The famous shirt from Guddal

A Christian Cemetery in a Bog from the early Middle Ages

A number of Christians were buried in a bog in Guddal in Norway in the Early Middle Ages.

The bodies are very well preserved but the site itself raises a number of questions. Why was this place chosen? And what is still kept in the ground. The authors present the finds and their context as well as raises a number of ethical questions.

“Every dead person should be brought to Church and buried in sacred ground.” A Christian cemetery in a bog from the early Middle Ages.
[Kvart menneske som døyr skal me føra til kyrkja og grava i heilag jord» – kristen gravplass i myr fra tidlig middelalder]
Historisk Tidsskrift Finland 2013, vol. 2, pp. 177-201


Iron Age “bog bodies” are well known from Denmark, but less familiar are those of various dates found in bogs from other parts of Scandinavia.

Fourteen burials are known from bogs in Norway – all as skeletons and mostly prehistoric. However, in addition, many medieval ‘bog bodies” were found during the period 1903–1970 near the church site of Guddal, Fjaler in Sunnfjord. None of these bodies from Guddal were collected or studied, although some exceptionally well-preserved wooden material and textiles were assembled and many graves are still in situ. The Guddal case is unique in Scandinavia with respect to the number of bog bodies from one site, as well as the historic context – a medieval, Christian society.

Apart from analyses of the textiles, little has been written about other aspects of the Guddal discovery. The site is worthy of closer investigation, however. New dendrochronological analyses reveal that the material is dateable to the 11th – 13th centuries, which is the earliest period of Christianity in Norway. The provincial law codes, homilies and archaeology are important sources of early Christian life in Norway, but much remains uncertain regarding Christianity in this early period.

The finds from Guddal demonstrate some intriguing contradictions between sources; thus further attention is called for. In the article a closer look is taken at the evidence from Guddal – presenting the grave material as well as new information on dates. The authors conclude that the bog cemetery is an example of local variation which is difficult to explain at present. Further investigations are needed, but these may involve difficult, ethical issues.

The article, which is in Norwegian., can be accessed here

Featured Photo: The Famous Shirt from Guddal


Leave a Reply