Sanctus Kanutus Dux

From medieval

by Michael Chesnutt & Karsten Friis-Jensen (Metre and Composition and style)

St. Knud Lavard (Kanutus Dux) (ca. 1096-1131) was the legitimate son of King Erik I Ejegod of Denmark and a potential rival of his nearest kinsmen for the succession to the Danish throne. His strong position in Schleswig-Holstein, of which he was appointed duke when about twenty years old, and not least his status of vassal to King Lothar of Germany made him a threat in the eyes of the reigning King Niels, whose son Magnus reacted by assassinating Knud at Haraldsted, Zealand, on 7 January 1131. In the ensuing feud Knud’s half-brother, King Erik II Emune, and Knud’s son, Valdemar I the Great, promoted the deceased duke’s sainthood as an instrument of policy, and in 1169 he was canonised by Pope Alexander III. The following summer his remains were translated to the high altar of the Benedictine church of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Ringsted, Zealand, close to the place of his death. Here his cult was maintained until the Danish Reformation of 1536 (see i.a. GAD 1963). To the celebration of the saint’s Translation on 25 June was soon added his Passion on 7 January, though there is some evidence that the Passion was not observed in all dioceses (see below).

An early legend by Robert of Ely (Robertus Elgensis) is almost entirely lost. A later prose narrative survives in an office transmitted in both monastic and secular versions alongside Mass propers for both feasts. The monastic and some secular versions incorporate a metrical office or historia (responds, hymns, etc.) mentioning highlights in the life of Knud Lavard, but treating his death and sainthood in an abstract manner. All of the secular versions are much abbreviated.

Officium et Missa


None directly offered in the sources; CHESNUTT 2003, 87 supplies the title In festis Sancti Canuti Ducis ad Horas et Missam.


In the fullest text witness, the Passion legend begins Rex Christianissimus Ericus and ends cui est honor et gloria per infinita sæcula sæculorum; the Translation legend begins Deo dilectus dux Canutus and ends martyr magnificus dux Canutus translatus est.


In the fullest text witness as most recently printed, the Passion legend occupies approximately nine and a half pages and the Trans¬lation legend approximately three pages. The metrical office or historia comprises a little more than 200 lines inclusive of the sequences in the missals.


Early printed missals and breviaries: Missale Hafniense vetus (ca. 1484), Missale Slesvicense (1486), Missale Viburgense (or: Ripense?) (1500), Missale Hafniense (1510), Missale Lundense (1514); Breviarium Ottoniense (ca. 1482), Breviarium Slesvicense (ca. 1489), Diurnale Roschildense (1511), Breviarium Arosiense (1513), Breviarium Lundense (1517), Breviarium Arhussiense (1519). Material from a selection of these books is reprinted in SRD supplemented by GERTZ in VSD (1908-1912); metrical texts also in AH 8, 159-61; 23, 214-15; 26, 191-94; 42, 236 f.; analysis and collation of all sources in CHESNUTT 2003, 31-54, 137-44.

  • LANGEBEK, J. & SUHM, P.F. 1776: SRD 4, Copenhagen, 261-77.
  • WAITZ, G. 1858: Eine ungedruckte Lebensbeschreibung des Herzogs Knud Laward von Schleswig. [Sonderdruck] Aus dem achten Bande der Abhandlungen der Königlichen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen (hist.-philol. Classe), Göttingen.
  • WAITZ, G. 1892: “Vita altera Kanuti ducis,” MGH SS 29, 11-20 [posthumously revised].
  • USINGER, R. 1875: “Officium Sancti Kanuti Ducis,” Scriptores minores rerum Slesvico-Holtsatensium, Erste Sammlung (Quellensammlung der Gesellschaft für Schleswig-Holstein-Lauenburgische Geschichte 4), 1-72, Kiel.
  • • GERTZ 1908-1912, 189-218, 221-33.

HAMMERICH, A. 1912: Musik-Mindesmærker fra Middelalderen i Danmark, Copenhagen, 82-102 [hymns and sequences with facsimiles of the Kiel codex and chant transcription].

  • KROMAN, E. 1962: Codices scriptorum rerum Danicarum, Prima pars (CCD 4), Copenhagen, XIII-XIV, 1-26 [complete facsimile of the Kiel codex].
  • • CHESNUTT, M. 2003: The Medieval Danish Liturgy of St Knud Lavard, Copenhagen, 87-133.


  • (Danish) OLRIK, H. 1893-1894: Danske helgeners levned, 111-48, Copenhagen [legends for both feasts, from the editions of WAITZ and USINGER].
  • (English) CHESNUTT 2003 (see Editions), 145-59 [legends, homilies, and responds for both feasts].

