On this exact spot in Roskilde, Zeeland, Denmark, there have been churches for more than 1000 years.

Harold Bluetooth built the first church on the site, and is said to be buried in that same church when he died around 985.

This was a wooden church, and it was replaced sometime in the 1000s by a stone church built by King Canute’s (Cnut the Great) sister Estrid from a penance she received after the King had her husband Ulf Jarl murdered. The King was pissed off at Ulf Jarl because he put the Prince in as King of Denmark in King Canute’s absence. These were troubled times and many were conspiring to take over power of Denmark, and with the King being away in England*, Ulf Jarl felt the Danish people needed a King that was actually present in the country.

*Why was Canute in England? Because he is the Canute that conquered England and was King there for 19 years.


Norway and Sweden attacked Denmark, and when King Canute heard of what was going on in Denmark, he immediately returned with a huge fleet, and the attackers were chased out of Denmark. Ulf Jarl, quite conveniently, appeared at the battle of Helgeå and aided the King in the battle.

King Canute was very cross with Ulf Jarl with the way he had taken control of Denmark and named his Prince as King. On Dec 30th, 1026, the King and Ulf were engaged in a game of chess in Roskilde, and they got into an argument. This argument made the King even angrier, so he ordered the murder of Ulf Jarl. Ulf Jarl was killed by the Norwegian Iver Hvid inside the wooden church in Roskilde.

King Canute then had to pay penance, in part to his sister Estrid, and in part to the church – and around 1080 the new stone church was consecrated.


The present brick church was started in the 1170s under bishop Absalon. Absalon was of the unstoppable White Clan and brother of Esbern Snare, whom founded a nearby town of Kalundborg and had a magnificent and unique church built there. I have already written about that in this post: Kalundborg and a church inspired by the Crusades


The art of brick making had just been introduced into Denmark at that time, the construction of the cathedral lasted for more than 100 years, and considerable changes were made underway.  Some major changes to the original plan were made in the beginning of 1200s – when the Gothic style dominated. Both Absalon and his successor, Bishop Peter Sunesøn, had studied in Paris and had become acquainted with the trends of French architecture.

The body of the building was completed in 1280 and since then the cathedral has been extended with a number of chapels and porches throughout the years, right up to the construction of King Frederik IX’s burial place to the northwest of the cathedral in 1985.

This cathedral is the first brick-built cathedral in the Gothic style in Scandinavia.

The cathedral is the burial place for 39 Danish Kings and Queens.

Roskilde Cathedral was admitted in 1995 to UNESCO’s World Heritage list of properties having outstanding universal value.

Join me tomorrow for a peek inside this magnificent cathedral – until then, here are some pics from the exterior and surrounding areas:


11 thoughts on “Roskilde Cathedral – Royal Graves and UNESCO World Heritage

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