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Absalon of Lund


Archbishop, founder of Copenhagen; b. Fjenneslev, Denmark, Oct. 1128; d. Sorø, March 21, 1201. A member of one of the most powerful families on the island of Sjaelland, that of Skjalm the White, Absalon studied at Sainte-Geneviève-de-Paris. He was ordained there and enthusiastically adopted the Latin culture as well as the current ideology of Church reform. Upon his return to Denmark, he became counselor to King Valdemar the Great, founded the monastery at Sorø, was elected bishop of Roskilde (1158), and in 1178 was appointed archbishop of Lund, simultaneously retaining Roskilde up to 1191. He distinguished himself by the zeal with which he introduced into Denmark Western Church customs (e.g., tithing, clerical celibacy) and Western monasticism (Cistercians and Carthusians). He proved to be an administrator and a statesmaneven a warrioras well as a builder and a patron of the arts. In fortifying his diocese against the invasion of the Slavs (Wends), he built at Havn a castle-keep that became the nucleus of the city of Copenhagen. Multiplying the expeditions against these pagan Slavs on the southern coast of the Baltic, he took by storm the temple of Arkona (1169) on the island of Rügen, which was then annexed to Denmark. On the intellectual plane, Absalon dominated the Danish clergy of his time: a runic inscription at Nørre Aasum, Skåne, testifies to his interest in the traditional Scandinavian culture, but it is significant that he was the protector of the best Latin chronicler of his time, Saxo Grammaticus, who dedicated his Gesta Danorum to Absalon. While remaining outside the investiture struggle, Absalon was the faithful protector of royal power; this earned him the regency under the young King Canute IV (c. 118790).

He energetically upheld the interests of his family, promoted the career of his nephews Anders Sunesøn and Peder Sunesøn, like himself former students at Paris, who succeeded him at Lund and Roskilde respectively; Absalon also proclaimed the sanctity of his relative margaret of roskilde.

The city of Copenhagen venerates him as its founder; he can be considered the most brilliant Scandinavian prelate of the Middle Ages.

Bibliography: saxo grammaticus, Gesta Danorum, ed. j. olrik and h. raeder, 2 v. (Copenhagen 193157). h. olrik, Absalon, 2 v. (Copenhagen 190809). h. koch and b. kornerup, eds. Den danske kirkes historie (Copenhagen 1950) v.1. l. weibull, Nordisk Historia 2 (1948) 526538.

[l. musset]

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