The Middle Ages
Christianity came to Denmark. And with it the pictures of Eve with the tempting apple and Mary with the forgiving motherly embrace. The stories from the Bible and the routines of everyday life were depicted in murals in the many churches that were built all over the country. Churches became the new rallying point for common people and others.
The life expectancy was low and infant mortality high. Baptism became an important event at the start of life. It was not unusual for women to die in childbirth.
Most people lived in the country, but gradually towns grew up around Episcopal residences and market places. Most people lived in marriages through all of their adult lives. Women ran the household, be it rich or poor. Rich households could build stocks of food and clothing to which the lady of the house alone had the keys. The main functions in the household were cooking, with boiling and roasting on open fireplaces built into the houses, and manufacturing clothes and linen as well as maintenance and laundry.
The men fought the wars and ran the budding kingdom, but with a few exceptions.Queen Thyra, who lived during the transition from paganism to Christianity in the 900s, is given the honour of having been the builder of Dannevirke and the guardian of the borders. This myth has its origin in the inscription on the stone set in her memory in Jelling by her husband Gorm. In later sources we also find stories of female army commanders, the valkyries. As the myths exist, it is at least plausible that the early Middle Ages saw some powerful women.
Margrete I (1353-1412) became one of the best regents of the Middle Ages. At the age of ten she was given in a strategic marriage to the king of Norway. Her only son inherited the crown of Norway and Denmark at the age of six and later that of Sweden. Margrete ruled the kingdom as her son’s guardian. The son died young and Margrete now continued ruling as Principal Lady and Householder. In 1397 she managed to unite Denmark, Norway and Sweden in the Kalmar Union.
Marriage was a practical affair, the work distribution and the working partnership between man and woman was a necessity in order to stay alive.In land-owning families, marriage was a means of increasing the family’s possessions through ‘marrying land’. Priests, monks and nuns were not allowed to marry. The convents accepted the surplus of sons and daughters at a price. However, people also entered convents because of a desire for a life in prayer and for the community and knowledge found there.
Reading and writing was a privilege for a few people. Swedish Birgitta (1303-1373) wrote down a number of visions she had, among others about how Mary gave birth to the Infant Jesus. She rebuked the pope. She founded the Bridgetin Order where nuns could receive learning and book skills, and thereby created the foundation for the mother convent Vadstena in Sweden and the Danish convents in Maribo and Mariager.
Birgitta was canonised in 1391.