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Sweden - Ecclesiastical organization

14. Evidence of ecclesiastical organization and institutions

14A. Appearance of (arch)bishoprics 

Bishops and dioceses

The first bishops were missionary bishops. Ansgar appointed a bishop in Birka and the office may have been maintained for some decades but soon fell vacant, until Archbishop Adalbert appointed a certain Hiltin to the bishopric of Birka around 1060 - when the town had been deserted for almost a century (see §4A). The character of the bishopric is unclear, and that is even more evident when we see that Adam of Bremen also considered Hälsingland as a bishopric. The information is rather vague and perhaps reflects missionary intent rather than actual infrastructure.

There is a listing of the Swedish dioceses from the 1120s, often called the Florence list, since it is preserved in the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana. It lists the following episcopal sees: Skara, Linköping, Tuna (=Eskilstuna), Strängnäs, Sigtuna and Aros (possibly Västra Aros, i. e. Västerås) (see Tunberg 1912; for discussion concerning the names see Schück1952, Gallén1958; see also Nilsson 1998, pp. 76-84).

Sigtuna, on the northern shore of Lake Mälaren, was founded and planned as a royal residence and became an episcopal see early on, in the 1060s. The see was, according to Adam of Bremen, vacant for certain periods due to resistance from the pagans. Adam juxtaposes a Christian Sigtuna and a pagan Uppsala (i. e. Gamla Uppsala). This is probably a simplification, but Sigtuna represented an ecclesiastical organisation favoured by the archbishopric of Hamburg-Bremen. It was thanks to Archbishop Adalvard that Sigtuna became a Christian community (ABG III:76, IV:23, 26, 29). During recent archaeological excavations in Sigtuna what is possibly the oldest church of Sigtuna has been found, close to what is supposed to be the site of the royal residence or hall. Beside the church there is the grave of a bishop (Tesch & Edberg 2001).

Sigtuna remained an episcopal see until the beginning of the 12th century. It is mentioned in the Florence list and in 1134 a Bishop Henrik (Henry) of Sigtuna is mentioned (VSD p. 83), but evidently the see was definitively abandoned after him.

Skara has the longest tradition as an episcopal see. A later tradition attributes its foundation to King Olof Skötkonung and Turgot is named as the first bishop (ABG II:58). The diocesan organisation was mainly established during the first half of the 11th century. The bishopric of Skara also comprised the province of Östergötland. This province became an autonomous bishopric with Linköping as its see in the early 12th century. Linköping was the old home of the thing (Tagesson 2002). The first known bishop of Linköping, Gisle, appears in 1139. He was also present at the inauguration of the cathedral of Lund in 1145.

Uppsala, i. e. Gamla Uppsala, was a bishopric in the 1140s and probably replaced Sigtuna. It became the archbishopric of Sweden in 1164 and in the 1270s the see was transferred to the then emerging town of Östra Aros further south. The name, Uppsala, followed the see. Hence, the new town was called Uppsala; the earliest evidence of this is from 1286. Hence also the name Gamla Uppsala (Old Uppsala).

In the provinces of Svealand the establishment of bishoprics was later, looser and more changeable than in Götaland. The bishopric of Tuna, present Eskilstuna, is only mentioned in the Florence list. It might have been at another place named Tuna instead. Present Eskilstuna is however associated with the legend of St Eskil. Nonetheless it was Strängnäs that became the permanent bishopric in the province of Södermanland and is mentioned in the Florence list and in 1164 (DS 49). Västerås, Arusia in the Florence list, is also otherwise mentioned for the first time in 1164, when its bishop is mentioned as one of the suffragans of the Archbishop of Uppsala.

The diocese of Växjö is according to the late legend of Sigfrid the oldest bishopric. That is a later construction; in fact its first reliably-attested bishop is Baldvin, who first appears in 1170. Växjö is not mentioned as one of the bishoprics in 1164, and it has been concluded that the diocese was founded in the late 1160s. This part of Småland had hitherto been a part of the diocese of Linköping (Larsson 1964). The last of the dioceses was Åbo (Turku). Finland gradually became a part of the kingdom of Sweden and the church province of Uppsala. Nousis was an early centre of a missionary bishopric; later (in the 1220s) the see was translated to what is now modern Turku.

