Three leaden pendants featuring Christian crosses dating from the early 800s have been unearthed from an excavation site in Ribe, a former Viking capital, suggesting that the first Christians had established themselves in Danish society several generations earlier than previously assumed, Danish Radio reported.
"This is new knowledge of early Christianity in Denmark. We are used to crediting Harald Bluetooth with christening the Danes in around the year 960. But this shows that people in Ribe wore Christian amulets more than 150 years before this actually happened, Søren Sindbæk, a professor at Aarhus University, said, calling it "sensational."
The three amulets all bear X-shaped crosses, which is also known as a saltire or "Saint Andrew's cross" and is seen on the flag of Scotland and reflected in Russia's Navy ensign, among other present-day national symbols.
"This type of cross was very common in that period. They are often encountered in France or Germany, which were already Christian at that point. However, it is believed that people in Denmark were still worshipping Old Norse gods at that time," Sindbæk emphasized.
The amulets were all found in a smithy, where the molds were also discovered. This suggests the mass production of Christian amulets and thus a larger group of Christian followers.
"This is a sign that Christians have been around and perhaps even led a Christian mission here in Ribe at least one generation before what we know today. This finding predates the missionary Ansgar [also known as "the Apostle of the North"], whose mission, we know, began in the 820s," Søren Sindbæk pointed out.
Another outlier was the material used in the production of the pendants. Viking jewelry was usually made of precious metals, such as bronze, silver or gold.
"Lead as such is related to Christian symbolism. On judgment day, you should not wear flashy jewelry, which could testify to wealth or vanity. Therefore, it is quite typical that such jewelry was made of more humble material like lead," Søren Sindbæk said.
Sindbæk is the leader of a research project dedicated to a comprehensive review of the Viking age. For the past 14 months, researchers from the Northern Emporium Project have been digging into the heart of the Viking-age capital of Ribe, its former marketplace, which Sindbæk referred to as an "explosion of finds." The project is a collaboration between Aarhus University and Southwest Jutland Museums, with support from the Carlsberg Foundation.
The discoveries will be exhibited in Southwest Jutland Museums and ultimately sent on a "world tour."
With a population of slightly over 8,000, Ribe is Denmark's oldest extant town, established in the early eighth century in the Germanic Iron Age. It is the seat of the eponymous diocese.