Monday, October 21, 2013

Runes 101 - Runes in History - Borgund Church

Image from Wikipedia of
the Borgund Church
The Borgund Church in Norway is one of the country's nearly 30 stave churches.  In fact, Norway hosts more stave churches than any other country, including the Urnes stave church, which is a UNESCO world heritage site.

While stave churches are interesting enough simply by virtue of their architecture, there are many carvings (graffiti) covering several hundred years and including pictures, such as stick figures, etched into their wooden walls.  Among these churches, the Borgund Church caught my eye not only because it is the best preserved stave church (according to many sources), but because of some very early graffiti engraved there.

I refer, of course, to runic inscriptions.  At least three runic inscriptions are legible inside the church.  One says only, "Ava Maria."

In his book, Norwegian Runes and Runic Inscriptions, Terje Sperkland identified an inscription that asks god to help others, "May God help everyone who helps me on my journey."

It is the third inscription, however, which I find the most intriguing.  It says, "Thorir carved these runes on the eve of St. Olaf's mass, as he travelled past here. The norns presented measures of good and evil, great toil they created before me."

I found this inscription referenced on three websites, but only one included the second sentence about the Norns.   For me, that sentence is far more interesting than the first, because it indicates that, as late as the end of the 12th or beginning of the 13th century, long after worship of the ancient gods was supposed to have ceased, Thorir was writing about the Norns in a Christian church.  Moreover, he sums them up quite accurately, telling us that they filled his life with good and evil and, it seems, many struggles.

Tiwaz and
In addition to these inscriptions, I also came across a picture of some of the other graffiti that included what looked to me to be a bind Rune.  I recreated the image as best as I could, which appears to consist of two Runes - Tiwaz and Ansuz.  This shows another intrguing potential crossover between the Norse gods and Christianity, because Tiwaz is Tyr's Rune and Ansuz tends to be affiliated with Odin and, at the very least, an ancient Norse god in general.

If you are fortunate enough to visit one of these old churches, enjoy the architecture and history, but make sure to look around for subtle runic inscriptions, which offer their own twist on the experience.

1 comment:

  1. It's not likely to be a reversed *Ansuz rune that's bound with the T, as the Scandinavians had ceased to use that *Ansuz symbol centuries before, when they changed over to the Younger Futhark. I should think that it is an A, though; Ar in the Younger Futhark (corresponding to *Jera in the elder) was often written just like that, a diagonal meeting an upright.
    The line about the Norns sounds rather poetic, making me wonder if Thorir was quoting something. It would be interesting to see if the original Norse text has alliteration and other metrical features.