Religion, cults & rituals in the medieval rural enviroment. 2017, 25-37
This article discusses the centralisation of religious ritual practices in Scandinavia in the second half of the first millennium. This is explored through detailed investigation of the courtyard sites at Skei and Heggstad, Inner Trøndelag, Norway, set in relation to Mære, a nearby pre-Christian cult site, as well as early 11th-century county churches established by the king. This study establishes that the number of houses in the courtyard sites correspond with the number of local administrative district within the shires (fylkir) of Verdal and Sparbyggja. This raises the question whether these sites were ‘shire level’ cult sites, subordinate to Mære, which served all four fylkir of Inner Trøndelag. Both Skei and Heggstad are surrounded by several large burial mounds, and exhibit traces of feasting. It is concluded that the courtyard sites were places where local politics were acted out, together with cultic and religious matters, as politics, religion and law were closely interwoven, and ancestor worship was also important. The last Earl of Lade was exiled from Trøndelag and Norway in ca. 1015 and the town of Nidaros was becoming increasingly important. During this period the king may have taken control of Mære, and other centres associated with the earldom and elites of Trøndelag. The two courtyard sites of Skei and Heggstad fell into disuse in this turbulent period. It is proposed that the pre-Christian cultic and legal system driven by the regional elite was transformed into a royal, Christian, system supporting larger polities and emerging kingship.