Adam of Bremen, Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae Pontificum, ed. B. Schmeidler as Magistri Adam Bremensis Gesta Hammarburgensis ecclesiae pontificum, Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Scriptores rerum germanicarum in usum scholarum)II (Hannover 1917), transl. F. J. Tschan as Adam of Bremen: History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen (New York 1959).

Diplomatarium Suecanum, eds J. G. Liljegren et al. (Stockholm 1829-).

Gallén, J., 'Kring det s. k. Florensdokumentet' in Historisk tidskrift för Finland Vol. 43 (1958), pp. 1-26.

Larsson, L.-O., Det medeltida Värend. Studier i det småländska gränslandets historia fram till 1500-talets mitt (Lund 1964).

Nilsson, B., Sveriges kyrkohistoria 1: Missionstid och tidig medeltid (Stockholm 1998).

Schück, A., 'Den äldsta urkunden om Svearikets omfattning' in Fornvännen Vol. 47 (1952), pp. 178-187.

Tagesson, G., Biskop och stad. Aspekter av urbanisering och sociala rum i medeltidens Linköping, Lund studies in medieval archaeology 30 (Lund 2002).

Tesch, S. & Edberg, R. (eds.), Biskopen i museets trädgård. En arkeologisk gåta (Sigtuna 2001).

Tunberg 1912: Tunberg, S., 'En romersk källa om Norden vid 1100-talets början' in Språkvetenskapliga sällskapets förhandlingar jan. 1910-dec. 1912 (Uppsala 1912), pp. 96-98.

14B. Appearance of ecclesiastical boundaries 

See §14A.

14C. Appearance of monasteries

The earliest monastery in Sweden was probably Vreta in Östergötland, founded by King Inge I and his queen Helena around 1100, to which they made extensive donations of estates. Helena may have entered the convent once widowed (Ahnlund1945). The great advent of monasticism came in the 1140's when Alvastra and Nydala were founded in 1143; Alvastra on the slopes of Mt Omberg in Östergötland and Nydala near Lake Rusken in Småland. According to the Cistercian chronicle Exordium magnum cisterciense monks were sent by Bernard of Clairvaux on behalf of the Swedish queen. King Sverker and his queen Ulfhild evidently played an active role in the foundation of Alvastra, which was founded on land belonging to the royal dynasty. Archaeological excavations have revealed an earlier crypt church near the monastery and it has been interpreted as a royal church, planned before the foundation of the monastery. Alvastra became the sepulchral church of the kings of the Sverker dynasty (Holmström & Tollin 1994, pp. 34-37; Tollin 2002, pp. 216ff.).

Contrary to the usual intentions of the Cistercian order Alvastra was placed in a long-cultivated area. The conversi played a less significant role in the estate economy of Alvastra. Nydala, founded under the auspices of the bishop of Linköping, Gisle, was, however, placed in a quite uninhabited area and had evidently a major part in the colonisation and clearance of land in central Småland (Tollin 1999 pp. 143-149). From Alvastra and Nydala several daughter monasteries were founded in a relatively short period. The monastery of Roma on Gotland was founded from Nydala. Roma had several estates on the eastern side of the Baltic and had connections with the Military Orders (Markus 2000). The monastery of Varnhem in Västergötland was founded c. 1150 from Alvastra. A certain woman, Sigrid, donated land for the foundation. Varnhem probably had a predecessor on Lurö, a tiny island in the middle of Lake Vänern. Varnhem became the mausoleum of the kings of the Erik dynasty. Viby, north of Sigtuna was founded in the 1160s. It possibly had connections with the foundation of a regular chapter at the archbishopric of Uppsala, on which see §14D. King Knut Eriksson however transferred this monastery c. 1185 to Julita in Södermanland (Stensland 1945).

