Varnhem Abbey (Varnhems kloster) was founded around 1150 by monks of the Cistercian Order from Alvastra Abbey in Östergötland. The Cistercian Order used the same floor plan for all its abbeys, which makes it possible to easily locate the different rooms and halls regardless of the building site.
A wooden and a stone church were both erected on the site before the abbey was built. The stone church was erected in the 1040s at the latest, and is the oldest known stone church in Sweden (excluding Skåne). According to radiocarbon dating, the oldest Christian man buried there died in the period 780-970. From other radiocarbon evidence, the Christian burials seem to have begun during the 10th century. A rich lady Sigrid, probably a widow, donated the property to the cistercian monks, but the queen tried to revoke the donation and instead seize the property herself. The queen's attempts failed and the monks established the abbey in 1150. The Varnhem Abbey was sponsored by the House of Eric which in turn was granted burial privileges there. Three kings from the House of Eric lie buried in the abbey church: Canute I of Sweden, Eric X of Sweden and Eric XI of Sweden.
In 1234, the abbey was ruined by fire. The catastrophe led to a period of blooming, since Birger jarl and other mediaeval financiers rebuilt the abbey, this time more beautiful and imposing. The abbey church, which at first had been built in Romanesque style, was completed in Gothic style after the fire. In 1260 there was an opening ceremony for the church, which was the largest in Sweden at the time.
The abbey's property was confiscated in 1527, and the abbey buildings were burned by Danish forces 1566 during the Northern Seven Years' War. In the middle of the 17th century, Magnus Gabriel De la Gardie received the abbey as a gift from the Swedish queen Christina. De la Gardie restored the church and established a family mausoleum in it, while the remaining abbey buildings were left to decay. The church was thoroughly restored 1911–1923. Archeological excavations of the central part of the abbey were made 1921–1929, and again 1976 and 1977. In may 2002, the grave of Birger jarl was opened. The scientific analysis that followed, strengthened the belief that the three skeletons in the grave are the remains of Birger jarl, his son duke Eric Birgersson and Birger's wife Mechtild of Holstein.
Today, only the abbey church remains standing, surrounded by ruins. The number of tourists visiting Varnhem has grown due to Jan Guillou's books about Arn.References:
Trullhalsar is a very well-preserved and restored burial field dating back to the Roman Iron Ages (0-400 AD) and Vendel period (550-800 AD). There are over 340 different kind of graves like round stones (called judgement rings), ship settings, tumuli and a viking-age picture stone (700 AD).
There are 291 graves of this type within the Trullhalsar burial ground, which occurs there in different sizes from two to eight metres in diameter and heights between 20 and 40 centimetres. Some of them still have a rounded stone in the centre as a so-called grave ball, a special feature of Scandinavian graves from the late Iron and Viking Age.
In addition, there is a ship setting, 26 stone circles and 31 menhirs within the burial ground, which measures about 200 x 150 metres. The stone circles, also called judge's rings, have diameters between four and 15 metres. They consist partly of lying boulders and partly of vertically placed stones. About half of them have a central stone in the centre of the circle.
From 1915 to 1916, many of the graves were archaeologically examined and both graves of men and women were found. The women's graves in particular suggest that the deceased were very wealthy during their lifetime. Jewellery and weapons or food were found, and in some graves even bones of lynxes and bears. Since these animals have never been found in the wild on Gotland, it is assumed that the deceased were given the skins of these animals in their graves.