Sunday, October 19, 2008

Absalon Assersen * 1128 + 21 March 1201

Roskilde Cathedral

Absalon Assersen was a son of Asser Rig and fru Inge, born in Fjenneslev 1128, died in Sorø 21. March 1201 and buried in Sorø Kloster. His brother was Esbern Snare, his fosterbrother Valdemar 1. the Great.

Immervad Bro, Hærvejen in Jutland, the road to the south

Absalon was not brought up just to be a quiet scholar. It was common practise that the sons of the house had to learn to use the sword. It was expected that Absalon when an adult was able to be in front of a battle and distinguish himself. His parents seemed to be far-seeing people though. Asser Rig and fru Inge wanted to give their sons each their career to secure the family a future position both by the king and the church. The two boys' abilities decided how, Esbern was the warrior type and Absalon had literary talents, and he was sent to Paris for an academic education, which was rather unusual at that time. He was about 16-17 years of age. This wasn't considered too young, according to Jydske Lov (Jute Law) a person was grown-up at fifteen and was held responsible for his deeds.

A travel abroad in the 1100s was difficult and often dangerous. Absalon was probably accompanied by some people from the household in Fjenneslev, and most possible they were on horseback. There was a vast network of roads down through Europe and lots of lodging houses and inns along the way. A traveller in a small company could reach 40 km a day, and with that pace a travel from the middle of Sjælland to Paris would last a little month.

Absalon studied theology and law in Paris for a little more than ten years, returning to Denmark in 1157. In Paris he had been influenced by the religious upturn, which Bernhard of Clairvaux was at the head of. He became a good friend of the abbot Vilhelm, whom he later in 1165 called to Denmark in order to restore the monastic discipline.

Landet church, the lion.

Absalon returned from Paris in the middle of the civil war and the struggle about the Danish throne and he was present at The Blood Feast in Roskilde (Blodgildet i Roskilde) . Saxo tells
in the story that: 'Sven's men assaulted Knud and Valdemar. Valdemar succeeded in warding off the attack with his cloak and got out, he was wounded in his thigh though. Knud could not defend himself and had his head cleaved by Ditlev. In the darkness Absalon believed that it was Valdemar who had been hit, and without paying attention to the danger he sat himself down with the dying man's head in his lap. When Absalon discovered that it was Knud he had before him, he took flight out of the house and escaped sharply pursuited out of town. He first went to Ramsø, then to his brother-in-law, Peder, in Borup and thereafter to his mother, where he stayed. Here Valdemar arrived later in the night. The following day Sven presented himself in front of Roskilde's citizens, showed them his riddled cape, which he had perforated himself - and claimed that he had been assaulted'.

As we know all the incidents and events ended with a new Danish king Valdemar 1. the Great in the year 1157. He was Absalon's fosterbrother , and all their lives there was a faithful friendship between those two men - their courses of life were so closely connected that every story about Absalon necessarily involves the story about Valdemar.
not finished.
Absalon founded Copenhagen when he built a castle by Havn in 1167. Rest of Absalon's castle , a ring wall is situated under the present Christiansborg.

