark.

Interesting history

This is essentially part of the Runic stones, mounds, ancient church & Kongernes Jelling.

Take the time to visit this fabulous museum and the surrounding Viking sites if you are anywhere near. The museum explains the history of the Viking origins of Denmark is simple, yet informative and interesting ways, and the interactive displays are as good as any I've seen anywhere.

The exhibit depicting Viking-era weapons and their impact on the human body may seem a bit gruesome, but the first visitors to rush to it are the kids. And it's fascinating.

Displays are in several languages, particularly Danish (d'uh), English and German.

Outside are white posts stretching for hundreds of metres showing the vast extent of the Viking wall that once surrounded their capital here, plus one of the largest "ship sites" in the world (essentially the outline of a ship marked w stones) that encompasses the two mounds.

Jelling Runic Stones

Jelling was an official royal seat of Government during the 10th Century and accordingly a political centre of power in Denmark.

The Jelling stones are massive carved runestones from the 10th century, found at the town of Jelling in Denmark. The older of the two Jelling stones was raised by King Gorm the Old in memory of his wife Thyra. King Gorm was the first king of all of Denmark. The runic inscriptions on these stones are considered the most well known in Denmark.

The larger of the two stones was raised by King Gorm's son, Harald Bluetooth in memory of his parents, celebrating his conquest of Denmark and Norway, and his conversion of the Danes to Christianity.

The stones lie in a Jelling churchyard between two large mounds. They represent the transitional period between the indigenous Norse paganism and the process of Christianization in Denmark. The stones are strongly identified with the creation of Denmark as a nation state.

The larger of the two runestones reads: "King Haraldr ordered this monument made in memory of Gorm, his father, and in memory of Thyrvé, his mother that Harald who won for himself all of Denmark and Norway and made the Danes Christian." It is sometimes called "the birth cerificate of Denmark."

The smaller stone is older and reads King Gormr made this monument in memory of Thyrvé, his wife, Denmark's adornment."

The Jelling Monuments (UNESCO)

In the tenth century, King Harald Bluetooth had Denmark’s name engraved on a rune stone in Jelling and erected two barrows and a church. The Jelling Monuments have enjoyed UNESCO World Heritage patronage since 1994. In the visitor and experience centre, Kongernes Jelling, you can discover the exciting world of the Vikings and their monuments.

The year is 965. Viking King Harald Bluetooth bids farewell to the Norse pantheon and embraces Christianity. He has this message chiselled into a large rune stone in the town of Jelling close to the rune stone erected a few years earlier by his father, King Gorm the Old. On the rune stone Harald boasts of having conquered Denmark and Norway and brought Christianity to the Danes. The inscription reads: “King Harald ordered this monument made in memory of Gorm, his father, and in memory of Thyrvé, his mother that Harald who won for himself all of Denmark and Norway and made the Danes Christian.” The rune stone is considered Denmark’s baptism certificate and the figure of Christ inscribed on the stone is also featured in all Danish passports.

Gorm the Old’s slightly smaller memorial stone to his Queen, Thyrvé, bears the inscription: “King Gorm made this monument in memory of Thyrvé, his wife, Denmark’s adornment.” This is the oldest reference to the name ‘Denmark’ and the rune stone is therefore referred to as Denmark’s name certificate.

During his reign, King Harald Bluetooth also erected two large barrows and built a church on the site.

Today, Harald’s magnificent Viking monuments are centrally located in the town of Jelling. You can enjoy views of the area from the top of the 10-metre barrows, which have a diameter of 70 meters. The northern barrow contained a wooden tomb, probably constructed by King Harald Bluetooth for his father, who was later re-entombed in the church. Today’s Jelling Church is a Romanesque masonry church, built around 1100 on the site of Harald Bluetooth’s original church from the 900s AD. In 2000, King Gorm the Old was reburied in the church’s burial chamber.

From the top of the barrows you can see hundreds of newly erected white concrete pillars that encircle the entire site, marking the approximate location of the original wooden stockade. Walking along the footpath you can also see an outline representation of the 350-metre ship-shape as well as the positions of the so-called Trelleborg houses. And you can also marvel at the high-tech bronze and glass display cases that today encase the rune stones, which are located between the barrows. You can also enjoy a moment of reflection in the Jelling Church.

