Sunday, December 1, 2013

Husaby - Royal farm or manor. 12th C Transitional Norway

Husaby means royal farm, or manor.  This Husaby, with the capitalized name, is part of 12th Century Norway's religious bridge era.  It is a focal point of Kristin Lavransdatter, the novel by Sigrid Undset, and later film, of the medieval lives, institutions and values interacting at the time.

Husaby, Norway. Settlement ruin, 12th Century manor or royal farm, a site for novel and film, Kristin Lavransdatter

This transition period continued the process of Christianization, begun perhaps in the 8th century as  institutional, conformist Christian interests pressed north and west, and following up earlier influences of individual monastics who spread a more autonomous Christianity by word and example (think Patrick, or Columba).
  • Christianity at the outset: At first without bright lines, from a tolerant even gnostic-tilting (good and evil, dualism accepted as a way to understand deity) form of Christianity, with coexistence and blurring of ideas, see, e.g., Forn Sed's Christianization of Scandinavia.  
  • Christianity as it evolved: Rigid lines for the institutionally acceptable, where refusal to convert may mean death. Territorial, compulsory, conformist version of dogma and teaching.  This militant approach served kings and popes, solidifying their influence. And with the dogma came the alien concepts like original sin, savior, incarnation, and exclusions of other systems and practices and roles. The Holy Roman Empire was hardly a personalized Christianity.

Read Kristin Lavransdatter, by Sigrid Undset, 1928 Nobel Prize winner, and visit the places to recreate the religious slide.   Husaby, the term, is an administrative concept in Scandinavia where some of the places themselves took on the name Husaby. See Geography, Topography and Political Organization, Brink.indd  (Steven Brink) at 67. For a look at the early blending of indigenous and early Christian concepts, see Myth and Ritual in Pre-Christian Scandinavian Landscape, also by Steven Brink, at 26ff. 

Here, the ruin of this Husaby, near Trondheim, Norway. 

1.  Husaby site, chapel ruin and commemorative standing stone, chieftain Einar Tambersjelve.

This is a preserved site, with regular houses surrounding.

Husaby, Chapel, Norway. Ruin of Kristin Lavransdatter setting, 12th Century. Standing stone: new, but representative.

1.  Pre-militant, pre-institutional Christianity.

What was taught in this little manor chapel? Was there a structure that predated this stone foundation. Did Christianity here initially spread by word and example, coexisting with indigenous longstanding myth and practice.  In the novel, it appears so.  The local priest lives and works alongside those in the community.  Then another force of Church superseded tolerance and mutual respect with forced ritual, beliefs compelled.

See FN 1

2.  Husaby chieftain standing stone. Einar Commemorative, not original.  His burial place is unknown but believed to be up a nearby hillside-mountain area.

 Husaby, Norway. Einar Tambersjelve, Chieftain, commemorative standing stone. New. Kristin Lavransdatter interest.

The standing stone here, visible at the top left quadrant, is commemorative of the old chieftain, Einar Tambersjelve, and not original.

3. Husaby landscape  --  Kristin Lavransdatter

Husaby, Norway. Landscape.
Do read Sigrid Undset's book, Kristin Lavransdatter (download Penguin) for an intimate family look at the process of institutionalization of a religion.  In particular, how did the "new" Christianity impact on families, women, their choices.

Shade of Kristin Lavransdatter, Husaby Norway. Young girl off the school bus, heading home.

The Husaby standing stone is just visible in the background. .

4.  The Trip to Husaby.

 Husaby is best found by looking first for Borsa, a 19th Century now-Lutheran church, near Husaby. Find signs for Skaun, where the later community church was built a hundred years after Husaby,  and find further signs to Husaby itself.

5.  Despite an institutionally restrictive religious past, barely changed by a Reformation imposing its own dogma, life bubbles.  Keep looking.  When at Husaby, and you are leaving, look more closely at what you pass.  There is a barn on the right.

That is not surprising but what else is there.  Eyes right!

Jazz mural on Husaby barn.

Is that a small triumph of the secular over anybody's institution interfering with the joy of life..  Kristin, dance on.  Cultural full-circle: Be a responsible, caring person, but ave a good time.


FN 1   Is there merit to the idea of Celtic influences before the institutional Christianity forms took over?  It is a matter of weight not whether.  Read the Rule of Saint Columba, 6th Century, later written down.  Saint Columba 521-597.  At about the same time, the institutional Benedictines were setting up shop, with rigid, rigid rules.  The conflict emerges early in Christian approaches.

Irish missionaries, from the era of Saint Patrick, Saint Columba, may not specifically have landed at Norway, but the Norse have long been traders up and down any available waterway; and raiders after Charlemagne slaughtered the Saxons for refusal to convert at Sachsenhain.  Where the Norse traded and raided, they also settled -- often -- so religious and political influences would be known. 

  • Cyril and Methodius in the 9th Century spread Orthodox Christianity in areas where the Norse were trading, and had settled. See them at

Is it so, then, as Kristin Lavransdatter suggests, that these little tolerant chapels were part of life in Norway before imposition of the militant Holy Roman Empire and its successors in interest.  There seems to be no inconsistency with standing stones, representing the indigenous ways, coexisting with early Christian. See also the old stone church at Vik, and the stave church there, with their dragons. Cheer the dragons, and cultural identity.

Husaby, ruin of manor chapel foundation, Norway
Perhaps that specific influence went nowhere further, stemming from Patrick.

  • Columba? Saint Columba did not leave Ireland and Iona, see, but his impact was to press principle and rights even when against authority (he and his family even defeated King Dermott on his right to copy a book), and, some sources say, helped convert Northern England to a peaceful Christian way of life, see bio at   Is that a stretch?  We do know that some Scandinavian kings who were converted on pain of invasion by the Holy Roman Empire were so converted in England, York, or in Germany or France (Rouen). 
  • The point is that forms of Christianity varied from the outset, and which prevailed ultimately was a matter of militance and force, not necessarily merit in adherence to a founder's words and example.

    • Even Saint-King Olaf II, for example, was converted in Northern England; but Christianity had already changed from earliest conversions, monastic autonomy and contemplation, to emerging militance.  Olav's actions after conversion show more interest in using Christianity to fend off invasion (I too am Christian, so leave me be, thought he?), to solidify power and territory for his throne, then regain that throne after exile (while Canute was victor)
    • 10-12th Century royal conversions were not to the earlier form of Patrick and Columba, is that so, even though those forms persisted in much of Scandinavia in the disparate groups there. 

 Saint Columba, 6th Century, spread these tenets: see

  • Re-appreciate the Celtic religious. Celtic religious in Ireland, Scotland, copied texts, protected ancient volumes over centuries after Rome fell.  We are familiar with the histories tracking Irish missionaries, monks, theologians, even positing that the Irish saved Christianity.  How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill was published in 1995, see  Balance that against the Fordham site aboave. Still, ideas and words survived when those sources were being burned on the continent by warring people, competing powers bent on overcoming all who opposed the dogma du jour, now that there was no Rome to impose itself on everybody.
Sources seem to agree, however, that early missionaries went not only to contiguous continental Europe, but to father reaches -- see -- Scandinavia.  Saint Sunniva of Norway, Saint to Orthodox and also Roman Catholic Christians, was herself the daughter of a Irish King, and born in the 9th Century.  See

  • Denmark was an easy reach: and susceptible to Roman church invasion threats, since it connected physically to the rest of Europe where the Holy Roman Empire was pushing north.
  • Sweden, not so far from Denmark; and a shorter voyage.  
  • Norway was the most remote, but the monastic missionaries had been there. 

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