~~The History of Scandinavian Wrought Iron Crosses
The Scandinavian wrought iron grave crosses, ‘Smidda Gravkors’, primarily date back to the first part of the Eighteenth Century, as Sweden did not have blacksmiths before the end of the Fifteenth Century. At that time German blacksmith immigrants settled in eastern Varmland and the blacksmiths from Finland, who were traveling with the Germans, settled in the forest areas of the same region. The earliest crosses were simply markers with the date of death, having a style representative of the class of the person or persons buried there. These early crosses had symbolic decoration and had family significance. It was not uncommon to have as many as twenty-five individuals buried beneath a single marker. A series of the earliest markers was restored during the 1920’s and replaced in their proper cemetery but not necessarily in their former spot. There are no human characteristics such as a face or body part on these crosses, but one more recent cross contained a clock with Roman Numerals reflecting the time of death.
Crosses found in Denmark that are more than one hundred years old are less ornate and show little individual differences. The ones dating later are more artistic and individual styles are prominent. Only five hundred fifty Gravkors still exist in the cemeteries of Sweden and most of them are in the vicinity of Varmland, which is by the Baltic Sea near Germany.
The earliest crosses, constructed at the first part of the Sixteenth Century are found only in the eastern part of Sweden, close to the Russian border. Many of these crosses were removed from the cemeteries and there are only three remaining in the earliest cemeteries.
Many markers are adorned at the top with labels in the shape of a flag or dragonhead. They tell about the occupation and the date of birth and death of the deceased. These flags or dragonheads are found on the Gravkors of the upper class people with only one Gravkor of this style being found marking the site of the lower class.
Each family, or clan as they would be called in Scotland, had a particular style of Gravkor. The traditional cemetery in the Scandinavian countries consisted of individual family plots, so it was reasonable to bury many members of the same family beneath one marker.
The most common form of Gravkor found in the Scandinavian countries is the many armed cross, Flerarmade Kor, which dates back to 1625. This cross has a center post with several horizontal arms of varied lengths attached. During the Seventeenth Century these Flerermades became larger and contained a greater number of arms. There is also an Enarmade, which is a one armed cross, found in southern Sweden. Writing on the horizontal arms tells the dates of birth and death of the deceased and contains as many as twenty-five names on a single marker. Some of these crosses have miniature wrought iron tools attached midway up the center post. These tools symbolize a peasant or farm worker.
The second most common is the circular cross, called a Ringkor. Ringkors have single or multiple rings. How these rings are arranged is a signature of the person buried below, as each family chose its own style. The Ringkors found in Norway are rare and richly decorated with more detail than those found in Sweden. During the Lutheran Reformation in Norway, which began early in the Eighteenth Century, the church removed most of these Gravkors from the cemeteries, which is why they are so scarce today. Many crosses have circles within circles, and the smaller middle circles of Swedish variety are a lesser size than those found on the Gravkors of Norway. A Norwegian cross containing a single ring dates earlier (1600 to 1690) than a cross with multiple rings and is a much older cross than the single ring crosses found in Sweden. The most recent cross of this style was created around 1850. Ringkors can be found in the southern area of Sweden.
The triangle cross, Triangelformade Kor, representing the Trinity, is of a later style, 1600 through 1700, and only two triangle crosses have been found in Norway.
Oglekors, Dragon Spears, are twisted crosses with large ‘S’ curves, from 1777 and later. Sweden has fifty-five of this variety and half of these contain the year of death. These crosses are not as wide spread. They are found in isolated areas and on a small island east of southern Sweden in the Baltic Sea. These are expected to be an imported style because of their isolation.
Hjartformade Kors are shaped like an upside down heart. They are more common than some of the other styles and are found in a small area of Sweden. They date from 1787. Many Hjartformade display the dragonhead at the top of the cross.
Bandjarnskors, band iron crosses, have no inscriptions and contain a lot of curled iron, Bagformade Kors, bow shaped crosses, have ‘S’ forms and the board shaped, Syddalslandska Korsformer, are flat with dates included at the center of the board. Of these rare styles, no more than fifteen have been located.
The Scandinavian Kor design incorporates a combination of folklore and tradition into the individual style, which influences the shape of the cross. During the early eras of the rigid class system, strictly enforced in the Scandinavian countries, the only way for those of the lower class to express individual differences was to stylize their grave markers. At this time a close communication network between the village blacksmith and the grave marker customer was begun. The circle shape, which is also found at the peak of rooftops and on the door of the main floor dining room of the home, was thought to protect the occupants from illness. The circle was also worn as an amulet and was representative of the communion wafer offered in church services. The many armed cross was thought to be a shield of protection while the triangle, a more recent style, was a reminder of the Christian Trinity. The leaves dangling from most of the many-armed crosses are leaves meant to make the cross more lifelike, thus the biblical tree-of- life. This idea relates to the newer, more complex change of ideals and values of the people. Another style has many crossed arms, which depicts ‘Christ’s Monogram’ below his feet at his crucifixion.