The Jelling Monuments are considered Europe’s finest Viking Age monuments and they enjoy UNESCO World Heritage patronage.

Viking Market and the Kongernes Jelling experience centre
Every year in July, a Viking market held by the monuments lets you discover the Viking in you. The amazing Kongernes Jelling experience centre lets you explore the world of the Vikings and the exciting history of the Jelling Monuments in interactive exhibitions. Digital binoculars let you experience what Jelling looked like 1,000 years ago.

Bluetooth technology
Bluetooth technology, used everywhere in mobile phones and computers for wireless communication, is named after the Danish king Harald Bluetooth due to his communicative skills in bringing warring factions together.

The Jelling municipality covered an area of 89 km 2 , and had a total population of 5,697 (2005). [ citation needed ] Its last mayor was Arne H. Sigtenbjerggaard, a member of the Venstre (Liberal Party) political party. The main town and the site of its municipal council was the town of Jelling.

The municipality was created in 1970 due to a kommunalreform ("Municipality Reform") that combined a number of existing parishes:

Merger Edit

Jelling municipality ceased to exist as the result of Kommunalreformen ("The Municipality Reform" of 2007). It was merged with Børkop, Egtved, Give, and Vejle municipalities to form a new Vejle municipality. This created a municipality with an area of 1,055 km 2 and a total population of 82,935 (2005). The new municipality belongs to Region of Southern Denmark.

Features Edit

Located in the former Jelling municipality are the runic gravestones— the Jelling stones, the burial mounds, and church which became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.


The Jelling stones stand in the churchyard of Jelling church between two large mounds. The stones represent the transitional period between the indigenous Norse paganism and the process of Christianization in Denmark. They are strongly identified with the creation of Denmark as a nation state.

After having been exposed to all kinds of weather for a thousand years cracks are beginning to show. On the 15th of November 2008 experts from UNESCO examined the stones to determine their condition. Experts have requested the stones be moved to an indoor exhibition hall, or in some other way protected in situ, to prevent further damage from the weather. [ 2 ]

Heritage Agency of Denmark decided to keep the stones in their current location and selected a protective design from 157 projects submitted through a competition. The winner of the competition was Nobel Architects. The design features rectangular glass casings strengthened by two solid bronze sides mounted on a supporting steel skeleton. The bronze patina will give off a rusty, greenish colour, highlighting the runestones’ gray and reddish tones and emphasising their monumental character and significance. The glass will be coated with an anti-reflective material that gives the exhibit a greenish hue. A climate system will also keep the inside of the structures at a fixed temperature and humidity. Transoms and other mounting fixtures on the casings will not be visible to visitors.

Although Nobel Architects’ design has won the competition, the Jelling church council must now decide whether the design will be implemented in its existing form or if it should be modified. No date has been given as to when the structures will eventually be completed. [ 3 ]

Jelling Viking Monuments

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The little Danish village of Jelling was the seat of the country’s first Viking monarchs. King Gorm and his son, Harald Bluetooth (whose name and runic symbol were later given to Bluetooth technology) left behind massive pagan mounds, rune stones, and a Christian church to commemorate the paradigm shift that occurred between their reigns.

The first stone was erected by King Gorm the Old following the death of his wife, Queen Thyra, sometime around the mid-10th century. It reads, “King Gormr made this monument in memory of Thyrvé, his wife, Denmark’s adornment.” This is the oldest known writing referencing Denmark as a cohesive nation, and because of this the stone is sometimes called “Denmark’s birth certificate.”

The second, larger stone was erected by King Harald Bluetooth and reads, “King Haraldr ordered this monument made in memory of Gormr, his father, and in memory of Thyrvé, his mother that Haraldr who won for himself all of Denmark and Norway and made the Danes Christian. This stone, erected some time after the first, is significantly more Christian in fashion. It marks a point of transition between paganism and Christianity in Denmark. This is driven home by the intricate Viking-style carving of Christ on the cross on the converse side of the stone.

