Vikings ‘ransacked Church gold for jewellery’

Pagan Vikings, who ransacked early Irish churches, melted and transformed sacred objects into jewellery.

Research by a University College Cork scholar has made new discoveries about the “Viking loot” from Ireland.

He traced how sacred objects were turned into jewellery by Vikings in Norway, Sweden and other Scandinavian countries.

There are no plans, however, to seek to have returned to Ireland the crosiers that were turned into brooches and chalices that became jewellery boxes, ransacked over two centuries from the “soft targets” of the churches.

However Dr Griffin Murray of the Department of Archaeology at UCC will tell an international Viking Conference in Shetland this week that he would like to see Irish treasures “taken by the armful” returned in the form of a temporary exhibition.

The earliest raids on church sites took place in 795AD and continued with “particular intensity” throughout the ninth century, Dr Murray said.

He believes the Vikings targeted the churches not only because they were centres of wealth, but because they were outside the protection of towns.

“The church sites were targeted, in particular, because they were centres of wealth in a country that did not have towns. They were soft targets, you could say.”

Dr Murray is involved in an intensive UCC research programme on Irish treasures, now regularly turning up in Viking graves.

“They stole them by the armful. Not appreciating the sacred nature of these objects, they broke them up, using the fragments to decorate their possessions and turning others into brooches for Viking women.”

The 17th international Viking conference begins this week on the Shetland Islands and will hear from world experts on archaeology, history, currency, philology, name studies and runology.

An examination of the fragments of early Irish and Scottish crosiers found in Scandinavia in recent decades led to some exciting discoveries. “The most remarkable thing about this material is its early date,” said Dr Murray.

Dr Murray will present his paper at the 17th Viking Congress, a gathering of Viking scholars from Scandinavia, Britain and Ireland, which takes place at different venues once every four years.

It is the most prestigious Viking studies conference and has been held in Ireland twice, in Dublin in 1973 and in Cork in 2005.

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