Absalon's goldring with a saphire .
In 1158, the year after Valdemar became king, the bishopric in Sjælland was vacant. The church had to elect a new bishop. This was not the king's job, and although Valdemar wanted to give his friend Absalon the office even the king had to follow rules. Valdemar had to invent a manner not to be too obvious about his eventual influence upon the canons of Roskilde, who had to do the election. Roskilde and the canons said they had a choice as a successor after bishop Asser. Valdemar said that he would survey the election. The canons now said they had three candidates, and suggested Absalon too in order to please the king. Valdemar told them that he would not interfere, they just had to elect the new bishop themselves. Then he sat down leaning on his sword and keeping a strict eye on every canon, who passed him to write his choice in the book. They all wrote the name Absalon.
Absalon was now 30 years of age and bishop of Sjælland, he was one of the island's biggest landowners and one of the country's top army commanders. During his first years as bishop he participated in expeditions against the Wends, who for many years had caused havoc on the Danish south coast. He built many churches and fortifications, he founded and reformed monasteries. As one of the king's advisers he often followed him on travels and althogether stayed close to him. He was also busy taking care of his own estates and extending them.
The archbishop of Lund was an extraordinary migthy man.He was the top clerical authority in Denmark and primas = superior of the Swedish archbishop. The archbishop of Lund was together with the duke of Sønderjylland considered the mightiest man in the kingdom next to the king. The present archbishop Eskil of Lund withdrew in order to go to the monastery in Clairvaux, and he did not oppose to Absalon as his successor. Absalon did not want to leave his diocese in Sjælland, and there was some tug-of-war, until the pope ordered Absalon to accept the archbishopric in Lund - and at the same time he was allowed to stay in his office as bishop in Roskilde, a perfect solution, which gave him more power than any bishop had before or after.
People in Skåne were not satisfied with their new archbishop's strict rule and his many church buildings and complained over the feudal overlords from Sjælland he installed everywhere - they were considered foreigners by the Skånings. In 1180 they made open resistance and demanded Absalon to leave the diocese - and this continued into an real rebellion. King Valdemar the Great arrived and crushed the rebellion by Dysie å (Dösjebro, north west of Lund.) There are no informations that the 'foreigners' were removed from their posts, as the Skåne- rebels had demanded. The Hvide-guys had planted themselves solidly in Skåne, where many church buildings gave witness to continued Sjællandsk influence. It is also obvious later on that the Hvide-family owned estate in Skåne, besides the Skåne-estates belonging to the archbishopric and owned by the two archbishops Absalon and Anders Sunesen.

Fanejord by Grønsund where Valdemar and Absalon's fleet supposedly waited before their expeditions against the Wends.

Absalon was not just a pious priest, he was also a warrior. He had a special talent for fighting the Wends whose violent assaults had been increasing by the Danish coasts. They had a feeling when the Danish eastern coasts were an easy target under the civil wars - then they came and attacked in big or small pirate expeditions, plundering, taking slaves and hostages. During many years Absalon lead the annual expeditions to Rügen and Pommerania. One expedition went to Rügen's fortificated city Arkona, which was conquered and where the temple with the idols was demolished - among the idols was the god Svantevit, father of all gods. The inhabitants of Arkona had the choice between being baptized or executed.
After Valdemar's death in 1182 Absalon was faithfully by the side of the new king, Knud 6., who was his fosterson. He advised Knud to refuse the German emperors' demand to renew the oath his father had given before him. The German emperor wanted Denmark to be a fief under him, but Knud refused, and in 1184 Absalon conquered the duke Bogislaw of Pommerania in a naval battle by Rügen, and after this the Danish south border moved to the Elbe for a long period.
Absalon was the real regent in Denmark for Knud 6. the rest of his life - and during all Knud's ruling period Absalon, Esbern Snare and Sune Ebbesen were highly the power apparatus around the young king . Knud 6. died in 1201, outliving Absalon with only a year.

Absalon's burial place in Sorø Klosterkirke

Sorø Kloster was founded as a Benedictine monastery by Asser Rig and his brethren in 1151, but already in 1161 his son Absalon reformed it, so Cistercienser monks from Esrom north of Sorø came and built both new church and monastery. In the church several members of the Hvide- family have got their final resting place. Some Danish kings are buried here; Valdemar 3. Atterdag, Oluf and Kristian II. Margrethe 1. was buried in Sorø, but later brought to Roskilde cathedral.
Absalon had his parents and his grandfather Skjalm Hvide's and uncle Tokes' bones brought from Fjenneslev to be buried in Sorø. In a grave catalogue from ab. 1400 are mentioned about 40 Hvide-burials inside the church.
The childles Absalon had a big preference for his nephews and grand nephews. His sister's son Alexander was close to him and had his trust. Absalon was a part of bringing Sune Ebbesens' sons Anders and Peder to Paris for studying and followed them and took care for them during their studies.
Absalon died, 72 years of age in 1201, supposedly in Sorø monastery and was buried in Sorø Klosterkirke.
Absalon gave Saxo Grammaticus the commission to write down The Deeds of the Danes in ' Gesta Danorum'. Saxo's work is by its style and size a unique work from this period.

photo + sketch: grethe bachmann ©copyright


anto said...

...just come across this page: very interesting!
I noticed the 'not finished' warning, and I hope you can update the page anyway :)

Thyra said...

Hej! I'm sorry that I haven't finished this yet. I haven't had time for it, and I'll have to get hold of some special material. You'll have to wait!

Thank you for visiting! ´)