Sankt Bendts Kirke

Church in Western Zealand

Justifying a visit to otherwise forgettable Ringsted, this huge church is packed with fascinating features, which the remarkably knowledgeable caretaker is very keen to explain. Most notable are the 14th-century ceiling frescoes, the royal graves and a museum section in the south transept where, if you push the black slider you can peep in to see the skull-cast of Queen Berengard. There's also a lock of hair from King Valdemar I whose bronze statue stands out front.

Valdemar built the church's original version in 1170 as a burial sanctuary for his father Knud Lavard, and it remained the royal burial church for 150 years.

The most interesting ceiling fresco is above the central crossing. This was designed as part of a doomed campaign to canonise King Erik IV (1216–50). Known as ‘Ploughpenny’ for the despised tax he levied on ploughs, Erik's short and turbulent reign saw him warring against his own family and the local peasantry, before he was assassinated on the orders of his brother Abel. But this didn't prevent his later progeny calling for him to be made a saint – and depicting his demise in the church roof was a way of suggesting that his death made him a martyr. The main ceiling fresco features Queen Agnes seated on a throne; on her left Ploughpenny’s murderers stab the king with a spear, while on the right the king’s corpse is retrieved from the sea by fishermen.

There's plenty more to see in the church's little museum section including a lock of King Valdemar I's hair. But the most famous relic is harder to spot, tucked into a small glass case on one of the columns at the start of the north transept. It's a copy of the tiny Dagmar cross, a Byzantine-style cruciform pendant showing a dying Christ on one side, the Virgin Mary, John the Baptist, St John and St Basil on the reverse. Thought to date from AD 1000, the finely enamelled gold original was found in 1683 within the tomb of revered Bohemian Queen Dagmar (1186–1213), first wife of Valdemar II. The original is in the National Museum in Copenhagen.

To reach Ringsted from Copenhagen there are several hourly trains (116kr, 38 to 52 minutes), currently travelling via Roskilde (60kr, 15 to 22 minutes), though from 2018 the new fast line via Køge North should shorten some journey times by bypassing Roskilde.