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Creating Holy People and Places on the Periphery

Creating Holy People and Places on the Periphery

By Sara E. Ellis Nilsson

PhD Dissertation, University of Gothenburg, 2015

Saint Æthelthryth in a 10th century manuscript

Abstract: Holy people have been venerated in various forms by all religions and ideologies throughout history. Christianity is no exception with the development of the cults of saints beginning shortly after its formation. By the time Christianity reached Scandinavia, saints’ cults had been fully integrated into the Roman administrative structure. The new religion brought with it institutions, as well as religious practices.

This thesis examines the cults of native saints that arose in Scandinavia during the Christianization of the region. It compares the Ecclesiastical Province of Lund, established in 1103, and the Ecclesiastical Province of Uppsala, established in 1164. The focus on these two provinces is partly based on their, at times, unequal relationship. The study aims to explain the underlying reasons for the establishment of new cults of saints in connection with the development of an ecclesiastical organization.

The primary source material is comprised of liturgical manuscripts and fragments, iconography and diploma. Due to the relative lack of early medieval sources from Scandinavia, the surviving parchment fragments provide an especially valuable resource for research into Scandinavian medieval society. They can reveal the importance of the cults of saints for those who promoted them.


The first part of this study presents the native saints whose cults are believed to have been established before the year 1300 and places them in categories developed in previous research. The analysis of the geographical spread of cults of native saints in the Lund and Uppsala provinces reveals that the type of saint has no bearing on the spread of the cult. The second part examines and compares the rise of cults of native saints and their place in the early liturgy in each bishopric in the two provinces. The study concludes that the right conditions and permanent central ecclesiastical institutions were required before new cults could be created, especially on an official level with a feast day and liturgy. Although all cults played a key role in conveying ideology and creating a permanent holy landscape on the Christian periphery, their later use in the legitimization of ecclesiastical and secular institutions differed in the two provinces.

Click here to read this dissertation from the University of Gothenburg

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