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What Are the Jelling Stones?

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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 15 July 2014
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The Jelling Stones are enormous carved stones in Denmark. They are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and have been since 1994. The two stones are carved with runes. The Jelling Stones date back to the 10th century, and are located in the town of Jelling, in a churchyard. The first of the stones was raised by King Gorm the Old, and the second was raised by his son, Harald Bluetooth.

Gorm the Old, sometimes referred to as Gorm the Sleepy, was born sometime near the end of the 9th century, and ruled over Denmark for forty years, after succeeding his father, Harthacnut. Exactly how old Gorm was is not known, but it is likely that his name came from the fact that Denmark had the oldest surviving monarchy in Europe at the time.

Gorm was married to Thyra, possibly the daughter of the King of England, Aethelred. When she died, she was put in one of the mighty burial mounds found on either side of the Jelling Stones, and Gorm erected a stone in her honor. Her stone reads, in a tight translation: Gorm king made these memories after Thyra his wife, Denmark’s ornament. A looser translation could read: King Gormr made this monument in memory of Thyrve, his wife, Denmark’s salvation. The title “Denmark’s Salvation” refers to her being ascribed the completion of the wall that separated Denmark from the invasive Saxons in the south.

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The first of the Jelling Stones is interesting for a number of reasons. Perhaps most important is simply that these are the oldest recorded words of a Danish king, going back more than a millennium. It is also one of the earliest recorded uses of the name Denmark to refer to the country, rather than simply the region. The first of the Jelling Stones, also sometimes called the small Jelling stone, or King Gorm the Old’s stone, has two sides: on the first side is the inscription, and on the second side is simply the name: Denmark.

When Gorm died, his son, Harald Bluetooth, took over the throne. Harald became a Christian, after being baptized by a monk, Poppo, sometime in the latter-part of the 10th century. He then went on to convert Denmark from its native Norse religion to Christianity. He raised the second of the Jelling Stones, in honor of his parents. They read, roughly: Harald, king, bade these memorials to be made after Gorm, his father, and Thyra, his mother. The Harald who won the whole of Denmark and Norway, and turned the Danes to Christianity.

Harald’s stone has three sides, and is substantially larger than the smaller of the Jelling Stones. In addition to the decorative bands, and the runes themselves, the larger of the Jelling Stones also has a depiction of Christ, with arms spread and a halo over his head.

The Jelling Stones are a beautiful site to spend an hour or two at. Originally there were likely many more stones, acting as a burial stone circle around the grave of Thyrve, but they have since vanished, leaving only these two mighty records of historic Denmark.

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