Many of the Cistercian foundations in Sweden were nunneries. Vreta was transformed into a Cistercian house by King Karl Sverkersson, whose sister, Ingegerd, probably entered it. Askaby in Östergötland was founded in the 1160's. One of the more important nunneries was Gudhem in Västergötland, founded on royal land in the 12th century and later supported not least by King Erik Eriksson and his queen Katarina, who was buried there. The nunnery on Fogdö Island in Mälaren in Södermanland was founded in the 12th century; a more precise dating is not possible. According to a later cadastre from the middle of the 13th century it was founded by the otherwise completely unknown JarlSivard (or Sigvard?) and his daughter Ingeborg. The title jarl indicates that he was a mighty lord (Ossiannilsson 1945, p. 84).

The nunnery at Byarum in Småland is known from the late 12th century, but was later moved to Sko in Uppland. It was probably founded on estates belonging to the dynastic league of the folkungar. The folkungar were a confederation of aristocrats, most of them based in Uppland, and partly opposing the reigning kings (Sjödén 1942). Riseberga nunnery in Närke from the late 12th century was promoted by the mighty jarl Birger Brosa and his wife entered it as a widow (DS 185; Mattsson 1998).

The Cistercians were evidently closely connected to the royal dynasties and to other mighty families. The political importance of the Cistercians in Sweden was thus considerable. The first archbishop of Sweden, Stephen, was one of the first brothers at Alvastra in 1143. The relatively high proportion of female houses is also notable. Most of the monasteries were located in well settled areas. Probably the system of grangiae run by the conversi played a less significant role in Sweden than in France and England. The cadastres of the nunneries of Fogdö and Sko demonstrate a system, in the 13th century, where most of the land was cultivated by economically dependent but free peasants.

A house of the Order of St John was founded at Eskilstuna and confirmed by archbishop, king and jarl before 1185 (Collijn 1929, p. 2), but the Cistercians totally dominated monasticism in Sweden until the introduction of orders of friars during the 13th century.

Diplomatarium Suecanum, eds J. G. Liljegren et al. (Stockholm 1829-).

Ahnlund, N., 'Vreta klosters äldsta donatorer' in Historisk Tidskrift Vol. 65 (1945), pp. 301-345.

Holmström, M. & Tollin, C., Det medeltida Alvastra (Stockholm 1994).

Markus, K., Från Gotland till Estland. Kyrkokonst och politik under 1200-talet (Stockholm 2000).

Mattsson, A. C., Riseberga kloster: förutsättningar och framväxt : Birger Brosa, donatorn och Filipssönerna, sondottersönerna (Örebro 1998).

Ossiannilsson [Dovring], F., 'Fogdö (Vårfruberga) klosters jordebok. En obeaktad källa från tidig medeltd. Med kommentar utgiven' in Vetenskapssocieteten i Lund: Årsbok (1945), pp. 83-104.

Sjödén, C. C., 'Studier i Sko klosters godspolitik' in Rig Vol. 25 (1942), pp. 1-24.

Stensland, P. G., Julita klosters godspolitik, Nordiska museets handlingar 22 (Stockholm 1945).

Tollin, C., Rågångar, gränshallar och ägoområden: rekonstruktion av fastighetsstruktur och bebyggelseutveckling i mellersta Småland under äldre medeltid (Stockholm 1999).

Tollin, C., 'Alvastra kloster och Sverkerätten. En rumslig studie av det tidigmedeltida ägoinnehavet' in C. Gejrot (ed.), Ny väg till medeltidsbreven. Från ett medeltidssymposium i Svenska Riksarkivet 26-28 november 1999 (Stockholm 2002), pp. 216-244.

