Love poems, playing cards and secret notes. For half a millennium, people who have attended mass at Lund Cathedral have found ways to pass the time when the sermons felt too slow. In a few years, the Lund University Historical Museum will introduce a new cabinet of curiosities, containing notes and strange objects which have fallen down or been hidden between the choir stalls inside the Cathedral. At least, that is the hope of museum director Per Karsten, who has received a first contribution in order to breathe life into the collection.
Aspiring pastors who once sat here for long sermons had time to both play cards and write love poems. The receipts of little over SEK 100 000 from the so-called medal auction held in February – as part of the University’s 350th anniversary celebration – will go towards the establishment of a permanent exhibition of the findings from the choir stalls.
“Another few hundred thousand crowns are needed, but this is a good start. Once the project is completed, we will have a unique and collective testimony of what a group of medieval people were thinking and doing during the long sermons in Latin. These findings are unique in Northern Europe. We in Lund are the only ones who have preserved the ‘junk’ that was thrown away or cleared from other cathedrals in Northern Europe”, says Per Karsten.
The discoveries were made in 1833 when cathedral architect Georg Brunius decided to remove the wall above the stairs in the Cathedral. The wall separated the upper eastern chancel from the congregation in the western part of the
church. Behind the wall there was a large open room which the canons – affluent pastors – used for prayer, meetings and teaching. The canons and their students sat in high choir stalls with are still in the Cathedral to this day. The stalls stood on a plinth with wide floorboards, and between the cracks all sorts of objects and notes have fallen or been pushed down.
Thanks to Brunius’s assistant, the young pastor from Stockholm Nils Johan Ekdahl, all of it has been preserved.
“When Brunius took down the wall and removed the choir stalls, Ekdahl said ‘stop’ and instead of simply taking all the dust-covered items and dashing them all away, he conducted a practically modern archaeological study”, says Per Karsten.
Ekdahl produced a hand-written report in which he thoroughly described each object and the exact location of where it was found. The report, however, was forgotten and the objects were dispersed. Pens, inkwells, dice, etc. were taken from its cathedral context and, in accordance with the policies of the time, were archived together with other similar items in various collections, located in fourteen different places in Lund and in Sweden.
“But by coincidence, Ekdahl’s report was rediscovered a few years ago! It gives us a unique opportunity to bring back the scattered finds here”, says Per Karsten.
Instead of the small display case with some of the finds that the museum has today, he imagines an entire room for the cabinet, including reconstructed choir stalls. Visitors are to be able to get to know the people who once left messages and hid objects.
“I can envision how they sat in those stalls once upon a time. Secretly whispering and playing cards. Among the findings we have the oldest deck of cards in Scandinavia, from the late 1400s. The cards look the same as they do today.”
Most objects are from the mid-1300s up to the Reformation in 1536. They include personal items of the canons: pens, inkwells, rings and even a sandal from the 1300s. You will also find pilgrim badges, crucifixes and rosaries, as well as purses and several hundred pieces of silver. And plenty of notes, often written in Latin.
“What makes the story feel so present is that these are not sacred objects, but rather personal possessions. This makes it easier to relate to those who once sat here and left these things behind.
Text: Britta Collberg
Poetry and spells
In addition to the usual to-do notes and invitations, the notes found under the choir stalls inside the Cathedral include love poems, nonsense poetry and reeking spells in Latin. Here are some examples:
“I found a rose so lovely in its first bloom,
her cheeks blush easily
and it warms my heart whenever she is near. “
“David the cat raced across the room with the fish.
That is, not the same David who wrote the Psalms.”
“You black monks, you can’t be bothered to do anything.
You are rabble, you shall perish with the plague. ”