Överhogdal Tapestry: Amazingly Well-Preserved Ancient Textiles With Norse And Christian Motifs

A. Sutherland - AncientPages.com - The Överhogdal Tapestry (in Swedish: Överhogdalstapeten) represents a group of amazingly well-preserved and the most complete ancient textiles found in Europe.

This imaginative creation with strong colors and distinctive shapes was created by an unknown artist. The tapestry was accidentally found by a fourteen-year-old boy helping in the sacristy of the local church at Överhogdal, a small town south of Östersund, Sweden in 1909.

Overhogdal Tapestry, Sweden

Unaware of what he really found, the boy put the dirty bundle in the church's log house. Next year, the textiles were finally brought the artist Paul Jonze to Östersund.

The fascinating Överhogdal tapestry composed of five assembled lengths, was cleaned,  repaired provisionally and for the first after many centuries, they revealed their beauty.

The artwork covers two-square-meter textile and depicts stylized animals, dark blue and red horses, birds and people. There is also a ship, a tree and mysterious inscriptions, perhaps made in runic script, according to one of the earliest interpretations of the art work.

The large animal and smaller human figures seem to rush by a tree, which could be the mighty ash Yggdrasil, a massive tree central to nine worlds in Norse mythology. Some scholars have suggested that what is shown is the Christianization of the region Härjedalen.

Överhogdal tapestries found 1909 in Överhogdal, Sweden. Public Domain Överhogdal tapestries found 1909 in Överhogdal, Sweden. Public Domain  

However, today the dominant theory, given the radiocarbon dating of the tapestries, is that the tapestry depicts the Ragnarok, the downfall of the world - a series of events foretold to occur in Norse mythology.

Research has established that the figures are made of plant dyed wool, which is interwoven with the linen with a special technique.

At first, it was believed these wool tapestries were woven in the days of the Vikings, between 800 AD and 1000 AD, as radiocarbon dating suggested in 1991.

Left: In 1910, the artist Paul Jonze visited Överhogdal and found the Överhogdal tapestry in a neighborhood near the church. Jonze took the picture of the church where repair was going on at the time. Right: The tapestry was placed by the boy in the middle log-house. Image credit: overhogdal.se

Left: In 1910, the artist Paul Jonze visited Överhogdal and found the Överhogdal tapestry in a neighborhood near the church. Jonze took the picture of the church where repair was going on at the time. Right: The tapestry was placed by the boy in the middle log-house. Image source

However, the preliminary dating of the textiles was updated in 2005 and it turned out that the tapestries date back to the period between paganism and Christianity in the Nordic countries around the year 1000-1100, in other words, the end of the Viking Age and the beginning of the Middle Ages. It means the textiles were created between 1040 and 1170 AD.

Are Motifs Taken From The Book Of Revelation Or Ragnarok Foretold In Norse Myths?

Different theories suggest that the Överhogdal tapestries depict imagery of both Norse and Christian origin.

The contents of the pictures have been much debated; some characters are related to paganism, clearly featuring the appearance of Odin's horse Sleipnir, while other pictures represent Christian imagery. The four surviving sections of the tapestries have 323 figures of people and 146 and 3 partial animals, all generally moving in the left direction.

Viking ship – motif from Overhogdal Tapestry. Image credit: Jämtlands läns Museum, Jamtli

Viking ship – motif from Overhogdal Tapestry. Image credit: Jämtlands läns Museum, Jamtli 

People, horses and various types of fairy-tale animals appear to be heading towards something and passing houses, churches, ships and trees. One of these trees could be Yggdrasil.

See also:

The Bayeux Tapestry: One Of The Great Historical Records Of The Middle Ages

Sampul Tapestry: Mysterious Silk Road Textile Linked To Hellenistic Kingdoms Of Central Asia And Tarim Basin

Birka: Major Trading Center During The Viking Age

Some scholars have suggested that what is shown is the Christianization of the region Härjedalen. It has been proposed that some of the motives are taken from the Book of Revelation.

Today the dominant theory is that the tapestry depicts Ragnarok (Ragnarök), a series of events foretold to occur in Norse myths and legends. Ragnarokis described in Völuspá, Völva's prophecy, and many similarities between Völuspá and the motives on the tapestry have been found by researchers.

Research has established that the figures are made of plant dyed wool, which is interwoven with the linen with a special technique.

Today, the Överhogdal tapestries are stored at Jamtli Museum in Östersund, where a special room has been furnished for them. The storage conditions are the very best, and the room's architecture creates a Viking Age atmosphere.

Written by – A. Sutherland  - AncientPages.com Senior Staff Writer

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References:

Nordanskog G. Föreställd Hedendom

Oscarsson, Ulla.  Överhogdalsbonaderna

Härjedalens kommun

Samla – Riksantikvarieämbetet

Karlin, Georg. Över-Hogdals tapeten

Sylwan, V. Om brickband : ett bidrag till Överhogdals- och Skogstapeternas teknik historia