Christianity given larger part in revamped Jorvik’s story

17 March 2017

jorvik viking centre

New exhibit: a replica of the Middleton Cross, showing an armed Viking

New exhibit: a replica of the Middleton Cross, showing an armed Viking

CHRISTIAN influences in the life of York in Viking times are to be included for the first time in the city’s newly revamped Jorvik Viking Centre.

The museum’s operator, York Archaeological Trust, has used a £4.2-million restoration — after disastrous flooding in 2015 — to incorporate the latest research into its displays, which capture a moment in the everyday life of the city in the tenth century.

The Trust’s head of Interpretation, Dr Chris Tuckley, admitted that when the discoveries of Viking York were first opened to the public in 1984, the part played by Christianity had been “slightly under-represented”. He said: “The big story then was that it was a Viking city that had been uncovered and its links were with Scandinavia, but now, as a result of research over the last 30 years, we are telling more of the whole Viking world-story, including influences from Ireland, the Middle East, North Africa, and continental Europe. Contact with Christian cultures and the adoption of Christianity is all part of that picture.”

The Centre, which reopens on 8 April, will therefore show several Christian items in its displays. They include a replica made by York Minster’s stonemasons of a cross in the churchyard of St Andrew’s, Middleton, which has Scandinavian interlacing designs carved on one side. There are also finds of coins — which were originally alien to Vikings, who preferred pieces of bullion as currency — illustrating the melding of the two communities, including the “St Peter’s Penny” , which features the saint holding Thor’s Hammer.

York Glaziers’ Trust, which recently helped to restore the Minster’s east window, has created its own piece of stained glass, based on an illustration in a 12th-century book on the martyrdom of St Edmund by the Vikings. The Centre’s famous animatronic figures, used to demonstrate scenes of everyday life, will now include a priest.

Before the invasion in 886 by the pagan Vikings’ “Great Army”, York was one of Europe’s leading Christian centres. “It is very difficult to say how Christianity recovered after the big colonisation,” Dr Tuckley said. “Churches would have been targeted, religious life would have suffered, and in some places was largely snuffed out; but it is hard to establish the degree to which Viking conquerors would have persecuted Christians, or if they tolerated, or even took little interest, in their religious life.

“However, within a generation or so, the Vikings who had come as conquerors began to settle down and had “gone native” in terms of the religious landscape. By the period in which Jorvik is set — about a century later — the two faiths have settled into relative harmony.”

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