Path leading to the historic church of Jelling, Denmark.

© Marc Venema/Shutterstock

Jelling Kirke

Top choice in Central Jutland

Inside this small whitewashed church, erected around 1100, are some vividly restored 12th-century frescoes; the main attractions, however, are the two well-preserved rune stones just outside the church door.

The smaller stone was erected in the early 10th century by King Gorm the Old in honour of his wife. The larger one, raised by Gorm’s son, Harald Bluetooth, is adorned with the oldest representation of Christ found in Scandinavia and is commonly dubbed 'Denmark's birth certificate'.

The stone reads: 'King Harald ordered this monument to be made in memory of Gorm his father and Thyra his mother, the Harald who won for himself all Denmark and Norway and made the Danes Christians.' A replica of the stone (in full colour, as the original would once have appeared) is at Kongernes Jelling, opposite the church.

Harald Bluetooth did, in fact, succeed in routing the Swedes from Denmark and began the peaceful conversion of the Danish people from the pagan religion celebrated by his father to Christianity.

Two large burial mounds flank Jelling Kirke. The barrow to the north was long believed to contain the bones of Gorm and his queen, Thyra, but when it was excavated in 1820 no human remains were found. The southern mound was excavated in 1861 but, again, no mortal remains were unearthed.

In the 1970s archaeologists dug beneath Jelling Kirke itself and hit pay dirt. They found the remains of three earlier wooden churches; the oldest is thought to have been erected by Harald Bluetooth. A burial chamber was also unearthed and human bones and gold jewellery were discovered. Archaeologists now believe that the remains are those of Gorm, who had originally been buried in the northern mound but was later reinterred by his son. Presumably Harald Bluetooth, out of respect, moved his parents’ remains from pagan soil to a place of honour within the church. The bones of Queen Thyra have yet to be found.

The latest discoveries include evidence of a massive palisade fence (1.4km long, 3m high), which encompassed the Jelling site.

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