poetry and prose about place

messages in stone

with 8 comments

In my studies in history, no topic has engaged me like the use of stone to record our human endeavors.  I have made a small study of the rune stones of Scandinavia, the stelae of Mesoamerica, and the petroglyphs of North America.

The majority of Scandinavian rune stones are found in Sweden (2,900 in Sweden, compared with 300 in Denmark, 50 in Norway and 33 on the Isle of Man). 

These stones are upright or horizontal, frequently taller than two meters and marked by rune carvers with runes and various images.  Rune stones are found scattered across the countryside and are mostly memorials, providing records of family relationships and history, community happenings and property ownership. 

The majority of rune stones were made in the eleventh century, coinciding with the gradual conversion of the people of Scandinavia from pagan beliefs to Christianity.  The transition took years, a merging of doctrine and practice from the two religions.  The majority of rune stones show some religious symbolism, usually a blending of pagan and Christian ideas. 

In the yard of an old church at Sigtuna, Uppland, is a rune stone once part of the Dominican cloister foundation. 

rune stone U379 at Sigtuna churchyard (Source: Ojan, 2009, Wikimedia Commons)

The stone was raised by a guild of merchants to honor one of their members.  The rune stone is carved with a ribbon of runes enclosing a simple pattée cross.  The facimile (below) of the carvings on the rune stone is taken from:

facimile of carvings on rune stone U379

The Dominicans are a Christian Order of mendicant monks founded in the early thirteenth century.  The monks are also called “black friars” because of their black cloaks. 

The chant in the poem below is based on the Order for Compline in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.


they too were brothers       

(rune stone at the Dominican cloister, Sigtuna) 

Frisa gildaR letu ræisa stæin Þennsa æftiR Þor [kil, gild] a sinn.

The Frisian guild brothers let raise this stone after Torkel, their guild brother. 

                                                                        – inscription on the rune stone at the cloister



we, black friars, stride

stone to stone

the measured step

of Compline

lighten our darkness

protect us

from perils of night

beside the singular stone

our voices waver

pause on the syllable

explore the octave

and the chant moves on

relief of a quiet night

perfect end to imperfect day

fearless expectation

of the grave

they too were brothers

to him, Torkel

we, Frisa, raise

this stone

ribbon of runes

cut by Torbjörn

the cross by his blade

brighten our darkness

hide us beneath

the shadow of thy wings

God bless him and keep him

Guđ hialpi and hans

© Jane Tims 2005

not a rune stone, of course, but a grave marker in a New Brunswick cemetery

Written by jane tims

September 24, 2011 at 6:38 am

8 Responses

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  1. Very interesting Jane. The sketch totally sets the theme up for me in this post … the poem finshes the post up nicely followed with the pic of the cross.



    October 10, 2011 at 9:48 am

    • Hi. I should make it clear that the sketch is not mine, but taken from the net, a series of facimiles of the carvings on various rune stones. Jane


      jane tims

      October 10, 2011 at 6:20 pm

  2. Having studied anthropology and history in my younger days, I enjoyed this post. I’ve always admired how Europe has so many historical monuments blending in with the landscape.


    Watching Seasons

    September 28, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    • Hi. ‘Blending with the landscape’ is so right… you forget they are not part of the ‘natural’ landscape. Jane


      jane tims

      September 29, 2011 at 8:59 am

  3. My father’s parents came to America from Sweden. I learn a lot from your Posts.


    Ellen Grace Olinger

    September 27, 2011 at 10:06 am

  4. This subject really interests me too – both the merging of religions as you say & also the idea of why certain places in the landscape have been chosen as important places to put these stones & wether there are certain generalisations we can draw from the choices of positioning. I guess I like the idea of how threads of cultures & time & physical space are intertwined.


    Sonya Chasey

    September 24, 2011 at 3:52 pm

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