Denmark boasts of more than 1550 medieval churches in continuous use since the 11th and 12th centuries. Less known is that a number of other churches were deserted already in the Middle Ages. A new project aims to provide an archaeological and historical overview.
Deserted and demolished churches are known from historical sources. Thus, in 1352 the Danish king, Valdemar Atterdag, had eleven medieval churches torn down in the neighbourhood of the town of Randers in order to use the stones from the buildings to construct his new castle. It is likely these churches were deserted following the Black death. Other demolished churches are known from archaeology or landscape cartography. As recent as 2012 a medieval church at Mørup was carefully taken down. The building – now close to the coast – was threatened by the sea and wins
Recently, the Danish Ministry for Culture has launched a project to archaeologically register and describe the remaining foundations of these churches across Denmark.
Denmark was formally christened in the 10th century. Following this, significant numbers of churches were erected during the 11th century. Often, these were built as part of the local manor. Occasionally, it has been possible to demonstrate continuity from what may have been a pagan temple to a Christian church. In the 12th and 13th century, these early churches came to be (re)built of stone. It is believed that approximately 2000 such rural churches were raised in the following period. Likely, a new church was consecrated every month during the 12th century.
During the Middle Ages, however, numerous churches were abandoned. Many of these – ca. 150 to 200 – were torn down following the Black Death. Of these, 75 sites may still be recognised in the landscape. All-in-all, we know of 460 deserted churches of which 410 sites have been archaeologically registered. Some of these sites (133) are protected, while the fate of the rest is left in the hands of the local owner of the land.
The new strategy aims to help local museums to be aware of the sites, the ruins and the surrounding churchyards.
In 2012 the medieval church at Mørup was torn down. The church had long been deserted due to its vulnerable position in the landscape.
Strategi for Middelalderens ødekirkers arkæologiske undersøgelser.
I: Arkæologiske strategier for udgravninger i Danmark
Danmarks døde kirker. Middelalderens nedlagte kirker.
By Niels Engberg
University Press of Southern Denmark 2018
By Jes Wienberg
Series: Lund studies in Medieval Archaeology vol 11