Date and provenance

The entire liturgy is believed by GERTZ and others (most recently BERGSAGEL 2005) to have been composed by the Benedictines of Ringsted for the Translation of St. Knud Lavard in 1170, and all secular versions would on this view be mere abbreviations of the twelfth-century monastic archetype. CHESNUTT argues, however, that the (later) prose legends were written outside Ringsted towards the end of the twelfth century for a patron connected with the Danish ruling establishment – which had a vested interest in promoting the technically uncanonical martyr status of Knud Lavard – and shortly thereafter incorporated into a nationwide secular liturgy. In the thirteenth century this liturgy would have been expanded at the cult centre in Ringsted by the interpolation of the metrical historia, selections from which later migrated to the local uses of Roskilde, Zealand, and Odense, Funen. The author of the prose legends may have been a foreign clerk visiting Denmark; the historia, on the other hand, is certainly the work of Benedictines at Ringsted who were familiar with the hagiographical (and musical) output of their mother house in Odense (CHESNUTT 2003, esp. 54-58, 62-63).

Summary of contents

In the monastic text from Ringsted the legends of the Passion and Translation are distributed in eight lessons each for recitation at the first two nocturns of Matins. The substance of the Passion lessons is as follows: (1) King Erik Ejegod departs on pilgrimage, leaving his son Knud in the custody of the magnate Skjalm. He dies before reaching his destination and is buried under miraculous circumstances. (2) Knud’s uncle, Niels, ascends the throne. His wife Margrethe urges Knud always to be loyal to his cousin, Magnus Nielsen. Knud is elevated to the position of duke in the unsettled border territory of Schleswig. (3) Knud pacifies his dukedom. His punishment of a near but unjust kinsman earns him the reputation of a righteous judge. (4) He annexes the territory of the Wends and devotes himself to works beneficial to the Church. Magnus Nielsen is consumed with jealousy and Knud is publicly accused of disloyalty to King Niels. (5) Knud reassures the king and is invited to celebrate Christmas at court. He ignores the forebodings of his wife and travels to Roskilde. (6) Magnus organises a conspiracy to murder Knud. The cousins arrange to meet under a false pretext. (7) At first light on the day after Epiphany, Magnus sets up an ambush in the forest near Haraldsted. Knud hastens to the meeting without an escort, ignoring the warnings of Magnus’s messenger boy. (8) Knud hotly denies Magnus’s jealous accusations. He is struck dead by Magnus with a blow to the skull, and his body is run through by the spears of Magnus’s accomplices; thus by a glorious martyrdom the just man paid the due price of the flesh.

The Translation lessons speak more concisely of the aftermath of the murder: (1) Knud’s sympathisers come together in large numbers to mourn him. (2) They had at first planned to bury him in Roskilde, but for fear of the king they take him instead to Ringsted. (3) The priestly custodians of the church in Ringsted try to suppress the incipient cult of the martyr. (4) They use superstitious remedies against Knud’s grave, but without effect. (5) So matters continue for fifteen years while miracles grow in number at the grave. By this time Knud’s son Valdemar has reached manhood. (6) Against the wishes of Archbishop Eskil, Valdemar and his kinsman Sven (Grathe) exhume the body. They also expel the evil custodians of the church. (7) A new priestly superintendent is installed at Ringsted. Civil war breaks out on the succession of Sven to the throne. (8) Valdemar narrowly escapes death at Roskilde, but subsequently defeats Sven and becomes king of all Denmark. He now allies himself with Eskil, and Knud Lavard is canonised by the Pope. The official Translation of his remains takes place on 25 June 1170.

In the Ringsted text the parallel narrative of the historia is given only once. It focuses almost exclusively on the saint’s vita et passio, but alludes in general terms to his miracula and is directed also to be used at the feast of the Translation. There are twelve responds for the nocturns of monastic Matins: (1) St. Knud is born of the noble lineage of King Erik. (2) When departing on pilgrimage the king makes arrangements for the care of his young son. (3) The king sets out and the boy remains behind. (4) As Knud grows up, so also the grace of Christ grows in him. (5) He is appointed duke and frees men from oppression. (6) He defends justice, the Church, and the needy. (7) He pacifies and converts the Wends. (8) He extirpates his enemies and makes timely laws. (9) For his good deeds he is slain by one of his own kind. (10) God grants an eternal reward to the victim. (11) Where he fell, a spring gushed forth that heals all kinds of sickness. (12) The saint is apostrophised: Joined with the heavenly hosts you cure the deaf, dumb, lame, and blind; illuminate us through your intercession with the true light!


