Sancta Ragnilde

From medieval
Revision as of 14:10, 6 August 2012 by Hkllm (talk | contribs)
(diff) ← Older revision | Latest revision (diff) | Newer revision → (diff)

by Anders Fröjmark

Sancta Ragnilde. Lay martyr, queen (11th-12th cent.), buried in Södertälje. Cult known from the 15th century. De sancta Ragnilde in Thelgis epitaphium; Epitaph of St. Ragnhild of Tälje. An epitaph of hagiographic character, celebrating the memory of an otherwise little known Swedish queen from ca 1100.



The work is headed by the title De sancta Ragnilde in Thelgis epithaphium. In a strict sense, this title applies only to the two versified parts of the work (24 lines), and not to the five lines in prose.


Sweuorum domina Ragnildis flos sine spina.


Nobis summa bona procures alma patrona.


Quantitative leonine hexameter with lines of thirteen to fifteen syllables and with a marked caesura in the penthemimer. Deviations from classical quantitative rules are few.


The text consists of two versified parts with a short commentary (five lines) in between. The first versified part consists of seven lines. After line 5 at least one line is missing. The second versified part is formed of three groups of six lines each. The final line of the second group is missing, so that only seventeen lines remain.

  • BENZELIUS, J. 1703: Palæstina. Sive de Terra Promissionis, & Singulis in ea Tribubus; item Fatis Variorum Incolarum; & Sveonum Gothorumque Expeditionibus Sacris dissertationes duæ, geographico-historicæ, pp. 150--52, Upsaliæ.
  • BENZELIUS, E. in VASTOVIUS, J. 1708: Vitis aquilonia. Sive Vitae sanctorum regni Sveo-Gothici. Emendavit et notis illustravit Ericus Benzelius filius, Annotationes p. 80. Upsaliae.
  • ALM, H. 1931: ‘Drottning Ragnhild och hennes gravskrift i Tälje’, Sörmlandsbygden 2, pp. 70--71.
  • ODENIUS, O. 1973: [Review of] T. Lundén, Svenska helgon, Fornvännen 68, p. 61.
  • LUNDÉN, T. 1983: Sveriges missionärer, helgon och kyrkogrundare. En bok om Sveriges kristnande, pp. 283--84. Storuman.

All editions except Odenius' photographic copy are impaired with errors.


Swedish translations have been published by:

  • ALM, H. 1931: ‘Drottning Ragnhild och hennes gravskrift i Tälje’, Sörmlandsbygden 2, pp. 71--72.
  • WEHNER, R. 1959: ‘S:ta Ragnhild i sitt tidevarv’, Credo. Katolsk tidskrift 40, pp. 25--26.
  • LUNDÉN, T. 1983: Sveriges missionärer, helgon och kyrkogrundare. En bok om Sveriges kristnande, p. 284. Storuman.

Date and place

The text is known from one manuscript copy originally written down on the inside of the back cover of a book in the Strängnäs Cathedral Library. The book in question was printed in Cologne in 1474, and the copy of the epitaph is made in a late 15:th century hand. The sheet containing the epitaph has been removed from the book in recent times and was acquired by the University Library of Uppsala in 1932 (Fragm ms lat 326).

The versified parts are two versions of the epitaph of Ragnhild, a Swedish (according to one source Swedish and Norwegian) queen who shall have lived ca 1100. The fact that Ragnhild is hallowed as a saint in the epitaph leads us to the conclusion that it was made at some distance in time from her death. The epitaph does not mention at which day or year St. Ragnhild died. This is to be sure a common characteristic of the early christian grave monuments or epitaphs in Sweden, but it might just as well be seen as an indication that the epitaph was composed in a time when these dates were no longer known. It ressembles in this respect some late medieval epitaphs in the abbey church of Varnhem commemorating ancient Swedish kings.

According to Bernhard BISCHOFF (quoted by WEHNER 1959, 72), the epitaph may not be dated earlier than the middle of the 13:th century.

The commentary between the two versified parts seems to be the copier's remarks. They are clearly secondary to the versified parts.

Summary of contents

In the first versified part, Ragnhild is referred to as queen of the Swedes (Sweuorum domina /.../ Regni regina). She is said to have made a pilgrimage to Rome and Jerusalem. Thereby she has become the like of St. Helen. Finally, the author adresses Ragnhild as the alma patrona of the citizens of Tälje (present day Södertälje south of Stockholm).

The second, longer versified part, equally celebrates Ragnhild as the queen of Sweden, having made a pilgrimage to Rome and Jerusalem. In addition, she is said to have founded the church of Tälje and to have enriched it with land and other gifts. As for her descent, she is called Halsteni filia, the daughter of Halsten. In the final lines she is talked of as the alma patrona who is impelled by the fidels to come to the assistance of those who are ill.