14D. Appearance of parishes 

The first churches were built in the late 10th century and in the 11th century in southern Scandinavia. Many private churches were built, as well as churches on royal estates. After the Church had been established, especially in the 12th century, with bishops and bishoprics, and after the introduction of the tithe (c. 1100-1150), the foundation was laid for the formation of parishes. During the second half of the 12th century and early 13th century for southern Scandinavia, and during the 13th century for the rest of Scandinavia, parishes were established, churches erected and a priest placed in each parish (Brink 1990).

In recent research, it has been suggested that an older parish structure can be traced. The hypothesis is of a kind of 'large parish' like the minster parishes found in Anglo-Saxon England. Around an early church (equivalent to a minster) a territorially undefined area formed a parish whose clerical duties were seen to by a presbyterium that moved around the 'large parish'. This early structure seems to have been totally wiped out by the later parish formation (see e. g. Brink 1998).

Brink, S., Sockenbildning och sockennamn. Studier i äldre territoriell indelning i Norden (Uppsala 1990).

Brink, S., 'The formation of the Scandinavian parish, with some remarks regarding the English impact on the process' in J. Hill & M. Swan (eds), The community, the family and the saint, International Medieval Research 4 (Brepols 1998), pp. 19-44.

14E. Appearance of cathedral chapters 

Evidently there were regular, i. e. monastic, chapters during the formation of the ecclesiastical infrastructure. The first chapter at Uppsala emerged when the see became an archbishopric. It was a regular, and not a secular, chapter and it has been debated whether it followed the Rule of the Augustinian, the Benedictine or the Cistercian order. Jarl Gallén especially has argued, albeit on rather vague grounds, that it was Benedictine monks, of English origin, that carried out the earliest ceremonies in Uppsala (Gallén 1938; 1976). Recently Sven Helander has made a good case arguing that the earliest chapter at Uppsala was in fact Cistercian (Helander 2001, pp. 65ff.). This was a rather exceptional case, however, and evidently the Cistercians, otherwise rather chary of the secular Church, played an important role in the early Uppsalian archbishopric. The first archbishop, Stephen, was one of the pioneer monks at the monastery of Alvastra in 1143 so the Cistercian connection is evident. The monastery at Viby, a very short distance north of Sigtuna, could possibly have served as the residence of the chapter. It was an offshoot from Alvastra founded in 1160 as the first monastery in Svealand. The earliest preserved charter issued in Sweden was by Archbishop Stephen in the period 1164-1167 and protected the rights of the Viby monks to certain disputed land (DS 51). The monastery was later, in the 1180s, moved to Julita in Södermanland.

At Uppsala this early regular chapter lapsed; there was evidently no chapter at Uppsala in 1224 (DS 225, a letter of Pope Honorius III noting the election of Archbishop Olof Basatömer by the populus). A chapter was founded, or at least intended, at Skara by Bishop Bengt in 1220 (DS 194). The earliest actual evidence of a chapter at Skara is however from 1257 (DS 440).

The cathedral of Linköping had close connections with the Sverkerian royal dynasty and political power, and therefore in many respects the cathedral and church of Linköping were those earliest organised according to the standard and demands of Rome. Linköping had the earliest known secular chapter among the Swedish dioceses (Schück 1959 pp. 399ff.). The chapter was founded in 1232 during the bishopric of Bengt. Bishop Bengt was one of the mighty Jarl Birger's brothers.

The introduction and the establishment of the secular chapters were a result of the mission of the papal legate William of Sabina and the assembly at Skänninge in 1248 (Rosén 1940). Conformity of Sweden to the norms of the Roman Church was achieved and canon law regulations were introduced, concerning among other things the celibacy of the clergy.

Diplomatarium Suecanum, eds J. G. Liljegren et al. (Stockholm 1829-).

Gallén, J., 'Regulära domkapitel i Sverige och Finland' in Historisk tidskrift för Finland Vol. 23 (1938), pp. 137-150.

Gallén, J., 'De engelska munkarna i Uppsala. Ett katedralkloster på 1100-talet' in Historisk tidskrift för Finland Vol. 61 (1976), pp. 1-21.

Helander, S., Den medeltida Uppsalaliturgin. Studier i helgonlängd, tidegärd och mässa (Lund 2001).