Analysis of responsoria (R) and versus (V) of the metrical Historia according to the principles used by NORBERG 1958 (cf. the index 213 ff.): The governing principle of the metres used seems to be variation, a variation between accentuated and quantitative verse as well as between metrical patterns used within each category. Every second of the twelve pairs of responsorium + versus (RV) contains quantitative verse with the exception of RV-8, but only in the first two pairs containing quantitative verse (RV-2 and RV-4) are both responsorium and versus quantitative. Metrical patterns known from elsewhere are found, such as the so-called Stabat mater stanza (8p, 8p, 7pp) at V-3 (cf. parts of R-5 and R-12) and goliardic lines (7pp + 6p, in threes) at R-8, R-9, and R-11. Another frequent line is 8p + 7pp, an accentuated imitation of the quantitative trochaic septenar (Norberg 1958, 112f), often in groups of three. Rhyme occurs in some of the quantitative verse forms, as noted below, and in all accentuated verse.

  • R-1: 3 x (8p + 7pp); V-1: 2x (7pp + 7pp).
  • R-2: 3 quantitative (dactylic) hexameters (unrhymed); V-2: 1 quant. hexameter (unrhymed).
  • R-3: 3 x (8p + 7pp); V-3: 8p, 8p, 7pp.
  • R-4: 1 quant. terentianeus, 4 quant. adoneans; V-4: 4 quant. adoneans.
  • R-5: 8p + 7pp, 8p, 8p + 7pp; V-5: 8p, 4p + 6pp.
  • R-6: 3 x (8p + 7pp); R-6: 1 quant. hexameter (unrhymed).
  • R-7: 8p + 7pp, 8p, 2 x 7pp, 9pp; V-7: 5p + 6pp, 6pp + 6pp.
  • R-8: 3 x (7pp + 6p); V-8: 2 x (7pp + 7pp).
  • R-9: 3 x (7pp + 6p); V-9: 2 x (7pp + 6pp).
  • R-10: 3 x (7pp + 6pp); V-10: 1 quant. hexameter (leonine).
  • R-11: 3 x (7pp + 6p); V-11: 8p, 4p, 8p.
  • R-12: 4 x 8p, 8p, 8p, 7pp; V-12: 2 quant. hexameters (concatenati).

Composition and style

The legends of the Passion and Translation, the two homilies, and the poetry of the metrical historia share some general stylistic features, first and foremost a fondness for alliteration and assonance. This feature is widespread in medieval Latin literature as a way of heightening the stylistic level, and is particularly common in verse texts. In the liturgy of St. Knud Lavard the prose is just as alliterative as the verse, often to a degree which seems to strain the natural choice of words. A characteristic example is a passage from the fourth lesson of the Passion (ed. CHES¬NUTT 2003, § 2a:2:4:1):

Sic in diuinis deuotus [sc. Kanutus] et curiosus, in secularibus strennuus et curialis, a Deo et hominibus iure dilectus erat. Inde Magnus regis filius, excecatus inuidia, in corde suo concepit dolorem et peperit iniquitatem, ducem dolo de terra delere uoluit set non ualuit, quia nondum uenerat tempus eius (Thus, devoted and diligent in things sacred, vigorous and courtly in secular affairs, he was duly loved by God and men. Consequently the king’s son Magnus, utterly blinded with jealousy, conceived resentment in his heart and gave birth to wickedness; he desired guilefully to wipe the duke off the face of the earth, but could not because his time had not yet come). End rhyme is found in large parts of the verse passages (cf. Metre above) but is also a conscious stylistic feature of the second homily, viz. that of the Translation, for instance in the following passage (§ 10c:2:4:1):

Cristus est ueritas et iusticia. […] Sanctum ita¬que Kanutum qui ueritatem coram populo protulit, iusticiam in iudicio excoluit, Cristus confitebitur in celis, dum ab eo martiribus associabitur in celo testis fidelis (Christ is truth and justice. […] Thus St. Knud, who made known the truth before his people and practised justice as a judge, will be confessed by Christ in the heavens when he, as a faithful witness, is brought by Christ into the company of the martyrs in heaven).

The pervasive alliteration of the liturgy was first pointed out by STEENSTRUP (1894), and GERTZ used it to support his claim that a single author had written not only the Passion and Translation legends but also the homi¬lies and poetic texts, which however is to press the evidence too hard.


The prose is replete with allusions to the Bible. (An exception, not noted in any of the previous literature, is the lessons of the second monastic nocturn of the Translation, which are more in the nature of a historical chronicle than the rest of the text.) Most if not all of the information about the saint’s life and events subsequent to his death must derive from sources close to the royal family. It is debatable whether any use has been made of Robert of Ely; the metrical historia, on the other hand, shows the imprint of the Benedictine liturgy of >Sanctus Kanutus rex at Odense (CHES¬NUTT 2003, as above; FRIIS-JENSEN 2005, 224).

