The Churches of Gotland


The magnificent portal of the nave opens into a light and lofty Gothic interior richly decorated with mural paintings. Once, however, the church was fortified. The tower is a remnant from an older building and is crenelated under the spire, and the church yard wall has loopholes and a coping of tilted slabs like the city wall of Visby. This fact, probably, lies at the bottom of a local tale of a battle having been fought here in the Middle Ages and depicted in a painting in the church, and lo and behold!- there it is on the northern wall: a fierce encounter between mounted knights. A historian has believed it to be a representation of a real battle between the knights of the Teutonic Order and the Mecklenburgish pirates who had occupied Gotland in 1398. Such historical paintings are, however, very uncommon in the Middle Ages, and we must maintain the older interpretation of the picture as a rendering of the legend of the Theban legion (the martyrdom of the Ten thousands). The knights show the black cross of the Order on their shields and banners, and the paintings present an East-European style (Bohemian), which is alien to the art of painting in Gotland; this indicates, that the painter came to the isle in the retinue of the knights and got his commission from them; an ideal connection between the knight-martyrs of the legend and the Teutonic crusaders is therefore not unthinkable. A notable piece of art is the limestone alms-box, originally also pedestal for the Rood, signed in runes by the architect and sculptor Lafrans Botvidarson (see Hellvi).

Photo Hans Hemlin

Text Dr. Bengt G Söderberg


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List of the churches in alphabetical order

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