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:
The Porta Nigra (Latin for black gate) is the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps. It is designated as part of the Roman Monuments, Cathedral of St. Peter and Church of Our Lady in Trier UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name Porta Nigra originated in the Middle Ages due to the darkened colour of its stone; the original Roman name has not been preserved. Locals commonly refer to the Porta Nigra simply as Porta.
The Porta Nigra was built in grey sandstone between 186 and 200 AD. The original gate consisted of two four-storied towers, projecting as near semicircles on the outer side. A narrow courtyard separated the two gate openings on either side. For unknown reasons, however, the construction of the gate remained unfinished. For example, the stones at the northern (outer) side of the gate were never abraded, and the protruding stones would have made it impossible to install movable gates. Nonetheless, the gate was used for several centuries until the end of the Roman era in Trier.
In Roman times, the Porta Nigra was part of a system of four city gates, one of which stood at each side of the roughly rectangular Roman city. The Porta Nigra guarded the northern entry to the Roman city, while the Porta Alba (White Gate) was built in the east, the Porta Media (Middle Gate) in the south, and the Porta Inclyta (Famous Gate) in the west, next to the Roman bridge across the Moselle. The gates stood at the ends of the two main streets of the Roman Trier, one of which led north-south and the other east-west. Of these gates, only the Porta Nigra still exists today.
In the early Middle Ages the Roman city gates were no longer used for their original function and their stones were taken and reused for other buildings. Also iron and lead braces were broken out of the walls of the Porta Nigra for reuse. Traces of this destruction are still clearly visible on the north side of the gate.
After 1028, the Greek monk Simeon lived as a hermit in the ruins of the Porta Nigra. After his death (1035) and sanctification, the Simeonstift monastery was built next to the Porta Nigra to honor him. Saving it from further destruction, the Porta Nigra was transformed into a church: The inner court of the gate was roofed and intermediate ceilings were inserted. The two middle storeys of the former gate were converted into church naves: the upper storey being for the monks and the lower storey for the general public. The ground floor with the large gates was sealed, and a large outside staircase was constructed alongside the south side (the town side) of the gate, up to the lower storey of the church. A small staircase led further up to the upper storey. The church rooms were accessible through former windows of the western tower of the Porta Nigra that were enlarged to become entrance doors (still visible today). The top floor of the western tower was used as church tower, the eastern tower was leveled, and an apse added at its east side. An additional gate - the much smaller Simeon Gate - was built adjacent to the East side of the Porta Nigra and served as a city gate in medieval times.
In 1802 Napoleon Bonaparte dissolved the church in the Porta Nigra and the monastery beside it, along with the vast majority of Trier"s numerous churches and monasteries. On his visit to Trier in 1804, Napoleon ordered that the Porta Nigra be converted back to its Roman form. Only the apse was kept; but the eastern tower was not rebuilt to its original height. Local legend has it that Napoleon originally wanted to completely tear down the church, but locals convinced him that the church had actually been a Gaulish festival hall before being turned into a church. Another version of the story is that they told him about its Roman origins, persuading him to convert the gate back to its original form.
In 1986 the Porta Nigra was designated a World Heritage Site, along with other Roman monuments in Trier and its surroundings. The modern appearance of the Porta Nigra goes back almost unchanged to the reconstruction ordered by Napoleon. At the south side of the Porta Nigra, remains of Roman columns line the last 100 m of the street leading to the gate. Positioned where they had stood in Roman times, they give a slight impression of the aspect of the original Roman street that was lined with colonnades. The Porta Nigra, including the upper floors, is open to visitors.