Purpose and audience

The composition and distribution to cathedrals all over the country of a proper liturgy of the saint was obviously intended to ensure the loyalty of the secular clergy to a royal house that traced its ancestry to Knud Lavard. From that point of view, the official history of the twelfth-century civil wars as incorporated in the Translation legend was even more important than the pious portrait painted in the Passion legend, and the Passion feast was indeed not celebrated everywhere (there is no mass proper of the Passion in Missale Viburgense and no office in Breviarium Arhussiense). Conversely, the Passion was the main focus of interest at the Benedictine cult centre in Ringsted, which explains why the historia written there deals only with the duke’s alleged martyrdom and miracles, not with his Translation.

Medieval transmission and reception

(1) Kiel, University Central Library S. H. 8 A, is a Danish codex in small notebook format from the end of the thirteenth century. It is by far the fullest source, containing not only the text of the entire liturgy of St. Knud Lavard but also chant notation – the whole probably written by the one scribe, perhaps a cantor at Roskilde Cathedral on Zealand (fols. 1-49r). Other articles in the surviving volume are the >Chronicon Roskildense (fols. 49r-63) and the internationally widespread exemplum of “The Monk and the Bird” (fol. 64 f.; Index exemplorum 3378). The words and music of the liturgy were evidently copied from the books of the Benedictine monastery at Ringsted. See further CHESNUTT 2003, 10-19.

(2) The Gesta Danorum of >Saxo Grammaticus (ca. 1200), the Annales Lundenses, and the continuation of the Roskilde Chronicle (beginning of the thirteenth century?) are all likely to have drawn on the liturgical biography of Knud Lavard. From the middle of the thirteenth century is the Older Zealand Chronicle (>Chronica Sialandie) thought to have been written at the Cistercian abbey of Sorø and once extant in a medieval codex lost in the Copenhagen fire of 1728; transcripts of that codex survive in Stockholm, Royal Library, K 3 (sixteenth century) and in a printed edition by Árni Magnússon (Incerti auctoris ... chronica Danorum, Leipzig 1695). The Sorø chronicle (printed in GERTZ 1922, 20-72) contains excerpts from the liturgical narrative sub annos 1101 and 1130 (1131). It has a few independent alterations, one of them showing the influence of Saxo. See further WAITZ 1858, 10-16; GERTZ 1908-1912, 175, 218 f.; CHESNUTT 2003, 27-30, 56 f.

(3) Uppsala, University Library, C 447 is the personal breviary of Hans Svendsen (d. 1511), who was parish priest at Nyborg on Funen before entering the Bridgettine monastery at Vadstena, Sweden, in 1486. The book contains a commemoration of the Passion and a lectionary excerpt displaying the Translation legend in abbreviated form. See further CHESNUTT 2003, 19-21.

(4) Copenhagen, Royal Library, NKS 54 8°, seems to have been copied from a secular choir book. It dates from ca. 1500 and contains a condensed and heavily rewritten version of the legend of Knud Lavard’s Passion. See further CHESNUTT 2003, 21-25; text in GERTZ 1908-1912, 446-49.

The missals and breviaries from the end of the middle ages are listed above. Transcripts from otherwise unknown medieval sources are in Stockholm, Royal Library, K 92:2 4° (extracts copied by Stephanus Johannis Stephanius from breviaries of Roskilde and Århus), and in Copenhagen, Arnamagnæan Collection, AM 670 c 4° (extracts copied by one of Árni Magnússon’s assistants from yet another secular breviary). See further CHESNUTT 2003, 25-27; the reception of the legend ca. 1500-1725 is dealt with ibid. 67-76.


  • BERGSAGEL, J. 2005: Review of M. Chesnutt 2003, Danish Yearbook of Musicology 32 (2004), 103-7.
  • BHL 1554-1555.
  • CHESNUTT, M. 2003: The Medieval Danish Liturgy of St Knud Lavard, Copenhagen [reprint from Bibliotheca Arnamagnæana 42, Opuscula 11, ed. B.O. Frederiksen].
  • FRIIS-JENSEN, K. 2005: Review of M. Chesnutt 2003, Danske Studier 2005, 222-25.
  • GAD, T. 1963: “Knud Lavard,” KLNM 8, col. 600-3.
  • GERTZ, M.CL. 1908-1912: “Sanctvs Canvtvs dvx et martyr,” in VSD, 169-247.
  • GERTZ, M.CL. 1922: SM 2, Copenhagen.
  • SIBILIA, A.L. 1963: “Canuto (Knud) Lavard, santo,” Bibliotheca Sanctorum 3, 753-55.
  • STEENSTRUP, J. 1894: Review of H. Olrik 1893-94 (see above under Translations), HistTD ser. 4, vol. 6, 672-90.
  • WAITZ, G. 1858: Eine ungedruckte Lebensbeschreibung des Herzogs Knud Laward von Schleswig. [Sonderdruck] Aus dem achten Bande der Abhandlungen der Königlichen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen (hist.-philol. Classe), Göttingen.