Deliver Us From Evil
The Middle Ages were a dark and sombre time, with plague, regicide and war, but also a colourful period of vision, fun, feasts and temptations, as Moesgaard Museum’s medieval exhibition reveals
In Moesgaard Museum’s permanent exhibition on the Middle Ages Deliver us from evil, visitors can look forward to embarking on a journey through a cornucopia of events and stories focussing on medieval people.
A time of great crisis
The medieval exhibition is about Denmark in the time from c. 1050 to 1536. A time when the country opened up to European influences, towns developed as centres for trade and crafts, churches and monasteries were founded and fortresses and strongholds were constructed. It was also a time of great crises, including the Black Death, which struck the land in 1350 and led to the death of one in three of the population. The Middle Ages were also marked by civil war and years of weak rulers, when people entrenched themselves behind ditches and ramparts.
Moesgaard’s medieval exhibition takes the form of a journey through a wealth of game-changing events and stories that have a special focus on medieval people. With Christianity and the Church as a dominant power, together with the monarchy and the major landowners, the nobles, who are at the table when the king makes his decisions, they form society’s elite, perched on the pinnacle of power, though not without the use of force. Whereas 95% of the medieval population live in the countryside and must earn their daily bread through the sweat of their brow. At the bottom of society are the people who keep the country running – cultivate the soil, harvest crops and grind the grain to make flour, dig clay and make bricks to build fortresses and churches.
The Middle Ages are also a time of urbanisation, when citizens seek their fortune through freedom and trade: some succeed, others do not. Technological advances, such as the wheel plough and the water mill, also characterises the period. Writing, the written word, is a new powerful force, introduced by monks in the monasteries. The land is governed with sword, cross and writing.
War and unrest ravage a society in which the king is elected and travels around the realm to maintain law and order and win the favour of influential individuals. There are centuries both of prosperity and of ruin, and the Black Death, which devastates many villages, but it is also a time of peace and sees the introduction of an elected monarchy.
Remember you shall die tomorrow
Under the motto: Remember you shall die tomorrow, the Middle Ages can also be seen as diabolical, colourful and of easy virtue. Christianity has purged all traces of the Viking Age’s many gods. There is only one true God and the power of the Church is almighty: Lead us not into temptation! Through Judgement Day, purgatory and the weighing of souls, people are either delivered into the radiance of Paradise or condemned to the flames of Hell.
The exhibition follows the people of the Middle Ages through baptism, the creation of the world and the Christian dogma, the seven deadly sins and temptation and consignment to purgatory.
A forgotten part of history
A hidden and forgotten but significant part of Danish history can also be explored in Moesgaard Museum’s new medieval exhibition. Since the Viking Age, Denmark has had somewhat of a love-hate relationship with the Slav tribes south of the Baltic, only a day’s voyage from Denmark. The excavation of a shipyard at Fribrødre Å on Falster in 1981 woke slumbering medieval sources, such as Saxo, to life. The discovery of the shipyard opened a window to a story about the Danish king Svein Estridsson’s daughter Sigrid and his grandson Erik and, not least, the highly-charged relationship between Denmark and the Wendish area.
In the exhibition, films, animations and exhibited ship remains tell the dramatic story of Christian Sigrid and her son Henrik’s flight to Denmark from the pagan Wendish realm and the fortress of Mecklenburg. Also of Henrik’s subsequent refitting of the fleet on Falster and the dramatic reconquest of his maternal land in 1093.
The medieval exhibition completes the refurbishment of Moesgaard Museum’s permanent exhibitions on prehistory and the Middle Ages. First came the exhibitions on the Bronze Age, Iron Age and Viking Age in conjunction with the opening of the museum’s new exhibition building in October 2014. The most recent permanent exhibition – on the Stone Age – was opened to the public in October last year. All the exhibitions have been opened by Her Majesty the Queen, who is Protector of Moesgaard Museum.
The medieval exhibition and the other permanent exhibitions at Moesgaard Museum have all be produced with support from Nordea-fonden and Aage og Johanne Louis-Hansens Fond.
©photo SCALA, Florence. Hieronymus Bosch (c. 1450-1516).
Visions of the Hereafter: the Garden of Eden and the Ascent to Heaven. Venice, Palace Grimani