Just beyond the stones are two massive mounds, constructed with architectural precision equal to the Egyptian pyramids. These are a traditional Scandinavian pagan burial, and the first is believed to be King Gorm’s original tomb. The purpose of the second mound remains a mystery. The scant remains of a massive Viking ship have been unearthed between the mounds.

Towards the end of his reign, Harald had Denmark’s first stone church erected at Jelling to solidify his Christianization of the nation. The church has been strikingly well-preserved, with frescoes from the 1100s still vivid and intact.

These are family heirlooms of sorts belonging to the Danish royal family, all of whom have descended from Gorm and Thyra’s line, but the stones, the mounds, and the church are significant to all Danes. They represent the origins of their national identity, and they carry it with them when they travel out into the world—an image of the Christ carving appears on all Danish passports.

Christianisation of the Norse

The Conversion of Denmark

When Gorm the Old died, his son, Harald Bluetooth, became king of Denmark and acquired power over Norway a few years later. The joint ruler of the empire just south of the Dannevirke, Otto II, was keen on Christianising the Norse regions, by a violent military crusade if necessary. This threat forced Harald to convert, and to make Christianity Denmark’s new religion. To communicate this point, he erected the Greater Jelling Stone, with its runic inscription that states that Harald united all Denmark, and converted the Danes. To further secure his status and control of the kingdom, he built a number of ring fortresses throughout the territory of Denmark, and fortified the Jelling monument site, the royal centre of power. Harald’s display of power may have prevented Otto II from conquering Denmark, but after his father, Otto the Great, died, making him the sole ruler, he captured Hedeby, which was a tremendous blow to Harald. Otto II then suddenly died, and as his three-year-old son was the only legitimate heir, this left the empire in a state of complete political crisis. This led to Harald regaining control over Hedeby that same year. However, Harald’s victory was short-lived, as he was then killed by his son, Sweyn Forkbeard, who took control of the kingdom.

The Conversion of the Rus’

After a period of exile in Sweden, Vladimir the Great of the Rurik dynasty returned to Novgorod with a Varangian army, took back control of the Rus’ Kingdom from his brother, and soon after consolidated his rule of a sizeable Kievan territory. He was baptised, and Christianised all the Kievan Rus’.

The Conversion of Norway and Iceland

The heir to the Norwegian throne, Olaf Tryggvason, who was chief of Vladimir’s men-at-arms while exiled from Norway, joined forces with Sweyn Forkbeard to lead an attack on England with a fleet of 90 ships, and collected the first Danegeld. They later returned to collect the second Danegeld, and as part of the treaty with King Æthelred the Unready, Olaf was baptised. After his success in England, Olaf returned to Scandinavia, successfully claimed the Norwegian throne and converted the Norwegians to Christianity. Iceland followed suit a few years later, through a somewhat democratic decision at the All-thing, mainly due to its dependence on trade connections with Norway. Olaf Tryggvason later fell foul of Sweyn Forkbeard by marrying Sweyn’s already-married sister, Sigrid the Haughty. Sweyn then defeated Olaf in the Battle of Svolder with the support of Erik Jarl – who then became king of Norway – and Olof Skötkonung, who was the first Christian king of a united Sweden.

Colonisation of Greenland and Vinland

After all the inhabitable land in Iceland had been settled, Erik the Red established the first Norse colony on Greenland. His son Leif Eriksson (also known as Leif the Lucky) later discovered North America by accident, and attempted to colonise the land, which he called Vinland, but the settlement was ultimately a short and futile endeavour.

Web links

  • Entry on the UNESCO World Heritage Center website ( English and French ).
  • The Jelling of the Kings Jelling History and Experience Center, Danmarks National Museum (English, Danish)
  • facts and pictures, Vejle Municipality website (English, Danish)
  • Runestones, barrows and church in Jelling Private Website, 2003 (German)
  • The Runic Stones in Jelling Private Website

55.756597222222 9.4195833333333 Coordinates: 55 ° 45 ′ 23.7 " N , 9 ° 25 ′ 10.5" E

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