A 9th-century church room has been recreated in the Viking town of Ribe

You can now see what a medieval church looked like during the 9th century. Ribe VikingeCenter in Denmark has unveiled the interior of its Ansgar Church with 50 murals.

Ribe VikingeCenter, one of Europe’s leading centers for living history and experiencing the Viking past, spent three years researching, sketching and painting the murals. Ansgar Church itself is a recreation of a church as it would have looked in the year 860 and is based on knowledge from the first church in Ribe, which was founded by Ansgar, a Christian missionary who later became Archbishop of Hamburg.

The Ansgar Church 860 AD is located at a proper distance from the Vikings’ marketplace – just as it was in the Viking Age. Photo courtesy Ribe VikingeCenter

The Carolingian style

The Carolingian style was chosen for the murals as it was the predominant style in Christian Europe during the ninth century. Church decorations and manuscripts from this period were used by visual artist Trine Theut to create the murals.

In contrast to the Romanesque style, which we know from the oldest preserved churches in Denmark, the Carolingian style is far more lively and dramatic. The style has challenged visual artist Trine Theut’s modern logic  several times, when for instance the same person is depicted twice in the same painting, or when initially illogical and imprecise details actually support a perspective of value and increase the dramatic effect.


The carefully selected motifs for the murals were both known and depicted in the 9th century. They derive from some of the few remaining church walls from that time. The St. John Abbey Church in Müstair in Switzerland, with its well-preserved 9th-century frescoes, has been the primary source of inspiration. All other models have been adapted to the style and paint method to keep the overall impression consistent.

Viking Age colours and paint

It may come as a surprise to some just how clear and colourful the images in the 9th century were compared to the muted earth colours of the Middle Ages. Ribe VikingeCenter has used the colour palette that the National Museum of Denmark produced in 2017 based on analyses of painted wood dating back to the Viking Age. However, as some of the colours used in the Viking Age are toxic and therefore banned today, Ribe VikingeCenter has had similar colours produced according to colour codes from the National Museum of Denmark. Just like in the Viking Age, egg tempera made of linseed oil, egg and water have been used to bind the paint.

Can a character be depicted twice in the same image? Yes! This is the sleeping Jesus who wakes up and calms the storm. Source: Sylvesterkapelle in Bochum, 9th century. Photo courtesy Ribe VikingeCenter

In Viking Age Denmark, colours were used ‘pure’ and not mixed to create new colours. In the St. John Abbey Church, the 9th-century church painters used slightly different painting techniques, which visual artist Trine Theut has chosen to use in the Ansgar Church. For example, green underpainting has been used for shading on faces, hands and feet.

The mission to the north

In the Nordic countries, churches consisted exclusively of wood until around 1000 AD, so Nordic church rooms from the 9th century no longer exist. Elsewhere in Europe, however, you can still find well-preserved richly decorated stone church rooms of that time.


We know that the church in Ribe was already a main church in the 800s, serving the entire southern Danish region and a congregation of up to several thousand people. By 948, the church became a cathedral, so there is good reason to believe that this “spearhead of the mission to the north” was from the outset a prestigious building designed to impress and convince the splendour-loving Vikings of the power and glory of Christ.

The Ansgar Church 860 AD is the focal point for Ribe VikingeCenter’s presentation of a transitional period when most people believed in the Nordic gods. The people of the church were very aware that the illustration of the Bible’s stories was crucial for the understanding and spread of the Christian message.

With its very special ambience and many details, a visit to the Ansgar Church 860 AD can allow people to experience some of that same atmosphere that met the first Danish churchgoers.


The Ansgar Church itself was built and consecrated in 2018 and is one. It is one of several recreated buildings at the Ribe VikingeCenter, which include a longhouse, fortress and marketplace.

The church murals will be officially unveiled on May 20th. To learn more, please visit the Ribe VikingeCenter website.

Top Image: Photo courtesy Ribe VikingeCenter