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Søren Abildgaard in Jelling, 1771

On his summer tour of 1771 the travelling antiquarian illustrator Søren Abildgaard came to Jelling on the 11th of July. After he had looked through some 16th and 17th century documents in the vicarage, he walked over to the church and mounds, where he observed and investigated. The description in his preserved notebook displays Abildgaard’s typical precision and is reproduced here with modern spelling conventions. The Jelling stones are only mentioned briefly, but this is because he produced various sketches and ink-ups of the two rune stones. In addition, he sketched a view of the church between the mounds, which he inked up with quill pen and grey watercolours in 1773.

“At Jelling Church 2 very large earth mounds are located: one just north of the churchyard’s stone wall called the Queen’s Mound. According to an old man Anders Jensen’s account this was excavated by men from Jelling on royal orders in 1704; and that there always were many carp in the pool or well in the middle of the mound until the excavation was undertaken into the mound’s northern side; it is also reported that when the water ran out it was attempted to reach the bottom with a pole of 26 feet in length, but it could not be found.   


But when I investigated the mound on the 11th of July 1771, the spring or pool when investigated with a long pole was found to be only 5 feet deep, muddy at the bottom and the pole did not hit a stony bottom. At the sides of the pool, which across its round surface is around 10 feet wide, grew rushes and tall water grass. The water has at present no outlet, but is a pond or like a well, in which the water stands around 12 or 13 feet lower than the mound’s uppermost earthwork, but around 20 feet higher than the mound situated in the field, area and village as far as the eye can see, when everywhere around here is a flat and green field. However, the whole of this flat area lies quite high and on the southern and eastern sides is much lower land, valleys, lakes or rivers. It is also peculiar that fine water is found so high in this mound, in Jelling it is often difficult especially in the summer to find water, since their wells must usually be dug from 16 to 20 feet deep. The Queen’s mound is around 620 feet in circumference at its base and nearly 36-40 feet high. 


The King’s mound, which is located on the south side of the church just outside the churchyard’s stone wall, is in circumference at its base 690 feet and around 40 feet high and has on top a regular round plan 45 feet in diameter. The two runic stone monuments, which can be seen in the churchyard on the south side of the church, are described as follows. 


The church has no tower, but the bells hang in wall holes up in [”the roof” is crossed out} at the western end of the church. The oldest bell displayed text, but it was so badly cast, that it could not be read apart from the year m.d.xxvi [1526]. The later one was cast in C(hristian) V’s time. Up on the north wall of the chancel raised like an epitaph in stone, on which in a wide and flat longish square frame, which frames a large, square, black-grey slate, on which there has neither been painted or carved writing,16 pairs of weapons are carved, 8 on the right side, in the following order:…    


In the church in front of the altar is a blue-grey grave stone with this inscription. “Here rests S: Jørgen Pedersen Lemvig parish priest in Jelling and Hover parishes, who died in the year 16.. the … and his dear wife Maren Jensdatter.” 


Some distance north of the church can be seen in flat fields, called the Many Mounds plot, bordering the village’s northern land, 16 large and small earth mounds, quite near each other, amongst which some years ago 4 were dug up, and in one [was] found by the farmer’s farmhand a glazed urn, in addition in another mound a stone urn full of burnt bone and ash was found by the vicar Mr Weile, also formerly in one of these mounds in vicar Mr Weile’s vicarage’s fields, of which the owner at the time of Havdehus – a freehold property – took earth to fill in his farm, a glazed urn with ash was found, containing 2 rings, one twisted like the usable new pipe lids, the other was smooth. Furthermore at another [mound] called Black mound near Jelling village beside the mound was found, after the surrounding-placed stones’ removal, a ring of a metal resembling gold, which the then parish priest Mr Wedel showed to the goldsmith in Vejle, who said that he could not certainly say what sort of metal it was made of.     


On the eastern side of the Queen’s mound on Lars Sognefoged’s land, where there are some large granite boulders in a row from south to north, according to tradition close to the eastern side of these stones lies a very large flat granite boulder under the soil, on which there is a great deal of text. It was worth the investigation to excavate there, in order to find out, whether such a runic monument lay in the earth. 


In Jelling churchyard on the south side of the church are 2 runic monuments of granite, one large and the other smaller. The smaller stone, which stands straight up on its end, is an oblong, tall stone, whose 2 wide sides are more or less even, on the widest side are 3 lines of runes, which are read from bottom to top, and the runes are carved into the stone as follows: 


In the first line and in the first word in between [] and [] is a small uneven area, which is why they have also placed these two runes a little further away from one another than the others, [so] that the unevenness should not hinder them carving [] properly. In the first word of the two long lines the second rune in the word is uncertain [that is because of] the peeling off of the stone. The length of the gap has been measured.      


On the other side the stone is slightly semi-cylindrical, and [there] is only one line of runic inscription, which also is read from bottom to top as follows:…In the middle word the last rune is this [], but it is thought too, that this stands for both L and R, when it has a semicircle on top like this [], however could the same semicircle perhaps be a natural hollow line in the stone or originate from an unfortunate occurrence. Whether the last word consists only of 2 runes and the third line belongs to the border, we do not know; but it is thought it is like a []. 


The large rune stone has 3 flat sides, roughly resembling a triangular pyramid, but the sides are not of equal width, the edges and top are quite irregular. On the widest flat side are 4 horizontal lines of runes as follows:…
The fifth rune denoting ”a” in the first word has recognisably the sign in the middle that is drawn here, and around the end are natural scratches in the stone, similar though to those made by hard work. The last rune standing for “b” is thought to have a small semicircle above at the end, but this may be either a natural scratch in the stone or a mistake with the carving tool.
The third word in line 3 consists of 4 runes only and not 5 runes, as others have drawn it, so that ”mudr” is written and not ”mudur.” The second word in line 4 is written in completely the same way on the stone as this drawing shows. In the same line the first 3 runes and the last 2 in the last word are completely recognisable, but the runes in between are more unclear.
On the large rune stone’s second surface, where the animal is carved into the stone and entangled in foliage and knots, in a line underneath is this runic inscription:


The first rune of the first word is quite a distance from the next rune, because there is a space or irregularity between them, and probably the rune carver wanted to avoid the uneven area on the stone, and therefore placed the second rune a little further away from the first rune.-


On the stone’s third surface, where a man in Roman war costume is carved entwined in loose bands and knots, in a line underneath is this runic inscription:
In the middle of the line a number of runes are missing, which clearly can be seen to be the result of serious damage, when a slab broke or peeled off this hard stone.”