A team working at Ribe VikingeCenter has completed the interior design for the recreation of Denmark's first-ever Christian church. The announcement marks the end of the second stage of a major historical project. 

The external structure of the church was completed in 2018 using the original building techniques of the Vikings. 

The building is designed to replicate the original church built by Bishop Ansgar in 855, the remains of which are today thought to be buried under Ribe Cathedral. 

Diana Bertelsen of the Ribe VikingeCenter speaks to The Viking Herald about the highly impressive and painstaking work involved in the construction, the difficulties of selecting the designs for the interior, and some exciting plans for the future. 

Bursting with history 

Ribe, which has a good claim to being the oldest town in Scandinavia, is found in southwest Jutland. 

In recent decades, Ribe has proved to be a rich source of archeological treasures that have revealed much about Viking Age Denmark

Ribe VikingeCenter is an open-air museum that strives to present the history of the local area and the Viking era as a whole. 

Across 12 hectares (about 29.7 acres) of land, visitors can marvel at a thriving marketplace, Viking ships, farm buildings, turf-roofed townhouses, and even a Norse mythology-themed playground. 

Given that Ribe is also the site of what is believed to be the first-ever Danish church, it made sense that the team here would also look to add a recreation of the building to their collection. 

"The archeologists of Sydvestjyske Museer (Museum of Southwest Jutland) finished an excavation at Ribe Cathedral in 2013," Diana informs us. 

"They failed to find traces of the first wooden church built by the missionary Ansgar in the mid-800s. However, they did find a Christian graveyard from the same time, which supports sources indicating the existence of the first church here." 

Based on the original church built by Bishop Ansgar in 855, the recreated structure at Ribe VikingeCenter includes Carolingian-style murals, marking the end of the second stage of this ambitious project. Source: Ribe VikingeCenter

A pioneering temple 

To ensure authenticity, everything at Ribe is based on historical and archeological records. 

With the remains of the church almost certainly hidden under the cathedral, the team instead spent time researching the architecture of other comparable buildings from the 9th century, as well as delving further into the life of Ansgar. 

Born in the Kingdom of the Franks, Ansgar was a missionary who journeyed from Hamburg to Scandinavia to spread the word of God to the local pagan population. 

Here, King Horik of Denmark instructed the Earl of Ribe to build a new Christian church. 

Perhaps swayed by the riches bestowed on him by the missionary, the earl himself soon converted to Christianity, with many of the local people promptly following suit. 

Diana notes that the church at Ribe would have been a significant presence from the beginning – it was converted into a cathedral as early as 948. 

In fact, the construction of Ansgar Church is likely one of the first steps in the Christianization of the Norse

For this reason, the team at Ribe believes the people behind its construction would have wanted the church to be both architecturally impressive and visually striking.

"There is good reason to believe that this 'spearhead of the mission to the north' was, from the outset, a prestigious building designed to impress and convince the splendor-loving Vikings of the power and glory of Christ," Diana says. 

"Our decision to go 'all in' on decorative carvings and colorful murals was therefore taken early on." 

The exterior of the church was completed in 2018 using historical Viking construction techniques, including methods like burning oak bases and using birch bark strips for moisture protection. Source: Ribe VikingeCenter

The main build 

As detailed in a spellbinding video (available online), construction on the church began in 2016. 

The builders worked in authentic Norse dress and applied traditional techniques commonly employed in the Viking era. 

"We had carpenters with expertise in traditional joinery techniques work on the construction," Diana tells us. "Skilled wood carvers also worked on the site, while a blacksmith made different fittings for the doors, oil lamps, and various other details." 

"Most of the work has been carried out during our opening hours, as the craftsmanship is something we always want to showcase and communicate to our visitors," Diana adds. 

In the video report, it is possible to enjoy some of the special touches that would strengthen the building. 

These include burning the base of the main oak pillars of the church nave to prevent rot caused by damp soil. 

Additionally, they inserted strips of birch bark – which contains natural tar – between the foundation stones and the wooden structure to prevent ground moisture from reaching the wood. 

The church bell was also made using an authentic Viking process, though it was crafted in Haidubu (Hedeby), Germany, before being brought to Ribe by Viking ship. 

The church was consecrated in 2018 and is now a highly characteristic building that forms part of Ribe's ever-evolving Viking village. 

After the main construction, the decoration phase included painting and creating murals to reflect 9th-century Viking church aesthetics, with artist Trine Theut leading the design efforts. Source: Ribe VikingeCenter

Time to decorate 

After completing the main structure, work soon began on decorating and painting first the outside sections and then the church's interior. 

In this case, however, the expert team could only guess at the precise nature of the decorations. 

"In the Nordic countries, churches consisted exclusively of wood until around 1000 CE, so Nordic church rooms from the 9th century no longer exist," Diana tells us. 

"Elsewhere in Europe, however, you can still find well-preserved and richly decorated stone church rooms of that time." 

"We had to do a whole lot of research on the style, motifs, colors, and painting techniques of the Viking Age." 

In addition to skilled wood and stone carvers, the team included the visual artist Trine Theut, who was responsible for researching, sketching, and painting the murals. 

The resulting wall paintings are made in the Carolingian style and depict stories from the Bible. 

"We are delighted with the end result," Diana admits. "With the finished murals inside the church, we can present a 9th-century church room as it may very well have looked." 

Due to the lack of surviving Nordic church rooms from the 9th century, the team relied on well-preserved European examples and extensive research to design the murals. Source: Ribe VikingeCenter

Changing of the times 

The church was constructed during a crucial point in Danish history, as the country's inhabitants began gradually moving from a pagan culture centered on ancient Norse mythology to a Christian society. 

Ansgar was initially an active promoter of Christianity in Saxony before turning his attention further north, where he was tasked with converting the pagans of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. 

It is this dramatic period of change, on the borderline between two very different religions, that the center seeks to showcase to the general public. 

"The 860 CE Ansgar Church is the focal point for Ribe VikingeCenter's presentation of a transitional period when most people believed in the Nordic gods," Diana says. 

"With its very special ambiance and array of special details, a visit to the Ansgar Church can take you back to these defining years. It enables you to taste some of the same atmosphere that the first Danish churchgoers would have experienced." 

In addition to the impressive church, Ribe VikingeCenter is constructing a Viking fortress with four houses, a gate entrance, and a palisade, expected to be completed next year. Source: Ribe VikingeCenter

Plenty more to come 

Though the religious building is undoubtedly one of the most impressive sights at the Ribe VikingeCenter, Diana tells us that there are also plenty of other plans afoot. 

"Right now, we are constructing a Viking fortress with four houses, a gate entrance, and a palisade," Diana says. "If everything goes to plan, the project will be finished next year. 

"We also have some smaller projects going on," Diana continues. "For instance, we're building a house from 710 CE in the reconstructed marketplace, similar to one found in Ribe by an archeologist just a couple of years ago." 

Another upcoming project will see the construction of a new entrance to the center. As always, the focus will be on authentic builds and the very finest Viking craftsmanship. 

You can read more about the work at the Ribe VikingeCenter on their website

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