Jelling Stones: what are they?

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The Jelling Stones are two UNESCO World Heritage Site stones in Denmark, dating back to the 10th century. The first was raised by King Gorm the Elder in honor of his wife Thyra, and the second by his son, Harald Bluetooth, in honor of his parents. The stones are carved with runes and the larger stone also has a depiction of Christ. They are located in the town of Jelling and are the oldest recorded words of a Danish king.

Jelling Stones are huge stones carved in Denmark. They are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and have been since 1994. The two stones are carved with runes. The Jelling Stones date back to the 10th century and are located in the town of Jelling, in a churchyard. The first of the stones was raised by King Gorm the Elder, and the second by his son, Harald Bluetooth.

Gorm the Elder, sometimes referred to as Gorm the Sleepy, was born in the late 9th century and reigned over Denmark for forty years, after succeeding his father, Harthacnut. It is not known exactly how old Gorm was, but it is likely that his name derives from the fact that Denmark had the oldest surviving monarchy in Europe at the time.

Gorm was married to Thyra, possibly the daughter of the King of England, Æthelred. When she died, she was placed in one of the mighty burial mounds found on either side of the Jelling Stones, and Gorm had a stone erected in her honor. The stone of him reads, in a close translation: King Gorm created these memories after his wife Thyra, the adornment of Denmark. A looser translation might read: King Gormr made this monument in memory of Thyrve, his wife, the salvation of Denmark. The title “Salvation of Denmark” refers to the fact that she is credited with completing the wall that separated Denmark from the encroaching Saxons in the south.

The first of the Jelling Stones is interesting for a number of reasons. Perhaps most importantly, these are simply the oldest recorded words of a Danish king, dating back more than a millennium. It is also one of the earliest recorded uses of the name Denmark to refer to the country, rather than simply the region. The first of the Jelling Stones, also sometimes called the little Jelling stone, or the stone of King Gorm the Elder, has two sides: on the first side is the inscription and on the second side is simply the name: Denmark.

When Gorm died, his son, Harald Bluetooth, took the throne. Harald became a Christian after being baptized by a monk, Poppo, towards the end of the 10th century. He then went on to convert Denmark from his native Norse religion to Christianity. He raised the second of the Jelling Stones, in honor of his parents. They read, approximately: Harald, king, commanded these memorials to be made after Gorm, his father, and Thyra, his mother. The Harald who conquered the whole of Denmark and Norway and turned the Danes to Christianity.

Harald’s stone has three sides and is substantially larger than the smaller of the Jelling Stones. In addition to the decorative bands and the runes themselves, the largest of the Jelling Stones also has a depiction of Christ, with arms outstretched and a halo above his head.
The Jelling Stones are a beautiful site in which to spend an hour or two. Originally there were probably many more stones, serving as a circle of burial stones around Thyrve’s grave, but they have since vanished, leaving only these two powerful documents of historic Denmark.

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