Swedish landscape and Albertus Pictus

My six years in a Somerset village (after 12 years in a small coastal settlement in Sussex) laid the basis for my lifelong love of the West Country. I cycled a lot (which would have surprised my physical education teachers frustrated at my apparent physiophobia). Most of my journeys were aimless with no effort to  understand what I was looking at, a blurred fond recollection of wayside ragged robins,  warm sand-coloured buildings in a soft gentle green world. I’ve made up for it since, returning again and again to the area aiming not just to recognise the familiar but to make it unfamiliar by viewing it through historical, geological, architectural filters and more. That at least is my aim although I have dug deeper than intended into the ecclesiastical, developing an eagle eye for vaults and apses but only nibbling at my grand plan.

My move to Sweden a  half century ago disturbed and preserved. Disturbed through distance but preserved through Dorset and Somerset becoming a mirage, a verdant longing in the harsher Scandinavian landscape, where the irritations of everyday life kept their distance. If I moved there, it would probably crumble like an ancient Egyptian artefact exposed to the air.

It’s taken me time to get used to Sweden, its distances, the apparent emptiness, the barren acidity of coniferous forests. But my eye has become accustomed and I’ve learnt to appreciate it, especially since I moved to Uppsala with its dense pattern of Uppland villages. When I cycled a lot before the pandemic, I felt sometimes moved a half century back in time (with the added advantage of having a comfortable cycle rather than drop handlebars which were de rigueur for DK quivering on the edge of  adolescence).

The feeling of emptiness engendered by Sweden’s distance between villages is partly an illusion. The people are there but have been strewn around the landscape after the agricultural reforms of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Scattered strips of land were then combined in the interests of agricultural efficiency (and to favour the larger farmer), the old nucleated villages were broken up and people moved out to where their land was (rather than having a number of farms in the village surrounded by commonly enclosed scattered strips). I would like to know more about the details of that process in Uppland as it seems that more villages have survived here. I wonder about the pattern of land ownership. Feudalism wasn’t highly developed in Sweden but there were aristocratic estates and smaller holdings, which should shed light on the current landscape.

For me, Uppland is more attractive than south of Stockholm, although that may be because the land is more verdant here (Stockholm itself is really some way out in the archipelago).

I’m not contented with my progress with this project this year but I shall try again in summer 2024 and make plans in the meantime. Among other things, I want to find out more about a mediaeval church painter called Albertus Pictus (c1440-c1507), active in these parts. His wall paintings are most restored from layers of Lutheran whitewash disapproving of the distracting image interfering with inward contemplation.  I have a list of village churches to visit but it requires planning transport and making sure that the churches are or can be opened. I need to get back into better shape to be able to cycle, hopefully time spent this winter on the North German coast where the sun always shines will help.

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