Conspicuous Architecture: Medieval Round Churches in Scandinavia

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook chapter


Medieval round churches are often seen as riddles in need of special explanation. Deviant architecture has been explained by three major theories – fortification, multi-functionality and symbolic copying. However, I claim that the round churches were normal except for their elite context and extraordinary plan. I then argue, that the elite consciously choose a “conspicuous architecture”, to use a concept inspired by Thorstein Veblen, as a social strategy of status and rivalry. Finally I discuss the theory by Richard Krautheimer on medieval imitation, where selected elements represented a symbolic wholeness, as far as the period was able to produce copies. The medieval building was an active process, where architectural elements from plenty of sources were reused to create something new, as in the medieval reuse of “spolia”. Every church is unique as a node in a web of relations, where the architecture is related to an infinite number of other buildings. I also shortly present an updated overview of the 34 medieval round churches in Scandinavia (fig. 2) as the latest overview for many still is the influential dissertation by Hugo F. Frölen from 1910-11, which wrongly stated, that all round churches were fortified.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Archaeology


  • round church , conspicuous architecture
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSacred Monuments and Practices in the Baltic Sea Region
Subtitle of host publicationNew Visits to Old Churches
EditorsJanne Harjula, Sonja Hukantaival, Anneli Randla, Tanja Ratilainen
PublisherCambridge Scholars Publishing
ISBN (Print)978-1-5275-0024-2
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Publication categoryResearch
EventChurch Archaeology in the Baltic Sea Region - Turku University/Åbo, Finland
Duration: 2013 Aug 262013 Aug 30


ConferenceChurch Archaeology in the Baltic Sea Region
CityTurku University/Åbo