Jerusalem in Tønsberg: round churches and storytelling

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


Remains of a basilican round church were discovered in 1877–78 in Tønsberg, Norway, and identified as the Premonstratensian monastery church of Saint Olav. The round church has been interpreted as fortified with several floors using Nylars on Bornholm in Denmark as a model – or as symbolic copy of Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, although Templar churches have also been mentioned as models. The church of Saint Olav is normally dated to the period c. 1160–80 and supposed to have been built on the initiative of Earl Erling Skakke and his son King Magnus Erlingsson. The round church of Tønsberg is discussed in the article relation to fortification, crusades, the Knights Templar and an overview of the 34 known Scandinavian round churches. The article argues that the Scandinavian round churches were normal in most respects, except for their deviating architecture. The round churches are interpreted as a “conspicuous architecture”, which were meant to attract attention for the crusader ideology and lend prestige to the initiator(s). Saint Olav in Tønsberg may have looked like Holy Sepulchre in Cambridge, although every building process combined different models, thereby created something new. A photomontage by Morten Myklebust relocates Holy Sepulchre in Cambridge to present-day Tønsberg. Furthermore the article proposes that Bishop Nicholas might have taken the initiative for the round church and monastery in Tønsberg in the 1190s. The bishop was an ally of the archbishop of Nidaros/ Trondheim, who was the initiator of a famous octagonal shrine chapel at his cathedral.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Archaeology


  • Round church , Jerusalem, Crusade, Knights Templar, conspicuous architecture, storytelling
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationJerusalem in medieval Scandinavia
Subtitle of host publicationkings, crusaders, and monastic orders
EditorsKristin A Aavitsland, Bjørn Bandlien
Publication statusSubmitted - 2017
Publication categoryResearch
EventJerusalem in medieval Scandinavia: kings, crusaders, and monastic orders - Tønsberg, Norway
Duration: 2017 Apr 242017 Apr 26


ConferenceJerusalem in medieval Scandinavia
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Wienberg, J. (Invited speaker)
2017 Apr

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