Amulet linked to early Christianity


Mar 20, 2007

King Harold Bluetooth brought Christianity to Denmark roughly 1100 years ago. At least that's what he declared on the Jelling Stone located in Jutland:

'King Haraldr ordered this monument made in memory of Gormr, his father, and in memory of Thyrvé, his mother; that Haraldr who won for himself all of Denmark and Norway and made the Danes Christian.'

A tiny crystal amulet in the National Museum's archives suggests something quite different though, that maybe Christianity arrived in Denmark six centuries earlier than previously believed.

Crystal ball

In 1820, a farmer found the crystal amulet in the grave of a noblewoman on the island of Funen. Together with coins and other items in the grave, archaeologists were able to date the grave to about 300 AD.

For nearly two hundred years, the amulet and other articles had been on display in the National Museum.

As part of major project to reorganise the museum's collection, however, Peter Pentz, a curator and archaeologist at the National Museum, examined the 3cm sphere of crystal and noticed that it was unlike anything found in Denmark.

Upon closer inspection, he noticed what seemed to be an upside arrow. Drawing upon his knowledge of early Christian imagery, Pentz began to wonder: could this arrow in actuality be an anchor? A sign used by early Christians?

Pentz discovered another etching on the amulet - the word ABLATHANALBA. Such a word was believed to have mystical powers in early Christian ceremonies, suggesting that its owner had a connection to early Christian beliefs.

Pentz explained that his past studies in Rome's catacombs enabled him to see the amulet in a different light.

'I'm familiar with early Christian imagery,' Pentz told Politiken newspaper. 'As I studied the ball, I recognised the connection.'

First Christian Dane

The crystal amulet says important things about the woman buried in the 4th century, at a time when Denmark was still largely populated by pagans who worshipped Thor.

But was she a Christian?

Pentz thinks it's possible. She was most likely not the typical porridge eating woman who slaved every day to carry water from the nearby well. Instead, she was of a higher class and probably wore woollen textiles dyed in strong colours.

'She could have come from south eastern Europe and been married into an aristocratic Danish family,' said Pentz.

He admits that his hypothesis takes him out on a limb. The tiny crystal ball could have changed hands many times. And maybe it belonged to somebody else and was merely placed in her grave to help her on her journey in the after world.

New interpretations

Factors nevertheless suggested the woman subscribed to an early Christian worldview with all the mysticism and talismans that included.

The residents of Funen, for example, had ties to the Black Sea and Balkans where many people converted to Christianity early on. As far back as 100AD, people in that region were becoming Christianised. By the 4th century, many Christians populated the area.

Travelling from Denmark to the region was a long journey at the time, but the residents of Funen were more adventurous than residents of Zealand.

So the chance exists that some form of trade existed between the two regions. And that a woman prescribing to an early Christian faith could have come to Denmark long before Harold Bluetooth took credit for converting the Danes to Christianity.