August 14, 2015 (continued): Sigtuna, Sweden
Sigtuna, the oldest town in Sweden (founded 980 AD), is not far from the airport. It has a renowned boarding school and is often a destination for church retreats. The name of Sigtuna comes from an old English word for town (tuna), which was originally a Viking word. Its history before the 11th century is recounted in old Norse sagas. Its population is currently about 8,500 inhabitants.
First things first: Lunch
First stop: an inn or house where tables were already set with glasses, tableware, napkins, bread, and plates of salad in a large dining room. Soon after we got there, two more tour groups from the Eurodam arrived to have lunch with us.
After the salad and bread, we were served an entrée: chicken breast over julienned vegetables. For dessert we each got a wedge of chocolate cake that was like eating fudge! We could help ourselves to coffee or tea. On shore, I always had coffee when given the chance, because the free coffee on the ship was American style (to get good coffee I had to pay for it!).
Runic stones and mythology
At a park, Britt showed us stones with runic writing, which came from the Vikings. The runic writing encircles an illustration in the middle. For example, on one stone there was a cross, indicating that the subject was a Christian, and also a weapon. Plaques near the stones gave a translation of the writing. By reading them, I realized that these stones were like gravestones, extolling the virtues of important people who had died. However, it was fairly common for an important man to create stones about himself during his lifetime. One chieftain erected at least five stones dedicated to himself!
Britt told us about an ancient creation myth in which a god threw a giant into the air. The giant’s cranium became the sun; to keep it up there, the gods created the directions: north, south, east and west. The giant’s bones became mountains, his blood became rivers and seas. Eventually the gods fashioned the first two people out of tree trunks, and they were endowed with life, soul, and intelligence. Their names were Ask and Embla. Hell was a cold place of snow and ice – nothing else.
Thor was a hammer-swinging god, associated with storms, thunder and lightning. The word “thunder” derives from the Norse word “Thor.” Odin was the god of wisdom, who learned from suffering. He was associated with healing, death, knowledge, and the runic alphabet, among other things.
The ruin of a church
We saw a couple of these stones, then crossed the street to see the ruin of an old church. High up on one of the remaining walls was another runic stone. In those days, people would sometimes use stones with writing on them as building materials, not realizing their future archaeological value!
St. Mary’s (Mariakyrkan) Lutheran church
Next, we visited a now Lutheran church dated from the 13th century, which is in remarkably good condition, an example of brick Gothic architecture. It was renovated in the early 20th century and then again in the 1960s. Surrounding the church is a burial ground.
In front, to the left of the altar was the tombstone of a family, most likely a prominent one, with the couple carved on top. Next to the carving of the man was one child (a son). Next to the carving of the woman were five children (five daughters).We then were free to walk around town – little shops along a couple of streets, the Town Hall, and off to the left, Malaren Lake, on which Sigtuna is situated. We went into the Town Hall, to see the contraption put on people who were taken to jail because they were drunk. There were two rooms inside – one room was lined with chairs, where people could wait for an audience with the officials. This room also had furnishings of a dining room and a green marble fireplace.The
other room would have been used as a jail for temporarily holding delinquents.
After that, we strolled down the street with lots of souvenir shops.
Along the lake was a park, including a spiral path with a faux runic stone in the middle, a miniature golf course that used tiny versions of local buildings for the holes, and many ducks who hoped for tidbits from an old couple sitting on a bench. There were lots of ducks in the lake as well, and I took a nice picture of a little girl on the lake shore trying to attract them.