The Cross Motif on Late Viking Age Art Picture Runestones in Västergötland

  • Lise Gjedssø Bertelsen Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, Uppsala University


The Christian cross was a favourite high-status motif – that is, the most important motif of a picture field – on a large number of Late Viking Age art objects, and thus appeared on a monumental scale on picture runestones. By a picture runestone is meant a memorial stone or a grave stone equipped with both runic text and image, the latter in the form of either a designed head, legs and tail of rune bands or a free-standing image, or both. Parallel to picture runestones are runestones with only an inscription and picture stones with only an image. The Mammen, Ringerike and Urnes styles constitute Late Viking Age art in the Viking world in the period c. 950–1135 AD. The picture runestones of Västergötland are predominantly executed in the Ringerike style, which flowered especially in the first half of the 11th century, at the time of King Canute the Great, when the earls of Västergötland probably recognized the king’s supremacy. Christian symbolism in images was communicated efficiently by Scandinavian designs, often elegantly executed. The widely travelled Vikings were familiar with Christian symbolism, such as the cherished legend about the Golgotha drama, as well as the intimate relationship between three of the most important symbols: the serpent, the Arbor Vitae/tree of life and the cross of Christ.