Rosén, J., 'De sekulära domkapitlens tillkomst' in Svensk teologisk kvartaltidskrift (1940), pp. 60-81.

Schück, H., Ecclesia Lincopensis (Stockholm 1959).

15. Evidence of building the church 

15A. Main architectural tasks

The first churches built in Scandinavia were obviously a type of private church, built by kings, chieftains and farmers on their farms and estates. Several examples of these (of the Continental type) have now been found during archaeological excavations. The earliest are dated to the 10th century, although in the Vita Ansgarii a church in Birka is mentioned, which must therefore have already existed in the first half of the 9th century. Nonetheless, we have no trace of it. In the next phase we can see that the kings or the central power in all the Scandinavian countries erected fortified stone churches on their royal estates (husaby, kongelev), and placed market towns and other vital and central sites under royal control. This enterprise seems to have taken place especially in the 12th century.

Rimberti Vita Ansgarii, ed. W. Trillmich (Berlin 1961).

15B. Where churches are built

After the Church had been organized and the tithe was introduced, the Church, obviously in co-operation with the central power, initiated the huge enterprise of building hundreds of stone churches during the late 12th and the 13th centuries, to be centres of the new parishes. In southern Scandinavia we can see that already-existent private churches on farms, in hamlets and towns were turned into parish churches, but for large parts of northern Scandinavia churches were built for the parish, which was normally formed on the template of the older settlement district (bygd). In these districts the church was either built on the most central site for communications or on the older assembly and cult site, probably on common land in the centre of the district. In these cases we obviously have continuity in cult activity (Brink 1990, 1996 & 2000).

Brink, S., Sockenbildning och sockennamn. Studier i äldre territoriell indelning i Norden (Uppsala 1990).

Brink, S., 'Tidig kyrklig organisation i Norden - aktörerna i sockenbildningen' in B. Nilsson, Kristnandet i Sverige. Gamla källor och nya perspektiv (Uppsala 1996), pp. 269-290.

Brink, S., 'Husaby' in Reallexikon der germanischen Altertumskunde Vol. XV (Berlin 2000), cols 274-278.

15C. First royal church 

There is little evidence of exclusively royal churches in Sweden. In Sigtuna the remains of possibly the oldest church have been found close to the royal residence and it was possibly a royal church.

At Alvastra in Östergötland there are remains of a planed crypt church; possibly a royal church for King Sverker I. In 1143 the Cistercian monastery of Alvastra was founded nearby and replaced the earlier church. The kings of the Sverkian dynasty were buried at Alvastra. There are some other churches connected with royal power. The most notable example is Husaby in Västergötland. The church has a massive west tower, with galleries for ceremonial purposes. The prototype is Westphalian and it has been interpreted as a royal church. Husaby has a minor counterpart in Östergötland, Örberga, which has a similar tower with a gallery. These have been assumed to be royal churches, made for ceremonial representations. Tradition connects Husaby to the baptism of the first Christian king in Sweden. Both towers are dated to the beginning of the 12th century; according to dendrochronology from the late 1110s. The dating of Husaby is more uncertain. Both churches are from a politically very chaotic period, when kingship was very much disputed.

Lindgren, M., 'Stenarkitekturen', in Den romanska konsten (Signums svenska konsthistoria, 3) (Lund 1995).

15D. Architectural analysis

See §15C and §15E

15E. Bishoprics 

The first episcopal church of Skara was a wooden building in the 11th century. It was replaced ca. 1150 by a Romanesque limestone cathedral. It was heavily rebuilt and extended later during the middle ages. (Sigsjö 1999)
The first cathedral of Linköping was probably built in the 1120s and 1130s, but was later replaced by a larger Gothic stone cathedral from the 1230s. (Cnattingius 1987)
Uppsala became a bishop's see in the 1140s. At (Gamla) Uppsala a Romanesque church started to be built as a cathedral from the 12th century, but evidently not by foreign specialists. (Bonnier 1991) It was later abandoned and at Uppsala the new Gothic catherdral was commenced in the 1270s. (Ullén 1996)
The Gothic cathedral of Strängnäs was completed ca. 1340. When it was commenced is uncertain, but a first phase of construction was completed around 1290. (Ullén 1996) The cathedrals of the other bishoprics, Västerås, Växjö and Åbo are all Gothic works commenced in the late 13th century.

