And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

mandag 20. februar 2017

Saint Christopher in Roskilde

In May 2016, a friend and I went on an excursion to Roskilde, one of Denmark's episcopal seats, and our primary target for the trip was its cathedral. The current building has undergone several bouts of extension and renovation throughout the centuries, but its oldest part is believed to date from the 1170s, and it is believed that the building was initiated by Bishop Absalon, who in 1177 became archbishop of Lund and thus metropolitan of Denmark. Absalon's stone cathedral replaced older churches on the spot, and it was dedicated to Saint Lucius who also had been the dedicatee of the previous church. Roskilde was an important religious centre in medieval Denmark, and in the 1140s a chronicle was written here, a chronicle now known as the Roskilde Chronicle, or Chronicon Roskildense.

The front of Roskilde Cathedral

The interior of Roskilde Cathedral is lavishly decorated with wall-paintings and sculptures, and most of them dating from the fifteenth-century onwards. There are many wonderful things to relate about these decorations, and in future blogposts I aim to return to several of them. In the present blogpost, however, I will merely give a taste of the splendour which is housed within the cathedral, and to do so I will give you two representations of Saint Christopher, one of the most common saints in medieval European art.

Saint Christopher carrying the Christ-child
Fresco from the chapel of the three holy kings, Roskilde Cathedral

The legend of Saint Christopher - Christophanes or Christ-bearer - tells of how a pagan soldier, often depicted as a giant and sometimes even as a dog-head, walked about the world in order to find the most powerful master so that he could submit to him. He met the Devil and sought to serve him, until he discovered that the Devil feared Christ. Intent to become a servant of Christ, Christopher sought instruction in the Christian faith, which he received from a hermit. As a form of service to Christ, Christopher stationed himself at a river to ferry people across. Since he was thought to be a giant, he is normally shown wading the river with his passenger sitting astraddle his neck. One day he was ferrying a little child across the river, and mid-stream the child became so heavy that Christopher barely could stand upright. The child then told him that he was Christ, and that the heaviness was the weight of the world which Christ carried. As proof of the child's testimony, he told Christopher to plant his staff in the ground and let it blossom the next day. When Christopher saw his staff blossoming - which is why the staff can be seen to bear leaves and fruits in the medieval depictions - he became a preacher for the Christian faith. He was later martyred for his missionary effort.

Detail from a wooden seat
Roskilde Cathedral

Saint Christopher's role as the patron of travellers ensured his popularity throughout the Middle Ages, and he was often included among the Fourteen Holy Helpers, a late-medieval saint collegium whose members varied throughout Europe. The depictions of Christopher at Roskilde Cathedral are typical examples of his most common iconography.


Farmer, David, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford University Press, 2004

Roskilde Domkirke in Store Danske Leksikon, Gyldendal

Ingen kommentarer:

Legg inn en kommentar