As we drove home from the mid winter blot and the viking winter games this year, we drove past a ruin that I have been wanting to stop by and have a closer look at for many years. This time we were finally able to. I always believed that this ruin used to be a monastery of some kind, but it actually used to be a church and a defense tower, built in the 1100’s.
The ruins of Sunne church and defense tower are located on a very strategic spot in direct connection to the beach of Storsjön. According to tradition, Sunne church and fortress was built in 1178 on the orders from the Norwegian king, Sverre Sigurdsson.
Sverre marched with a large army into Jämtland from Värmland, through Dalarna and into Norway in 1177. Soon, he went back into Jämtland with an army of only 120 men. He was received with open arms by the people of Jämtland. However, some were plotting to murder the king. The plans of the murder was revealed in time and Sverre escaped with his men. They were quickly surrounded by 1200 murderous jämtar in Lillsundet, between Andersön and the mainland. As it got darker, Sverre ordered his men to use the same battle techniques as the Swedes and then later, as the battle begun, they were to run silently and hide on the island.
The Swedes did not notice that Sverre’s men had disappeared so they kept on fighting and did not notice that they in fact were fighting and killing each other. King Sverre Sigurdsson defeated the jämtlandska peasant army and won the battle of Andersön on the frozen lake of Storsjön that night. After the victory, he imposed a tax called ‘sundamale’ and with this tax he would build and maintain Sunne church and defense tower.
A few years earlier, the Archbishop of Uppsala had appointed Brunflo as the central point of the church power in Jämtland, and in 1170 he erected a church dedicated to Norway’s Saint King Saint Olof to mark this. Next to the church he also built a defense tower. The church and defense tower in Brunflo can therefore be seen as a counter-pole to the castle and defense tower in Sunne. The two castles are almost identical except that Sunne is significantly smaller than the one in Brunflo. The property in Brunflo belonged to the Archbishop and the property in Sunne belonged to the Norwegian king. There are no doubt that there were a battle for power in this area. The one at Brunflo is completely preserved.
Sunne church and defense tower were damaged by a thunderstorm in 1731. The defense tower was repaired, but eventually became decayed and collapsed. In connection with the construction of the Sunne church during the 1830s, large parts of the medieval church were demolished to be reused to make new buildings. This was a very usual thing to do in this period. People needed stone to make barns and houses.
Many castles and defense towers made of stone were erected in the Nordic countries during the 12th century. These kinds of buildings are however rare in northern Sweden, which emphasizes the importance of this place. The two churches and defense towers of Sunne and Brunflo demonstrates the battle of power that took place here. Both the Norwegian royal power and the Swedish archbishop’s seat in Uppsala wanted the power over this area.
An archaeological excavation has been carried out in the castle ruin. A variety of finds were recovered, including a silver coin from the late 13th century and some everyday objects like knives, fire steels, iron fittings, nails, spoons, a grindstone, game pieces and ceramic shards. The finds have a spread from the 13th century to the 18th century.
One thought on “The ruins of Sunne church and defense tower, Orreviken, Sweden”
Knocked down by a Thunderstorm!