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Rare Crucifix Suggests Christianity May Have Come Earlier to the Vikings

The 10th-century Aunslev Crucifix is currently being analyzed by the Viking Museum at Ladby

The Aunslev Crucifix (The Viking Museum Ladby)
smithsonian.com

By 1050 A.D., it’s agreed that most of the Viking followers of Odin, Loki and the other Norse gods adapted to Christianity. But a small gold crucifix found near the Danish town of Aunslev may push that chronology back a little further.

Earlier this month, Dennis Fabricius Holm decided to go metal detecting near the rural village of Aunslev. What he found in a seemingly empty field was a roughly 1.6 inch, half-ounce crucifix made of gold wire and beads with an eye on top so it could be worn as a pendant, Will Worley reports for the Independent.

After Holm posted photos of his find up on social media, users urged him to take the crucifix to local experts. Now, the find is in the hands of the Viking Museum at Ladby, which is cleaning and analyzing the pendent, dubbed the Aunslev Cross.

Researchers estimate that the pendant dates from 900 to 950 A.D., which means that Christianity or at least Christian influences reached the Danes earlier than thought. The Jelling Rune stones, erected in 965 to commemorate King Harald Bluetooth’s conversion of Denmark and Norway to Christianity were previously considered the oldest image of Jesus on the cross found in Denmark.

Malene Refshauge Beck, curator and archaeologist at the Østfyns Museum told the Danish site DR that “This is a subject that certainly will have to appear in the history books in the future. In recent years there have been more and more signs that Christianity was widespread earlier than previously thought—and here is the clearest evidence so far.”

According to a museum press release, the pendent was found outside the church in Aunslev, currently in an isolated area of bare fields. The crucifix and runestones found in the area in 1623, may also indicate that there was a once a Viking settlement at the site, which eventually established the local church before disappearing.

Still, it’s not possible to conclude whether the village had adopted Christianity, as it's possible that the crucifix could have come from outside trade or missionaries.

“It’s pure luck, that the little jewelry has survived the last 1100 years in the earth” says the Ladby Museum’s press release. “It was probably worn by a Viking woman, but it cannot yet be decided whether the cross was to show that she was a Christian Viking or was just a part of a pagan Viking’s bling-bling.”

The museum will be putting the artifact on display through Easter before it undergoes further preservation.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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