Tag Archives: Middle Ages

The Viking wise woman was the late Middle Ages witch

Viking Wise Woman reading runes. Ribe, Denmark
Viking Wise Woman reading runes. Ribe, Denmark

During Viking Age and Norse paganism  (approximately from 800-1100) the völva – wise woman – was a highly respected member of the Viking society. She was a seer, a fortune-teller, she saw and understood more than most people – she was a master of prophecy.
In Ribe – the oldest town in Denmark and Scandinavia – you can still meet a Viking wise woman (völva) at Ribe VikingeCenter (Ribe Viking Centre) and if you have the courage to let her tell her prophecy for you, you can let her throw and read the runes for you.
In this video you can listen to her prophecy for Danhostel Ribe’s photographer who had just survived a severe cancer (Danhostel Ribe = Ribe’s hostel):
During the late Middle Ages and Renaissance – when Christianity spread in Europe – wise women were considered as witches who practiced witchcraft.

Witch Maren Spliid - Street Theater
Witch Maren Spliid – Street Theater

During the witch hunts,  they  were condemned as witches and burned alive at the stake.

Ribe is famous for its witch trials. Denmark’s best known witch was Maren Spliid from Ribe, she was burned at a fire at the Gallows Hill near

Ribe on November 9th 1641. The last one burnt as a witch in Ribe was Anna Bruds who was burned April 1652.
When you walk around in Ribe Old town you can still see many houses from around 1600 AD with a cross carved into the wooden brackets that hold the roof. These crosses were meant as protection against witchcraft.

Witch cross in Ribe, Denmark
Witch cross in Ribe, Denmark

Be wiser on the Viking era and the Middle Ages in Ribe

In Ribe – Denmark ’s oldest town  – you can be wiser on the Viking era and the Middle Ages in Ribe Viking Museum (Ribes Vikinger), at Ribe Viking Centre (Ribe VikingeCenter), at Ribe Viking Market (1 week around 1st of May every year), by walking the Ribe Viking Walk, or Ribe Old Town Walk – and you can follow Ribe’s Night Watchman when he takes tourists on a free town walk through Ribe’s historic streets.

These links might also interest you:
Viking sacrifice of horse to norse gods at Ribe VikingeCenter
Viking Ribe in Viking Denmark

Looking for cheap accommodation in Ribe

Summary in Danish


Under vikingetiden  (ca. 800-1100) var en vølve – vikingernes kloge kone – et højt respekteret medlem af Vikingesamfundet. Hun var en seer, en spåkone –  hun så og forstod mere end de fleste mennesker og var en mester i profeti.
I Ribe – den ældste by i Danmark og Skandinavien – kan du stadig møde vikingernes kloge kone (vølven) på Ribe VikingeCenter, og hvis du har modet, kan du lade hende kaste og læse runer for dig.
I denne video kan du lytte til hendes profeti for Danhostel Ribe‘s fotograf : Kaste runer

I løbet af middelalderen og renæssancen – da kristendommen spredtes i Europa – blev vølve betragtet som hekse, der praktiserede hekseri. Under Europas heksejagt blev de dømt og  brændt levende på bålet.
Ribe er berømt for sine hekseprocesser. Danmark bedst kendte heks var Maren Spliid fra Ribe, hun blev brændt på et bål på Galgebakken nær Ribe i 1641.
Den sidste, der blev brændt som heks i Ribe, var Anna Bruds, som blev brændt i 1652.

Kors i knægt - kors mod hekse
Kors i knægt – kors mod hekse

Når man går rundt i Ribes gamle bydel kan man stadig se mange huse med et kryds skåret i knægten, der holder taget. Disse kors skulle beskytte mod hekseri og stammer fra perioden omkring år 1600 efter den store bybrand i Ribe.
I Ribe – Danmark ‘s ældste by – med masser af fund fra Vikingetiden kan du blive klogere på vikingetiden og middelalderen på Museet  Ribes Vikinger – museum for vikingetid og middelalder, på Ribe Viking Center , til Ribe Vikingemarked (en uge omkring 1. maj hvert år), og ved at gå en Ribe Vikinge-Gåtur eller Gåturen i Ribes gamle bydel – du kan også følge Ribes Vægter, når han tager turister på en gratis byvandring gennem Ribes historiske gader.

