According to an article on runes by the Milwaukee Public Museum, memorial rune
stones were created for individuals who died at home and abroad. When prominent
people, usually men, died, a stone was erected by family members as a memorial
piece. The message usually conveys information about the deceased, who created the
stone, and living relatives. Viking raids abroad took the tradition of runic
inscriptions as far away as Istanbul. The memorials for those who died far away
account for about ten percent of rune stones.
Another reason for erecting a rune stone was to demonstrate the new Christian belief
system which was introduced into Scandinavia around AD 960. Christian crosses and
symbols were often added to memorial rune stones. Individuals also publicly
proclaimed their new religion by creating a rune stone where they lived and where
pagan religion was still evident.
Now, a report by Danielle Turner regarding findings revealed at the recent 105th
Annual Conference of the Society for the Advancement of Scandinavia Study, gives a
fascinating new look into the world of runes.
Lise Gjedssø Bertelsen, [of Uppsala University] shows us that three styles emerged
to form the bases of Late Viking Age (ca. 950 – 1135 AD) art: Mammen, Ringerike, and
Urnes. These three styles… shared similar motifs, most notably the cross of
Christ, crucifix, triquetrae, quadrupeds, birds, ships, and masks.
From these themes, Lise argues that the main content of the depictions were
Christian. Pictures can quickly and easily communicate complex religious ideas when
the creators, spectators, and commissioners share a similar frame of reference and
religious ideology. She concludes that “a millennium ago the picture rune stones of
Scandinavia glowed in bright colors for all seasons in the landscapes radiating
their messages, first of all about the Christian salvation and resurrection.”
Turner then highlights runic masks and other rock engravings discussed at the
conference, including one from the eleventh-century depicting the famed mythological
“From this,” she says, “we see a comparison between the dragon-slayer and the
protector of Christianity.”
Read more of these fascinating finds connected to Christianity by clicking here.