Mora stenar (Mora Stones)

”moor” means an uncultivated upland area in English but it also has a secondary dialectal meaning of “fen”. Both meanings exist in Old English “mor” which could mean both hill and mountain and morass or swamp. There are not a few place names in Sweden where “mora” is part of the name, including the site of Mora Stenar (Mora stones), a few miles south of Uppsala where I was today.

For many years, I’ve flashed by on the motorway, seen the sign to Mora Stenar and wondered what it was. I now know that the location of the stones was on the border between two old “folklands” of the Svear (later Swedes), Attundaland and Tiundaland. It was here the Kings were elected, at least from the mid-13th to the mid-15th century, first by the Svear (followed by an eriksgata (a traditional journey around what is now Sweden) and later with lawmakers from elsewhere in Sweden in attendance at Mora as well.  

According to Wikipedia the Westrogothic law reminded the Geats (Goths) that they had to accept this election Sveær egho konung at taka ok sva vrækæ meaning Swedes(Svear) have the right of choosing and deposing the king.

“The detail that the Swedes were not only entitled to elect their king, but that they also had the right to depose him was institutionalized a long time before, as attested by Snorri Sturlason’s (died 1241) accounts of Swedish history (the speech of Torgny the Lawspeaker, and the deaths of Domalde, Egil, Aun, and Jorund in the Heimskringla). The location was on the border of a wetland and according to Snorri, five kings had been drowned in this wetland, when the people had been displeased”. 

The original coronation stone has disappeared. I’ve seen various explanations – that it was hidden from the Danes or hidden or disposed of by those who wanted the monarch appointed by right of inheritance and not by election (with Gustaf Vasa being a prime suspect). But there were also commemorative stones celebrating the coronation of particular monarchs, originally kept alongside the large coronation stone, and it is these that are said to be Mora stones. A local military officer Carl Wijnbladh (1705- 1768) built the building where the stones are kept (he was more than just a military officer but also apparently had far reaching responsibility for buildings and wrote about their appearance).

There was a blue and white sign informing us that we were at Mora Stenar but I’m not even sure that it even had a brown sign for a historic site (not that I miss those brown signs much).

It was strangely neglected; only one small sign in Swedish and that was largely illegible (completely for me). And a small eighteenth century building by the side of the road; as there was no one there to watch over them, the stones could only be viewed inside the locked building through a metal grille.

An odd treatment for something of historic significance, feeling almost as if the Scots had deposited the Stone of scone in an enclosure alongside a recycling centre behind Tesco in Perth (I know the Stone of scone got pinched from the English (after being pinched by the English) and then got broken but they are taking a bit better care of it now in Edinburgh Castle I believe, with perhaps an excursion to Westminster in the not-so-distant future).

It feels as if the Mora stone keepers don’t quite know what to do with the stones (I wonder whether there are doubts about their authenticity). It probably wouldn’t feel right to move them from their historic site but they are not making much of them; it’s as if they were somehow the black sheep of the stone family.

On the other hand, runestones, some beautiful and historically interesting, are scattered around Sweden and often in the open air so perhaps this is just the Swedish way of doing things.

I was pleased with my excursion. I explored my new home city of Uppsala intensively when I first came and when the world was closed for covid. But since then, I’ve been gallivanting again as is my wont and I haven’t learnt so much new about Uppsala this year. Mora stones was a good start, to remove that niggling corner of my brain, activated every time I pass them on the motorway, thinking that I must investigate them some time.  

I have also learnt the Swedish word “triberg” which is “trimount “in English. According to Wiki, a trimount is also described as a mount mounted, or shapournet shapourned, a representation of a mount with three tops. If you haven’t seen “shapournet” before, you’re in good company as it’s not even in Webster’s dictionary. I don’t feel a need to know much about heraldry but the language used sometimes fascinates me. Mora stones are anyway just inside the borders of Knivsta municipality, which was broken away from Uppsala some years ago. And Knivsta’s heraldic device (arms?) has a trimount at the bottom, apparently representing the stones.

And a few other new words I’ve learnt. I’m pleased to make the acquaintance of “clade” which is a group of organisms comprising all the evolutionary descendants of a common ancestor” with the etymology given by the Concise Oxford as being from the Greek “clados” branch. I wondered whether “clan” was related. Greek is not mentioned as an origin of “clan “but it does refer to Old Irish “clandh”, with a reference to Latin planta for sprout, which is a bit branch-like. “planta” is some way from “clandh” but these Celts can be rather flexible with their initial consonants.

I’ve also learnt “encaenia” which means a festival of renewal and dedication and is used in the academic world for a ceremonial occasion (especially in North America, I believe.

And “prolophobia” – a hatred of the working class.

I’m glad I could find these words, although I’m not keen on prolophobia and doubt whether encaenia will trip off my tongue very often.

By nature, I’m weakly structured, which, in the world of notebooks, means that I have an awful lot (I haven’t counted them but I will some time) as I scribble down what I want to remember in whatever notebook is closest to me floating on the surface of my existential swamp (or moor…). And then, of course, I can’t find it when I want it as that notebook has sunk below the surface or fallen into one of the mini-black holes that accompany me through life. I have to consciously compensate for my aimless floating and do so by planning (which I think I do quite well if I remember to). I’m now working my way through my notebooks, dedicating them to particular purposes so that I have a notebook for new words, one for things pertaining to Dorset, multicetera, and deciding where they are to be stationed. Hopefully, by the end of the year, this will be another niggling corner of my brain dealt with – when I’m no longer oppressed by seeing a fine notebook that I picked up at some museum, having two pages of odd scribble but otherwise neglected and I can instead happily think “Ah there’s Notebook 017 Dorset”…..