The taxi driver was not great at responding to the small road signs to Orkesta church north of Vallentuna in the county of Stockholm. But the signs weren’t good, wrongly angled, which sent us rolling down a dust track to nowhere. He was anyway a  a cheerful accepting man, a solution person not a problem person, only spoiling it at the very end by asking me if I was looking for a particular grave after my having carefully explained the purpose of the trip.

I’m in search of U 344,  not a World War 2 submarine but a rune stone.

It’s near the west door of Orkesta church and remarkable both for the direction of the runes (from right to left) and for it commemorating a Viking who travelled to England and collected tribute. Swedish Vikings generally travelled east and south, while the Danes and Norwegians travelled west to England, among other places.

According to Wikipedia, the message reads “Ulf  collected three tributes in England. Torste collected the first, Torkel the second and Knut the third”. Ulf lived in Borresta in Uppland and was unusual in that he returned home alive from England after every trip. I’m curious about the content of the message, does it mean that Torste, Torkel and Knut handed over their collected tributes to Ulf?

I also wonder how these Vikings got to England – did they sail all around the south of Sweden and then through the Öresund to cross the North Sea? Or did they cross overland to the west coast (I don’t believe Sweden had much of a west coast,  if any, at this time early in the eleventh century). And then perhaps they joined forces with a Norwegian or a Danish raiding party. The prospects for success don’t look bright if they acted as individuals (Hi, I’m Ulf. I’ve come about the tribute…).

Ulf of Borresta is described in one history book as coming back from England to live in Uppland as a magnate, a rich man. His tribute was presumably in the form of money or gold and silver. I wonder about the position of money in England and rural Sweden at this time. We read about the feudal system in England breaking down and the emergence of paid labour and money relationships. The Scandinavian demand for tribute must have increased the demand for money in England and the availability of money in Sweden but this is at least three hundred years before feudalism started to break down in earnest. What could Ulf have found to spend money on and where?

I’m ignorant about the presence (or absence) of feudalism in Sweden and need to read more about Swedish history and the place of money in the economy.

As far as I could see, the rune stone was artistically ornamented but without Christian symbols. At the time of its erection, in the early eleventh century, Christianity was only slowly breaking through in Sweden and Orkesta was not far from the core of paganism at Uppsala.

No name is given for the rune maker but it is thought from the style to be the famous rune master Åsmund Kåresson.

The stone was discovered by Richard Dybeck of Yttergärd who Wiki describes as a Swedish jurist, antiquarian and lyricist (1811-1877). He is, among other things, known as being the author of  the lyrics to the Swedish national anthem, Du gamla, du fria. He was also the maternal uncle of  Amanda Kerfstedt (1835-1920), author, dramatist and translator. Like George Eliot, she started writing used a pseudonym but later used her own name. She was active in the women’s movement (among other activities). Her novel Reflexer (Reflexes or perhaps Reflections) was the first novel in Sweden where the main character was a transvestite. It tells the story of Walter, a respected family father, who furnishes a room in his  house where no one else is allowed entry. He locks himself into the room at 1 pm each day in order to be a woman. His behaviour is explained by tragic circumstances in his youth where his twin sisters (I believe they were twins) drown. He was detected by his wife, who divorced him but creditably (from a description on the net), he seems to have stood his ground. This was a decade before the term transvestite was introduced and it seems the novel was greeted more with puzzlement about what was considered an odd choice of topic rather than moral outrage (at least initially). After a long period out of print, it was republished earlier this century. I must try and find it.

Not wanting the taxi meter to tick into the stratosphere and unwilling to send the taxi away leaving me to an uncertain fate in the back of beyond with only the distant Roslagsbanan railway as a thin thread leading to the world as we know it, I didn’t look at the interior of the church. Had I done so, I would have seen the reconstruction work paid for by C.W. Cederhielm, a founding member of the Swedish Academy of Sciences and translator of Voltaire’s Brutus, a man of the enlightenment deep in the bucol.

It’s amusing to think of the people connected in some way with this simple Uppland church gathering there in the small misty hours, Ulf, Torste, Torkel, Knut and Åsmund Koresson, C.W. Cederhielm, Richard Dybeck and Amanda Kerfstedt (and why not co-opt Walter too) to discuss the fate of the world, like some TV breakfast show but in the wilds.


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