History of Sweden between 1060 - 1396
The consolidation of Sweden was a long process during which the loosely organized social system consolidated under the power of the king. Unlike the history of Norway and Denmark, there is no agreement on a reliable date for a "unified Sweden". Historians judge differently the sources for the history of Sweden's consolidation. The earliest history blends with Norse mythology. Early primary sources are foreign; secondary sources were written at a later date.
A common definition of Sweden is that it was formed when the Swedes and Geats were ruled by one king. The names Swedes and Geats are attested in the Old English poems Beowulf (written down in the 11th century) and Widsith (from the 8th century) and building on older legendary and folklore material collected in England. In both poems, an Ongentheow (sw. Angantyr) is named as the King of the Swedes, and the Geats are mentioned as a separate people. These names of peoples having formed in present-day Sweden, the Anglo-Saxon references and now lost tales they were attached to must have travelled across the North Sea. The first king who is considered historical and to have ruled over both peoples, is early 11th century Olof Skötkonung. Broadly speaking, Kings of Sweden, and the nobility of the land, have seen Götaland and Svealand (as well as growing parts of Finland) as equally important parts of the kingdom at least since the mid-13th century and, in some cases, considerably earlier.
Rather than the unification of tribes under one king, others maintain that the process of consolidation was gradual. To solve the problem of defining an early history of Sweden that coincides with reliable sources, a group of modern Swedish historians have contended that a real state could only exist, in the Middle Ages, if had the backing of Christianity and the clergy. The same connection between Christianity and consolidation is used in other countries where written sources are less scarce, such as England or Harald Bluetooth's Denmark. The definition is based on the fact that English and German priests would have brought organizational and administrative skills needed for statehood (including by local rulers). The process of consolidation would have required this important ideological shift. While an Iron Age Germanic king would claim the elective support of his people, and the Norse gods, a crowned Christian king would claim that his rule was divinely inspired. According to this definition the unification should be completed in 1210 when Erik Knutsson was crowned by the church, or perhaps in 1247 when the last separatist rising was defeated at Sparrsätra. A major problem sometimes pointed out with that view is that it entails circular proof: we know next to nothing about how the authority of the ruler was envisaged in heathen times, while we know some more of the Christian ideology of kingship, and obviously the Christian kingdom would underline the break with the pagan past, but this does not really allow the conclusion that there could have been no fixed and religiously connected ideas of the authority of the ruler in pre-Christian times. Moreover, we have no solid testimonies fixing it as a fact that the king residing in Central Sweden (the lake Mälar and Östergötland area) was actually recognized as king in all of the area that was called Sweden by the 13th century, when the mist really clears. There may have existed local kings in Western Sweden, even though their names have not been preserved.
From 1239, Raynaud, the Bishop of Quimper, decided on the building of a new chancel destined to replace that of the Romanesque era. He therefore started, in the far west, the construction of a great Gothic cathedral which would inspire cathedral reconstructions in the Ile de France and would in turn become a place of experimentation from where would later appear ideas adopted by the whole of lower Brittany. The date of 1239 marks the Bishop’s decision and does not imply an immediate start to construction. Observation of the pillar profiles, their bases, the canopies, the fitting of the ribbed vaults of the ambulatory or the alignment of the bays leads us to believe, however, that the construction was spread out over time.
The four circular pillars mark the start of the building site, but the four following adopt a lozenge-shaped layout which could indicate a change of project manager. The clumsiness of the vaulted archways of the north ambulatory, the start of the ribbed vaults at the height of the south ambulatory or the choice of the vaults descending in spoke-form from the semi-circle which allows the connection of the axis chapel to the choir – despite the manifest problems of alignment – conveys the hesitancy and diverse influences in the first phase of works which spread out until the start of the 14th century.
At the same time as this facade was built (to which were added the north and south gates) the building of the nave started in the east and would finish by 1460. The nave is made up of six bays with one at the level of the facade towers and flanked by double aisles – one wide and one narrow (split into side chapels) – in an extension of the choir arrangements.
The choir presents four right-hand bays with ambulatory and side chapels. It is extended towards the east of 3-sided chevet which opens onto a semi-circle composed of five chapels and an apsidal chapel of two bays and a flat chevet consecrated to Our Lady.
The three-level elevation with arches, triforium and galleries seems more uniform and expresses anglo-Norman influence in the thickness of the walls (Norman passageway at the gallery level) or the decorative style (heavy mouldings, decorative frieze under the triforium). This building site would have to have been overseen in one shot. Undoubtedly interrupted by the war of Succession (1341-1364) it draws to a close with the building of the lierne vaults (1410) and the fitting of stained-glass windows. Bishop Bertrand de Rosmadec and Duke Jean V, whose coat of arms would decorate these vaults, finished the chancel before starting on the building of the facade and the nave.
Isolated from its environment in the 19th century, the cathedral was – on the contrary – originally very linked to its surroundings. Its site and the orientation of the facade determined traffic flow in the town. Its positioning close to the south walls resulted in particuliarities such as the transfer of the side gates on to the north and south facades of the towers: the southern portal of Saint Catherine served the bishop’s gate and the hospital located on the left bank (the current Préfecture) and the north gate was the baptismal porch – a true parish porch with its benches and alcoves for the Apostles’ statues turned towards the town, completed by an ossuary (1514).
The west porch finds its natural place between the two towers. The entire aesthetic of these three gates springs from the Flamboyant era: trefoil, curly kale, finials, large gables which cut into the mouldings and balustrades. Pinnacles and recesses embellish the buttresses whilst an entire bestiary appears: monsters, dogs, mysterious figures, gargoyles, and with them a whole imaginary world promoting a religious and political programme. Even though most of the saints statues have disappeared an armorial survives which makes the doors of the cathedral one of the most beautiful heraldic pages imaginable: ducal ermine, the Montfort lion, Duchess Jeanne of France’s coat of arms side by side with the arms of the Cornouaille barons with their helmets and crests. One can imagine the impact of this sculpted decor with the colour and gilding which originally completed it.
At the start of the 16th century the construction of the spires was being prepared when building was interrupted, undoubtedly for financial reasons. Small conical roofs were therefore placed on top of the towers. The following centuries were essentially devoted to putting furnishings in place (funeral monuments, altars, statues, organs, pulpit). Note the fire which destroyed the spire of the transept cross in 1620 as well as the ransacking of the cathedral in 1793 when nearly all the furnishings disappeared in a « bonfire of the saints ».
The 19th century would therefore inherit an almost finished but mutilated building and would devote itself to its renovation according to the tastes and theories of the day.