Saint Canute's Cathedral

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St. Canute's Cathedral (Danish: Odense Domkirke or Sct. Knuds Kirke), also known as Odense Cathedral, is named after the Danish king Canute the Saint (Danish: Knud den Hellige), otherwise Canute IV. It is a fine example of Brick Gothic architecture. The church's most visited section is the crypt where the remains of Canute and his brother Benedict are on display.



St. Canute's Church in one form or another has stood on Abbey Hill in Odense (Danish: Klosterbakken) for over 900 years.

Odense was established as the seat of the Bishop of Odense (Othinia) before 988 under the supervision of the Bishop of Schleswig, itself a suffragan of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen. The diocese included the southern Baltic islands of Denmark. The earliest bishops' names have not been recorded. Odense passed to the jurisdiction of Roskilde in 1072 for a short period of time before falling to the Archdiocese of Lund.

The earliest known church on the present location was a travertine church which was reported under construction by Aelnoth of Canterbury, a Benedictine monk at the nearby St. Alban's Priory in 1095. The foundations of the travertine church can still be seen in the crypt of the present building. The church was built in Romanesque style with semi-circular arches supporting a flat timber ceiling. The travertine church was built specifically to house the earthly remains of King Canute, who was murdered in the church of St. Alban's Priory in 1086.

Canute IV of Denmark, the son of King Sven Estridsen, was born about 1040 and ruled Denmark from 1080-1086. In 1075 he accompanied the Danish fleet on the last great Viking raid of that age. It is suggested that he stole relics of Saint Alban from Ely, which he deposited in St. Alban's Priory which he had founded in Odense.

Canute reigned at a difficult time in Danish history. The idea of a strengthened monarchy did not sit well with the powerful feudal landowners, but it was just what Canute had in mind. After the death of his older brother, the national assembly (Ting) met on Zealand to proclaim Canute king of Denmark. Once the assembly had shouted their approval, Canute stood up and spoke to those assembled, both peasant and nobles: "You called my brother Harald the Whet-stone, but you will learn that I will be hard as granite!" (kampesten). Soon after, he ordered the people of Halland to supply him with horses and wagons to transport himself and his household throughout the kingdom. The assembly met to discuss the king's request. The people decided that the request was not lawful according to the ancient customs and laws they all knew. Canute was enraged by what he heard. "It is your right to hold fast to your rights and laws and bear only the burdens the law allows, but you must also accept that I am free to do with mine what I will, and I forbid you to let your swine graze in Halland's Great Forest which belongs to me!" After hasty consultations the Hallanders supplied the required equipment. Canute did the same in Scania (southern Sweden). At the assembly he required men and supplies to build the new cathedral at Lund. When the assembly baulked, Canute swore he would forbid them to fish in the Øresund. Likewise they too acceded to the king's request.

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