Tilbud på Viking miniferie på Danhostel Ribe indtil 12.juli 2013

Medieval town seals from Ribe, Denmark

Ribe Medieval Town Seal (the big one)
Ribe Medieval Town Seal (the big one)
Ribe Medieval Town Seal (the small one)
Ribe Medieval Town Seal (the small one)

One of the readers of this blog asked us a question about medieval Ribe town seals.
In the Middle Ages documents were sealed with an seal imprint in warm sealing wax to make them valid in law.
In the early Middle Ages only kings and popes used seals. Later it spread down the social scale to first princes and bishops and then rich citizens, monks and others. Seals were usually made from bronze or lead. Seals were either institutional or personal.
All the personal seals found in Ribe were found in the ground but the 2 medieval town seals known in Ribe were never in the ground, they have been kept by Ribe town Council ever since The Middle Ages and are 2 of the best preserved town seals in Denmark. Both can be seen in the museum of the Old Town Hall in Ribe.
These 2 are the only known town seals from Ribe and they were used for centuries, probably already from the 13th century when the first known town privileges were granted Ribe by the Danish kings and Ribe made its own law (1269), but the first known imprints are from 1311.   
As most seals belonged to one person they were a very personal object and often placed in its owner’s grave when he died. Often the seal of important people was broken before it was placed in the grave so that nobody could misuse it if they took it.

A Ribe town seal was stolen by a former town mayor
The town council’s decisions were written on parchment and afterwards marked with the town’s official seal in wax. It was important that the town’s seals didn’t fall in the wrong hands, but that was actually what happened in Ribe in 1377 when a former town mayor, Jacob Jensen, stole one of the town’s 2 seals and also the town’s keys and let armed people in the town and in the cathedral’s big tower that was the town’s treasury. He also tried to kill a prominent man in the Cathedral and he wrote false letters that he sealed with the towns seal. The history doesn’t tell us how the seal and the keys came back to the town or how he was driven out of Ribe, but we know that he was because the town demanded that he should be punished no matter where he was caught. We don’t know if he was ever caught. 

Seals found in Ribe town
Until 2010 19 medieval seals have been found in Ribe town (only Roskilde has found more). The last 2 from the 13th-14th century were found in the Ribe excavation south of Ribe Cathedral 2008/2009.(Read the article: “Denmark’s probably first Christian burials are found”). These 19 are the real seals found, but more different seals are known from imprints. From the 19 found Ribe seals are only known imprints from the 2 town seals.

The 2 Ribe town seals
The big Ribe town seal (8,9cm diameter) is known from imprints from 1311 – 1543. Maybe it has been used longer. The seal is made from gilded silver and had a picture of Ribe Cathedral and 3 leopards, showing that Ribe was one of the king’s towns. Ribe town arms used the same picture. The inscription is: + SIGILLUM : CIVITATIS : RIPENSIS which means: Ribe town seal 
The small Ribe town seal (5,5cm.) is known from imprints from 1377 – 1539. Maybe it has been used longer. The seal is made from bronze. The picture shows the Virgin Mary with the child. In the bottom of the seal is a leopard (lion), also showing that Ribe was one of the king’s towns. The inscription is: SECRETUM BURGENSIUM DE RIPEN which means: Ribe citizen’s seal

Where to see the seals
For those who visit Ribe and want to see the town’s seals and learn more about medieval law and order in Ribe the right place to go is Ribe’s Old Town Hall with a display of the town hall collection which gives an impression of the town, the council and the lives of the citizens.  The collection is shown in the originally debtors’ prison for the more noble law-breakers. The normal prison for the common law-breakers was in the cellar. The collection contains part of the town archives going back to the Middle Ages. Many items of interest associated with the town are from this period.

Seglstamper fra middelalderens Ribe af Michael Andersen. By, Marsk og Geest nr 18, s. 75-86
Det gamle Raadhus & Raadhussamlingen i Ribe af Per Kristian Madsen. Sparekassen Sydjylland. 1984
And thank you to Claus Feveile and Morten Søvsø, Den antikvariske Samling (Ribe’s Museums -Sydvestjyske Museer) for helping me.