Of special interest is the comparison that is made between Ragnhild and three other women. As a pilgrim, Ragnhild is first contrasted to the wandering Dinah (Gn. 34), and then compared to St. Helen. When St. Helen was mentioned in the first part of the epitaph, this clearly referred to the finder of the True Cross. Here, we might also think of another pilgrim in Swedish hagiography, St. Helen of Skövde. This association is strengthened by the fact that the third woman referred to is the prophetess Huldah (Oldan; 4 Rg 22,14; 2 Par 34, 22), who figures also in the late 13:th century office of St. Helen of Skövde.

The copier's commentary mentions that St. Ragnhild rests in Tälje. She coruscates with many miracles, he says. At her pilgrimage she was plundered by robbers, but she was than clad by angels. He then comments upon the descent of St. Ragnhild. It is written, he says, that she was the wife of king Inge. She was also the daughter of king Halsten, he further states, basing himself on the second versified part of the epitaph.

The copier thus adds information that he has gathered from other sources. St. Ragnhild's marriage to a king named Inge, her burial in Tälje and her reputation for holiness are pieces of information that can be gathered from two chronicles of Swedish kings from the 1450's. These are in fact the first datable mentions of St. Ragnhild.

Nevertheless, the copier's commentary adds confusion to the tradition of St. Ragnhild. While the chronicles make her the wife of king Inge Halstensson (ca 1110--1120/25), the copier seems to have had king Inge Stenkilsson (ca 1079--1110) in mind. Worse, none of these might have been married to Ragnhild if she was the daughter of king Halsten. In that case, Inge Stenkilsson would have been her uncle and Inge Halstensson her brother. The epitaph and the chronicles obviously reflect different and incompatible traditions concerning the descent and marriage of St. Ragnhild, which the copier tries in vain to unite.


The original epitaph in the church of Tälje is, just like the tomb of St. Ragnhild, gone without a trace. They may have been victims of cultic purge in the late 16:th century. The sources for the copier's commentary have been discussed above.

A tradition of St. Ragnhilds holiness exists both in the epitaph and in the chronicles from the 1450's, but the possible dependance between them can not be asserted.

No liturgical celebration of the memory of St. Ragnhild is known. The 17:th century Church historian Johannes Baazius sets forth that St. Ragnhild's name was inscribed in the calendar as a saint, but the base for his assertion is unknown and probably inexistant.

The source for the statement in the second versified part of the epitaph that makes Ragnhild the daughter of Halsten--probably king Halsten--is unknown.

Purpose and audience

The author or authors of the two versified parts of our text are celebrating the local saintly patron of the church of Tälje, in which her grave was also found. She is portrayed as a worthy saint to whom the fidels may justly adress their prayers. She is also a former Swedish queen and--at least to the author of the second part--the founder and original benefactor of the church. The copier may have been a cleric from the bishop's see at Strängnäs who had the task of gathering information concerning the local tradition about St. Ragnhild in Tälje. In his commentary he has added some statements about the saint, while trying to reconciliate different traditions concerning her background and marriage.

Medieval reception and transmission

In the late 15:th century, St. Ragnhild of Tälje found her way into the Swedish historical litterature. Ericus Olai mentions her in his Chronica regni Gothorum (ca 1470; ed E. Heuman & J. Öberg 1993, 63, 69). The early 16:th century prologue to the Erik's Chronicle (ed. G. E. Klemming 1865, Svenska medeltidens rim-krönikor 1, 195), includes her in its enumeration of Swedish saints. Johannes Magnus, Olaus Petri and other 16:th century historiographers followed.

Yet, it is not the epitaph's tradition that was transmitted to new generations. For all that we know, it may well have stayed inside the walls of the Strängnäs Cathedral Library until it was rediscovered by Eric Benzelius and Johan Peringskiöld in the late 17:th century. Instead, it is the chronicles' version that forms the base for the literary tradition of St. Ragnhild.


  • ALM, H. 1931: ‘Drottning Ragnhild och hennes gravskrift i Tälje’, Sörmlandsbygden 2, 70--78.
  • BAAZIUS, J. 1642: Inventarium ecclesiæ sveo-gothorum, 113, Lincopiæ. [Improbable statement of a liturgical celebration of St. Ragnhild.]
  • COLLMAR, M. 1977: Strängnäs stifts herdaminne 1: Medeltiden, 488--89, Nyköping.
  • FRÖJMARK, A. 1996: ‘Ragnhild’, Svenskt biografiskt lexikon 29, 613--15. [Includes select bibliography.]
  • JOHANNES MAGNUS, 1554: De omnibvs Gothorvm Sveonvmqve regibvs, 587--88, Romæ.
  • OLAUS PETRI, 1917: En swensk cröneka, ed J. Sahlgren, 51, Uppsala.
  • VASTOVIUS, J. 1708 (1623):Vitis aquilonia, ed E. Benzelius, 60--61, annotationes cc. 47--48, 80, Upsaliae.
  • WEHNER, R. 1959: ‘S:ta Ragnhild i sitt tidevarv’, Credo. Katolsk tidskrift 40, 15--35, 55--72.
  • ZIEGLER, J. 1536 (1532): Terrae sanctae ... Syriae, Arabiae, Aegypti et Schondiae ... descriptio, 103v, xxxxxx. [First mention in printed form of the tradition of St. Ragnhild.]