Bonnier, A. C., 'Gamla Uppsala - från hednatempel till sockenkyrka', in Ferm, O. (ed), Kyrka och socken i medeltidens Sverige, (Stockholm 1991)

Cnattingius, B., Linköpings domkyrka, 1, Kyrkobyggnaden, (Sveriges kyrkor, 200) (Stockholm 1987)

Sigsjö, R., 'Skara domkyrkor', in Skarastudier ( Skara 1999)

Ullén, M., 'Gotikens kyrkobyggande', in Den gotiska konsten (Signums svenska konsthistoria, 4) (Lund 1996)

15F. Immigrant/native clergy

Very little is known of an early native clergy. The first known bishop with a certainly vernacular name is Gisle of Linköping. The first charter written in Sweden, from the 1160s (see §9A), was issued by the archbishop of Uppsala, Stephen, a Cistercian of probably English descent, in the presence of, among others, the three prepositi ('regional deans'), who carried the quite un-Swedish names of Johannes, Walterus and Ricardus.

15G. Church hierarchy

In some provincial laws, such as the Law of Uppland, there is some information on an early church hierarchy, in 'hundares' churches and 'tolft' churches, which must be interlinked with the administrative districts, hundare (cf. English hundreds) and tolft ('twelfth', part of a hundred which formed a 'normal' parish) in some way (see e.g. Äldre territoriell indelning i Sverige). It seems as if these reminiscences of a hierarchy in Church organization had two stages, which may hint at an older organizational structure - earlier than the establishments of the parishes (socknar) - with a kind of 'mother church' to a hundred in a model similar to the one found in Anglo-Saxon England with its minster parishes (cf. §14D).

Äldre territoriell indelning i Sverige, Bebyggelsehistorisk tidskrift Vol. 4 (Stockholm 1982).

15H. Missions from the newly-converted countries

Saint Erik is associated with a crusade to Finland, probably in the middle of the 1150s. He was accompanied by the missionary bishop Henry, who found a martyr's death. This warfare is first mentioned in the legends of the saints from the late 13th century. Its historicity has therefore been put into question. There is no contemporary written evidence and the Christianization was a more prolonged and complex process than the result of a conquest and mission by the sword. According to the archaeological evidence a shift to Christian burial practice took place during the 11th and 12th centuries in Southern and South-Western Finland.

Lindkvist, T., 'Crusades and crusading ideology in the political history of Sweden, 1140-1500', in Murray, A. V. (ed.), Crusade and conversion on the Baltic frontier 1150-1500, (Aldershot 2001) pp. 119-130.

16. Evidence of ecclesiastical and non-ecclesiastical administrative systems 

16A. Their coincidence

An earlier stance in research was that Church organization must have been copied from or built on an earlier existing administrative system, based on the ledung, the naval defense organization in early Sweden which is mentioned in the provincial laws (s ee e. g. Hafström 1949). The stance today is that this was not the case. Instead the Church organized the parish level independently, and did not use earlier secular administrative divisions (see e. g. Rahmqvist 1982).

Hafström, G., 'Sockenindelningens ursprung' in S. Grauers & Å. Stille (eds), Historiska studier tillägnade Nils Ahnlund (Stockholm 1949), pp. 51-67.

Rahmqvist, S., 'Härad och socken - världslig och kyrklig indelning i Uppland' in Äldre territoriell indelning i Sverige, Bebyggelsehistorisk tidskrift Vol. 4 (1982), pp. 89-96.

16B. If relevant, territorialization

© Nils Blomkvist, Stefan Brink and Thomas Lindkvist