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Gorm the Old Goes Home Volume 53 Number 6, November/December 2000
by Mark Rose

[image] Peter Henrichsen (conservator) and Per Kristian Madsen (chief of section) of the Danish National Museum lower zinc box containing the remains of King Gorm the Old into a tomb in Jelling church. (Jørgen Kølle, courtesy Royal Danish Embassy) [LARGER IMAGE]

Denmark's peripatetic Viking ruler Gorm the Old (d. A.D. 959) is back at rest in the Jelling Church, where his remains were discovered in excavations in the late 1970s. Originally interred in one of two nearby mounds, Gorm was apparently reburied in a wooden church built at the site by his son Harald Bluetooth (r. 959-987), who had accepted Christianity. This church later burned down (as did two others) before the current stone one was built in 1100. On August 30, Gorm's remains, which had been under study at Copenhagen's University and National Museum, were reburied, carefully packed in acid-free paper in a zinc box, with Denmark's Queen Margrethe II and royal family in attendance.

Queen Margrethe II and Denmark's royal family pay their last respects after the reburial of King Gorm. The stone slab sealing the tomb is engraved, "KING GORM LAID TO REST 959 AND LATER ENTOMBED HERE." (Jørgen Kølle, courtesy Royal Danish Embassy) [LARGER IMAGE] [image]

The church, burial mounds, and two rune stones at Jelling are on UNESCO's list of World Heritage sites. One of the runestones, erected at the site by Gorm, honors the memory of his wife Thyra: "King Gorm erected this symbol to the honor of the memory of Thyra his wife, Denmark's Adornment." The other, erected by Harald, commemorates his parents, conquest of Norway, and conversion to Christianity: "King Harald commanded this symbol to the honor of the memory of Gorm, his father, and Thyra, his mother. Thus Harald, who won for himself all Denmark and Norway and did make Denmark Christian."

[image] The royal family with the rune stones (King Gorm's at left and King Harald Bluetooth's center) outside Jelling Church. (Jørgen Kølle, courtesy Royal Danish Embassy) [LARGER IMAGE]

The reburial ends the saga of the search for King Gorm, which began in 1820, when excavators found an empty tomb in mound north of the church; only one artifact remained in the burial chamber, a silver cup. (Later dendrochronological study of beams from north mound tomb shows they were cut in 985/59, corresponding to the date of Gorm's death.) Excavations of both mounds, initiated in 1861 by King Frederik VII, showed that there was no burial in the one south of the church.

© 2000 by the Archaeological Institute of America